Photo by Daniel Oines

Kerosene is a petroleum product that works well for degreasing bicycle components. No one is quite sure how toxic the fumes are, and while many people in the past used to get away with cleaning parts in kerosene, your author would recommend finding a less toxic solvent.

Unlike gasoline, which can burst into flames at very inappropriate times, like when you want to get burned to death, kerosene is still flammible, but less so.

The flashpoint of kerosene is between 100 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 and 65 degrees Celsius. Does this mean that if you leave a container of kerosene out in the sun over that temperature, it will explode? Maybe. Generally, for a material to autocombust at its flashpoint, it has to be well atomized, and kerosene doesn’t mix with air nearly as readily as gasoline. That’s the problem with gasoline. If you use it near a water heater, any sort of flame source, or maybe just drop a wrench on a concrete floor, resulting in a spark, you’re dead!

A particularly bad idea is something boys in the early 20th century used to try from time to time: They’d pour kerosene into their coaster brakes, ride their bikes fast, bring them to a quick stop, and enjoy seeing the rear hub burst into flames. Don’t try this at home unless you have flameproof pajamas.

You may find this amusing: A bicycle maintenance book published in America in the 1970s offered some incorrect advice. In the United Kingdom, “paraffin” can mean “kerosene.” The American author must have read an English book that said ‘clean your chain in paraffin.’ He then went on to describe in detail a procedure he must not have tried, because it was sure to fail miserably: He told his readers to melt paraffin wax in an old coffee can, soak your chain in that hot wax, then reinstall the chain on the bike.

Although I had my doubts, I had to try it, and found that my wax-soaked chain was so stiff I had to manually free every link. I still had hopes that perhaps this was the perfect, non-messy lubrication. After all, wax is good for zippers. But no, the wax chipped away, leaving my chain high and dry within a mile.

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