A motorcycle chain transports the drive from the sprocket on the engine gearbox to the rear wheel sprocket. It is a crucial part of the motorcycle’s transmission system that needs to be lubricated carefully. You can choose between chain lube and wax, but you will probably wonder which is better.
Wax is better than lube for motorcycle chains because it is longer-lasting for nearly identical cost. Wax also increases the overall longevity of your motorcycle chain. Chain lube can be a more preferable option under certain conditions, mainly for its convenience and ease of use.
As the only link between the gearbox and rear wheel, the chain is responsible for rotating the wheel in sync with the gear used, so any malfunction will reflect in the speed and torque output. Below, we examine chain lube and wax to find out which one has bigger benefits.
How Motorcycle Chains Work
Before looking at the lubricative options available, an understanding of motorcycle chains will go a long way in helping you to figure out the better choice. Chains are manufactured from steel or carbon steel. Even though carbon steel is stronger compared to steel, both metals are prone to rust and need to be protected from moisture by using a coating of oil or wax.
The rollers on the chain engage with the sprocket teeth to produce the power that turns the wheel, so are subjected to very high loads and can get very hot after continuous running. Motorcycle chains come in 2 types: chains with O-rings or chains with X-rings.Of these two, the O-ring chain was introduced in the 70s and became very popular.
The O-rings revolve on a bush that is pre-lubricated before leaving the factory but needs to be renewed with use. X-ring chains were originally made for the racetrack but have made their way to street bikes. X-ring chains are made from stronger metals with thin side plates and hollow link pins, which are more expensive to produce. These chains cost more but also have a much longer life.
Chain Stretch: How It Happens
With the passage of time and the use of the motorcycle, the tolerances between the individual chain parts get degraded as the metal is worn away by friction. The metal doesn’t actually stretch but since the tolerances have changed, it appears that it has. The visible sign is the chain slack that needs to be adjusted for.
Another visible sign is that the sprocket teeth do not mesh precisely with the chain which creates a drop in efficiency. If left unchecked it can result in increased wear on the gearbox sprocket and chain sprocket. Some chain slack is permissible, but the chain links need to be checked for rust and adjusted every 400 to 500 miles.
The chain also needs to be tightened at regular intervals to prevent increased wear. Chain slack is easily visible and has to be adjusted according to the factory specifications.
Chain And Sprockets Need To Be Replaced At The Same Time
Chains are usually rated for 25,000 miles or more and can be expensive to replace often if they are not cared for adequately. When the chain is replaced, both the gearbox and rear-wheel sprocket need to be checked for wear. Ideally, both sprockets and chain need to be replaced at the same time.
The Chain Affects Efficiency And Torque
A loose chain or a badly lubricated chain affects the efficiency of the motorcycle resulting in increased fuel consumption and lower torque output. This also leads to the increased expense of replacing the chain more frequently.
Why Regular Lubrication Is Needed
Misalignment of the gearbox sprocket with the rear wheel sprocket is the biggest cause of friction. Because perfect alignment is almost impossible, it is always going to be a source of friction, apart from the friction generated by the chain moving on the sprocket teeth at high speed. The cardinal purpose of lube or wax is to provide lubrication so that the metal parts do not grind each other by friction.
The O-ring on the chain seals in grease between the rivet and the bush so that it moves smoothly over the sprockets. With regular use and time, the O-ring lubrication needs to be renewed by way of chain lube or wax. Also, for best performance and long life, the chain must be coated with a water-repellent coating that shields it from corrosion.
O-Ring Or X-Ring: Which Is Better?
Even though X-rings are stronger and more expensive, there are race teams that exclusively use O-ring chainsbased on their experiences with them. But there are also race teams that only use X-ring chains, so it appears that both types of chains have their followers. Of course, different types of bikes and riding speed play a big role in determining the best type of chain for the job.
O-rings have rubber seals sandwiched between the side plates to keep grease sealed in and dirt and water out. This safeguards the pins and bush while keeping them immersed in lube. Never use petrol to clean the chain as it damages the O-rings, but paraffin or kerosene is okay. Care for both types of chains is very similar as chain lube or wax can be used as needed.
What Is Motorcycle Chain Lube?
Motorcycle chain lube is a lubricant that is applied to the chain to prevent rust and corrosion as well as to reduce the buildup of dust and dirt. Chain lube is sold in cans of various quantities and can be sprayed onto the chain, providing a quick fix to the grime that accumulates on the chain.
By virtue of spraying, chain lube is able to penetrate into the deepest parts of the chain to do its job. There are a number of chain lube sprays available with different formulations that supposedly combat the accumulation of muck while coating the chain surface with some form of oil or grease. For ease of use and convenience, chain lube is unmatched.
Most of these sprays are relatively inexpensive, although the expensive ones lay claim to increased protection by the use of proprietary chemical additives in the spray. The only way to find out for sure is by using it and evaluating its performance. Read your motorcycle manual to find out how often the manufacturer recommends lubricating the chain. It is usually between 100 to 200 miles.
Types Of Lubes
There are chain lubes that are so dry that it’s difficult to tell if it has been applied. It sprays as a very fine mist that gets into the smallest of spaces to lubricate both surfaces. Some are oily and can make a mess of your back wheel if too much is used. These oily lubes are good in dusty conditions as sand won’t stick to them.
Others use a mix of silicone and wax that coats the chain with a water-repellant that doesn’t hold on to sand and grit. The wet ones are clearly visible as they spray a liquid that stays liquid. The liquid chain lubes are good for wet weather.
What Is Motorcycle Chain Wax?
