Note: we don’t usually print press releases (unlike certain other publications we could mention, RKP does not employ a fulltime Press Release Re-Typist). But this one is interesting–several cutting-edge technologies brought to bear on an age-old problem to create a fundamentally superior product.
We have samples on the way and look forward to both initial and extended testing later this season.
NEWS—for immediate release
01-April-2016, Vicenza, Italy
Using laser-sintered fabrication for its principle components and featuring embedded nanoparticles of a slicker-than-Teflon ceramic material, an Italian company announced today it has created what it calls “the ultimate bicycle chain.”
“The technical pieces of the Aldenti chain have been available for a couple decades,” says Riccardo Bulissimo, North American brand manager for Fabbricazioni Aldenti S.r.l. “All we have done is put the puzzle together in a nice way.”
“By combining a ‘ceramic alloy’ with high-performance titanium, we’ve created a self-lubricating metal matrix composite that can be laser-sintered into link plates, rollers, and pins.”
Beyond the base cost, Bulissimo explains, the biggest historical obstacle to titanium chains has been that titanium plate is so hard, it’s difficult to make the links cost-effectively with conventional machine shop equipment.
But a chain’s individual parts have very simple shapes, Bulissimo says, which makes them perfect for 3D printing. And unlike traditional metal fabrication, there’s almost no material wastage, so the laser-sintered product ends up being more affordable than the machined version.
The ultra-slippery “ceramic alloy” that makes up part of the Ti MMC material was created by combining a metal alloy of boron, aluminum and magnesium (AlMgB14) with titanium boride (TiB2). The stuff was discovered by accident at the US Department of Energy Ames Laboratory in Iowa in 1999 during attempts to develop a substance that would generate electricity when heated.
BAM didn’t generate electricity, but was found to have other desirable characteristics. “Its hardness was discovered by accident. We had a terrible time cutting it, grinding it, or polishing it,” says Alan Russell, a materials scientist at Iowa State University in Ames. “It’s actually a lot harder than titanium, but it’s so brittle you wouldn’t want to make parts out of the stuff.”
More interesting to cyclists is that BAM is much slipperier than Teflon, with a coefficient of friction of .004µ compared to Teflon’s .005. (For reference, the lubricated steel on conventional chains has a frictional coefficient of 0.16µ.) This difference, the company claims, saves the Aldenti rider about three Watts over conventional chains at 40km/h.
Because the materials are so hard, the chain has exceptionally long life. And, with the lubricant integrated directly into the MMC, an Aldenti chain never needs to be lubed.
“At our test facility in Vicenza, we run the chains under load through what we call ‘the Kool-Aid’—a slurry of water, mud, and small rocks,” says Bulissimo. “After the equivalent of 10K, the slurry is ground to silt and water, and we can just wipe the chain clean with a rag and use it again. We can even drink the Kool-Aid.”
Aldenti says it will show production samples of their new chain at Sea Otter. Pricing has not yet been determined. Ti/BAM chainrings and cogs are also pending. For more information, go the Aldenti company website (Italian).