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Let’s be honest – lubing your motorcycle’s chain is one of those things you never do as often as you should. But did you know, you can get over three times the mileage from your chain (and to an extent your sprockets) if you regularly lube it up.
If you are the lazy type or lack the skills, you can get your local garage to fit an automatic chain-lubing device, like a Scottoiler, which means you’ll never have to lube your chain again. Hooray!
Some people say you don’t need to lube an O-ring chain, but they’re missing the point. The O-ring is sealed and helps keep the pins lubed but the plates also need regular lubing or they’ll oxidise, stick and wear faster. There isn’t a chain on the market that doesn’t require a small amount of maintenance from time to time.
No oily mess, just a great lube
Motul is a quality brand, well proven in the world of motorsport. This chain lube is for all types of chains: from your OEM chain to upgraded and high-performance O-ring, X-ring, Z-ring chains. The low-fling formula makes it especially good for performance motorbikes, as it sticks to the chain even at high speeds and high revolutions.
A wax from the lubrication specialists
A high-penetrating wax that contains PTFE but doesn’t contain silicone. It’s water-repelling and designed to stay coated on your chain whatever the weather. Anti-fling formula and it’s suitable for all chain types.
Motorcycle Chain Lube vs Wax
There are two main types of chain lube; a lube and a wax. The lube is like a sticky oil, it goes on in liquid form and stays liquid. A wax goes on in liquid form but will quickly solidify. Chain waxes are usually white in colour, whereas a lube is usually clear.
Another good option is a dry chain lube. Dry is a bit misleading – it’s still liquid but it comes out as more of a spray than a liquid, coats the chain well and is hard to overspray. But some people prefer a good old ‘wet’ chain lube which has greater longevity, especially in wet weather.
How to apply motorcycle chain lube
Is that really necessary?
Well yes – as road crap builds up in your chain, if you spray fresh lube over it, you’re just creating an abrasive paste to help wear your chain out faster. So a quick spray with chain cleaner and a little scrub with a chain-cleaning brush and then a final rinse with chain cleaner will do wonders for your chain’s life.
When it comes to applying lube or wax, you apply them both in exactly the same way – ideally on a warm chain.
Why a warm chain?
One of the issues with a chain wax is fling. You wax up your chain, go for a ride and when you come home, the underside of your pillion seat looks like a plasterer’s radio – chain wax splattered everywhere.
One of the issues is that the wax dries quite quickly and doesn’t penetrate as well as a lube on a cold chain. If you apply your lube or wax after a ride, with the chain nice and warm, the lubricant gets to penetrate that bit better instead of sitting on top of the chain and – in the case of chain wax – it lowers the amount of fling.
Obviously, if you apply too much of either, you’ll always end up with fling. So don’t go spraying it like it’s a can of Silly String
We find the best way to apply lube is with the bike parked up, engine off. If you have a centre stand or a paddock stand, you’re in luck but if you have a side stand, you can make the job a lot easier with one of these motorcycle wheel spinners (which also come in really handy if you’re cleaning your bike’s wheels).
Spray along the inside of the chain from the front sprocket to the rear and with your spare hand, hold a rag under the chain to catch any overspray. Then roll the bike forward until the unlubed half of the chain is on the top and repeat. It takes less than a minute – simple.
If you lube your chain on the outside, the lube is going to get flung off without penetrating the chain. Lube the inside and the centrifugal forces will help drive the lube through the chain, exactly where you want it to be!
Mind your fingers
The lazy way to apply chain lube, is to stick your bike on its centre stand or a paddock stand, let it tick over in first gear and spray away. This is fine, all the time you’re paying attention and your sleeve, oily rag or fingers don’t get caught in the sprocket. If you have an iron stomach, search Google for ‘motorcycle chain lube injury’, but be warned – the images are brutal.
The other drawback with this method is that it’s so easy to overspray, saturating your chain and guaranteeing you’ll be wasting time cleaning all the splatter off, following your next ride.
