Is chain lube necessary, or is it just a scam?

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a BMW S1000XR, Honda Grom and a 1999 Kawasaki ZX-6R. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, a KTM 1050 Adventure, Yamaha MT-10, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

Is chain lube necessary, or is it just a scam?

 

Most modern motorcycle chains are sealed with O-rings (or X-rings / some other fancy rubbery ring) to keep grease inside the pins; it stands to reason that non-sealed chains (found on small-capacity bikes) need lubricating, but is motorcycle chain lube necessary on bigger bikes, or is it just a scam to make us spend £15 on a can of grease?

 

Is chain lube a scam?

John visits S100 in Germany, and ask the leading chain manufacturers what the truth is…

 

What does a chain lube maker say?

S100 is one of the most respected brands of bike cleaning and maintenance kit. Based in Germany, around 30 of the 160 staff making it are in research and development; the products are developed and produced at the Ingoldstadt factory, alongside car products and highly specialised cleaners for electronic parts used in aerospace and other critical environments.

The point is that S100 isn’t a bog-standard cleaner or lube that’s been rebranded; it’s all tested on every material you’ll find on a bike, and refined until it’s believed to be the best it can. But this isn’t a product test – that’s coming soon and we’ll be doing it completely independently.

Dr Mario Kraft is Deputy Head of Research and Development at Dr O.K. Wack, manufacturer of S100 – at a recent press visit I took him to one side and asked him if we really do need chain lube.

“In order to minimise wear and extend the life of your chain,” he told me, “you need to lubricate it.

“It’s reducing the wear between the chain and sprocket, reducing stretch, and protecting against corrosion.

“The grease already inside a chain is meant to stay in there – we don’t want to change that. We want to lubricate everything around that area.

“Penetration and fling are two important factors but they contradict each other; if we reduce the throw-off behaviour to a minimum, we could reduce the ability of the lube to penetrate under the roller, behind the plates and creeping around the chain to cover it completely. But we don’t want to see the lube migrating under the seals.

“The lube must also protect the O-rings to ensure the factory grease stays inside. Chain lube is definitely not a waste of money; it really is extending the life of a chain.”

But he would say that, wouldn’t he?! The new S100 White Chain Spray 2.0 has taken a long time to develop and the company believes it’s the best lube out there, but we’ll reserve judgement until we’ve done our own, exhaustive independent lab tests…

 

Is chain lube necessary, or is it just a scam?

Dr Mario Kraft is the Deputy Head of Research and Development at Dr O. K. Wack in Germany

 

What do the chain manufacturers say?

Derek McMartin is the managing director of Bickers, the UK importer and distributor of RK Chains…

“A chain needs to be lubricated.” Derek says. “Everything on the inside will be kept lubricated by the grease inserted during the chain’s manufacture, but it’s needed on the outside of the chain, including the seals.

“You don’t want anything to penetrate the chain seal – especially a cleaner – as this will take the factory-installed grease away from the area it’s there to lubricate.

“Any chain will rust if it’s not lubricated, and the seals will become dry and crack, letting that grease escape. And remember, you’re lubricating the sprocket, not just the chain.

“All chains need to be kept clean as much as possible; use a specialist cleaner that won’t attack the O-ring, and is also not high powered as this may push dirt in past that seal.”

Bickers also imports Motorex – he adds that you should use a lube suitable for your bike: “Different lubes are made for different purposes; for example, Motorex  622 Road Chain lube is designed to set on the chain, but the Off-Road Chain Lube doesn’t set – it’s meant for dirty conditions as you don’t want any grit sticking to it, which would cause a grinding paste.”

Jim Irwin is responsible for DiD chains in the UK, as well as JT chains and sprockets: “Chain lube is an absolute essential,” he told me. “A good quality lube will tack off overnight and even after use leaves a film on the chain’s external surfaces to help keep moisture from the internal bushes and pins, as well as reducing friction between the chain rollers and sprockets.

“Absolutely perfect chain alignment is not always easy to obtain – inner chain plates can be prized outwards slightly when one side of the sprocket is rubbing against them; this can reduce the pressure on the O-rings on the opposite side, potentially allowing the original lubricant to escape, and dirt and water to get in. A good chain lube will help seal and protect the O or X rings and provide an additional barrier.”

Last but by no means least is Mark Fenwick, Director of B&C Express – the UK importer of Tsubaki chains…

“A small amount of the grease built into a chain will escape when it gets hot on its first outing, but it’s minimal – as chain lube isn’t meant to penetrate in past the O-rings, it’s there to protect the whole chain.

“If you don’t lube your chain it will fail prematurely as when you’re riding it gets blasted with grit and dirt from the road. When wet, that acts like a grinding paste so cleaning a chain and then relubrication is very important.

 “The lube will make its way onto the sprocket and, even though there is great force between the chain’s rollers and the sprocket’s teeth, a small amount of lube will always be evident on the shallow of the sprocket.

“Chains are the most abused item on a motorcycle, yet the most overlooked maintenance-wise. Cleaning is important and using the correct cleaner that doesn’t harm the rubber seals is a must. Carb cleaner, for example, is the worst thing you can use as it can make the seals baggy. Use a recommended cleaner and one that’s water soluble so it can be washed off easily, taking the muck with it. Then dry and lubricate the chain.

 

So the message is clear; cleaning and lubricating your chain is vitally important. As to what’s the best chain cleaner, and which lube you should buy… our full lab tests will be coming very soon…

 

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