Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: Boeshield T9

There's a price to pay for owning a bicycle beyond the dough you eagerly fork over to the people from whom you purchased it. You have to perform some basic maintenance in order to keep it working properly. Some people simply take their bike to the shop periodically for such details. That's perfectly fine, as long as you don't mind the associated fees and personal time that accompanies the task ... and as long as you have a local mechanic person in whom you have complete faith to treat your ride with care.

I prefer to tackle the majority of my own bicycle-related work ... at least until such time as I finally realize I either A) don't have a clue about what I'm doing, or B) don't have the proper very expensive tool that I'll use only one time for a specific job and would cost more than having the shop do the work. In most cases, I find it very rewarding to learn how to fix my bikes. The more I know about how everything works, the more "in-tune" I am with the bike as a whole ... and it's much easier to diagnose problems and/or prevent them from happening. Over the past few years, I've learned a lot ... not enough to go and get a job as a bike mechanic, mind you ... but enough to feel very confident that if anything breaks, I can find the problem and fix it or replace the part as needed. The real truth is ... a bicycle isn't all that complicated, at least for the standard component fare. If your bike has hydraulic disc brakes and electronic shifting, however, it might be another story altogether, so proceed at your own risk. For the basics, there are lots of great books and a ton of web information to draw from, although it does help to read multiple authors to get a true sense of what's "correct", since the web also has a lot of clueless individuals who fancy themselves bicycle mechanics and their "instructions" could very well ruin your components. Start small with simple general maintenance stuff ... things that really any cycler can do ... and go from there if you have the desire to learn more.

The basics would include filling your tires with the proper amount of air, learning how to change a tire and tube, keeping the bike generally clean, and performing routine cleaning and lubrication of your chain. That last item is one that's really easy, but is also one of my least favorites. It's a messy job, and if you don't stay on top of it, it only gets messier. It's also a balancing act ... apply too much lube and you get all kinds of dirt in your drivetrain ... apply too little, and you get sluggish shifting, a noisy drivetrain, and premature wear of your cogs and chainrings.

For all of those reasons, there are numerous chain lubrication products on the market, each promising to do a better, and often cleaner, job of keeping your chain moving freely. So which one is the best? That's not always so easy to answer. A lot of that answer depends on your riding conditions ... whether you ride in a dry climate or a wet one ... if you ride in snow and slush or sandy trails ... and whether it's hot or cold. There are products designated as "dry" lubes and "wet" lubes for dry and wet conditions, as well as products claiming to clean and lubricate simultaneously. Simply said, they all work pretty well. You could close your eyes and grab a bottle, and if you follow the directions and use the right amount, and keep it clean ... any of them will work just fine for most cyclers. Where you live and the conditions in which you ride might require more or less frequent maintenance, but I've tried lots of different chain lubes, and they have all worked reasonably well. I haven't really noticed that any product worked noticeably better than another ... that is, until recently.

That recent discovery is the purpose of this post, which I will now finally get around to writing.

Here's my disclaimer: None of the products reviewed here were provided to me by the manufacturer or any retailer for evaluation. Nope. I'm not one of those famous bloggers who gets stuff for free. I purchased everything with my own money, and without any sort of special interweb journalist discount, so you can rest assured that the opinions expressed here are unbiased and come purely through my own experience ... good, bad, or otherwise. That being said, should any manufacturers out there wish to provide some cool bike-related products for ... ummm ... testing and evaluation ... I would likely be open to offering my honest review.

I ride in a Southern California Pacific coastal area, which means we don't see much in the way of rain and snow, but one thing we have plenty of is sand. Sand really loves to stick to stuff that's wet, which is why your feet and legs are completely covered in it after a brief jaunt in the ocean waves as you walk across the beach. Imagine that same sand being constantly flung at a moving chain that's coated with a greasy lubrication product. Yep ... it sticks. Not a huge problem, but it does require wiping the chain clean after every ride, and frequent cleaning of the cogs and chainrings, because sand is very abrasive. I've tried a few of the "dry" lubes that are some kind of waxy base that are supposed to help keep sand from sticking, but never really saw any improvement ... but I did notice the need for more frequent application. For that reason, I never tried Boeshield T9, which is also described as kind of a waxy-dry lube. I thought it would yield the same results as the others, so I basically ignored it. When my usual bottle of lube started to run low, however, I thought it might be time to try something different, so I consulted the folks at Rivendell who built my Hunqapillar. I figured they would have a pretty good idea about what works in sandy conditions, since they're in Northern California and ride a whole lot of trails. Their recommendation was to try the T9, so I did.

