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Common Tread

Motorcycle chain care product guide 

May 12, 2020

Cleaning and lubing your chain and sprockets is a dirty job but it needs to be done. The job gets a little easier with the right tools and supplies.

To that end, we gathered together the best products for chain maintenance. From degreasers and brushes to get the parts clean, to lubes to ensure everything is slippery and protected, here are some recommendations to help keep your chain and sprockets spinning smoothly for miles to come.

Cleaning your motorcycle chain

Not only are grimy, crusty links bad form, they’re bad for function, too. Dirt and other debris are abrasive, so they’ll wear out your chain and sprockets and sap horsepower from getting to your rear wheel. Keeping your chain clean is the first step in proper drivetrain care. (We have an article and video if you need a refresher on how to clean your chain.)

If you haven’t cleaned your chain in a while (or ever), it’ll likely need a deep cleaning with a brush, a potent degreaser, and some elbow grease. Lay down plenty of cardboard to keep toxic crap off the ground, wear nitrile gloves, then scrub and rinse until all the crud is gone. 

Once you’ve got it good and clean though, upkeep is as easy as wiping the links down with a cleaner-spritzed rag every few hundred miles. You can save the deep clean for the next oil change or major service. 

Ready to get the grease off? Start with one of these effective chain cleaners. Photo by TeamZilla.

The best motorcycle chain cleaners

Muc-Off Biodegradable Chain Cleaner — $16.49 for a 16.9-ounce can

Yes, it’s a pricey product for spiffing up your chain, but that’s literally the only downside to Muc-Off’s cleaner. The short-straw cap sends a focused stream at your links to help knock off grime, and the fluid is thin enough to use as a rinse if you don’t have a garden hose handy. Muc-Off is tough on crud but gentle enough to be used on rubber, plastic, and even carbon fiber. The formula is also biodegradable and not tested on animals, which is appealing if you have half a heart. You know what else is appealing? The pleasant watermelon aroma. 

Maxima Clean Up Chain Cleaner — $9.95 for a 17.1-ounce can

This stuff is strong, and smells strong, too, so it’s best used outdoors or somewhere with good ventilation. The can doesn’t come with a straw but it’s easy enough to spray on, and the light foaming action helps you see where it’s applied. As a fairly viscous cleaner, this Maxima product stays put but doesn’t work as a rinse like some thinner fluids. That means rinsing with water, which is best done at a car wash where wastewater is captured and treated. Besides cleaning chains, Clean Up is great for degreasing engine cases and wheels. Just spray a little on a rag and wipe away grime. As the lowest-priced product in the biggest can, Clean Up is a good value. 

Motul Chain Clean — $10.41 for a 9.8-ounce can

Like the Muc-Off product, Motul’s Chain Clean is a thin, quick-acting solvent that flies out of a short-straw nozzle. That makes it easy to apply with accuracy, and the velocity seems to help blast some initial grime off. It’s thin enough that it rinses clean with no need for a garden hose, but using this smaller can as both an initial degreaser and final rinse will leave you running out of cleaner in a hurry. 

Everyday, more affordable alternatives

You don’t technically need a specialty cleaner for your chain, and odds are you already have something suitable under the kitchen sink or in the garage. Kerosene has long been a popular choice for degreasing chains and is still recommended in a lot of service manuals. Other options are WD-40 (also mostly kerosene) and Simple Green. Combine any of these with an old toothbrush and a bit of effort and you can get good results.

Chain-cleaning brushes

Honestly, brushes probably belong at the very top of this article since they’re integral in getting your chain properly clean. Sorry, but no liquid degreaser is going to get your chain spotless on its own, regardless of what the label claims.

Of course an old toothbrush works in a pinch, but why not add a specialty brush to your toolbox? These brushes do a thorough job in less time since they hit the chain from more than one side.

For a really clean chain, you're going to need a brush. We'd recommend a Tirox 360 Brush or The Grunge Brush. RevZilla photo.

The best motorcycle chain brushes

The Grunge Brush, $14.95/$20.95

This funky-looking brush has been around for a long time and is a popular choice for good reason. The Grunge Brush scrubs your chain from three sides at a time with durable nylon bristles, making quick work of grimey links. The straight brush on the end of the handle is great for cleaning sprockets, wheels, and those nooks and crannies around your bike. There are many similar (ahem, knock-off) products on the market, but none of them offer adjustable (for different chain sizes) or replaceable brushes, so why stray from the original? Pricing depends on the handle material (plastic or more durable and flashy aluminum) and replacement brushes are just $7.