If you’re touring, pack a small tin of chain lube in with you. A 50ml Muc Off Chain Lube will do 2 to 3 coats. Motul's Chain Paste is the size of a big tube of toothpaste and will do the job well too.
An automatic chain oiler like this Scottoiler will ensure you get maximum life from your chain. At around £100, it might not save you money over the manual method but it is hassle-free.
A chain that’s too tight or too loose will wear prematurely - when you lube your chain, check it and adjust when required.
Motorcycle Chain Lubing FAQs
How often should I lube my chain?
Check out your bike’s manual for their guidance. Once every 200 miles is what most manufacturers recommend. There are differing opinions on how often you should lube your chain, however, if you lube your chain once a month, you’re doing way better than most. However if you’ve ridden in wet conditions, you’ll need to lube it more frequently. Likewise, if it looks dry, give it some lube.
Can I use bicycle chain lube on my motorcycle?
If it’s all you have to hand, it’s better than nothing. Most bicycle chain lubes are dry and are more expensive than motorcycle chain lubes, so it’s not a good idea to splurge all your expensive bicycle chain lube on your bike.
Can engine oil be used as chain oil?
We definitely wouldn’t use old engine oil, as it contains a perfect mixture of particles to knacker your o-rings. We wouldn’t use engine oil either as if it flings off the chain, it’ll end up on the back tyre and you’ll risk tipping off. If you were in the middle of nowhere, worried about your chain and all you had was engine oil, you could pour a bit onto a rag and carefully apply it to the side plates to prevent them rusting – but really, try to avoid using engine oil on your motorcycle’s chain.
Can I use ordinary grease on my chain?
We wouldn’t recommend it – it’ll attract way too much road crud which will work its way into your chain and prematurely wear it out.
Can I use a wire brush to clean my chain and remove any rust?
It’s best to avoid a wire brush as it can get its way into the gaps between the plates and damage the rings. Use a soft plastic or nylon brush. A specific motorcycle chain-cleaning brush helps make the job a lot easier.
Can I lube my chain with WD-40?
Again it’s not advisable to. In fact, giving your chain a coating of WD-40 is a really good way of loosening up the dirt before you clean it. If you don’t have a chain cleaner, WD will do the job well but it’s best to use a lube after you have cleaned off the WD-40.
How long does a motorcycle chain last?
This really depends on a few variables: the quality of the chain, how well you maintain it and where you ride. For the average road rider, riding in all conditions with a well-maintained and quality chain – you should get 25,000 miles from yours. If we were looking at buying a second-hand bike, on its original chain with 10,000 miles on the clock, we’d be looking at replacing that. If you fit a brand new quality chain and never maintain it, you’ll need to replace it at around 10,000 miles too.
Can I use petrol to clean my chain?
The short answer is yes but it’s risky. Petrol is highly flammable, attacks the rubber o-rings in your chain, is a fire risk and is generally not a nice thing to inhale. If you have access to paraffin, that’ll do the job well and won’t attack the rubber o-rings.
Should I use wet or dry chain lube?
It doesn’t matter which chain lube you use, it’s down to preference. A wet chain lube goes on like a sticky oil and lasts longer. Dry chain lube is more like hairspray and has less chance of over-spraying onto your wheels and tyre.
How tight should a motorcycle chain be?
Your manual should show you the recommended settings but as a rule of thumb, 2-3cm of free play is typical for road bikes and 2-4cm is suitable for dirtbikes. Make sure you check your chain periodically to get the best performance and prevent damage.
We researched and wrote this motorcycle chain lube guide with help from the following websites.
Motorcycle Garage Guide
Here at BikerRated, we think that every biker’s garage should be a sacred place. Not just a place to securely store your motorcycle but space where you can work on it in comfort and enjoy not just riding, but owning and maintaining your motorcycle.
See our motorcycle garage guide for more tips on how to turn your garage or shed into motorcycling nirvana.