Boeshield T-9 spray can ... no fluorocarbons!
T-9 was developed by the Boeing Company for use on high-tech stuff ... like airplane parts. That's a pretty good design spec ... if it's good enough for airplanes, it's probably good for my bike. It's waterproof, and protects against not just rust, but corrosion, too. In fact, lots of people use this product to treat the inside of their steel bike frames for that very purpose. The claim, much like many of the "dry" type lubes, is that since it forms a dry waterproof coating, sand and dirt do not stick ... therefore, the chain will stay cleaner and there will be less wear on the cogs and chainrings. Sounds good in theory, but I was not yet convinced it would be any better than the others I've tried. It comes in a general purpose spray can like the one in the photo, as well as smaller drip bottles like a typical chain lube. I opted for the spray can, which I normally wouldn't do, but in this case it seemed like a good option for an all-around lube. The spray version actually turned out to be a good choice, as it covers a lot more chain in less time than the usual one-drop-per-link method, and as it's applied directly to the chain, it seems to penetrate a little better.

Although they don't specifically state this in the instructions, it's always a good idea to completely clean your chain before switching lubrication types. Getting rid of the old lube will allow the new to work at its best. I recommend removing the chain and cleaning it thoroughly with a degreaser of some kind, like Simple Green. If you don't want to take the chain off, just spray it on a rag and clean the chain until it's shiny and no more black comes off on the rag. With a clean chain, the spray application is fast and easy ... hold a clean rag under the chain where you're spraying, turn the crank to move the chain to the next section and repeat ... wipe the chain with the rag as you turn the crank to remove the excess ... then let it dry for at least 2 hours. The last part is important, because the lube needs a little time to work into all of the rollers and pins on your chain, and as the lube dries, it forms a waxy waterproof coating over everything.

Once it's dry, you can gently wipe the chain again ... and you're ready to roll. It sounds like a lot of work, but you only need to do the heavy cleaning before the first application, and the rest only takes a couple of minutes on the evening before your next ride.

How does it perform? In a word ... fantastic! On the first ride after initial application, I noticed a quieter drivetrain and very smooth shifting. When I got home after a long ride through a fair bit of sandy area, I looked at the chain and, to my delight, saw no sand or grit anywhere on the chain or cogs. No need to wipe down the chain! The really cool part was that when I reached down to inspect, the chain was dry and left no grease on my hand. How awesome is that? I've never had a bike chain that didn't leave a greasy black mark when I touch it. If it lasted, I would be totally sold.

So does it hold up? Yep. I rode for almost a month, nearly every day, after that first application. No wiping the chain down after every ride ... no reapplication of lube. It was only when the chain started to get a tiny bit stiff and began to shift with less ease that I reapplied. The second application was quick and easy ... spray and wipe, then let dry. Shiny, clean, smooth-running chain ... and no greasy marks!

I have to say, I'm very impressed and very pleased. And once again ... the folks at Rivendell gave me great advice. I have now changed my opinion on chain lubes: there IS a difference, and there IS one that's best ... at least for my riding conditions. I can't speak for how it works in snowy wet places, but it sure holds up well for me, stays clean, and the sand and dirt don't stick. I did get caught in the rain on one ride, though, and didn't notice any lube washing away as a result.

As a little bonus, T-9 isn't offered merely as a bicycle lube ... the can lists lots of other household and workshop applications. It is used to coat shop tool surfaces to keep them smooth and free of oxidation. It can also be used around the house for many things. I have a set of vertical blinds that were sticking in the track ... no longer with the T-9. A very useful product, indeed. Give it a try ...

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