One of the things I really wanted to try on my new bike, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, was a chain oiler. I’ve been accessorising my KTM 1290 SAR since I got it in November 2020 and a chain oiler was high on the list.
Why a Chain Oiler?
Like anything in the motorcycling world, there are some strong opinions about chain oilers. Some are strongly against it and others are true ‘believers’. Up until now I was indifferent about the subject. I simply cleaned and lubed my chain without really giving it much thought. Until now…
People get chain oilers for one of two reasons: (1) To extend the life of their chain and sprockets and (2) convenience. My reason was convenience! After 15 years of cleaning and lubing chains every 300 mi / 500 km or so, I was willing to give a chain oiler a go. I never owned one before, and my new bike gave me the perfect excuse to finally try one.
Perhaps another reason to get a chain oiler, specifically for the KTM 1290 SAR, is that its main competitor, the BMW 1250 GS, has a maintenance free shaft drive. A chain oiler brings the two bikes more up to par from that perspective.
Chain Oiler Kinds
Playing with the idea of getting a chain oiler, I started my online research. When you google ‘Chain Oiler’ you’ll quickly find there are many brands and many different kinds of chain oilers. They all deliver drops of oil to the chain through a nozzle (sometimes a double nozzle) that’s pushed against the sprocket.
Where they differ greatly from one another is how they control the oil flow rate. In other words… how they control the amount of oil that is dispensed on the chain. Here are some of the systems, conceptually described:
- Electronic systems that use sensors. These systems mostly hookup to your bike’s battery for power and determine movement/acceleration/speed (and sometimes temperature) using sensors (GPS, accelerometer, thermometer, etc.). With that data they adjust the oil flow rate accordingly.
- Electronic systems that take data from your bike. These systems hook up to the bike’s electronics to get readings from the speedometer. They control the oil flow rate relative to the speed.
- Systems hooking up to the engine vacuum point. These systems use the engine vacuum to operate a valve which controls the oil flow rate.
- Systems using an electronic pump. These system have a constant flow rate for a set amount of time. Obviously some user input is required for this.
- Systems using a manual pump or gravity. These systems rely on you to push a button, operate a pump, or turn a knob every now and then, upon which they release some amount of oil through the nozzle.
- Systems using riding wind. These systems ‘catch’ the riding wind and use its pressure to push down oil.
- Systems using suspension movement. This is the Tutoro chain oiler… the system we’re discussing here. It detects suspension movement, which in turn operates a set of valves and chambers to control oil flow rate. It’s quite sophisticated. Here’s how it works exactly.
As there are so many systems and brands I’m not sure this list is exhaustive. If you know of other systems please feel free to leave a comment below.
Why did I chose the Tutoro Chain Oiler?
I chose the Tutoro Chain Oiler for the combination of these three reasons:
- Easy install: It doesn’t require hookup to the bike’s electrical system or the engine’s vacuum point
- No electronics: It’s completely mechanical (no electronics that can fail)
- Fully automatic: No user input required once you find the correct valve position
Perhaps a 4th reasons is that it’s a relatively small company with very personal customer support. Other manufacturers might have great customer support too though. I can’t judge on that. If you have experience with other companies please let us know in the comments.
DISCLAIMER: After I made my choice I wrote to Tutoro asking if they would send me a review unit. They did. So I did not pay for this unit! I would have paid, should they have decided not to send me a review unit. (That's an easy statement to make, I know... you'll have to trust me on that.)
Installation and Review
Below video documented the entire installation process on my KTM 1290 Super Adventure R. It also documents my first test rides I did to get to the right valve setting. Don’t forget to continue reading after the video, as there is some additional information that you won’t find in the video.
Installation is quite straight forward, but I do advice not to ‘wing’ it. The very comprehensive manual that’s included in the package has quite some tips and tricks in it that you want to follow up on. A few important things:
- The reservoir should not be close to a heat source (engine or exhaust) as heat makes the oil thinner, influencing oil flow rate.
- The reservoir should not be placed where it obstructs swingarm movement
- As the oiler works on suspension movement the reservoir should not be mounted on the swingarm itself
- The hose should have enough slack to account for rear shock decompression (when you ride through a small ditch or pothole for example).