Motorcycle chain wax is a chain lubricant that is usually sold in the form of a paste and applied with a small brush. Generally, waxed chains have lower friction than lubed chains allowing your chain to last longer. It can be more difficult to apply wax but is worth it in the long term.
An un-waxed chain on which ordinary lubricant is used wears out faster needing more frequent replacement. Regular waxing of the chain reduces friction significantly thereby increasing its life and the life of the sprockets it is in contact with. The prices of reputed brands of wax compare favorably with the prices of chain lube making it an attractive proposition.
High-end waxes cost more but they are also value for money as they provide excellent protection from corrosion as well as lubricate the chain and sprockets. Since the prices of chain lube and wax are very similar it is advantageous to take the product that lasts longer.
Is Chain Wax Better Than Lube?
Chain wax is better than lube as it is longer-lasting. The wax works itself into the chain when the motorcycle is used. Since it comes in paste form in a tube, it has to be applied using a small brush. Some users complain it doesn’t penetrate as well as lube as it is less liquid-like.
The fix for this is to ride the bike for a few minutes to warm up the chain and only then apply the wax. Applying wax onto a cold chain is a waste of time and effort as it needs to get into every little space to really be effective. When time is an issue and the motorcycle needs to be lubed or waxed very quickly, then lube is the best solution as it can be applied in a few minutes.
Apply It On A Cleaned Chain
Chain wax will last much longer than lube, but chain lube has the advantages of convenience as well as ease of use. On a chain that has just been cleaned, wax is ideal as it sticks to the metal preventing dirt and water from coming into contact with it. Since rust is a big problem on chains, it makes sense to coat any exposed metal area with wax.
Once wax gets into the chain links, it thickens very fast and becomes hard with time which can make it difficult to remove when a new coating needs to be made. Chain lube is thin. clear and can dry very fast, but if applied in excess can fling off, making a mess. Even if wax is applied in excess, it does not fling.
How To Choose The Right Motorcycle Chain Lube
The most important part of choosing chain lube depends on the environment which the motorcycle is going to be used in. Chain lube can be dry, waxy, or oily depending on its formulation. Using a dry lube has the advantage of not needing to be applied regularly, but it can pick up grit and sand over timeforming an abrasive paste to grind down the sprockets and chain.
Lube that is oily tends to fling off for some time after it is applied, splattering all over the rear wheel which puts off many people from using it. This also means that it needs to be applied more frequently but has the advantage that it can be used in dusty conditions as any sand collected doesn’t stick.
Manufacturers make plenty of claims about their chain lube but the best way to find out is from actual usage. Chain lube is not very expensive and a small can of spray will last for at least 3 or 4 coats.
How To Choose The Right Motorcycle Chain Wax
Not all wax is the same, so it is worth doing a bit of experimentation to see what suits your chain best. Some waxes harden with time and require a lot of effort to remove before a new coat of wax can be applied. Softer waxes may be better, as long as it maintains a protective coating on the chain. Sand is the biggest enemy of the chain so pick a wax that does not catch sand.
All waxes contain additives that clean the chain by dissolving grime as well as lubricating it when used correctly, which can extend the life of the chain by 2 or 3 times leading to a substantial saving in running costs. There is a substantial price difference between the prices of various brands of chain wax, with reputed names costing double the price of lesser-known brands.
The wax you use has a direct bearing on the life of the chain so this is not an area where you should try to save money. Instead, increase the life of the chain so that it does not need to be replaced often which is the bigger expense.
Why You Need To Clean Your Motorcycle Chain Before Lubricating
Irrespective of whether you choose chain lube or chain wax to lubricate your chain with, there is one more step that must be done, or else the entire exercise is worthless. The chain must be cleaned using a chain cleaner and a small brush with stiff nylon bristlesto remove any existing sand, dust, or grime that is already caked in.
Unless the chain is clean, lube or wax isn’t going to coat it as well. Chain cleaner spray is available cheaply from any auto store, as a 150 ml bottle costs about $3. The chain brush costs about $1 and looks like a double toothbrush with the two sets of cleaning bristles facing each other. It is not that important when using chain lube but is a must before applying wax.
Put in a little effort applying the chain cleaner to the chain as this will loosen the crud that is stuck in it. Give it some time to work itself into the gaps before using the chain brush to brush away the dirt. Do not use a wire brush as it can damage the O-rings.
A few minutes spent cleaning the chain before applying wax willextend the chain life as well as save wear and tear on both the gearbox and rear wheel sprockets. This is the all-important detail that nobody tells you. Applying chain wax without removing any sand and grit that has accumulated is only creating an abrasive paste that will grind the metal parts to dust.
How To Extend The Chain Life
No matter how much care is taken to lubricate and protect the chain from water, riding the motorcycle in mud, sandy areas, and water crossings are going to make the chain filthy requiring more protection. Sand and mud particles can be hosed off with water after which a fresh coat of lube must be immediately applied.
Continual use in bad environments will result in increased wear of the chain and the sprockets that it connects. As far as possible avoid using the motorcycle in water, sand, and mud, or invest in a chain guard that can be fitted above and below the chain to enclose it in a sealed case. Commercial ready for use metal chain guards are available at reasonable prices.
These can be fitted with a few screws and take very little time to fit or remove. Plastic chain guards are even cheaper and do a good job of keeping water and sand out of the chain. They are made from PVC or ABS plastic which can withstand heat as well. Fitting plastic chain guards is very simple as they press-fit together and have a long life in all weather conditions.
Chain wax is the more advanced and preferred choice over chain lube for most motorcycle users but may not always be the right one depending on the environment. You have to decide which option is the better one depending on the circumstances, running costs, and usage of the motorcycle.