Bikes | Opinion | Events | News | Books | Tech | About | Messages | Classified | Directory

Back to the Tech menu...


You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Chains

Classic Maintenance? Real Mart rambles on about shafts, chains, grease baths and aerosol sprays before getting his hands dirty fitting a Scottoiler…

Winter is coming, and at this time of year a young (Young? Yeah, right) man's thoughts turn to drive chains. Well, mine do anyway.

I've always been a shaft-drive type of a chap myself; a much maligned form of motorcycle transmission that has suffered more from myths than from reality. Stick a drive shaft on an overweight, underpowered tourer with soft suspension and it's never going to handle like Hailwood's TT comeback Ducati. Then again, a shaft drive bike's owner isn't going to tread sticky black grease into his girlfriend's freshly cleaned cream coloured carpet either. Still got the scars from that episode…

The fact is that most of us ride bikes with drive chains. They're cheap and - when new at least - are an efficient way of getting power from the gearbox to the back wheel.

No cleanliness problems on this Stinkwheel prize-winnig Morini 350 Strada

The problem is that they need a fair bit of looking after. A one hundred link chain has many hundreds of moving parts, all scraping and grinding against each other, and each link only has to wear a fraction of a millimetre before the chain is ready for adjustment. Throw in some long distance riding in bad weather, a bit of road salt and a pinch of neglect and it won't be long before the whole thing - sprockets and all - is fit only for the scrap heap.

Fully enclosed chain guards can help, but I have to admit that the only time I've ever snapped a drive chain was on an MZ… Out of sight, out of mind?

Fully enlcosed chainguard on a rotary Norton. Can't help thinking that if the chain was exposed the exhaust would be in better shape, though...

The only answer is regular maintenance. There are three solutions to achieving the right balance of cleanliness and lubrication, and they come in the form of a grease bath, an aerosol spray and some form of constant lubrication.

The grease bath is the one to go for if you're already in trouble for treading oil into the carpet; in for a penny, in for a pound. It basically involves going into your recently refitted and spotlessly clean kitchen, putting a pan of solid grease on the newly installed top of the range gas hob, heating it until it has liquefied, and then leaving the chain to soak in the pan while the grease apparently works its way inside the bushes. A recipe (kitchen - recipe... never mind) for disaster if you ask me; you might as well heat some crankcases in the oven and degrease the clutch in the sink while you're at it, though.

The aerosol spray is the most common approach, although probably not the most effective. There are dozens of different chain sprays, all of them claiming to penetrate the inner parts of the links while resolutely refusing to fling off the moving chain as it flicks round the sprockets. The reality is that the stuff that is heavy enough not to fling off is so sticky that it collects road grit and turns into a very effective grinding paste, while the rest liberally coats your rear wheel, rear tyre, number plate and any following traffic in a film of sticky gloop.

One of CB350Paul's Triumphs, looking a bit dry in the chain area...

Which leaves constant lubrication. I am reliably informed that many old Brit bikes (and even some old Kawasakis and sixties Suzukis) are fitted with a purpose built oil-drip feed which is designed to leave a fine coating of oil on the drive chain. Then again, I've always suspected that this might just be an excuse for having an engine which seems destined to leave a fine coating of oil on the drive... or wherever else the bike is parked. But the theory is sound. A little light oil applied in the right place will not only lubricate the chain properly by using capillary action to penetrate the roller bushes, it will also clean off the build up of road crud that wears chains out so quickly.

But what about those of us with oil-tight engines? Twenty years ago Fraser Scott was asking himself the same question during regular trips between Glasgow and Manchester to see his girlfriend. He came up with the Scottoiler, which uses the engine's intake vacuum to trigger a drip feed of oil from a remote reservoir onto the drive chain. Fiendishly clever, and so simple to fit that I thought I'd have a go myself. I chose my Fazer for this as it's the bike I ride when the weather is bad, and so will benefit the most. Fitting to an older bike will be virtually the same, but more of that later.

Most of this lot was still there when I'd finished...

The kit comes with the latest version of the oil reservoir (they're up to Mark 7) and enough lengths of nylon tubing and assorted attachments and brackets to cover all eventualities. The system works by using the vacuum created in the inlet manifold to open a small valve in the oil reservoir, allowing drops of oil to pass down a feed tube to a fine nozzle which can be bent to allow the drips to fall on the chain. On a bike with vacuum take-offs already fitted to the inlet manifolds the hardest part of the process is deciding where to fit the reservoir. The Mark 7 reservoir can be fitted horizontally or vertically as it uses a siphoning action to supply the feed pipe, meaning that I could squeeze it amongst the black boxes under the seat of my Yamaha. Fittings are also supplied for attaching the reservoir to frame tubes, carriers, and any available bolts.

Reservoir nestling on a Commando frame tube. You'd hardly know it was there.

In my case the vacuum tube just clipped into the pipe which feeds the vacuum operated fuel tap. Most multi-cylinder Japanese and European bikes I've come across have some form of take-off point on the inlet manifolds for carburettor balancing and these can also be used. On single carb bikes or those without vacuum take off points it would be necessary to drill a hole into the manifold, but the fittings for this are also supplied as part of the kit.

Another Scottoilered Commando - spot the delivery tube between the swinging arm and rear brake cable. And notice how clean the chain looks...

Positioning the delivery nozzle requires a bit of trial and error to get it to sit just right, but the end result is pretty solid. With the tubing plumbed in and the reservoir filled the final task is to go for a ride and set the delivery rate. My first longish trip left me with oil on the rear tyre, but a tweak of the adjuster calmed things down a bit, leaving the chain looking oiled but with little sign of excess making a bid for freedom.

The Scottoiler has been on the bike for about three months now, performing faultlessly. The chain always seems to have a fine coating of clean oil without the build up of gunge on the back of the number plate and around the front sprocket that usually comes with liberal use of the spray-on stuff. I haven't noticed any of the dry-chain rustling you get after long fast run on a very hot day, and wear is negligible. Apart from the odd check on the oil level in the reservoir, that's it.

The real proof of the pudding will be over the winter, of course, but so far so good. And I've managed to avoid the oil on the carpet problem as well…

See if you can spot the Scottoiler on Real Mart's Fazer. Err, hold on a minute...

Any more Bike in the Kitchen disasters?


Like what you see here? Then help to make even better

Back to the Tech menu...

Bikes | Opinion | Events | News | Books | Tech | About | Messages | Classified | Directory

RedLeg Interactive Media

© 2002/2005 The Cosmic Motorcycle Co. Ltd / Redleg Interactive Media

You may download pages from this site for your private use. No other reproduction, re-publication, re-transmission or other re-distribution of any part of this site in any medium is permitted except with the written consent of the copyright owner or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.