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RIDE Adventures Blog

No BS Guide on Lubing your Motorcycle Chain

Posted by Kurt Spurlock on January 11, 2024
Kurt Spurlock
Kurt Spurlock is a writer for the motorcycle and outdoor industries with 15 years of experience in the saddle. When it comes to adventure bikes, he’s all about keeping it fast and light, and has taken his “street legal” DR650 just about everywhere from Big Sur to the Smokey Mountains.

lubing-motorcycle-chain-1Disclosure: RIDE Adventures is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program as well as other affiliate programs, designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites at no extra cost to you. Please see our Disclosure for more details.

If you're gonna do it, do it right. Here's our no-BS guide on how to lube your motorcycle chain properly every time. 

It's everyone's favorite job to neglect: Lubing a motorcycle chain is easy to forget and even easier to ignore, but once your back end starts kinking and crunching, you'll know you dropped the ball one too many times.

With that being said, there's more to getting long life out of your motorcycle chain than simply spraying it down with lube every month or two. In fact, if all you're doing is lubing your chain every so often, you may be doing more harm than good.

before-dirty-motorcycle chain"My dirt ridden WR 250 will be the bike of choice in todays example"

Below we'll go over our tried-and-true procedure for how to properly service and lube a motorcycle chain every time. We'll also address some common questions and misinformation surrounding motorcycle chains as well, so make sure to check out our FAQ section for more info. 

How to Properly Clean and Lube Your Motorcycle Chain

We keep a pretty large fleet in rotation here at Ride Adventures, and while a few of those are (thankfully) shaft-driven, the overwhelming majority of our rental bikes use chain final drives. Here's a step-by-step guide on how we keep those chains happy on all of our tours from Oregon to Thailand

1. Gather Your Supplies

chain-cleaning-suppliesYou'll need a few basic supplies to do this job right. Here's the bare bones list, as well as a few optional extras that will make the job much quicker and easier.

  • Chain cleaner: Kerosene is all you'll really ever need to clean a chain properly, but if you prefer the convenience of an aerosol spray, a pre-made motorcycle chain cleaner works too. 

  • Chain lubeDepending on where you live, you'll either want a wet chain lube or a dry chain lube (more on that below), and again, a spray can makes this job quicker and easier. Generic gear oil also works great with motorcycle chains if you've already got some handy or want to save a couple of bucks.

  • Cleaning brushWe typically keep a dirty old toothbrush in our toolbox for this job because they're great for getting into tight spaces between links. A specially made chain brush like the Grunge Brush or the Tirox 360 will also speed up the process considerably. 

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  • Shop ragsNothing special needed here, just two or three reasonably clean rags or microfiber towels. 

  • Rear standThis is completely optional, but if your bike doesn't have a service stand, we highly recommend a rear stand to get your rear wheel up in the air and spinning freely. Otherwise, you'll either have to spin the rear tire by force or slowly creep the bike forward as you work. 

  • Sheet of cardboard: Also optional, but very useful for keeping both cleaner and lube overspray from getting all over your bike and/or brakes.

Got all that? Ok, let's dive in.

2. Prep Your Motorcycle

rear-stand-for-lubing-motorcycle-chainOnce you've got all your stuff together, it's time to prep your bike. If your motorcycle is unreasonably dirty or muddy, now would be a good time to give it a wash. Wheel your bike into your workspace, shift it up into neutral, and get the rear wheel up off the ground using a rear stand or service stand.

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(If you don't have a stand of some kind, you can also just leave the bike on its side stand and work the chain in sections.)

3. Clean Both Your Chain and Rear Sprocket

The main killers of motorcycle chains are grit and rust. That means before we lay a finger on our lube, we need to get the chain scrubbed as clean as possible to remove any existing grit that's caked onto the links and rollers. 

Start cleaning the chain by slipping your piece of cardboard behind the chain between the engine and rear axle. This will give you a "backboard" to catch all your cleaner and minimize the mess.

kerosene-spray-for-cleaning-motorcycle-chainTurn your motorcycle's rear wheel to get the chain moving, then start hosing the chain down with cleaner. We prefer to use kerosene for this, and find putting it into a spray bottle beforehand makes the process just as easy as any store-bought aerosol cleaner.

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Whatever you're using, be liberal with it: Built-up grease doesn't like to come off on its own, and the more solvent you add to the equation, the easier it gets. Let the cleaner soak in for a moment, then get to scrubbing with your brush of choice. 

grunge-brush-detailWe find the easiest way to clean a chain is to do it from the back of the rear sprocket, as this prevents the chain from squirming around while you apply the elbow grease with your brush. Your goal should be to get the brush on all four sides of every link, and this is where specialty tools like the Grunge Brush or 360 mentioned above really earn their keep. 

wiping-motorcycle-chain-lubeGive everything a good spray and scrub, then wipe both the chain and sprocket down with a rag. Depending on how long it's been since your last cleaning, you may need to repeat step this a few times. You'll know you're done when everything is essentially shiny and gunk-free. 

