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Home Repair And Restoration

The Ideal Chain Lubricant

Post Received 30 May 2020

By Mark Noel

My first motorcycle was a 1967 BSA C15 which left the factory with a guarantee for a knocking big end, generous leaks and a neutral spring intended to snap after a few hundred miles. Nevertheless I loved that machine which, at 17 years of age, took me on ventures all over the Incontinent, including a crossing of the mighty Stelvio Pass and enduring the furnace of northern Yugoslavia. 

One of my trips was with the International Motorcyclists Tour Club when I plodded along with another teenager on a Triumph Tiger Cub. We usually arrived first at the nominated guest house because we had passed other members on more muscular machines as they languished in roadside cafés between bursts along the Motostradas. I envied several of their steeds and it was only later when wages exceeded pocket money that I was able to acquire three of these delicious velocipedes, first a Moto Guzzi Le Mans, next a Norton 650SS and then an Ariel Square Four. The past has been passed but these are cherished memories.

I am pleased to report that the IMTC is still in existence with regular social meets and a programme of foreign tours generally to the more scenic parts of Europe. They are a friendly and mature bunch so do look them up at

Anyway, I digress! Before setting off on my C15 to one of these far-flung lands I took care to clean the drive chain in paraffin, then lubricate it with Linklyfe which was judged to be the best option available at the time, i.e. before the advent of Snot-oilers or the equivalents of today's lube-dribblers. This magic potion comprises a waxy, semi-solid grease, packed in a wide, shallow tin. The tin is placed on a low heat on the domestic stove with the chain coiled on top until the grease melts engulfing the chain. You swirl it about for a few minutes, then remove and hang the chain to drip and cool - outside of course if you value domestic harmony!

A round tin, about 6 inch diameter with a black tar like substance, with the LinkLyfe tin lid beside it
Filtrate Linklyfe old-style chain lubricant

This form of lubrication remained effective for several thousand miles, the only downside being a coating of black grease flung over the rear wheel and mudguard. Added rust protection no doubt! Linklyfe was used on the Norton 650, but later the Le Mans brought a major puzzle: where on earth is the drive chain that needs lubricating? It seemed that the back wheel rotated as if by magic, so the Linklyfe was put away until the Square Four arrived.

Let me tell you about my discovery of the ultimate chain lubricant. At home we process a lot of wood, dicing it with a Stihl chainsaw. The chain and bar have a tough life, both needing an oil to cool and lubricate while macerating the timber. 

The essential quality is that the oil should be 'anti-fling'. In other words it must adhere to the chain against centrifugal forces as it orbits the tip of the bar. To solve this problem petroleum chemists have formulated a special oil for the purpose that has 'viscoelastic' properties: when the shear stresses are high the oil behaves elastically. When shear stress is low it behaves more like a normal fluid. 

Between marks fingers we can see the golden oil
Demonstration of the stickiness of this type of oil

This means that it can be easily pumped onto the bar but will stick to the chain as it wizzes over the tip sprocket. Similar viscoelastic properties have been engineered into drilling fluids for oil exploration where there is a need both to lubricate the core bit and to suspend rock particles as they are forced up to the surface.

A regular bar, the cutting part, of a regular chainsaw
A typical chain saw bar and cutter

For the reasons described I have discovered that chain saw oil is the ideal elixir for coating and lubricating a motorcycle chain. After applying it to my Suzuki GN125 before leaving for Scandinavia, the chain was still wet and sticky after thousands of miles. Inside the enclosure of my Jawa 350 the chain has also remained wet with golden oil after several thousand miles following a single application. Chain saw oil is usually sold in 5 Litre containers which is enough to last you several lifetimes. You might be able to obtain a more sensible amount (say 200ml) from a friendly tree surgeon.

A large 5 litre grey plain oil tub with a Husqvarna sticker peeling off it
Chain saw oil by Husqvarna. Stihl is another good make

This photograph shows the lube kit that I take when touring simply to ensure that a fresh dose is available, or to add gloss to my hair if Brylcream is not on hand. It comprises a used squeezy bottle part-filled and a smaller screw top container with a paint brush fitted to the lid. Simple, clean and effective.

Marks travel kit, 2 small bottles, one has a pipe in the cap for easy application
Travelling lubrication kit

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Reader's Comments

Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I always expected LinkLyfe to be a golden colour? Is yours black from use or did it come like that?

Do you have a website link to somewhere we could buy said oil? Ebay offers countless chainsaw oils at quite reasonable prices (cheaper than motorcycle engine oils) but I wouldn't know if these are viscoelastic or just, well, oil.
17/06/2020 09:28:49 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Linklyfe comes like that. It has molybdenum disulphide in it which I think is why it's black.

