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What is the black paste on the chain and sprockets?

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What is the black paste on the chain and sprockets?

Old 11-26-20, 09:33 PM
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Eliz
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What is the black paste on the chain and sprockets?

When I clean my bike, I'm always struck by the stark difference between:
  1. the dirt on the frame and wheels, which takes the form of ordinary brown grains of sand
  2. the dirt on the chains and sprockets, which takes the form of a very fine-grained grimy black paste
(1) makes sense to me, because the dirt I ride on is also brown and sandy. But where does the black paste come from? What does it consist of? What makes it black when the dirt is brown and my chain lube is white? And why is it such a fine grained paste? How does it get on the chain and sprockets and nowhere else?

Thanks!
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Old 11-26-20, 10:08 PM
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Magic. Just wait until it gets on your white pants.


Not being a smartass; it also happens with clear chain lube.

Last edited by thumpism; 11-26-20 at 10:13 PM.
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Old 11-26-20, 10:13 PM
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It's road grime. Doesn't stick to your frame very well, but the chain is sticky
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Old 11-26-20, 10:14 PM
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its supposed to be metal. but I doubt its all metal. its a lot less with a dry lube verses wet.
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Old 11-26-20, 10:15 PM
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the grim grime grease got you I read. Nothing prevents it, but the rate that it happens can be manipulated based on the type of products being used & how often you deep clean the moving wear items.
If you have ever used tools to work on a vehicle that has been used often up to that point, you may find that your hands will attract that similar black paste. Just in a lesser volume per area.

once a month the moving wear items are cleaned to remove that nastiesness & in between those cleanings, a quick detail is done as needed.
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Old 11-27-20, 07:07 AM
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I started using dry lube and there's a very noticeable difference with the reduced amount of black mystery crud on my drive train! It took a couple of cleanings/relubes to get it to this point. I guess it takes some time for the new dry lube to fully displace the old stuff deep in the chain. My chain maintenance has gone
from:
Spray degreaser (I use Orange Clean) on drive train and let sit a while. Spray more on and scrub the chain and drive train with brushes/rags/chain cleaner tool. Wash the drive train with hot soapy water, wipe dry and let it then air dry completely, re-lube with wet chain lube and wipe off excess oil.
to:
Spray degreaser on a rag and wipe the chain while pedaling backwards. Wipe with clean rag, add dry lube to each chain roller top and bottom and let sit for a while. Wipe off excess with a clean rag. Add dry lube in between cleanings and wipe off excess.

Not a perfect solution but my point is that there's a noticeable decrease in the black greasy crud buildup on the drivetrain between cleanings using dry lube in my experience. For some reason it bugs me to "hear" my drivetrain as I pedal, hence my quest to make my life easier by finding easier/better ways to maintain a quiet ride.
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Old 11-27-20, 07:25 AM
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Metal dust from chain wear suspended in oil.

You get the same black dust inside pinball machines from solenoid plunger wear.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 11-27-20 at 08:38 PM.
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Old 11-27-20, 08:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
Metal dust from chain wear suspended in oil.

You get the same black dust inside pinball machines from solenoid plunger wear. It needs to be remove
Seems correct. But many chains aren't black metal, indeed often shiny silver, but still dark blackest black grime.
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Old 11-27-20, 08:00 AM
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since using rock and roll lube I just need to wipe my chain each time I use it and clean the jockey wheels everything else stays pretty clean. it only lasts a week and a needs re applied after a rain ride or two.
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Old 11-27-20, 08:42 AM
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The "black paste" is a mixture of chain lubricant, road grit, and wear particles from the sprockets, chain links, and chainring.
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Old 11-27-20, 09:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
Seems correct. But many chains aren't black metal, indeed often shiny silver, but still dark blackest black grime.
While also shiny silver, pinball solenoid plungers produce the same black, conductive, slightly magnetic dust.
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Old 11-27-20, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by JohnDThompson View Post
The "black paste" is a mixture of chain lubricant, road grit, and wear particles from the sprockets, chain links, and chainring.
^This^...It's also a sign that there's too much lube on your chain. It shouldn't be there.
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Old 11-27-20, 11:21 AM
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Originally Posted by fooferdoggie View Post
its supposed to be metal. but I doubt its all metal. its a lot less with a dry lube verses wet.
Itís not 100% metal particles but it is a high percentage of them and the color comes from the metal. The black color comes from the very small metal particles that are worn off the chain. As the particles get smaller, the way that they reflect light changes. It likely has something to do with the number of surfaces light is reflecting off. As the number of surfaces increase, the light is reflected in more of a random pattern which looks like the light is being absorbed. We are talking very tiny particles...close to nanometer scale.

