by Thomas Day
Keeping your chain lubricated on a long trip is never fun and I was staring at 11,000 miles of rough roads on a trip to Alaska, a guaranteed chain eater. The solution to stopping constantly for chain service was the installation of an automatic oiler. I selected one of the more popular brands, the Scottoiler. I initially installed the oiler’s reservoir under the seat, which was neat, clean, and would be difficult to service once I loaded up the bike. So, I moved the reservoir to the frame, just above the swingarm, where it took a beating, but was easily accessed for adjusting and filling. The biggest issue with this chain oiling system is that, initially, it requires as much attention as does the usual can of chain oil, if not more. The upside is that the chain gets oiled constantly as long as there is oil in the reservoir and the feed rate is properly set. The downside is keeping oil in the reservoir and getting the feed rate set properly.
The metering valve setting varies with the temperature, allowing the flow to increase as the temperature warms up and shutting it down when the temperature drops (as the oil’s viscosity goes up). The rate also depends on where (how high) you position the oil reservoir. The rate depends on what oil you use, also. When you get it right in the morning, it may be dumping oil like the Exxon Valdez by afternoon, if the temperature change is radical enough. The next morning, you’ll be back to running dry if you don’t compensate again. Initially, I spent as much time and effort, if not more, managing the reservoir and rate than I usually spend with a can of chain spray. After a couple of weeks, though, I had my benchmarks-per-temperature pretty sorted out and I rarely messed with the oiler more than twice a day. Once I got out of the tundra and the temperature swings were less drastic, I could count on getting through a day or two without worrying about chain oiling.
An added hassle is that, when you get the rate too high, you will lubricate the entire bottom side of your motorcycle with excess oil. During my trip to Alaska, I went through several dramatic temperature changes and practically drenched my kick stand, center stand, swing arm, and rear wheel with oil. At least one filling station incident was partially caused by the over-oiled center stand lift.
As for the additional chain life provided by the oiler, I can’t even begin to guess what benefits I received. I traveled at least 2,500 miles of off-pavement roads on that trip and the chain was grossly abused by dirt, gravel, and Alaskan pumice. Because I had a backup new chain that I could have shipped to a maintenance stop on the trip, I went with the stock chain, which only had about 4,000 miles of wear and had not needed any adjustment before I started the trip. After 7,000 more miles (11,000+ total miles), including 2,000 miles of dirt road torture, I electively replaced the original chain because I had to adjust it three times in the last 2,500 miles and the chain exhibited significant side-to-side play. It wasn’t at the Suzuki suggested replacement link-length, yet, but it was close enough. I didn’t replace the sprockets because they looked fine.
At that point, I was pretty unimpressed with the “Automatic Motorcycle Chain Lubrication System.” Based on Scottoiler’s testimonials, I expected 20,000+ miles from a constantly oiled chain. I—fortunately for the validity of this review—had a semi-standard comparison along on the first week of the trip. Another rider (on a Triumph Tiger), who installed the most expensive o-ring chain he could find at the beginning of the trip and who used tradition aerosol-can-based chain lubrication tactics, struggled to make it back home with a chain making so much noise from seized links that he suspected that his transmission was failing. When he made it home, his front sprocket was grossly hooked and the chain was worthless. He was on pavement for about the same number of miles during that “test” and off-road for slightly fewer miles. After swapping my chain in Seattle and riding another 3,000 miles on the new chain and old sprockets, I replaced the front sprocket (electively, again) at home because it was beginning to look hooked. I didn’t bother to adjust the chain at that time and still haven’t 1,000 miles later.
Our test wasn’t exactly apples-to-apples. The Triumph-mounted “placebo chain” was new, larger, and of better quality than my stock Suzuki chain, but the bike was also more powerful than my V-Strom. Our initial 4,000+ miles were identical and the subsequent miles were close to similar. My chain was worn, but freely moving. His was worn out, seizing, required constant maintenance to prevent engine case damage, and his sprockets were significantly worn.
You can make your own conclusion about this test, but I’m sticking with the Scottoiler, post-test; messy centerstand and all. My only surviving complaint about the Scottoiler system is that in regularly oiling my chain, I’m now leaving lubed spots on my garage floor, like a Brit bike or that other company well-known for dribbling oil in garages.