The topic of motorcycle chain lubrication has been discussed ad nauseum in motorcycle magazines, forums and over many pints at the local pub.
But issues like cost, value, efficiency and a description of the types of chain lube delivery mechanisms (i.e., spray, foam, paste, grease, etc.) have not.
We propose that it’s nearly impossible for the average motorcycle owner to truly measure the effectiveness of various chain lubricants on wear and longevity.
What becomes important are efficiency issues like ease of use, the type of lubricant delivery mechanism and value (cost as a factor of volume and precision of delivery).
In this comparison article, we develop a subjective list of these criteria and then focus on them as the point of the discussion.
We included a video (below) to illustrate the different types of chain lubricant delivery mechanisms and to give a rough idea of how efficient they are at getting the maximum amount of lube on to the chain with the minimum amount of waste.
It’s chain lube time again! The Cameleon oiler (review) has been doing its job on the Multistrada, although it was cranked way down to a one-second interval in hopes of limiting the amount of oil thrown up on the wheel and swingarm.
The problem with this and some other oilers I’ve seen, now that I’m looking more closely at these things, is that they can do a pretty good job of lubricating the inside of the chain, but the outer plates can start to look pretty dry — and, in fact, rusted on some bikes.
The feeder tube on the Cameleon has a very small diameter, which is part of the problem.
If it had a wider tip, perhaps the oil would be spread farther across the chain, or if it had a split tip, with two paths for oil to hit each side, perhaps that would be better.
But most of these automatic chain oilers do not have very precise delivery mechanisms — it’s more like throwing some oil on the chain and let’s hope it does some good.
In the meantime, there’s good ol’ chain lube, in all its forms. There’s no question that the DuPont Teflon chain lube (review) is the all-time favorite (so far) in these parts.
It’s cheap; it can be found just about anywhere; it goes on easy and dries quickly, leaving (in theory) a coating of Teflon behind to do its thing, keeping the chain humming along smoothly and quietly.
It has virtually no residue and it’s not greasy or oily once it dries, so there’s basically nothing for the dust and dirt to stick to, a big factor in chain longevity.
Which brings me to a point — motorcycle chain lubrication is definitely an effort of faith; after all, who really knows which lube, in what quantities, applied with what frequency, really does the best job?
It would be nearly impossible to truly and “scientifically” evaluate this stuff, even if you did have the time, resources and money.
You’d have to set up a test rig featuring a row of chains on front and rear sprockets.
They’d have to be experiencing the same types of pressures and speeds, torque and twist, bumps and grinds, stopping and going and the dust and dirt that a normal motorcycle chain experiences.
Then you’d have to use different lubes at different intervals, along with varied cleaning (or not) methods.
Finally, you’d have to have some knowledge of metals and wear characteristics, and some way of measuring the same, to develop any type of conclusion.
So that’s why we basically have to trust whatever they’re telling us on the label. Kind of like motorcycle oil… Let’s face it: the criteria for motorcycle chain lubes are:
Availability: That is, you can get it without too much effort;
Price: It costs what you’re willing to pay;
Ease of Use: Easy to apply (whatever the word “easy” means to you — because if it ain’t easy to apply, you’re not going to do it, and the “best” chain lube in the world is worthless if it sits on the shelf);
Resistance to Fling-Off: It stays on the chain and doesn’t spray all over the wheel, swingarm and everywhere else;
Longevity: The product seems to last, at least until the next time you get up enough energy to bend down and do the job again;
Effectiveness: That it works (or at least seems to, because again — who really knows?).
Every time we publish a chain lube article, we get emails from readers who either never lube their chain (they allow the grease behind the O-rings do its thing) to fanatics who have the controls for their oiler right up there on the handlebar, so they can give a squirt every few miles or so.
I definitely tend towards the former rather than the latter.
If I remember, or if the chain starts to look kind of dry, dusty or dirty, I may throw the bike up on the center stand or swingarm stand and wipe the chain with whatever’s at hand — WD-40, kerosene, chain cleaner, Simple Green or whatever) and spritz some oil or lube on it.
Lube freaks will be, well, freaking at this, and I know you’re supposed to lube the chain while its still warm after a ride (the last thing I feel like doing by time I get home) and that the lube should be sprayed on the top side of the bottom run of the chain, just before the chain goes into the rear sprocket.
So here’s my Lazy Luber’s trick: I wad up some paper towels to catch the mess and I lay them under the top run of the chain; that is, between the bottom links of the top run of the chain and the top of the swingarm.
Why the top run? On most bikes, it’s much easier to access the chain on the top run where it passes over the swingarm, rather than the bottom run, where you have to get down on your back under the exhaust.
I also always try to use a “liquidy” type of lube, rather than the thick lubes, waxes or foams. My feeling is that the best lubes are the ones with a focused spray that allows precise applications on to both sides of the chain’s side plates, with a minimum amount of overspray or mess or drips.
