I lubed my motorcycle chain yesterday I used a little too much that it was dripping.At a fuel station a guy told me you should not lube it too often also you should clean it every time with diesel you lube it and use gear oil instead of the costly chain lube. My motorcycle's manual say to lube it every 500 kms and does not talk about cleaning it every time. It led me to thinking if it is really needed to clean it every time before lubing.Also can diesel be used for cleaning and 80w90 gear oil for lubing.?

  • 2
    What kind of motorcycle? What kind of chain? Where and how are you riding it? Chain maintenance practices will differ for a dual sport being ridden on backwoods trails vs a sportbike with a modern chain being ridden on main highways.
    – dwizum
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 17:51
  • It's a 200 cc motorcycle having chain with O rings.Mostly ridden in city traffic with lots of dust and slow moving traffic.Furthermore it's rainy season now
    – DhKo
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 4:27
  • What does the chain look like after riding? Is it visibly dirty? Also - it's arguable that this question could be closed as "opinion based" since there are lots of approaches to chain maintenance that can be successful and it's somewhat a matter of personal preference, and finding what works for you.
    – dwizum
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 12:26
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    I do not think so it;s an opinion based question.Impact of diesel on O rings is quite scientific and there could be only one answer to it.
    – DhKo
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 12:31
  • Diesel is fine for cleaning the chain, but Kerosene has less of a smell and is generally more pleasant to work with. It's also more expensive, but you're not using gallons of it to clean with so the cost difference shouldn't be a big deal. WD-40 will give similar results and comes in a convenient spray can.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 15:35

6 Answers 6


My last chain lasted over 40k miles on a 955cc heavy sport-tourer.

An O-Ring chain already has lubed pivots for life. All you need to lube is the rollers, the part that touches the sprocket. Spray into the pinch point between the chain and rear sprocket as you turn the wheel by hand. One time around, that's it.

Biggest reason to not over lube is because it'll get flung off onto your rear tire and make your next left turn exciting. If you overdo it just wipe off with a rag, again turning wheel by hand.

Only worry about dirt if it's accumulated so much it's ugly. Definitely avoid cleaning every time because both brushes and cleaners (i.e. solvents) can slowly damage the o-rings.

Most of the cleaning wives' tales are about old non-oring chains. Don't buy one of those for a street bike.

Gear oil vs. chain lube

Spend the $15 on a big can of chain lube.

Chain lube has a foaming agent and a spray tube. That means you can place the lube only where it matters (the rollers), and only as much as needed (very little). You place the spray tube on the bottom rollers pointed at the rear sprocket, spin the rear tire, slightly press the button so a tiny stream of lube comes out, and literally 5 seconds later that's it. You just want to see the rollers slightly wet all the way around the chain. Now free spin the wheel again. The foaming action together with the sprockets will spread the lube evenly on all the links and it'll seep into all the places it needs to go. Listen to how the chain sounds, you'll notice it sounds different after lubing. Also the rear wheel spins more freely.

Since you use a tiny amount each time that $15 can will last you years. It also means the job is quick and clean(ish), so you'll actually do it.

Gear oil works, but you'll use too much. The excess on the chain will fling off, and it'll collect even more dirt. An oily rear tire is dangerous. The excess on your hands is annoying to clean up.


Constant cleaning isn't going to make your chain last longer, probably the opposite.

Clean a chain if

  • It's so dirty it's ugly or caking off
  • You're showing the bike off

Dirt forms a patina that protects against more dirt. The most damaging dirt will be collected in the first mile. If you clean the chain then a new layer of dirt can work itself into the o-rings. If you use brushes the bristles will rub against the o-rings. If you use solvents, they'll slowly seep past the orings and thin out the grease inside. Occasionally it's fine, but if it's a bike you ride a lot it's not worth the hassle. Maybe once every few thousand miles, if that.

If you're taking the chain off and dunking it in a tub of diesel I hope you have a photo shoot scheduled. The trouble isn't worth it on a regular basis.

WD-40 also makes a descent cleaner. You can also use it to clean everything around the chain that's now covered in gear oil. If you use it often you'll see your chain turn a reddish color. I prefer it over diesel only because the spray can makes it easier to store and use.

