The Great Chain Lube Nerd Fight of 2017

Shots fired in the fight over friction. 

In a press release sent out yesterday, Danish component and lube-maker CeramicSpeed went to battle with the U.K.’s Muc-Off in what’s shaping up to be the greatest international bike nerd battle of late 2017. 

CeramicSpeed countered claims from Muc-Off that CeramicSpeed’s UFO-treated Shimano chain was markedly slower than Muc-Off’s line of chain lubricant. In a brochure published earlier this year, Muc-Off touted their testing methods as proof that their C3 Ceramic Dry Lube was the fastest by creating only 2.9W of drag over four hours, while CeramicSpeed’s performed the worst with 14.24W of drag over the same time (lower drag numbers are considered faster).

Not only did the Muc-Off brochure list test results, but it called out CeramicSpeed by name in the marketing copy: “Proving savings of over 10 watts against Ceramic Speed’s (sic) Shimano Dura-Ace UFO Chain over a race distance on our dynamometer, the NTC (Muc-Off’s Nanotube Chain) is the culmination of thousands of hours of research and development into drivetrain optimisation.”

To counter, CeramicSpeed’s press release said that Muc-Off’s entire study was based on flawed testing methods. The CeramicSpeed’s Chief Technology Officer and founder of Friction Facts—a once-independent testing group that looks at quantitative differences in chain friction—Jason Smith wrote a full analysis on why and how Muc-Off’s results are incorrect. The full document is posted online, but in brief it points to Muc-Off’s use of a “full tension tester” as the experiment’s undoing.

“In a true bicycle drivetrain, the chain slacks as it snakes through the rear derailleur,” Smith writes. “A full tension tester does not account for this occurrence and therefore cannot be used as the sole means to perform an accurate test method for real-world friction data.”

Smith goes on to say that while CeramicSpeed uses the full tension tester to measure the friction at various moments during the test interval—as it’s the most accurate system of measurement—they run something CeramicSpeed calls an “endurance machine” to more accurately replicate the conditions on an actual bike. The endurance machine more closely mimics the tightening and loosening action present in a derailleur—unique forces that CeramicSpeed claims allow a short rest period in tension when the lube can be redistributed to the chain links.

CeramicSpeed claims that this brief redistribution interval renders this Muc-Off claim against the UFO chain false as well: “A major finding to come from Muc-Off’s Development House was the shorter durability of Ceramic Speed (sic) Shimano UFO Chain. Whist efficiency of this product was admittedly quite good in the first few minutes, registering at around 4.5 – 5 watts, this performance rapidly deteriorated after only 18 minutes!”

The difference between the “full tension” tester and the “endurance machine” tester is akin to the difference between a direct-drive, one-speed track bike with no derailleur and a regular road, time trial, or mountain bike with a derailleur to give slack for gear changes. In other words, CeramicSpeed claims that Muc-Off’s test is more along the lines of someone riding a track bike for four hours, not an Ironman athlete.

Muc-Off did not have a comment prepared when contacted but is expecting to release a response in the next week.

This controversy calls into sharp light the need for independent testing and—at the very least—consistent protocols when making such large and direct claims against competitors. For now, consumers looking to spend their hard-earned cash on a high-end race chain like Muc-Off’s Nanotube Chain (~$140US) or CeramicSpeed’s UFO chain ($152) need to be critical of which test they believe makes the most sense to get those precious marginal gains. And if saving a few watts seems ridiculous to you, you can still fire up some popcorn and appreciate the geekfight.