Any minerals from the grit that lands on the chain would also undergo a similar random light reflection.

Originally Posted by timgriffin2 View Post
I started using dry lube and there's a very noticeable difference with the reduced amount of black mystery crud on my drive train! It took a couple of cleanings/relubes to get it to this point. I guess it takes some time for the new dry lube to fully displace the old stuff deep in the chain. My chain maintenance has gone
from:
The same wear particles are there but they arenít mixed with a liquid and thus donít have the same physics. The dry lubricant is also more likely to flake off than a liquid lubricant which carries the wear particles with it. The dry lubricant also doesnít trap the grit and pump it into and out of the chain in the same way. The result is wear but less trapped metal particles.

Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
Seems correct. But many chains aren't black metal, indeed often shiny silver, but still dark blackest black grime.
Finely divided metals arenít shiny. Iron powder, for example is black but iron plate isnít. Aluminum powder is silver but not shiny. Grind anything and the properties change quite a bit.

Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
^This^...It's also a sign that there's too much lube on your chain. It shouldn't be there.
No. Not really. The amount of lubricant on a chain has little to do with the color of the wear products. Additionally, oil, because it can flow, will move on the chain. No matter how often you wipe it off, more will flow until there isnít any oil left.

Originally Posted by Eliz View Post
When I clean my bike, I'm always struck by the stark difference between:
  1. the dirt on the frame and wheels, which takes the form of ordinary brown grains of sand
  2. the dirt on the chains and sprockets, which takes the form of a very fine-grained grimy black paste
(1) makes sense to me, because the dirt I ride on is also brown and sandy. But where does the black paste come from? What does it consist of? What makes it black when the dirt is brown and my chain lube is white? And why is it such a fine grained paste? How does it get on the chain and sprockets and nowhere else?

Thanks!
Your frame is just picking up dirt particles from the roadway. The color will often depend on the surface and what is on that surface. If you ride in dry sandy areas, the material on the frame will be brown dust. If you were to ride in a volcanic area, the particles on the frame probably be black. But the particles on the frame are just dirt particles and donít change colors much.

The chain and drivetrain, on the other hand, are wearing down the metal each time the chain engages a tooth on the front or rear. The pins of the chain wear and the teeth on the cogs and chainwheels wear. Each particle that comes off gets churned and ground and further reduced. The limit of how far down this material can be ground is the size of the atom of the metal. The sand that you are throwing on your frame is also thrown into the chain where it grinds away at the metal. Use oil and you get more particles stuck to the oil which get pumped into the chain where they can grind away at the chain and drivetrain.

And, just because thereís no free lunch, if you use a dry lubricant, the lube doesnít provide a vehicle for dirt to stick to the chain. Thatís good. But the lubricant also doesnít flow like oil does. The result is more metal to metal contact that also wears the drivetrain and chain. The parts still wear so you donít end up with superior chain or drivetrain life. in fact, the mileage is similar between the two lubricants. One just happens to be cleaner than the other.

All things being equal, I choose to use a lubricant that doesnít need constant cleaning...or the dry lube if that isnít clear.
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Old 11-27-20, 12:27 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
All things being equal, I choose to use a lubricant that doesn’t need constant cleaning...or the dry lube if that isn’t clear.
The cleaner condition is at the expense of the need for way more frequent re-lubrication, I suppose some lubricate before each ride, unless they ride only short spins of 10-20 miles.

From what I read around here, some take lubricant along for the ride to lube the chain after some 30-40 miles on longer rides.
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Old 11-27-20, 04:43 PM
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Originally Posted by vane171 View Post
The cleaner condition is at the expense of the need for way more frequent re-lubrication, I suppose some lubricate before each ride, unless they ride only short spins of 10-20 miles.