I used to use it many years ago but to be honest it's foul stuff especially when you spill it on the living room carpet.....

I use Wurth chain wax on O ring type chains - the 955i Tiger required one (yes one) chain adjustment in the 20,000 miles I had it, and yes I did ride it in the rain - and Silkolene on the Norton although I don't do enough miles on that to worry. Still looking for the chain on the Guzzi.

Your search skills are a bit lacking Ren - it took me about 10 seconds to find this.
17/06/2020 10:07:24 UTC
Mark Noel said :-

No need to look on the web for chain oil: most is sold in 5 litre containers, too much even for your vast stable of bikes. Instead ask your friendly tree surgeon for a jam jar full or go to an agricultural merchant where you might find this exotic elixir in smaller bottles. Bear in mind that you will have to mug up on farm subsidies, research treatment for hoof rot, listen to past editions of the Archers and rub cow dung in your hair if you are to look, sound and smell genuine when you walk in there though.

If you pay us a visit I'll send you home with a free sample of chain oil and a pack of Manx Knobs both of which will work wonders on your 125.
17/06/2020 10:20:00 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Actually on reflection it's probably black because of graphite. Filtrate who made the original were suppliers of the stuff. Maybe a modern alternative will have graphene in it.....
17/06/2020 10:58:04 UTC
Bogger said :-
Last lot of 'Linklyfe' I bought, was actually made by Putolene.
I did spill some on the patio flags. What a nightmare to clean off. Luckily I had 5ltrs of panel wipe/de-greaser to hand, so Mrs Bogger never found out. Thank God.
I Use the Putolene before a foreign jaunt and take Chain saw oil with me as well.
Just a quick Bogger tip here. I managed to procure some/a lot of those small vaping liquid bottles. I now fill those with chain saw oil. The screw on cap keeps the oil from leaking out and a 30 ml bottle will last for at least 3 applications.
So on a long 10 day trip i'll take 4 tiny bottles which take up no room. Sorted.

17/06/2020 12:53:32 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
No Ian it wasn't the wax I was looking for, it was the chainsaw oil.

Mark - I'd get through 5 litres easily enough believe me. I can purchase 10 litres(!!) for about £17 but I don't know if it's any good or not you see. Manx Knobs? Is this some lewd suggestion? Google suggests they're sweeties.

Good call on the vape bottles Bogger. I'm a vaper so I have lots of them going in the bin.
17/06/2020 01:03:00 UTC
Bogger said :-
Lidl have chain saw oil in at the moment. 1ltr bottles. I think they were priced at about a fiver.

17/06/2020 02:11:05 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
OK then....
17/06/2020 03:04:49 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Or if you don't like amazon (and who does?). Smith & Allan are who I go to for all my oil - cheap and excellent quality. You could even have a run over to Darlington to collect it (via Barnard Castle to check your eyesight).
17/06/2020 03:09:33 UTC
Upt'North said :-
No good will come from mentioning Molybdenum Disulphide on a motorcycle forum. Loctite 51048,there, you've done it now. Just don't put it on your chains.
And stay away from anything containing knobs, Manx or otherwise. Probably includes us lot.
17/06/2020 07:16:35 UTC
Upt'North said :-
If you're tempted Ed, screwfix are a good source of chain lube, they do their own No Nonsense stuff and Oregon I think. I've used their No Nonsense but not on motorcycle chains, it does a good job on chainsaws.
18/06/2020 12:20:50 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I have made an error in my explanaionalificationality. I apologise, I seem to have lost the poo-er of spoach.

I can purchase chainsaw oil online. I can purchase chainsaw oil from Lidl and Screwfix (other chainsaw oil outlets are available). I am pleasantly surprised too to find that it is, relatively speaking, quite affordable.

However Mark pointed out that the Husqvarna oil is "viscoelastic". What I do not know is whether ALL chainsaw oils are viscoelastic or is it specifically the quality stuff from Husqvarna or Stihl. Is it possible that the other brands are really just 90w gear oil marked up for chainsaws? If I am to try out Mark's recommendation I don't want to simply buy ANY chainsaw oil because I know nothing of it's quality of viscoelasticity.

I have now found a supplier online who will sell me 5l of genuine Husqvarna oil for about £13. I might just give it a shot.
18/06/2020 08:56:14 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Poop - £6 delivery. Cheeky gits. There are other options...
18/06/2020 08:58:20 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Non newtonian fluids. When moving slowly they move like a thick liquid. When asked to move rapidly they act more like a solid. I am curious if such a fluid would make a good chain lube? My thinking is application is slow allowing the lube to get into all the nooks and crannies. But the centrifugal (centripetal?) forces as the chain whizzes around the sprocket are rapid. This would cause the non newtonian fluid to stiffen up and stay in place.
18/06/2020 09:13:29 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Also known as thixotropic. First used in non-drip paint I believe. A bit like silly putty - hit it with a hammer and it bounces off but it will pour.

