Friction Wars on the Horizon?

On the peninsula jutting up into the north sea, Danish company Ceramic Speed's mission is to reduce drivetrain friction to a minimum, in bicycles or any bearing-based application. It manufactures ceramic bearings and the components they go in, like bottom brackets and pulley wheels (in particular its oversized pulleys).

On the other side of the Atlantic Jason Smith owned and ran Friction Facts, a small and tight operation, testing bicycle drivetrain friction and optimizing chains for race applications.

A year and a half ago Ceramic Speed acquired one-half of Mr. Smith’s company. It bought the UltraFast Optimization (UFO) chain optimization product and process, and this allowed Ceramic Speed to optimize an entire driveline.

This freed Mr. Smith to focus on testing. He produced the Velo Chain Lube Efficiency Tests, published by VeloNews, wherein 55 chain lubes were tested. Mr. Smith’s own paraffin/teflon/MoS2 blend, with which he treated his own chains (the process Ceramic Speed bought), tested slightly better than the best off-the-shelf lube.

These are not trivial fractions of a watt we’re talking about. A lubricated chain reduces your power requirements by 4.5 watts, and the right lube by 9 watts.

Last month Ceramic Speed purchased the rest of Mr. Smith. He is Ceramic Speed’s Chief Technology Officer now, and Ceramic Speed announced, “the creation of the world’s most comprehensive cycling industry Lubrication Development Lab.” In this lab, according to a release today, it means, "to challenge the claims of the fastest chain lubes on the market,” and to, "map myths and claims made regarding chain lubricant efficiency and lifetime.”

By hiring Jason Smith to be its CTO Ceramic Speed adds a leader in fluid and friction development. By acquiring his lab it is now both a seller of speed and… ahem… the official arbiter of its competitors’ claims of speed.

Speaking of competitors, this week PremierBike started taking orders for its own chains, which are Wippermann chains undergoing a process of wax/PTFE lube mixture similar to the UFO chain. But before that process, PremierBike’s chains will undergo a process known as CAVSF, to smooth the surface of the chain and reduce parasitic drag. PremierBike claims that this process further reduces friction and lasts the life of the chain (rather than the short-lived gains earned by a lube-process only). The PremierBike chain sells for $135, and a discount code is said to exist for Slowtwitchers. It’s not discoverable at first blush, but here is the PremierBike forum thread and if available the code will probably be found there.

PremierBike’s use of the CAVSF technology throws a new wrinkle into the Friction Wars and, one assumes, will prompt Ceramic Speed to investigate and react. By bringing Jason Smith aboard Ceramic Speed acquires the brain behind each of Friction Facts’ reports which, according to Mr. Smith, are worth better than 20 watts in the aggregate were one to avail himself of everything these reports reveal.

Some readers will doubtless see this as an “opportunity” to spend yet more money in search of speed, but most of the speed is free or, at least, cheap. Remember the delta between 4.5w and 9w, depending on the lube you choose? Squirt Lube gives you the 9w. Start with a good chain (Wipperman has the least surface roughness out of the box, according to PremierBike), keep it clean, keep it lubed, you’re more than halfway there.