Cycling can be a bit of an arms-race, have YOU got the right equipment… have YOU got the best equipment? 10 grams here, 5 watts there. It is all performance driven; from the composition and weave of your cycling jersey through to the lubrication for your drivetrain. There are savings and enhancements everywhere. Just imagine what would happen if the UCI removed the 6.8kg weight limit for race bikes.
If you look closely, you will discover an array of UCI rules governing the all aspects of the bike. Regulations define size, shape, geometry, fairings and even where and how water bottles can be fastened to the frame. With these boundaries this significantly narrows the scope for bike brands to innovate and explains the continuing popularity of technology that appears whimsical.
The Driving Force
Have you noticed that exotic chain coatings are on the rise? Long gone are the days of the untreated, steel plate chain… even a novice knows that a dirty and poorly maintained bike chain is not doing you any favours.
At one of the spectrum, rider can choose from different types of chain lubrication; dry, wet, wax, ceramic and PTFE/Teflon. At the other end (closer to the pointy end of the spectrum) are the treated chains including the Ceramic Speed UFO chains and Muc-Off Nanotube chains which promise elite-level performance. The Flaer system is squarely positioned in the same segment of ‘advanced drive train performance’ but takes a completely different approach by lubricating your chain continually and automatically while riding.
Riders with the Australian pro cycling team Orica-Scott (now Mitchelton-Scott) started using the Flaer system in 2017. Luke Durbidge and Daryl Impey were spotted at the Tour Down Under with the units. The young English company presented Flaer at Eurobike and BNA wanted a closer look to see if this unique solution is the start of a new chapter for riders.
What is exactly Flaer?
The Flaer Revo is a battery powered electronic lubricating unit which attaches to your bike. The main ‘reservoir’ unit is positioned on the seat tube or down tube and has buttons to adjust the lubrication frequency. A cable connects this to the dispenser unit which is fastened to the derailleur (bottom jockey wheel) and delivers the lubrication fluid directly onto the jockey wheel which then transfers to the inside of the moving chain.
You have to use the Flaer brand lubrication (of course) and it is available at fair market prices. The principle is that they have a much lighter lubrication without ‘tackifiers’ so it is far less sticky and dirt and grim easily wicks away. As the mechanical unit it is able to continually ‘top up’ the chain, a sticky and wet lube is no longer required, not even in the rain.
After calibration, Flaer delivers approximately 0.03ml of lubricating fluid at an interval of 30 seconds, 90 seconds or 150 seconds. The short interval is best for wet conditions and on this setting, the 27ml in the main reservoir will last about 7.5 hours. On the slowest setting it allows about 35 hours of ride time on a single fill.
The Flare is available in two versions; the Revo Via is for the road and a taller Revo Terra for the mountains. For this review I used the Flaer Revo Via on the roadbike.
Let’s talk about performance
Flaer boldly announce that you can ‘gain up to 12W’. Now that’s substantial over a long distance however the comparison graph presents a slightly different picture. The chart suggests that the chain inherently creates a 5 watt loss and over time, the comparison chains or lubricants can lose up to 12.5 watts in total. My maths says that if the Flaer can maintain the 5 Watts and not dip, it is not actually a gain, it would be better described as a saving. I am also calculating a 7.5 watt difference. Without a timeline on the x-axis of the chart or details on the other chains tested, I feel that I am missing information.
A quote on the website from Dr. Geraint Florida-James (professor of Applied Sport Science at Edinburgh Napier University) states; “5% gains and maximum efficiency – The system produced excellent results under extensive testing“. Now we are talking percentages and not watts. Again I want more information so BNA requested the missing data from Flaer.
Eric the half a bee, d’y’see? (If you don’t get this… the explanation is here)
Flaer are due to release some of the missing links in the up-coming months on their blog and I have been able to see some of this data. A core concept is that the higher the watts and power input, the higher the losses in performance. It is scalable. If we take drivetrain performance degradation out of the equation, no chain is 100% efficient and there is a natural loss of 2%. For example, when the rider pumps in 125 Watts they are automatically losing 2.5 Watts. At 250 Watts there is a natural loss of 5 watts and at 500 watts this is a loss of 10 watts.