I use the motorcycle chain lubes that are thinner because they seep down into the chain when I’m using the Lazy Luber’s “lube from above” method. Slick, eh?
To get a feel for the different types of formulations available in motorcycle chain lubricants, check out the video we made (below), which we made to show you the different consistencies and formulations of the 13 chain lubes that are the subject of this article.
OK, so the lube freaks will be freaking again, but to my point: until someone has definitive proof, not street legend, that says that lubing from the top creates more and faster wear than lubing from the bottom, I’ll continue to do it. So there…
I will admit that it is probably better for the chain to be warm when lubing from the top, because the warm chain probably helps to distribute the spray more effectively down there in between the side plates.
But again, who knows for sure? In any case, wad up a few paper towels, lay them under the top run of the chain and spray away.
Try to make sure the spray gets on the side plates — that’s really what you’re lubing, because the O-rings are theoretically keeping the insides of the rollers filled with grease, and any lube on the outside of the rollers is gone the first time they pass through the sprockets.
As always, we’re open for suggestions, advice and tips; see the “Owner Comments” section below.
So we went out and tried to find a dozen or so motorcycle chain lubes that were either new, different, unique, unheard of or ridiculous, and I think we succeeded.
Did we find any that we like better than DuPont Teflon chain lube? No.
But there is one winner in this bunch — not because it makes a chain last any longer than any of the others (because we’ll never know the answer to that) but because it’s relatively easy to find.
It also has a strong, focused spray; it’s clear; it dries relatively quickly; it has probably the least amount of overspray (i.e., waste) of any of the motorcycle chain lubes shown here; and it comes in a big, honkin’ 16 oz. spray can.
What is it? Klotz KLR Chain Lube. Now note that Klotz makes other types of chain lubes; one, in fact, that we also reviewed in this batch (Klotz Extratac that we didn’t like). Our favorite here is specifically the Klotz KLR KL-611.
Once more folks: this is totally subjective, because other than the criteria listed above, there’s just no way that I can think of to accurately and scientifically evaluate motorcycle chain lubes to understand their true effectiveness.
There’s a lot of subjective street legend when it comes to chain lubes, and this is our contribution, so don’t get too hung up on it — these are all pretty good chain lubes.
There’s not much to say about any of these, but we created a page for each with a couple of photos and some info, so have at it.
Remember — any of these chain lubes will probably do a good job for you, so use the criteria above to find one that meets your needs and throw it on the chain once and a while and you should be OK.
From “C”: “I have received the best performance from Silkolene Chain Lube.”
From “O.S”: “I’ve been using a paintbrush (the type you’d use to paint your walls) in combination with engine oil (I happen to have a supply of 5w40 fully synth, although anything will do in my opinion) to both lubricate & clean my chain.
I apply the oil using the paintbrush very liberally. The engine oil dissolves all the grease & grime very effectively, meanwhile it also penetrates the chain and o rings.
Once application is complete, I wipe the excess off using a clean cloth (to minimise fling, and to remove remaining grime), and hey presto – good as new.”
From “R”: “I saw this article and counted on you guys giving me a good review like you do on other products. But instead I find a review/comparison that doesn’t even touch the really important parts of what a product lubes and how long it lasts before needing a re-lube.
Mostly what I read was how easy the lube is to use, it’s price, availability, and if it splatters.
No mention of lubing the rollers and sprocket teeth, where the motor stresses are put on the system the most. I use Maxima chain wax and have to re-lube about every 400 miles on the street.
I’m more concerned with the chain rollers/sprocket teeth than the side plates. If my rollers get shiny I know it’s probably time to re-lube the system. I then counter rotate the chain (in neutral) and see how loud it is. The drier the louder.
I apply the lube as directed, when the chain is warm, so it penetrates better inside. I try to lube the chain at the end of the day so it can set up overnight. Too bad someone can’t tell us how long the lube lasts too.
Since I don’t put much lube on the o-ring side plates, about every 800 miles I add 30W non-detergent oil if the side plates start to bind up. Splatter is very minimal when the 30 W oil has had a chance to drip off excess. I put a piece of cardboard under the length of the chain for drippings.”
Editor’s Reply: Thanks for the feedback… We had covered most of the other commonly discussed chain lube issues in other articles and reviews (see the links above and in the right-hand column).
As we mentioned in this article, it’s nearly impossible to tell if a particular chain lube actually prevents wear.
That’s why we listed the criteria for this particular article, and then focused on them as the point of the discussion — things like ease of use, the type of lubricant, and the main focus of the article, value and efficiency (cost vs. volume and precision of delivery).
We felt that while the issues surrounding when to use chain lube have been covered many times, the subject of cost and value has not…