How often should I lube the chain; what should I use to do so?

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Safety Notes

  • Watch out you don't pinch your fingers between the chain and rear sprocket! Fingers have been lost. Do not, under any circumstances, run the engine while lubing the chain.
  • Be very careful to not get any lube on the tire. One member said it was like "riding on ice".

Lubing with chain lube

Lubing your chain is necessary to ensure long chain life. A good round number for "how often?" is every 500 miles or so. You should also periodically check the chain for dirt and grit. If you have a light touch with the lube, you shouldn't have to clean the chain very often.

Chain wax comes in a spray can and is applied with a red tube fitted on the nozzle. It is just one method - although a good one - of keeping a chain lubed. Make sure the lube is OK for use with O-ring chains. Cut the straw short and on an angle. This makes it easier to control. The chain should be warm (lube after a ride) and properly adjusted.

If you run a Google search, you will find that there are many opinions on chain lubing. There are even several different ones right on this page. Like changing the oil, it's probably more important THAT you lube often rather than exactly how you do it.

When your bike is still warm, get it up on the center stand with the engine OFF and the transmission in neutral. Walk around to the back of the bike. You will be spraying the chain as it comes around on the rear sprocket. Use a light touch, and maintain a slow, constant spray as you rotate the wheel in the normal direction of travel with your other hand. Keep the chain moving and the lube spraying in a continuous, even style. Spray directly on the O-rings, but every few times also spray a bit on the rest of the chain. Start on one side, go all the way around, then do the other side of the chain.

Using too much lube will just attract more dirt. Don't saturate the chain, but don't skip any links, either. The warm chain draws in the lube to the areas it's needed (the o-rings). Wipe off the excess, then wait at least 30 minutes. This allows the liquid "carrier" of the lubricant to evaporate, leaving the chain "waxed." If it's convenient, you can let the lube sit overnight, then wipe off the chain in the morning.

What are some good chain lubes?

"Lubing the chain" isn't an entirely accurate term since O-ring chains came out. O-rings (and now X-rings) are supposed to keep the grease used in manufacturing in the links where it belongs. So, when "lubing the chain", you are actually just keeping the o-rings themselves supple so they continue sealing well. Some people use automatic transmission fluid or gear oil as a chain lube, but most people use one of the brand-name lubes that come in a spray can.

In the same way that we don't recommend a motor oil, we don't believe that there is any one best chain lube. Any known brand-name product that is safe for O-rings will be fine.

Please note that bicycle chain lube is not the same as motorcycle lube. It doesn't properly treat the O-rings as does a lube designed for modern moto chains.

Gear oil

The o-rings on the chain are designed to keep dirt, water (and chain lube) out of the real working joints of the links. The o-rings seal in the assembly grease for the life of the chain.

It's very simple to do what Kawasaki instructs in the Owners Manual. Put the bike up on the center stand every 1000 miles or so and coat each joint of the chain with ordinary 90 or 85w/140 gear oil, using a small paint brush. You can buy the oil by the quart at auto parts stores. This heavy oil penetrates into the rollers but does not fly off (much). It normally won't get on the tire. This method is very cheap.

Lubing a non O-ring chain

Also known as the "CB360man" method

About every 500 miles, ride the bike far enough so the chain is thoroughly warmed up. Immediately get the rear wheel off the ground (engine off) and squat down directly behind the rear sprocket with your can of chain lube. You will be applying the lube to the outer run of the chain (at the rear sprocket), contrary to every picture or video you will see on chain lubing. The lube seeps in just the same on a warm chain whether you apply it to the inner run or outer run, and you can see what you are doing much better if you apply it on the outer run as it travels around the back of the rear sprocket.

Carefully depress the button on the can of chain lube until the lube just barely starts to ooze out the end of the straw. Place the straw at the right edge of the rollers and apply the equivalent of several drops to each roller edge. Use your other hand to slowly turn the rear wheel in the normal direction of rotation while continuing to spray. Continue from roller to roller until you have gone all the way around the chain. Go to the left edge of the rollers and repeat the process. This is the only area that you have to lube on an O-ring chain.

If you run a standard non O-ring chain, place the straw between the outer and inner sideplates at each pin location and repeat the same process you did with the rollers on both sides of the chain.

The two areas of a chain that require lubrication are between the pins and inner surface of the bushings and between the inner surface of the rollers and the outer surface of the bushings. On an o-ring chain the lube is sealed in between the pins and inner surface of the bushings by the o-rings, and it has to last the life of the chain. The reason you need lube between the inner surface of the rollers and the outer surface of the bushings is because the rollers stand still in relation to the sprockets and rotate on the outer surface of the bushings as the chain travels around each sprocket. At the same time this is happening, the pins are rotating on the inner surface of the bushings, hence the need for lubrication in these two areas.

You will note after lubing your chain with this method that almost all the lube you applied to the warm chain has seeped in between the inner surface of the rollers and outer surface of the bushings, and in between the pins and inner surface of the bushings. This leaves very little on the outside of the chain to collect road grit. Now, grasp the bottom run of the chain with a rag and turn the rear wheel a couple of times to wipe off the small amount of excess lube and spread a thin film over the outer surfaces of the chain to prevent rusting.