With all of these numbers and mixing watts and percentage, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation or misrepresentation. But the basic principle of Flaer is that you are not gaining performance on a ride. But you’re not losing performance, either. By keeping the constant drivetrain loss constant, you’re ahead of someone who is experiencing a decrease in efficiency over time.
And to return back to the graph, a version with more details was shared however Flaer won’t name the competing brands or setups they tested… which is completely understandable in light of the public spat between Ceramic Speed and Muc Off. Here the 7.5 watt difference is based a comparison with one unnamed brand/setup while other setups displayed a smaller 5 watt difference in performance loss. Flaer provided some of their testing parameters and have noted the tests represents a 250 watt constant input (95 RPM and 71kg rider) over 6 hours. This means that up to the 3 hour mark (with fresh, clean chains) there is very little difference in performance. After this is where the Flaer starts to bring advantages.
It would appear easy to dismiss the Flaer system completely if you are a 2 hour or 3 hour rider, but this would be assuming that your chain is thoroughly cleaned and lubed before each ride. In contrast, Flaer is able to maintain the drivetrain efficiency. On the second ride and third ride you are automatically ahead of the rest without a needing a to completely clean, let along install a new $200 coated chain each day.
I’ll admit that my immediate, honest reaction was “why would anyone need…?” For a gain (or a non-loss) of 5W to have an impact, you’d have to be doing big kilometres, or doing big speeds for much of that distance. Racing, Audax and triathlon are the types events that then came to mind.
To provide some perspective, I used an online calculator to measure the impact of a 5 watt difference. At 250 watts with a 36.55 kmh average, if I lose 5 watts the average speed drops to 36.27 kmh – a 0.28kmh difference.
I have purposely ignored the other factors which remain the same though set the drivetrain loss at 2%. While cycling, the drivetrain efficiency decreases over time which means that this loss needs to be adjusted to account for a constant decrease over time. This works out to an average loss of 0.14 kmh.
Keeping the Flaer chart in mind where the key degradation of performance occurs between 3 – 6 hours (and assuming that all other factors are identical), this 5 watt difference is worth 420 meters during that time. The tangible benefit however will constantly shift as the multitude of factors contributing to the performance efficiency changes. The net result however is drivetrain inefficiency is minimised and this is a performance advantage.
In the world of aerodynamic performance, it is acceptable for the savings in watts to come at a cost of added weight. The Flaer system weighs 121 grams (empty) and even when it is filled with the lubrication, the additional power required to maintain the same speed can be measured in hundredths of a watt. The weight has a negligible effect so on numbers alone, the drivetrain efficiency puts the rider ahead. In other word, performance trumps weight.
A side effect of a well lubricated drivetrain is that it wears slower and lasts longer. The replacement cost of chains, cassettes, chain rings and jockey wheels on a high-end groupset is pricey. But in the real world, the minor economic benefit of prolonging the time between mechanical upgrades is not the top priority for competitive cyclists. The irony is that these top level riders are more likely to replace their components well ahead of time to avoid mechanical deficiencies.
But if you are comparing the one-time purchase of the $570 Flaer Revo Via (along with running costs of the Flaer lube) with the purchase of $200 coated chains for each day of competitive racing – the Flaer could also be financially attractive.
But what does this all mean when it comes to actually riding? You can save theoretical watts till the cows come home by changing bearings, chains, tyres, helmets, gloves, jerseys, shoes, pedals, you name it. After all, aero bidons weren’t invented just to look good. If you are competitive, saving or gaining power is the sum of all of the parts. If you’re not competitive, the Flaer is a gizmo that offers the convenience of lubricating for you.
Setting Up the Flaer
In my experience, setting up most new bike equipment requires patience because it can be time-consuming and you want to do it right the first time. With this in mind, I began the installation. The mounting bracket allows the main reservoir unit to be positioned underneath the down tube or seat tube bottle bosses, which is the logical place for it. Although the 100 gram reservoir unit is fairly light, mounting as low as possible is better. Just remember, if you are in a sprint finish, the upper body movement and side-ways movement means that a low center of gravity works to your advantage (every bit counts right?)
