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Home Ren's Biking Blog

To Lube Or Not To Lube

Blog Date - 05 May 2018

I've probably covered this topic before but things move on and my opinions change.

To lube or not to lube your chain, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler for the motorcycle to suffer the slings and arrows of grime and grit, or to take arms and put summat slippy on.

A typical motorcycle chain on a typical bike
Ahhhh, chain, sweet chain, what would YOU prefer?

Anyone who's looked into this will have come across a myriad of opinions, often backed up with logical reasoning, personal experience and perhaps, occasionally, actual science. So how can there be different opinions, surely there must be facts, reliable, solid facts? 

You would not wear 8 layers of thermals, jumpers and jackets if you were riding on a hot summer's day. If you're wise you'd find vented protective gear to allow air flow to cool you down. A professional builder knows the value of a good quality drill but there's no point an occasional DIYer spending £200 on something they'll only use once a year to hang a picture. If you're crossing the Australian outback you need a Land Cruiser, if you're commuting 3 miles to work you need a Kia Picanto. (Actually you need a push bike...)

We all ride different motorcycles in different ways in different conditions. What will work for one rider may not necessarily be the best solution for another rider. 

A very loose chain on a BMW motorcycle
This...this is just WRONG no matter how what and when you ride.

Imagine (it's hard I know) you live in the Atacama Desert. It rarely rains but there's a lot of grit blowing around. Grease on a chain will catch that grit and turn it into grinding paste, thus hastening the demise of the chain and sprockets. Personally I'd consider an o-ring chain and experiment with dry running versus a very light thin oil.

Imagine you're crossing Antarctica. If it were possible then there's very little grit around, mostly snow that could melt into water and induce corrosion on the chain. Here I'd be looking at a grease type lube that would stick to the chain. In the interest of not polluting the environment maybe bio-degradable fats?

Here in Blighty we have the worst of both worlds, and then some. There is grit aplenty on the roads as well as corrosive rain and then in winter extra corrosive salt. But then you may only ride in the summer on dry days. There's a little grit about but not much when it's dry. Is it worth lubing at all? If you choose to lube then dry lube, light oil, heavy oil or grease?

The dirt and grit that collects on a British motorcycle near where the chain operates
Conditions are harsh for an all year round motorcycle chain.

I am also of the opinion different chain types work better on some bikes than others. Different lubes work differently on different chain types. Different weather conditions affect different lubes on different chains on different bikes...and so on and so on. If there are 2 types of chain (o-ring and non o-ring) multiplied by perhaps 20 types of lube multiplied by 10 different types of bike multiplied by almost countless environmental conditions it's easy to see how so many different opinions form.

So what should you do? What, after all I've just said you want me to guide you through potentially thousands of possible situations? Here's perhaps the most important advice - by all means listen to others and do your research BUT understand what works for others might not be right for you, your bike, your chain and the conditions you ride in.

So here is my OPINION based on the bikes I ride and the conditions I ride in.

Lube. Lots.

A very lubricated chain among lots of thick greasy dirt and oil
Oily, dirty, greasy grimy. That's my bike that is.

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Reader's Comments

Rod said :-
I have only used an oil and grease mixture since I started biking, but after reading posts on the site I am thinking of giving wax a try???.
But...then why change when greasy oil and an old toothbrush seem to do the job???? Confused!!
05/05/2018 19:23:04 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I too use used engine oil mixed with the cheapest grease I can find. Roughly 50/50 mix I'd say, making a thick substance that can still "flow" unlike grease.

Wax. I've never tried it myself. I'd like to understand the thinking behind it. I might get a candle and run it over the chain to see what happens...

I have used Vaseline before now, successfully.
05/05/2018 19:47:49 UTC
Pocketpete said :-
I was using castrol spray expensive chain lube. On my last chain which lasted a poor 7000miles.

Since you changed my chain the new one has covered 5000 miles and hasn't even needed adjusting. I'm actually thinking of doing it this weekend just a touch.

This time I've used ren's greasy oil mix. Which sticks and makes a mess.

But had it ren's mix or the poor oem chain that was at fault...

I suspect the original chain was crap...