However, I return to my original view that with an O- (or even better X-) ring chain you don't actually need any lubricant as almost the only surfaces which have relative movement are safely tucked away behind the seals - bushes, pins and rollers. There is no relative movement between the bushes and the sprockets. The only minor unlubricated wear points are the side plates and with a correctly aligned chain that is minimal.

I confess that I only came to this opinion late in life when I had the Tiger as it was my first experience of sealed chains.
18/06/2020 12:02:28 UTC
Mark Noel said :-
Yes, O ring chains solve a lot of problems but will surely sap noticeable power on a micro bike like a 125.

Previously I used Stihl chainsaw oil which it said on the bottle was 'biodegradable', presumably so that frogs would not get skin cancer when sprayed with the stuff when felling trees. I love frogs so always put up warning notices in frog-speak (i.e. French) before cutting.

Being biodegradabubble you might get moss growing on your chain after a few days, so it would be a good idea to follow up oiling the chain with a heavy dose of Glyphosate weed killer just to be safe.

I suggest buying a reputable brand of chain saw oil: both Stihl, Oregon and Husqavarna are that genuine slippery, sticky viscoelastic stuff. Great for hairstyling too Ren, 'cos it is sturdy enough for a long night out.
18/06/2020 01:08:25 UTC
Bob said :-
Put a Scottoiler on.
Use Scottoil or engine oil.
I get 10K out of a non-O-Ring chain on my KLX.
Mind you, there's oil EVERYWHERE........
18/06/2020 01:59:39 UTC
Bob said :-
...and I forgot to mention - the main advantage of the Scottoiler is the complete negation of any cleaning or maintainance work.
Just adjust the chain for the correct slack when it needs it and top up the oil reservoir.
If riding off road, turn the oil flow rate up to clean the chain off and then adjust it back down when back on the tarmac.
18/06/2020 02:01:46 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Anyone got any experience with the dry chain lube.
Like Ian my experience with modern chains (2008 - 2011) is that they need little maintenance, at least when riding in better weather conditions.
When I took a chain bike to Italy I had a small tin of dry lube in an aerosol. Its the strangest thing to use because it seems like you're spraying on fresh air. I used it halfway through a 4000 mile trip and all was good.
I was just wondering if anyone uses this full time to good effect or otherwise. It was certainly the cleanest lube ever and did seem to work nicely.
Also following on from this, is that with modern chains is it really worth covering them in lashings of oil when it's obvious most of it goes on the rear wheel and tyre.
Don't even start me with those god awful scottoilers.
19/06/2020 08:50:53 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
So Bob loves the ScottOiler, and Upt' doesn't. Oh heck.

Sharon used dry lube on the Keeway when starting out. If you live in the Mohave Desert then I'm sure it's great but on the wet gritty roads of Blighty the chain started to seize up sharp style. Soon had it sorted with some wet oil and grease. Note though, non o-ring chain.
19/06/2020 09:04:04 UTC
nab301 said :-
I have used chain saw oil in the past and I didn't find it great but admittedly it wasn't any of the chainsaw manufacturers stuff . I've used a scottoiler and it worked well until it didn't plus with more than one bike it could become expensive but for years now I've brushed on mineral gear oil as a lubricant and it's what the bike manufacturers recommend. Certainly for o ring chains it keeps the o rings moist and the side plates from rusting and the chain clean. I can get through work an aerosol chain lube that applies like an oil and then clings to the chain but the chain gets very messy after a while. The whole idea with the likes of a scottoiler is that the oil keeps the chain clean otherwise you'll end up with something resembling valve grinding paste...
19/06/2020 08:03:02 UTC
Mark Noel said :-
The solution to all this is of course belt or shaft drive.

Thinking back I now realise that a shaft drive must be what my Guzzi had because I could not find a chain anywhere, other than the triplex chain that held up my trousers and I never oiled that.
20/06/2020 10:56:16 UTC
nab301 said :-
Ultimately a fully enclosed chain is the best solution , or better still a fully enclosed chain in an oil bath ( Norton rotary I think ? )
20/06/2020 07:50:22 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Chains - dirty nasty horrible but very efficient and (sort of) affordable.

Belts - clean and long lasting but less efficient and a bind to replace (depending on frame design). Prone to breaking if you like off-road.

Shafts - clean and long lasting but even less efficient. Damnably expensive and hard to fix if they do break (and they do).

