Nathan Friedman specializes in living the good life and making it look easy. Mountain biking all summer and skiing all winter, Nate is a rock star of the outdoor opportunities in the Southwest. To get some inspiration on living life to the fullest, check out his blog, Handlebar Sandwich.
It seems like such a small and simple thing, doesn’t it? Your chain starts making noise, you find an oil of some sort, dab a bit on, wipe the excess off, and off you go until the chain starts making noise again.
Or maybe it’s not that simple…
I will admit, I’m a bit of a chain lube snob. I spend a lot of time on several bikes and one of the worst feelings (IMHO) you can get when you throw a leg over your bike is the feeling that your energy is being sucked away by an inefficient system. Whether it’s a run to the grocery store, your commute to work, or a shred on the mountain bike, efficiency plays a role.
That’s why I jumped on the opportunity to test out the Orontas chain lube and cleaner.
You can see the lube and the cleaner here, in its natural environment (a.k.a. my driveway). As you can also see, in the three or four weeks I’ve had it, I haven’t gone through much of the eight-ounce bottle.
That’s a good thing and a bad thing…
First off, let’s take a look at the Orontas site. You quickly realize that this is a biodegradable plant-based lube, and the cleaner is the companion to it for degreasing your chain and general oily-bike-part cleanup.
I have a bit of a history with biodegradable lubes, and in the past I’ve not had good luck with them. The primary problem seems to be that they break down very quickly, requiring very frequent re-application. I’m sure that this is due to the biodegradable nature of them, as (most) biking is done out in the elements. They dry out quickly, and at the first threat of foul-weather, they tend to simply dissolve or get easily washed off your chain.
Fortunately, it appears as through Orontas has taken this into account. Their lubricant is very thick (“viscous,” for all you scientific types) which helps the lube from drying out too quickly during normal use. I would say it’s not as thick as molasses or honey, but it’s closer to those than water, and certainly thicker than the Dumonde Tech Lite to which I have an unhealthy addiction (and to which all chain lubes should be compared). The extra viscosity of it certainly seemed to help keep the lube sticking around for a longer period of time.
However, the viscosity of it also means that when applying you have to be very careful to not put too much on your chain, and also to allow it time to soak into the links. The goal of any good lube is to penetrate the chain links but not have any excess on the surface (which would attract dirt and grime, thus wearing your chain faster). The drops of lube take a noticeable amount of time to soak into the moving bits of the chain, and then seem to seep out of the chain over time even if you make sure to wipe the outside of the links very carefully after applying.
Unfortunately, the increased viscosity and this ‘seeping’ effect caused problems with dirt and grime buildup. Even with very careful cleaning post-application, my first mountain bike ride would always produce a chain which had a distinctive ‘fuzzy’ look to it. (Note that the chain in the above photo is a black anodized chain, not silver.)
In their defense, the chain lube is recommended for ‘normal to wet’ conditions, and since I live in the high desert of Flagstaff we are definitely on the drier end of the scale.
Unfortunately, even when applying to my commuter bike (and after our monsoonal rains had started), I had similar issues. The lube didn’t necessarily stop working, but the dirt then began to dry the moisture out of it and cause chain noise and friction quicker than I would prefer.
I also got a chance to try out the spray-bottle of cleaner. This is (again) a plant-based, biodegradable product which can be used for chain-cleaning and general cleanup of bike parts.
The instructions say to spray on a chain or other component and then wipe with a clean cloth. The cleaner is very thin, and sprays on in a very similar fashion to Windex or other alcohol-based cleaners. It definitely does do a good job of breaking down dirt and grime on the surface of parts, but doesn’t do a very good job of penetrating into the little cracks and crevices of something like a chain.
I’ve always found that removing the chain and giving it a good soak in some degreaser is the best way to really get the dirt and grime out of it, and the Orontas didn’t sway my opinion on that. I did find that it was a good cleaning agent for surfaces, and the spray bottle was very convenient to use. But beyond getting off surface grime I haven’t seen much of a use for it.
I would like to give it a try degreasing some bearings before repacking them with grease, as I think the spray bottle and the quick-drying aspect of it could come in handy for that application.
I used it to clean up a section of my chainring (shown above) after the Orontas lube had rendered it a nice shade of brown, but again, that’s mostly an aesthetic cleanup.
You can think of it as the Windex of the bike world: Good for getting spots off things, but for heavy cleaning, it doesn’t really do the trick.
The Orontas lube is a step in the right direction for biodegradable lubricants, but is too thick and attracts too much dirt to really work well for a long-term solution–especially in a place where dust and grime can attract to it.
The Orontas cleaner is a nice surface cleaner, but isn’t heavy-duty enough to do any serious degreasing, like cleaning a chain.