From what I read around here, some take lubricant along for the ride to lube the chain after some 30-40 miles on longer rides.
No, it is not. I donít lubricate my chain before every ride and my lubricant lasts a whole lot longer than 20 miles. Iíve gone as far as 700 miles without having to relubricate my chain. I donít usually track the mileage but I did a tour around Lake Erie and had happened to install a new chain right before the tour...as in the chain having zero miles on it. I lubricated the chain 3 times in 1500 miles...at the beginning, at about 200 miles, at 900 miles and when I got home. The reason I lubed at 200 miles was because of about 70 miles of rain riding. I lubed again at 900 miles because I washed my bike after nearly all of the 700 miles was dirt path riding. I lubricated again at home just because.

I just happened to have kept track of the mileage on that chain just for this kind of discussion. I got 3500 miles out of the chain which I find to be about average from what Iíve read. Prior to this experience I was lubricating far more often than I do now. I go 200 to 500 miles between application. Thatís what most oil based users do. The only thing Iíve given up by using dry lubricants is constant cleaning.
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Old 11-27-20, 08:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
...
You get the same black dust inside pinball machines from solenoid plunger wear. It needs to be remove
Interesting reference!
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Old 11-27-20, 08:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
While also shiny silver, pinball solenoid plungers produce the same black, conductive, slightly magnetic dust.
You sound like some sort of Pinball Wizard or something ; )

In terms of chains, get yours nice and clean along with the rest of the drivetrain and then I recommend using a nice wax lubricant or if you are feeling frisky, actually give it a nice wax bath (but for that you need to get it extra clean). It will keep things pretty clean and help prevent a lot of nasty grit and grime from accumulating.

This is my preferred lubricant but in the end they are probably all decent. I do notice I don't need to lubricate my drivetrains as much and of course the above cleaner drivetrain over all. I don't like a really dirty drivetrain, bike I can deal with as I am lazy at cleaning the whole shebang sometimes but not the drivetrain.
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Old 11-27-20, 09:10 PM
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I sometimes smile while I shake my head at some of these posts. One of the three Holy Grails of our activity is chain lube and grime. Figure out how to eliminate grime build up while extending a chain's life and not doing maintenance after lube application and we'll beat a path to your door. Like those other two grails this one is a repeated question that for the 47+ years I've been doing this stuff has never been answered (and, no, I don't think a drive belt is the answer). Andy
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Old 11-27-20, 09:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
I sometimes smile while I shake my head at some of these posts. One of the three Holy Grails of our activity is chain lube and grime. Figure out how to eliminate grime build up while extending a chain's life and not doing maintenance after lube application and we'll beat a path to your door. Like those other two grails this one is a repeated question that for the 47+ years I've been doing this stuff has never been answered (and, no, I don't think a drive belt is the answer). Andy
I donít see the problem as so difficult to answer. If oil based lubricants increase the longevity of the chain significantly (at least by 50%), Iíd use it in a heart beat. I have used oil in the past and had to deal with the mess. I probably still have the grease in the cracks of my fingers. About 20 years ago I tried something else and discovered that I didnít have to deal with the mess. It took quite a while...and not a little experimentation...to discover that I really didnít have to use as much as I initially thought.

I may not be able to answer both parts of your Grail but Iíll take one over the other.
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Old 11-28-20, 09:08 AM
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Old 11-28-20, 01:19 PM
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Wow, thanks for all the useful information!

If metal particles coming from metal-to-metal wear make up the bulk of the black grime, does that mean that a carbon belt drive won't have this black grime? Or do carbon belt drives maybe get black grimy carbon paste instead?
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Old 11-28-20, 01:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Eliz View Post
Wow, thanks for all the useful information!

If metal particles coming from metal-to-metal wear make up the bulk of the black grime, does that mean that a carbon belt drive won't have this black grime? Or do carbon belt drives maybe get black grimy carbon paste instead?
The Gates Carbon Belt drive can get dirty but not greasy unless you add grease or pick up grease from somewhere. It is quite a clean drivetrain system but of course limited in frames you can use and gears.

Carbon paste is for things like a carbon seat post or handlebars to prevent them from slipping and acting as an anti seize/grease.
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