Smoothe Lube Chain Formulas: Long Review* – by Grannygear
A bicycle chain has a tough life. It goes round and round and round, flexing this way and that as we shift across the gears, often a bit less than gently, and it does all this while being exposed to the elements…dirt, sand, water. Oh my. And we expect it to live happily in this cruel world we place it into, even when we treat it badly and neglect it. Shame on us.
The downside to neglecting our chain is increased wear on all those expensive bike parts and reduced shifting performance, and of course, an unhappy chain is a slow chain. It does not take much to reduce the efficiency of a drive train and that steals precious watts from our limited power output. It also leads to an early death of the chain.
So we lube. Keeping a chain lubed and clean is a huge step towards an efficient and long lasting drive train. And it seems relatively straight forward to lube a chain, does it not? But the devil is in the details and many compounds that would keep a chain slippery are also an unholy mess that gets over all everything and actually attracts dirt like a magnet. That mess also gets all over you. Know what a chainring tattoo is? Inside, right calf muscle.
Cleaning a chain that has been running a goopy lube is a straight up pain: Solvents, brushes, smells, spatter, or even, in some cases, chain removal and chemical tanking to get it clean and grit free. The ‘cleaner’ chain lubes that I have used, most often called “dry lubes”, seemed to last about halfway through a ride and then my chain sounded like a squeaky hamster wheel times ten. I wanted a chain lube that ran clean and stayed clean, lasted at least long enough to go on a really good ride, and quietly did so until I needed to revisit it. And it needed to not a big time suck when it came to refreshing it for the next ride. Is that too much to ask? It seemed like it might be.
So, when on the last day in the last hour walking the vendor displays at last year’s Sea Otter show, and with sore feet, a booth caught my eye. They had a new chain lube product that made some pretty bold claims, but claims that aligned with my ‘dream lube’. That perked my ears up like a Labrador hearing a duck call. John, the owner and mad chemist behind Smoothe Lube and its’ sibling lubes, was so passionate and excited, not to mention technically savvy, when describing his product, that I was caught up in the web he spun. Could I have a cleaner chain that runs quietly and does not require removal or using nasty, smelly solvents to clean it? After quite a few months of riding the different formulas he offers, I believe I can have it all, or pretty darn close to it.
Smoothe Lube and it’s variants, Smoothe Lube 1.2, 53/11, and Lübenschlidən are a wax based lube approach. I have used wax lubes in a bottle in the long past and I didn’t like them. And chain waxing in the truest sense, that being removing your chain from the bike, perhaps ultrasonically cleaning it or at least stripping the old wax, then dipping it into a crock pot filled with melted paraffin, letting it dry, reinstalling it, dealing with waxed chain dandruff, then doing that all over again after your Saturday ride with the gang….nah. Don’t sign me up for that. I don’t care how fast or clean it is.
However; Smoothe Lube is not just wax. There are secret things…hidden things, Stuff that gets you killed if you find it out…think Coca Cola formula or the ingredients to the Krabby Patty. ‘Nuff said ‘bout that. Let’s take a look at each formula and how I have experienced them.
What It Is:
Lübenschlidən: Likely the closest thing to crock pot wax in a bottle, Lübenschlidən runs exceptionally clean and can be combined with Smoothe Lube to keep a chain happy or run on it’s own. I actually stripped a new chain in solvent, dried it, then ran Lübenschlidən to see how it was. I have never waxed chains, so I cannot compare it directly, but it was perhaps a bit too much like pure wax for me although John claims it to stay quieter longer than a waxed chain. I do not dispute that, but even if it is the same, it does not require you to break everything down to get a chain ready to go again. You can wipe down with alcohol or just a dry rag, then reapply. Runs exceptionally clean. It also does not interfere with your crock pot process, so you could use this to refresh a chain in between waxed soakings if you like. $12.99 for 4 ounces
Smoothe Lube original: This is perhaps the most do-all of all the lubes and will even work with any stock lube you have on your bike now. You could allow your chain to get dry from whatever you are using (assuming the chain is not a gritty mess), wipe it down with a rag or brush, then apply Smoothe Lube over it. After a few applications it will replace the old lube and you are off. You can even do that with the packing grease on a new chain. Yes, you can solvent the chain first and then apply, or just run the new chain until the grease has broken down and is sounding dry. If you live where there is a lot of gritty-ness to your soil, then beginning with a stripped and Smoothe Lube’d chain is best. It also works on eliminating squeaky-creaky bike parts like saddle clamps. I run it on my SPD pedals too. For me, Smoothe Lube has been the go-to MTB lube where my rides are of shorter duration and at lower RPMs. I recently did a 3.5 hour MTB ride with multiple stream crossings followed by a two hour climb on sandy, decomposed granite soil and the chain stayed totally quiet and clean, picking up no grit at all. Excellent. I would likely reapply after every ride when I wipe the bike down, but I have done 2 or 3 short rides over a couple of week’s time and been fine on the previous application. $12.00 for 4 ounces.