Adjusting the valve for correct oil flow rate
Adjusting the valve for the correct oil flow rate takes some test riding. The correct position depends on the ambient temperature, and the oil that you are using. Again, the provided manual has some good tips and tricks on this (which I didn’t follow and paid the price for). Here are some learning points for me:
- The manual suggest to start with the valve half a turn open. However if you are in a warmer climate I would start with a quarter open. Better to start with too little oil than too much oil, because too much oil will cause excessive fling, dirtying your bike.
- Ride about 50km with a setting. I rode only 10km, which wasn’t enough for the oil to build up. As a result I wrongly assumed the valve needed to be opened more. Which resulted in oil flinging off excessively during my next ride.
Questions / Concerns
Before and during this process I had some questions and concerns. I found some answers online and some were answered by the very kind and patient Jude at Tutoro. I’ll include them here in case you should have the same questions/concerns:
Q: How far can you go on a full reservoir?
A: A full reservoir (45ml) will last between 600 and 1000 mi (1000 and 1600 km). It’s very easy to see when the reservoir needs topping up. Tutoro also supplies a small 50ml refill bottle which doubles your range. For longer trips you can of course bring a bigger bottle or buy locally.
Q: What oil do you need?
A: The Tutoro oil that comes in the package was confiscated by Mexican customs. I had to search for a replacement oil. Tutoro has an excellent article on that, but still it was quite a rabbit hole I had to dive into to find the correct oil, up-to the point where I had to read the technical and safety sheets that oil manufacturers provide. With some help of Tutoro support I finally found a good oil. To prevent all this hassle I recommend to simply buy the Tutoro provided oil (unless you live in a country with questionable customs).
Q: How about chain cleaning?
A: The oil in the chain oiler is thinner than ‘spray on’ lube. The oil is supposed to fling off a little bit (but not excessively), taking dust and dirt with it. In my experience this works as ‘advertised’. As an example…see below picture which was taken after a dusty offroad ride followed by about 25km of road riding. No dust on the inner chain and sprocket teeth, while the rest of the bike is still covered in dust. Obviously when you go deep in the mud, sand or similar, some additional cleaning might be required, but in those cases most people will hose down their bike anyway.
Q: What happens when you drop the bike?
A: If the bike ends up on its side, the oil will run out of the breather hole in the cap, its unlikely that it will run out of the nozzle due to gravity. In practice, as long as the bike doesn’t stay on its side for an extended period, it should still have some oil left in the reservoir and it will carry on working once you start riding again. If the reservoir has run dry it will need to be re-filled and reprimed.
Q: The oil doesn’t seem to reach the o-rings. Shouldn’t o-rings be lubed too in order not to dry out?
A: The oil wont reach the outer faces of the chain links (all chain oilers work like this) but it will, over time, reach all the inner faces and O Rings which are all the parts which need lubrication. You can always apply a little oil to the outer link faces with a paint brush to keep them looking nice if you wish but it won’t make any difference to the longevity of the chain.
I’m very happy with the Tutoro Chain Oiler. I will continue to use it and can recommend it with a clean conscience. I like that it’s relatively cheap compared to some other oilers out there, and that it’s 100% mechanical which makes it easy to install, and, in my mind, also makes it more reliable. If that’s actually true remains to be seen in time of course.
It is a bit tricky to find the right valve setting that keeps the chain lubed without excessive fling. Once you find that setting you won’t have to touch the valve much though. Only when ambient temperatures change during the year or you ride in different conditions than normal (e.g. dusty offroad or continuous rain) it’s recommended to change the oil flow rate accordingly. Having said that, to have this control on the oil flow rate is definitely a step up from the normal ‘spray on’ chain lube, which has no control at all, other than cleaning and lubing more- or less often.
So, let’s get back to the reason why I wanted to try a chain oiler in the first place… convenience! Well… the Tutoro Chain Oiler delivers on that. After the initial install and valve setting is done, the only thing you need to do is keep an eye on the reservoir, and adjust the valve if weather or riding conditions demand it. Extended chain and sprocket life is just the cherry on top for me.
So, if you’re in the market for a chain oiler, take a look at Tutoro’s website. Please keep in mind that they are a small company, and they need about a week to get an order ready for shipment.