Chain slack is as important as lube

Learn how to adjust the slack on your chain. It's easy. A loose chain quickly gets looser.

The slack is measured at the same place you're spraying lube. Just push up the chain while you're there, and adjust if needed (once every couple thousand miles if you're on top of things). The prescribed slack is usually ~30mm, or about the length from the tip of your thumb to the first knuckle. Do it once with a ruler and your bike's manual so you have a sense of how it should be, from then on measure using a body part that you always have with you.

The process is loosen axle nut, turn an adjuster or two a tiny amount, tighten axle nut.

A chain is forced tight when you change between engine power and engine braking. A loose chain will be snapped tight, stretching it.

Unfortunately you'll have to buy a large socket and torque wrench for the axle nut. The $25 dial-type torque wrench works well.

  • I would particularly like to know about impacts of diesel and gear oil on the chain
    – DhKo
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 4:31

No, don't oil the chain with gear oil.

Good motorcycle chain lubes are offered in a spray can and are thixotropic, i.e. have a time-dependent shear thinning property.

When you agitate a thixotropic lubricant, it becomes thin and flows easily. This happens when spraying it from the can. It also happens when starting to ride the motorcycle. By being thin, it can penetrate to the innards of the chain, and doesn't offer so much resistance that fuel economy would suffer.

When the thixotropic lubricant is left unagitated, it gradually becomes thick. This means it stays inside the chain and doesn't drip away.

Unfortunately, the motorcycle chain lubes don't use the critical "thixotropic" word in marketing, so you won't see the word "thixotropic" on the spray can label. Just go to a hardware / motorcycle store and purchase a spray can lubricant that is marketed for motorcycle use (don't use bicycle lubricants, 99% of them are pure crap). Spray it into some small glass container, and see how thin it is by agitating it. Leave it settle for an hour or so, and see how thick it is by trying to agitate it. If it was initially thin but became thick, you have a thixotropic lubricant.

Whether diesel can be used for cleaning, it may depend on the type of the chain (o-ring chain or not). I will leave this for others to answer; I'm not a motorcyclist. However, you'll want to lubricate the chain with proper motorcycle spray lubricant that is thixotropic and not rely on the lubricating powers of diesel fuel. Yes, diesel lubricates, but it's not thixotropic.

If you don't have an o-ring chain, some dirt can enter the innards of the chain anyway even if you don't oil it. Furthermore, the rollers of the chain should be relatively clean anyway even if other parts of the chain are dirty. I'm not sure if I would bother cleaning the chain (it's messy). I would just lubricate the chain as rarely as I can, only when it needs extra lubricant. Lubricate by sprayng the spray lubricant on the rollers, not on the dirty side plates.


If you put fresh oil on top of dirt then the fresh oil will carry dirt into the joints of the chain and that will accelerate wear.

Clean it and lubricate it. Chain lube tends to be designed to "stick" more and get flung off less. But I have used gear oil on chains on lots of equipment and any lubrication is better than none.

I have a chain cleaner which we use on the 4 mountain bikes, works very well and the chain life is extended. The chain is run through a "bath" of cleaner with various brushes to remove dirt. They are available in different sizes.

Years ago my friends would just remove the chain and put it in a can of cleaner and scrub with a wire brush - or smaller brass brush...

  • 1
    Both diesel and petrol can be used, diesel remains and has lubricating properties but petrol does not.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 9:27
  • 4
    "just remove the chain"? That's a lot of unpleasant work to do every few hundred miles.
    – Adam
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 22:39
  • 1
    If all else fails, read the instructions...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 8:51
  • 2
    @SolarMike DO NOT USE A WIRE BRUSH ON A MOTORCYCLE CHAIN. You'll destroy the o-rings. Bicycle chains don't use orings, what good for them isn't good for MC chains.
    – Adam
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 17:20
  • 1
    @SolarMike all street bikes come with one from the factory, yes. The maintenance on a non-oring chain is so much worse it's not worth the price savings.
    – Adam
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 17:54

Cleaning a chain with diesel is acceptable for all chains that I am familiar with. We use kerosene, as it is a lighter oil. We have also used JET-A. All work OK, although the kerosene and JET-A will drain off more rapidly.