4. Lubricating Your Motorcycle Chain

Once your chain has been sprayed, scrubbed, and wiped clean, you're ready to lube up.  Ideally, we always apply lube to a clean chain, because adding lubricant over existing dirt and grime just attracts more dirt and grime. 

lubing-motorcycle-chainWe'll do this much the same way we applied our cleaner, using the cardboard as a backstop and spraying the lube onto the lower section of chain between the wheel and the engine.

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Rotate the wheel as you spray to ensure every link gets a good coat, and make sure to get a full rotation worth of lube on both the near and far faces of the links. 

clean-chain-overheadRemember: Our main goal when lubing our chain is to prevent rust from forming on the interlocking links.

We've seen far too many riders simply blast lube down the center rollers of the chain, which does little to no good and mostly just wastes time and lube. 

Once you're satisfied that both sides of the chain have been thoroughly lubed up, take a step back to admire your work and give your lube of choice a minute or so to soak in. 

5. Finish The Job

Once your lube has had a chance to set in, it's time to wipe it off. Yes, you read that right: this is one of the most common mistakes we see riders making when lubing a motorcycle chain. 

wiping-chain-cleanSpraying or brushing your chain down liberally with lube ensures the metals are well-oiled and protected from rust, but any excess lube left on the links will end up all over your bike and end up attracting more grit and dust to the chain.

clean-dry-chain-detailFor this reason, we want to give the rear wheel one last turn around while we lightly grip the chain with a clean rag from underneath. Let the chain pass through your rag with a light pressure to remove any sling-prone lube before it becomes a problem. Once that's done, you're ready to ride.

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FAQ's on Lubing Your Motorcycle Chain

While cleaning and lubricating your motorcycle's drive chain is one of the easiest maintenance items out there, there are still a ton of questions surrounding the procedure. Here's our take on the most commonly asked questions surrounding the topic.

How Often Should I Lube My Motorcycle Chain?

The "standard" reply here is about every 500 miles, but remember, the main reason we lube a motorcycle chain in the first place is because it's just been cleaned. Pretty much every modern motorcycle nowadays runs a sealed O-ring chain (which is effectively self-lubricating), so you only really need to clean and lube your motorcycle chain whenever it's dirty or showing signs of surface rust. 

Is It Safe To Use WD40 On A Motorcycle Chain?

Absolutely. WD40 is primarily made from a liquid hydrocarbon called "naphtha" which is commonly used as lantern or stove fuel in camping stoves. For all intents and purposes, naptha is essentially kerosene, and as such it works great for cleaning a chain. With that being said, WD40 is a solvent, not a lubricant, so you'll still want to lube your chain after cleaning it with WD40.

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What Kind Of Lubricant Can I Use On A Motorcycle Chain?

You've actually got a few good choices here. You can use a motorcycle-specific canned lube, generic gear oil, or a chain "paste" like Motul C5. Gear oil is a tried-and-true method as well as extremely affordable, while canned lube is quick and convenient but the quality varies by brand.  

Is It Better To Use Wet Or Dry Lube On A Motorcycle Chain?

Depends on where you ride. In hot and dry climates like Southern California and Arizona where dust and grit are your main concerns, dry lube like Oxford Mint is ideal. In wetter climes, wet lubes offer better protection, and we've had good results with Maxima Chain Wax and Motul C5 paste. When in doubt, just stick with generic gear oil.

Final Thoughts On Lubing A Motorcycle Chain

You'll find no shortage of opinions out there on this topic, but the best information we've found (and our own experience) suggests that the most important thing you can do for your chain is just keep it clean.

Motorcycle chain lube's primary purpose is to prevent rust from forming on the chain, so we wouldn't get too caught up in the "which brand is best" discussion. 

Patagonia 1-1-1030533"Taking in the views on our Patagonia self-guided routes"

With that being said, even the best-loved chains eventually call it quits. Whether they simply become too stretched and worn to continue using or begin kinking and binding as the factory grease fails and rust creeps in, at some point you'll need to replace both your chain and sprockets. 

The that end, we've had our best experiences with D.I.D chains, and do our best to keep them in stock. We're particularly fond of D.I.D.'s X-ring chains (if they're good enough for Rossi, they're good enough for us), but even their classic O-Ring chains generally outlive any sprocket we wrap them around, so you really can't go wrong with any of their stuff. 

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D.I.D. Motorcycle Chains



Thanks for reading and we hope you learned a thing or two while also getting some maintenance out of the way on your beloved motorcycle.

→Read More: 6 Parking a Motorcycle: 6 Rookie Mistakes and Street & ADV Motorcycle Training.

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