Smoothe Lube 1.2: 1.2 is a bit longer lasting and quieter than Smoothe Lube original, yet still runs clean. It is what I have been running on the gravel bikes. 1.2 has been excellent and I have been running it over the top of the stock chain packing grease (two new bikes) and over the old Pro Gold lube (Ti Lynskey), which by now, are dissipated and have been replaced by 1.2. It’s darn clean, and if it is less clean than the others, I cannot tell. It does last longer and does better at higher RPMs like we see on a gravel bike. I get several rides out of it before I begin to hear the tell tale sounds of a needy chain, rides that are typically one to 2 hours each. You certainly could reapply after every ride, but I would only do so if the ride was very long or demanding weather wise. One ride stands out to me. It was right after a rainstorm and there were many deep puddle crossings that soaked the pulleys and chain…not clean water either…then the ride was mostly uphill with more wet, gritty pavement and dirt. The chain would sound gritty after I came out of the puddle for a while, then it would get quieter and quieter. Wow. The ride home was over 10 miles of paved hills and descents. After another couple of puddle dips, although I dreaded the ‘gritty chain of death’ effect, it was amazingly quiet. When I got home the bike looked like it was sprayed with sandy grit. But the chain was not at all gritty like the bike was. There was some surface grit on the outer plates, but that just flaked off in my hands. I washed the bike with plain water and a soft brush, let the chain dry a bit, then put a couple of coats of 1.2 on it. The next ride was quiet and smooth. $14.99 for 4 ounces
53/11: There are times you need a bit more of a big-ring approach to chain lube and 53/11 is made for high pressure, high RPM use like on a road bike or a TT bike, etc. It runs a bit more ‘smudgy’ in clean-up than the others, but I am taking about a tiny bit of darkness on a wiping rag, not the EXXON Valdez. This is a new formula and I am still running it to see how it goes, but so far it has been longer lasting with more ‘quiet staying power’ then the others, although compared to 1.2 it’s a marginal gain. It does deal well with high load efforts like out of the saddle climbs where the chain is really stressed. Very quiet there. I have been seeing about 100 miles in-between applications. $19.99 for 4 ounces.
At The Finish: I have been applying these lubes by rotating the cranks backwards and squeezing a constant stream onto the chain at the cassette. About 4 revolutions is usually a full chain length and I do that twice over. I then take a small brush (supplied with the lube) and rotate the cranks slowly backwards with the brush on the chain, pushing the lube into the links and rollers. You want to have enough lube on there to see it squoozing through on the underside of the chain as viewed from the application position. I find that several applications and short rides are needed to get the lube bedded into the chain, much like bedding in brake pads to the rotor. Be patient and the results are quite good. I don’t even bother to run the chain through a rag after it dries.
Oh yeah…the opening on the application bottle is way too tiny an orifice to get the lubes out of there without clogging. Shake it well, etc. At first I opened it up with spokes and then small drill bits, then I just cut the tip off slightly and that was enough to keep me from cussin’ that clogging deal.
I am so stoked to never have another greasy chain mark on my clothes or my car or my hands. My chainrings and cassettes stay gunk free, no buildup. With these lubes I can ride more, clean less. A win. If I do want to clean up, Isopropyl alcohol is all I need. No citrus cleaners or nasty for the environment solvents in a bucket.
I have not been in sustained wet conditions as that is not where I live so I cannot say how that would be, but at this point you would have to pry these bottles of lube out of my dead (but clean and chain-grease free) fingers. Check out Smoothe Lube and its variations and see how it works for you. See their webpage here.
Note: Riding Gravel was sent the chain lubes from Smoothe Lube at no charge for test and review. we were not paid nor bribed for this reveiw and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.
*Editors Note: Here at Riding Gravel, we don’t do short term use reviews in general. Our flagship three part review system usually unmasks any good or bad things in any product. However; there are times when a three part review is redundant. We figure things out pretty quickly, and then things don’t change much over the weeks. In this case we would like to introduce the “Long Review”. A process that takes several weeks or months to complete, but doesn’t bore you with the same take two or three times, as with our typical three part reviews. We hope you enjoy this addition to our review style.