How to lubricate a motorcycle chain

Without the chain, no motorcycle would move forward. Because it is it that transmits the power from the engine to the rear wheel. Although there are already some alternatives with cardan shafts and toothed belts, the conventional chain drive is still the most effective mechanism for power transmission and is significantly less sensitive than a toothed belt, for example. However, in order for it to be able to carry out its function for as long as possible, it must be serviced and lubricated regularly. How often, with what and how you should do this, you will find out in this article.

What is the function of the motorcycle chain?

Motorcycles are driven by either a cardan shaft, a toothed belt or a chain. The first two are a lot easier to care for, but  also significantly more expensive to produce. Also, they're not quite as effective as a chain, which means more power is wasted. As the most important link between the engine and the rear wheel, the chain transmits the power required to move the machine. 

In order to maintain this effectiveness, however, the motorcycle chain requires regular care. In addition, the service life of the chain can be extended with good care. It usually lasts around 20,000 km. However, if it is cleaned and lubricated regularly, it can sometimes achieve a mileage of up to 50,000 km. On the other hand, a chain that is not maintained often has to be replaced after just 10,000 km.

How often do I have to oil my chain?

This depends on various factors such as your driving style, environmental conditions and the weather. If you only drive at a moderate speed up to a maximum of 130 km/h, significantly less oil is flung from the motorcycle chain than at a speed of more than 200 km/h. If you often ride your motorcycle off-road, you have to clean your chain and then grease it again more often than when riding on paved roads or racetracks. The same applies to frequent rides in the rain, since the chain not only gets wet but also gets dirty. In general, it is recommended to lubricate the motorcycle chain at intervals of 500 to 1,000 kilometers and to clean it every 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers, or even earlier if it is very dirty.

What can I lubricate my motorcycle chain with?

Basically, you have two options for lubricating your chain. You can use chain spray (chain grease) or chain oil. While the spray can be applied more quickly, the oil impresses with greater precision. If you want to grease your motorcycle chain with a spray, it is usually sufficient to apply it between the chain straps. Due to the relatively wide spray jet and the spray mist, sufficient grease usually gets onto the rest of the chain. This also allows the lubricant to find its way between the roller and the bushing (sleeve). This provides effective protection against rust and wear.

If, on the other hand, you decide to use chain oil, you have to lubricate the parts of your motorcycle chain individually. It is best to first lubricate the link plates at the points where the rubber sealing ring is located. You can then oil the area between the roller and the sleeve by applying the lubricant between the roller and the inner link plate. No matter which agent you choose, you should definitely clean your chain as a first step if it is very dirty, otherwise neither grease nor oil will properly adhere to the chain. You will need the following items for this:

  • Assembly stand or center stand for jacking up the rear wheel
  • rag or kitchen paper for removing coarse dirt and for subsequent drying
  • Collection tray for collecting the dirty water, so that this does not get into the groundwater unhindered if you want to carry out the cleaning in a place that is not approved for washing the vehicle
  • Bucket with warm water for cleaning the chain
  • Chain or dish brush to simplify cleaning of hard-to-reach areas
  • Chain cleaner or universal cleaner for motorcycles preferably in gel form
  • Chain spray or chain oil for final lubrication

How do I properly lubricate my motorcycle chain?

To ensure that your chain lasts as long as possible, you should relubricate it about every 1 000 km, but at the latest if you notice bare or rusty spots during one of the regular visual checks. The chain grease or oil adheres best to a clean and dry chain, which is why you should clean it before lubricating if possible. In addition, you should not lubricate your chain immediately before you start your ride, but preferably in the evening after your tour. This way the lubricant has enough time to take effect and is not spread on the brakes, tires or rims while driving. Once your chain is both clean and dry, you can lubricate it as follows:

  1. Place the motorcycle on the center stand or work stand, alternatively you can use a lift stick to raise the rear wheel off the ground.
  2. It is best to cover the tire and rim with a piece of cardboard, which you can then easily dispose of.
  3. Spray the chain spray on the inside of the chain, preferably between the sprocket and sprocket, and turn the wheel by hand to distribute the grease over the entire chain. The outside is usually greased automatically the next time you drive.
  4. You can then dispose of the cardboard and remove any splashes from the surrounding body parts

When lubricating, make sure not to apply too much grease or oil, as excess will fly away the next time you drive anyway. It is better to grease or oil your motorcycle chain more often. If regular lubrication of your chain is too much work for you, a permanent lubrication system may be an option for you. During the ride, a relatively thin oil is dripped onto the sprocket by means of pressure or vacuum. Although these systems are very expensive, they also ensure a very long service life for the motorcycle chain and always ideal driving characteristics.

How do I clean my chain properly?

To ensure that the new chain grease adheres well to your motorcycle chain, you should clean it first before lubricating it. In the case of heavy soiling, however, this is necessary in any case. After placing your motorcycle on the center stand or repair stand so that the rear wheel can rotate and placing a drip tray or large piece of cardboard under the chain, you can begin cleaning. First remove the coarse dirt with kitchen paper, a cloth or a chain brush. Then you can use a special chain cleaner that is sprayed onto the dirty chain and then left to act for a moment. Then clean the chain with the chain brush until all dirt is removed from the chain links, gears and the pinion. In the case of very heavy soiling, it may be necessary to repeat the cleaning process. However, under no circumstances should you use a steam jet or high-pressure cleaner, as these can damage the O-rings, which can lead to a reduction in chain life. Then dry the chain thoroughly. As soon as it is completely dry, you can relubricate it as described above.


Without a well-functioning motorcycle chain, there is no fun riding often quickly after. To keep them in good condition and to extend their life, you should clean and lubricate them regularly every 500 to 1,000 km. This can also be the case with coarse soiling. Always make sure the chain is clean and dry before lubricating so the grease will hold better. It is also better to lubricate them more frequently and sparingly than plentifully and infrequently, since excess chain grease is thrown away while driving. For the same reason, you should do this work in the evening after your tour if possible, so that the fat has enough time to soak in.

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