Essentially you are using the oil for cleaning purposes, not lubrication purposes, and a lighter oil like kerosene or JET-A will drain faster off the chain, and allow dirt to precipitate out faster.

For chains used in an environment with highly abrasive fines, we have put the chains into a container of kerosene, and placed it in an ultrasonic cleaner. That approach works very well. Having the cleaner heat the cleaning oil first only enhances the cleaning action and shortens the time.

Again, diesel, or #2 home heating oil, both very similar products can be used and will not harm any chain I have experience with.

Kerosene, or #1 fuel is a lighter product and will flow easier, allow fines to precipitate out faster, allow the chain to drain of the cleaning oil faster, etc.

Mechanics who work at an airport may have access to waste JET-A (tank sumpings) and as long as it doesn't have lots of water, it will preform similar to kerosene.

The reason for avoiding gasoline or other solvents is that they pose a fire hazard, and the lower viscosity is not needed for chain cleaning. They pose a greater health risk when protective gloves are not used in handling a chain during the cleaning process.

In a pinch, fluids like ATF may be used, but will take a while to effectively drain from the chain. Not recommended generally, because it is desirable to have the chain lubed with your lube of choice, not the cleaning oil/solvent.

Also warm oil works better than cold oil, probably not an issue for motorcycles, but in some equipment, which is exposed to certain dust (quarry) heat helps, but may not be worth the hassle. The icing on the cake is ultrasonic cleaning in a heated vat, which should please the chain cleaning aficionado.


I am on mobile please excuse the short answer. You should clean your chain every time before you lube it. You should use a soft brush while cleaning the chain. I am not so sure about diesel. You can use kerosene or wd40 but you shouldnt use petrol because most chains have o-rings that you do not want to damage. About the gear oil, I personally use gear oil and the owner manuals I have seen mostly reccommends w90 gear oil. I and people I know that use gear oil are quite happy with it. The only rigorous findings on chain cleaners and chain lube are present in the youtube channel fortnine and they seem to agree gear oil is the best lube. I do not remember their verdict on the chain cleaner. Please watch those 2 videos. I find them more contentful on this topic then anything else I have seen in this site before.

  • What is the difference between diesel and kerosene in terms of cleaning? In terms of burning that is different...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 9:50
  • I dont know the contents of diesel. I know kerosene is suggested a lot as cleaner and many commercial chain cleaners do contain kerosene (I believe as the base ingredient). I didn’t mean to sound as I disregard diesel as a cleaner. I just have never heard anything about diesel as a cleaner. Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 9:53
  • kerosebe is a lighter grade of diesel... like heating oil...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 12:14
  • Related: youtube.com/watch?v=7nL10C7FSbE
    – juhist
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 13:04
  • how many miles do your chains last?
    – Adam
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 22:41

O ring chains require less oiling I think, due to the o ring seals, if you over lubricate, which is something I used to be guilty of, the excess, will be flung off, onto the rear tyre, which may potentially affect rubber, as well as being unsightly, or, affecting grip, if you use excessive lubrication and the chain looks very wet, it will also cause dust and debris to stick to it, which may speed up wear, so probably the best tactic might be to wipe off the excess, with a dry cotton cloth, or similar, to prevent this, especially in winter or when heavy rains increase road dirt, which can potentially form an abrasive. I would expect gear oil to be possibly usable bearing in mind the above, a dedictated lube is probably better though. I would definately not use a solvent eg petrol on an o ring chain, as someone else mentioned due to the rubber o rings, which may potentially perish, as a result.

I used to ride a motorbike for many years during winter and road dirt seems to have an adverse effect on the chain`s life expectancy, obviously salt wont exactly help either.

My grandad used to be a mechanic, he recons paraffin is a good release agent or at least is quite efficient as one, it is also less flammable than petrol, although I would be weary on an o ring chain, I also think it is similar to kerosine, as far as I know, which is basically, aviation fuel, or, very similar.

edited, spelling mistakes.

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