The installation instructions are clear, numerous points during the setup are highlighted and with a good explanation to ensure that you take particular care during crucial steps. The supplied tube which connects the main reservoir unit and dispenser is long enough for even the largest frame. Mounting the dispensing unit on the rear derailleur is the hardest part, it took a while to ensure the nozzle played nicely with my SRAM Force RD cage. A spring loaded ‘nib’ on the dispenser actually touches the jockey wheel. There is scope to move it around so it was a struggle to get it exactly right. Inside the package a replacement long bolt for the lower jockey wheel in included however this didn’t fit through the metal bushings in my rear derailleur, so I left it off and all was well.
During the first use, the tip of the nib is slight burned so that it is no longer touching and doesn’t create any drag. It remains close enough for the lubricating fluid to move directly onto the jockey wheel.
Routing and trimming the tube for installation was easy, removing extra length is important to limit the potential for unwanted movement. Although it is perhaps less than ideal to have it on top of the chain stay (exposed to the chain), the existing cable routing underneath the chain stay on my bike didn’t leave me with much choice. On a road bike, chain-slap is not as common as on a MTB, so I proceeded with this as it was the tidiest option. If you have internal cable routing, it is worth taking the extra time to run it internally which will give you and overall cleaner look. Alternatively, with electronic shifting or internal routing, the space below the chainstay is free and is the next best option for routing the tube from the reservoir to dispenser.
Flaer have a Di2 Tubing kit which is optional and has narrower cables to ‘match’ the Di2 look. The reservoir unit houses two N batteries and their website states that this preferable to rechargeable as these batteries are relatively common and are able to supply the required power and a 150+ hour lifetime.
The Flaer system sits neatly on the bike, if you happen to be running a titanium or steel frame with small, round tubing, the unit may appear a bit bulky. It is a bit like an externally mounted Shimano Di2 battery. The larger tubing of aluminium and carbon fibre frames allows the system to appear more integrated.
On the road with Flaer
I fitted it, filled it and when it didn’t turn on, replaced the batteries and then tried again. Three blue LED’s scroll-up to indicate that it has powered on, and the current ‘interval’ setting. The unit has 3 settings to dispense 0.03ml of fluid every 30, 90 or 150 seconds. This lights on the reservoir to signify the current interval are useful aides however there is no recommendation which setting should be used. It is implied setting 1 with the shortest interval is best for rain, setting 2 for varied weather and setting 3 for dry. You don’t want to drown the chain in lube because all excess lube will be thrown off and can start coat your wheels. Less is perhaps more, but when you are starting out, allow yourself time to test before heading straight into competition.
During the testing I heard reports that the lube tends to get washed away quicker than other proprietary mixtures, so needs replenishing sooner. Indeed this is intended and I felt that this has two benefits. Firstly, it is hard for a lighter lubrication to attract grime and build up (which would lead to decreasing chain efficiency). Secondly, the lighter lube allows excess lube and grime to be more easily ‘spun’ away from the chain while pedalling and similarly keeps the chain cleaner.
The system does have an auto-pause, but you have to remember to turn it on. A button press and you’re set. It doesn’t make noise, so unless you look for the lights, you won’t know if it’s on or off.
The End Game
If I look at the numbers of riders out there who neglect their drivetrains completely, the simple value of lubricating is lost on a lot of people already. But the Flaer is not (yet) fighting for the attention of the everyday cyclists. The $569.99 price tag alone already ensures that is a premium accessory. So yes, this is a lot of money and yes, a lot of bike riders won’t be prepared to pay that much money for ‘up to 12 watts’ savings. For every day riders, the Flaer is an interesting technology to observe as it can provide some hints about the future of cycling.
The Flaer is for cyclists who consider every part of their bike and setup while cycling. It is the arena of marginal gains; in combination all of the small gains add up when you are fighting for mere seconds or meters in a long distance race. Triathletes who don’t have the advantage of drafting or employing team tactics are very obvious candidates. The other audience are cyclists who love premium bikes and gear and simply want (but don’t need) all of the bells and whistles.
The Flaer Revo Via is imported by Bike Sports Imports who supply hundreds of bike shops across Australia. More about Flaer online: flaer.com