I am of course working on hydraulic drive. Clean and long lasting but EXCEEDINGLY heavy. Probably very inefficient and prohibitively expensive. Anyone got a spare hydraulic motor from a tractor or road roller? Oh and a hydraulic pump with hydrostatic variator?
20/06/2020 10:13:27 UTC
Mark Noel said :-
Another solution might be to make a non-magnetic (i.e. alloy) rear wheel rim with an array of rare earth magnets around the circumference. The wheel would be driven round by a fixed array of coils on the frame, via a phase controller, so that the whole drive acts like a huge stepper motor. Hence: no moving parts, no Linklyfe, no Snot Oiler, no shaft and no worries. It would work as a regenerative brake too.

... I'm off to 3D print the first prototype ...
21/06/2020 10:56:38 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
It has crossed my mind the electric rear wheel. The problem there is weight. In terms of handling and performance the chain is still the best option but it would be interesting to see how much weight the magnets and coils would add - bearing in mind sprung to unsprung weight ratios.

You could save weight without a gearbox, but this would be replaced with the generator (alternator... electricity making thingy). If the electric wheel is going to regenerate it would be worth having a reasonable battery too to harness that energy.
21/06/2020 07:01:02 UTC
Mark Noel said :-
International protection for my Vortex Magnawheel is being handled by my specialist attorney Pat Pending. She is battling a lawsuit against YingTongTec who stole my idea having seen it on Bikes and Travels, and who then speedily adapted their noodle factory in Shenzen to make their copy of the wheel.

This is the LAST time I post any of my novel inventions on this nefarious website. Otherwise how can I expect to make my next £Million, the first £Million having accrued from sales of my handlebar clock which is being sold under the banner of "".

The added weight of the Vortex Magnawheel components is easily offset by the loss of the gearbox, chain, oils, clutch, front and rear brakes, since there will also be a Magnawheel on the front to deliver two wheel drive. Drive to the wheels will be torque balanced and the controller will include ABS operation, or "functionality" as we are supposed to say these days.

Aha .. the replacement kidney has just finished printing on the Ultimaker. Next I need to assess its functionality.

22/06/2020 09:10:46 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
HAHAHHHAAAA! Oh that made me (almost) laugh. I shall be having no joviality here, I do not wish to ruin my curmudgeonly reputation.

Should I be expecting a call from Mrs Patricia Pending regarding the divulgence of intellectual property on this website? "" is currently under construction (seriously, copy the link) so I'm smelling a rat here. I suspect your first £Million came not from pointless handlebar clocks but from selling all your wife's organs via the dark web. Mrs Noel is a shell of her former self, literally.
22/06/2020 10:17:09 UTC
nab301 said :-
@ Ren Quote "I am of course working on hydraulic drive. Clean and long lasting but EXCEEDINGLY heavy. Probably very inefficient and prohibitively expensive. Anyone got a spare hydraulic motor from a tractor or road roller? Oh and a hydraulic pump with hydrostatic variator?"

From memory (and google confirmed) Ohlins did an add on hydraulic drive for the front wheel (2wd) although the pesky chain was retained for the rear. Fitted to sports bikes (R1 ) and off road bikes ( finished the Dakar) and didn't look too bulky.
22/06/2020 08:58:03 UTC
Bob said :-
Shaft drives are inefficient and heavy and the weight is all unsprung mass so it generates what feels a lot like axle tramp on bumpy bends. As Ren said, they do eventually fail and cost a fortune to fix (BMW K1200 anyone?)
Belts are good but can be catastophically damaged by a small stone.
An enclosed chain is the most efficient and durable
I've had MZ and Jawa bikes with this arrangement - the chain never needs lubing, hardly ever needs adjusting and almost never wears out.
Early japanese bikes had enclosed chains too, in the days when they had enclosed fork stanchions - before fashion started to dictate the design decisions.
23/06/2020 11:25:33 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
So having briefly read a report about the Ohlins 2 wheel drive system it seems I have been beaten to the idea of using hydraulics. BUT but but I still ponder whether or not a hydraulic drive would be practical, even if it is just to the rear.

An enclosed belt drive Bob? Solve the problem of the single stone shredding the belt. But if you're going to enclose the drive as you point out you might as well enclose a chain. That there fashion is a pain in the ass ain't it. Probably sponsored by DID and Regina. I wonder how hard it would be to get Mark to 3D print an enclosure for the CB500X. Could sell the design online for other 3D printers too.
23/06/2020 08:21:14 UTC
Ross said :-
Many years ago I had a Honda 400 four with a fully enclosed chain case fitted by the previous owner...looked as ugly as sin but worked well...obviously I threw it in the bin at the earliest opportunity! I think it was made by a company called 'Furlong'(?) but I doubt they are still going.
24/06/2020 08:47:10 UTC

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