Grease is just grease, right? Some sort of petroleum-based or petroleum-like substance that is somewhere between a liquid and a solid…That is, it’s just grease until it runs out of your races because it’s too thin, or causes your pawls to fail because it’s too thick. Shimano Dura-Ace Grease is the day-glo green stuff that comes gooped in and on Shimano parts. It seems to go anywhere there are bearings or threads. Until now, you had to go with another brand grease when re-packing your Shimano hubs, pulleys, and headset.
But here it is. Special Grease Dura-Ace in a 50g (1 3/4oz) tub. The grease comes from Germany. The tub is good for dipping your finger in and spreading on races, balls, threads, etc. If you are really precise, you can pack a syringe with the stuff and spread it that way. The tub may be small, but it should last a good while.
We’d love to tell you about the science behind the grease, the research and development, the precise nature of how certain greases work better than others, the ideal range of viscosities for certain riding conditions. But such data, compiled from a series of scientific tests, doesn’t seem to exist. If it does, no one is making it public.
The issue is the bike industry. Namely, the size of the bike industry. The bike world is small and doesn’t have lots of money. Despite all the gear that breaks, the issues of bearings, even chains, are relatively minimal. Calvin Jones, the tech guru of Park Tool points out, “Even at 60k (an hour) under a big guy at a TT, the hub is not spinning very fast. A kitchen fan goes much faster.” And bikes don’t nearly put the same load on bearings that a car, even a motorcycle, does. No matter how fast a bike goes, bearings are not spinning that fast, heat is not building up, and the friction that is generated is relatively minor. As a result, most of the lubes and greases we see are actually developed by other industries, mainly automotive, aviation, and marine. They’re re-labeled and re-purposed for bikes.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, bicycle technology was essential to the development of cars, motorcycles, and planes. There’s nothing wrong with technology coming back our way. If the grease is over-engineered for our purpose, that shouldn’t create a problem.
All the same, it is certain that there are better and worse lubrications for certain applications. There is marine propeller grease, which is put on things that spin underwater. Might be too thick for cycling. Likewise, there is motor oil, which probably can’t stay in bearing races for long or when water penetrates a seal.
There could be great possibilities for improving performance. We were fascinated by the scene at the CSC-Saxo Bank truck the day before the final time trial of this year’s Tour de France. Team mechanics, presumably under team director Bjarne Riis’ orders, pulled out all the bearings on yellow jersey Carlos Sastre’s time trial bike, removed the seals, flushed the grease, and replaced grease with oil. Could this have helped Sastre save the jersey and the race? We have no idea, but this is an old-school solution that we thought disappeared around the time brake levers went aero.
Yet, there are many factors that determine performance. Some people want grease to stay put no matter what, some want no friction. Most of us want something in between. We want the grease to protect and stay put, but not slow us down.
We’ve used relatively few greases over the years. Phil Wood was always the standby for packing it in thick, even when the thinner Campagnolo Lithium was available. We used Phil in the places we didn’t want grease to ever come out of. Insides of bottom brackets, prepping frame tubes for seat posts, headsets, and hubs. We used it on just about anything with a thread that was somewhat hidden from the elements. Brake pivot bolts, seat post bolts, quick release shafts. We used thinner Pedro’s Syn Grease for our Speedplay pedals because our grease gun fitting screwed on to the Pedro’s tube. Seemed ok as we figured we were servicing them at shorter intervals than the other parts, the thinner viscosity might turn over easier and wouldn’t cost us anything in terms of wrecked bearings. Never had a problem with the pedal bearings. More recently, we’ve been playing with Rock ‘n Roll’s Super-Web grease. The Web stuff is thin, but impressively sticky.
The Shimano Dura-Ace grease seems, on first inspection, to be somewhere between the Rock ‘n Roll and Phil Wood. Thicker than the Super-Web but thinner than the Phil. It also has a certain stickiness that reminds us of Rock ‘n Roll. Put it between two fingers and pull the finger apart. It takes some effort. We think this is a good thing, that it will stay on the ball bearings as they spin, sticking to itself and the bearings and the races as the component spins. It reminds us, strongly reminds us, of Motorex bike grease. Same color and stickiness. We don’t know if the maker of the Motorex stuff makes the Shimano; the U.S. contact didn’t seem to know who made either.
We repacked our hubs and greased our seat post tube and headset bearings. Once we opened up our front hub, we realized it had been too long since we last serviced the bearings. There was almost no grease, and what little there was, was caked on the races, away from the loose balls. We cleaned everything up and put in as much grease as would fit. Excess bearing grease typically spins out of the races to the outside of the hub, though there are some exceptions. Don’t pack most cassette pawls in grease; it’s too thick for the pawls to function smoothly. We once followed instructions to use a grease fitting to push grease into a rear hub. It gummed up the pawls and ruined a stage race.
After putting everything back together, we spun the wheels. Both wheels spun longer than before. Good sign. We then rode and watched the grease ooze out of the hubs. Everything looked good and rode smoothly.
We then heard back from Shimano. They say packing grease in races is not the way to use their grease. D’oh! A light coating is all that is necessary. Dave Arnausckas, Shimano Multi-Service Manager, the team that goes on the road and services bikes at races tells us, “Give the cups a coating, put the bearings in there, and then a little more on top. And that’s it. Not a particular volume in there. If you put too much in, some is forced out. If you get it too packed, you’ll create more friction than if you do it lightly.” Also, don’t put the grease on cables. Shimano has SP-41 grease on cables and housing.
While we haven’t tried the SP-41, we already have a cable grease. Over the years, we’ve gone from one lube and one grease, to several choices for each, and take advantage of the differences depending on the use of the component and the conditions we expect to ride. While a summer of road riding isn’t enough for Dura-Ace grease to solidify a place on our workbench, we like what we’ve experienced thusfar and are going to keep it around for more use.