Monday, August 26, 2013

Playing catch-up

I'm sorry Racing blog.  I've been neglecting you.  I've been riding, racing, training, crashing, and flatting...the whole nine yards and I haven't told you about any of it.  Mountain biking has been going very well this year, and I've been spending much more time working on the Photography than I have journaling and writing.  This is true in both my personal and public journals.  There are a few stories though that are really good and need to be told.  Look for them soon.

Ultra Ever Don't

You've probably seen the YouTube video advertising the product Ultra Ever Dry.  If you are anything like me (and maybe if you are not), you immediately made the connection between a hydrophobic coating that can repel mud and our shared love of riding bikes in the most unsavory of conditions.  If you are like me you immediately thought of all the things (Frame, tires, shoes, jackets) that you could coat with Ultra Ever Dry and improve your performance in adverse conditions, and be less dirty when you get home.

But you were probably smart enough to leave it at that.  You were probably smart enough not to throw money at the internet and eventually (after long backorder) get two pumps and two bottles of Ultra Ever Dry delivered to your house.

But I did, and now you can learn from my mistake.  First, if you are tempted to use it, read and follow the safety instructions.  This "nanomiracle" is packaged in some pretty noxious solvents, and during the few minutes I took of my respirator the fumes were headache inducing.

The process was pretty straight forward.  Spray on a base-coat, and twenty minutes later, spray on a top coat.  Unfortunately something was wrong with either my batch of base coat or the sprayer, because the base coat came out as a heavy stream as from a squirt gun.  There were no adjustments that could be made, so I ended up spraying this thick vicious liquid onto a number of things and then using a brush to paint it around.  It was not pretty, but I was able to get a layer of base coat on three pairs of cycling shoe (Specialized Road, MTB, and winter Defrosters).  I then coated two rain jackets, and looked at my three bikes and figured I would try it out on the one that was first in line to get dirty, my mountain bike.  By the time I finished applying the base-coat to all of things, it has been 20 minutes since applying the first coating, and it was time go back to the beginning and start applying the top coats.

The top coat had the exact opposite problem as the base coat.  It was so thin it vaporized into a very fine mist that was a little hard to manage because spray was billowing away from the target.  However, the top coat went on with much less effort than the bottom coat.  And so I waited for 30 minutes for the top coat to dry while I cleaned up my sprayers and tools and the area where I was working.  When I returned in 30 minutes, what did I find?

If you watch the YouTube videos closely you will notice that everything they test is white, beige, or otherwise light in color.  Why?  Because the top coat dries to a translucent smokey color.  On the black parts of my bike, it looked like a paint effect, on my black jacket and shoes it looked like a mess.  Not a hot mess, just a mess.  If you look at the back of the bottle it has a warning that it may discolor dark objects.  Duly noted.

But aesthetics aside, did it work?  Yes, and it was pretty freaking amazing to watch.  The spray of water wouldn't even touch the surface, it would bounce off like tiny rubber balls. There were some parts of my jacket that, because of the problems applying the base coat evenly, were not superhydrophobic, but most of the jacket repelled water remarkably well.  However things were not so great with the shoes.  My road and summer mountain bike shoes were hit and miss.  It turns out that the coating was not enough strong enough to keep water from forcing its way through the mesh on the toes, but the sold leather parts repelled water just like the video.  It worked especially well on my Defrosters, winter shoes that did not have mesh vents.  But there was a problem.  The ultra-ever dry softened the ratchets on the sides and I snapped off both of them on my mountain bike shoes before I realize what was happening.  I then tried on a brand new pair of road shoes I had coated, thinking it was a problem with the age of the first pair, and stopped with a third broken ratchets in my hand.  I waited another 24 hrs, and the plastic hardened again, and I have not broken another one since.  So if you use it on or near plastic, beware!

And my bike?  It repelled water, just like on YouTube.

So if it worked, why am I recommending against it?

If you read the fine print on the bottle you find some pretty interesting statements.  Like the coating is not permanent and under ideal circumstances only lasts about 6 - 8 months, and my favorite part?  The coating can become "ineffective" if you touch it with your fingers.  And you are not actually supposed to clean it with soap, brushes, or anything other than a gentle spray of water.  So basically, if you use your object the Ultra-Ever Dry coating goes away.  Here's why.

Ultra-ever dry is a two-coating system, the base layer is a clear polymer, that has what I am assuming a strong negative electric charge.  The top coat contains the actual nano particles dissolved in a highly volatile liquid that evaporates leaving a coating of positively charged nano-particles clinging to the negatively charged base-coat.  When you touch it with your fingers, or anything really, it is very easy to wipe the nano particles off the base coat because they are basically a layer of dust with either a weak electrostatic or Van Der Waals force holding them to the surface.

Once the top coat is gone, something peculiar happens.  The bottom coat becomes a magnet for dirt and grease.  For example, I have a plastic-bristled brush that I have used to clean cassettes and chains.  I will use it on the frame to help knock off dried on and piled up mud.  With the ultra-ever dry the grease from the bristles jumped off the brush and bonded to the exposed bottom coat.  The only way to remove the grease was to scrub with a clean rag, which very quickly meant rubbing off the polymer bottom coat.  It took less than a week for my superhydrophobic bike to become super-grease-and-dirt attracting.  This means it requires scrubbing and soap to get it clean, which in turns removes more top coat, which exposes more bottom coat, which collects more dirt.  It took another month or two (and one afternoon of vigorous scrubbing) to get all of the base coat off of the frame and components of my mountain bike.  My jackets are no longer completely superhydrophobic either, it seems that wearing and touching clothing can also separate the top from bottom coat.  So they still look messy, and only parts of them repel water as they should.

In closing, Ultra-Ever Dry is a neat trick of nano-engineering and will give you amazing results, provided you use it on something that you only want to bring out as a parlor trick on occasion.  Using it on anything that has to be worn, ridden, or touched on a regular basis is not worth the cost.

On a completely unrelated note, I have a pair of Ultra-Ever Dry sprayers for sale if anyone is interested.