The Challenges of Drivetrain Performance Part 3 – The Opportunities & Future

Part 3 – The opportunities & future

When we first presented our products and the performance gains available to the pro-teams one Performance Director commented that in their search for performance they have spent thousands of Euros in refining their rider positions so they are optimised for aero gains of less than 1%. The surprise for them was that the gains available in the transmission were so significant and that no one had challenged the current way of doing things up until now. What struck us about this was that if the best teams in the world are not aware of the opportunity for sizeable performance gains in the transmission, then it’s likely that no-one else would know either and so we would need to raise awareness of the extent to which a poorly maintained transmission can be encumbered with losses.

At Flaér we are approaching the problem from a different angle to the traditional chain lube manufacturers. Instead of trying to make sticky lubes that are difficult to wash away and end up collecting dirt, we have produced clean, non-sticky lubricants or fluids that are continually applied in micro-doses via a small on board reservoir whilst you ride. The result is that the dirt, grit and grime don’t stick as much and as the fluid is continually applied the fluid layer is being constantly topped up so even in the worst of conditions maximum performance is maintained all the time.

Future testing…..

In order to continue to understand the significant performance gains available in the drive chain we are always exploring new ways to improve the accuracy of our test data. Our work with Orica-Scott/Michelton-BikeExchange and the Cube Action Team supports our lab testing and gives real world feedback from riders at the highest levels in the sport. In addition to this we are also working on a number of other development projects, so watch this space!


Some key messages to take from this series:

  • The drive chain is a key component of your bicycle, like your tyres, brakes and contact points
    • It’s the part of the bicycle that transfers the effort you exert on the pedals to the rear wheel to make you go forward.
  • A chain can only ever achieve 98% efficiency (that’s 98% of its performance potential).
    • Due to manufacturing defects and the nature of chain construction no chains have ever achieved the holy grail of 100%. Some have come close however 98% is the industry standard and used in many technical articles.
  • In a lab, a clean, well lubricated chain will tend to operate around 95-98% efficiency
    • It has been proven through many tests in labs that 98% can be reached with a perfectly clean and well lubricated chain. The lubricant used can affect this percentage however in most cases (in the lab) it’s irrelevant due to no dirt or debris. Different lubes are better than others and some are super-efficient… the lab!
    • We test in the lab to benchmark the best case. By removing the real world variables we can get an accurate assessment of how lubes perform in perfect conditions at the start. This is however no measure of how they will perform in the real world, hence why we simulate environmental factors (rain, dirt, sand, grit etc) in the lab so that we can get a truer understanding of how that lubricant performs across a range of controlled factors.
  • A chain & lubricant will perform very differently in the real world.
    • Due to the many external factors (highlighted in part 1 of this series) chain performance or efficiency will vary significantly depending on where, when and how you ride. A chains performance will also depend on the cleaning and lubrication process used on the drive chain before and after the ride.
    • As you ride your chain drive will start to collect debris from the environment. This will vary depending on the location and conditions in which you ride. The debris in that environment will tend to want to stick to the chain and through time will begin to work its way into some of the key components of the transmission such as the rollers in the chain, the teeth of your cassette and rings and other areas of the drive system. This debris will, through time increase the friction in the system making the transmission slower and less efficient. This performance loss can be within minutes of setting off depending on the riding conditions, style, type of lubricant used and environment.
  • All chain lube manufacturers face the same challenge when it comes to lubrication.
    • Chain lube manufacturers are not trying to improve chain efficiency they are merely trying to maintain it, ideally throughout the duration of your ride. If you start at 98% of the chains potential there is only 1 way to go. The challenge is to keep/maintain the performance at this level and prevent it from decreasing.
  • Chain lube manufacturers are trying to create lubricants which have an extremely wide range of requirements, some examples of which are below:
    • An excellent (ideally low) friction coefficient to allow the transmission to operate at the highest level of efficiency
    • Good shear strength to prevent metal on metal contact and minimise wear
    • Minimise static friction (stiction) – the force required to begin moving each component
    • Maintain levels of performance across a wide range of climates, environments & rider/bicycle combinations
    • Minimise the build-up of dirt and debris
    • Easy application
  • By approaching the problem with a solution that is applied once before a ride, sacrifices have to be made, as improving one of these elements can compromise on some of the other requirements
    • The most efficient lubricant will have to carry additives that allow it to last long enough in the real world. These will attract dirt or debris making it more difficult to keep clean and maintain performance. Alternatively, not including the additives to make it last will result in the lubricant wearing off too quickly and performance being affected again as a result. A fine balance in the design of these lubricants is therefore required with the different solutions available being compromised in one way or another.
  • By approaching the problem with a solution that is applied throughout the ride, other compromises have to be considered
    • Now, the most efficient lubricant doesn’t require additives that allow it to last as it is being continually applied and it can therefore be much cleaner too. However, there is the additional weight payload. So, in designing our solution we aim to achieve a net gain in terms of performance with the additional weight taken into account. Our system has been designed to be small, light and easy to use whilst providing a significant performance advantage even when taking into account the additional weight.