Tirox 360 Brush, $12.95

No tool scrubs links from all angles better than the Tirox 360 Brush, which spins onto the chain like a corkscrew and uses stiff nylon bristles to remove even the most stubborn crud from between the side plates and around the rollers. You’ll want to wear nitrile gloves while using this brush since your hands will be up in the mess, but the results are worth it. Combine the Tirox brush with any of the cleaners listed above, follow it up with a water rinse, and you’ll have a spotless chain that’s ready for one of the following lubes.

Lubricate that chain!

And finally, lube!

Lube is what keeps your drivetrain from wearing quickly and getting loose, kinked, and rusty. As it turns out, though, the majority of modern street bike chains are sealed, so the most critical components of the chain (the pins and the bushings they rotate in) are permanently bathed in grease that’s installed at the factory. That means you just need to apply enough lube to keep the links protected from corrosion, keep the O-rings (or X or Z rings) moist and pliable, and to provide a little cushioning to the rollers as they meet the sprockets.

In other words, there’s no need to soak the chain with sauce. Many new (and experienced) riders apply far too much lube to their sealed chains, resulting in a gooey mess that flings boogers on their wheels and attracts dirt.

And when exactly should you lube your chain? Any time it looks or sounds dry. A good rule of thumb for street riders is to apply lube with every other fill-up of your bike’s gas tank.

Maxima, Bel-Ray, and Motul are popular options for clean, non-flinging chain lubes. Photo by TeamZilla.

Best motorcycle chain lubes

Motul Factory Line Racing chain lube, $12.58 for 9.3-ounce can

Motul offers three different flavors of chain lube, but the Factory Line is the most popular, probably because it says it’ll add “1 horse power or more” on the label. It has a whitish hue due to boron additives that act as a non-sticky lubricant, the idea being that a less tacky lube saps less power. That being said, since this lube is less tenacious, you’ll need to apply it more frequently. And expect to wait a while before you ride, because the Factory Line takes a solid 15 minutes to set up.

Bel-Ray Super Clean lube, $8.56 for a 5.9-ounce can or $15.27 for a 13.6-ounce can 

This lube comes out thick and has an almost opaque white appearance, which makes it easy to see if you’ve achieved proper coverage. A classic red-straw nozzle puts the stuff right where it belongs, reducing overspray on your bike. The name “Super Clean” is more about how this lube won’t fling off onto your wheels or undertail or attract dirt as opposed to being colorless. Bel-Ray says the Super Clean lube “capitalizes on emerging lubricant technology” and is suitable for offroad, road, and racing applications.

Maxima Chain Wax, $7.50 for a 5.5-ounce can or $11.50 for a 13.5-ounce can

If you like to spray and go, Maxima’s Chain Wax is a good choice. It’s easy to apply thanks to the nozzle cap and sets up quickly so you can hit the road right away. It dries to a brownish waxy film that doesn’t fly off and doesn’t seem to attract grit, so your chain stays cleaner longer.

Like Maxima’s Clean Up, the Chain Wax comes in a big can at a low price, so it’s a good value. The standard 13.5-ounce can is excellent for the shop, while the smaller 5.5-ounce can is great for your track toolbox or saddlebag.

Package deals

Looking to snag a kit that handles all (or most of) your chain-care needs? There are a few options. Maxima bundles its popular Chain Clean, Multi Purpose Penetrating Lube (intended to be used as a water dispersant after washing the chain and as a general-purpose lube for fasteners, pivots, and cables), and Chain Wax for $27.95. Motul offers a Chain Care Kit that includes its Chain Clean and Chain Lube (in either off-road or road formulas), along with a set of nitrile gloves and a chain brush for $33.99. Motorex’s kit combines large cans of Chain Clean, Chain Lube, a big old paper towel, and a cute little 1.9-ounce travel-size can of lube into one package for $36.69. Finally, you can get the excellent Tirox 360 Brush along with a big can of Tirox chain cleaner for about $18.

Conclusion

Within the instructions for one cleaner is the assertion that “regular use considerably extends the working life of the chain.” That’s not marketing hype, and it’s a claim that applies to every product listed in this article, whether it’s a degreaser, a brush, or a lubricant.

There are a lot of products available to clean and lubricate your chain and it can be difficult to choose. At the end of the day, however, which cleaner, brush, or lube you use is less important than making sure you use it regularly.