Also you stated
'You would not wear 8 layers of thermals, jumpers and jackets if you were riding on a hot summer's day'

Clearly my wife would and still be cold.
05/05/2018 21:08:12 UTC
Bill said :-
CRF 230 trail bike, I jet wash the O ring chain to remove the crap, followed with WD40 to remove the water and penetrate the rollers then follow up the following day with spray Rock Oil chain lube. This gives good life to a chain that goes through some harsh conditions with mud, water and dust in he drier periods.
06/05/2018 14:35:23 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Sounds like a plan Bill. I take it this bike is used off road for fun rather than regular commuting or touring?

Is there an argument to be put that jet washing the o-ring chain will have sufficient pressure to force the water between the seals and ruin the grease within? I'm just playing devil's advocate here.
08/05/2018 08:25:40 UTC
Crazy Frog said :-
What you need Ren, is a bike fitted with one of these :-

MZ chain Case
08/05/2018 12:55:19 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
THAT - that is the proper solution. The problem is no-one seems to have fully and completely realised it yet.

The one in the image is from an MZ? If the chain became loose inside it would wear it's way through the plastic. The enclosed chains on the CG125s used to wear through the metal casings too. That said the casings were cheap enough easy to fix and did solve a great deal of the problems with chains.

The problem is/was the users. Because the chain was enclosed it was as though it did not exist and therefore never needed lubricating or adjusting - apparently. This is what would lead to the chain going slack and damaging the cases.

I wonder if I could bodge up my own enclosed chain case. This...this could all go horribly wrong
08/05/2018 14:35:47 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Yes, from an MZ Ren, though Jawa's use an identical system too. I've never seen one wear through the hard plastic rear sprocket cover - any slack tends to be taken up by the rubber tubes and it's so easy to check chain tension (just press one finger on the top rubber tube and you should be able to make it touch the swing arm) that people tend to keep on top of the adjustment. Silk, and I think Norton (on the rotary) copied the system, but I have absolutely no idea why it has not gained wider acceptance.
08/05/2018 15:19:34 UTC
Bill said :-
Yes Ren, the CRF 230 is for trail riding only I supposed if you put the jet wash too close you risk water ingress but no different than wheel bearings just a case of common sense use.
Always used Scott oiler on road bikes when used for euro trips in the past.
08/05/2018 18:52:55 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Ahh right Bill. I had visions of you jamming the high pressure lance right into the links. No, a squirt from afar shouldn't upset the o-rings.

Scott oiler? I'm expecting Bob to pop up soon to espouse the benefits of the Scott oiler.
09/05/2018 07:35:01 UTC
Andy said :-
Quote “I have used Vaseline before now, successfully”

So are we still talking bike chains here or have slid down a slippery slope to another topic?

Seriously though, won’t vaseline eat through the rubber seals on an o ring chain?
17/05/2018 21:10:12 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I suppose if I use words like lubrication and vaseline I can only expect things to "slide" into the gutter.

I am uncertain about the effect of vaseline on rubber but being correctly named petroleum jelly and having heard various tales of petroleum causing issues with rubber...then perhaps. This is going from bad to worse.

Luckily I have only used petroleum jelly on standard non o-ring chains. I am slowly coming to the conclusion I'm not a fan of o-ring chains. I expect this statement to be provocative.

17/05/2018 21:24:25 UTC
Borsuk said :-
Natural rubber (latex) and vaseline don't mix as far as I know. But I doubt O rings are made from natural rubber. The ones at work are Buna, Nitrile rubbers, silicone or some shade of PTFE. They work okay in valves, as well as being the valve seat seals, which are fully submerged in crude oil, petrol, diesel, benzene, etc so I really don't see a bit of vaseline destroying an O ring. Unless it is one made by Durex.

One could always get an old chain, pry off an O ring and see what happens.

17/05/2018 22:54:08 UTC
Mike said :-
Was going to mention the fully inclosed chains found on old c90 and mz. When you did take the wheel off for a new tyre the chains were like new. Same with fork gaiters. I guess they just don't look cool on modern bikes.
18/05/2018 04:08:53 UTC

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