Keeping things running smoothly on your bike is important to have things last. This especially counts for the final drive, i.e. the chain and sprockets as they are freely exposed to the elements. With my first motorbike 20 years ago I made quickly the painful experience of having to replace the chain kit prematurely just because I didn’t take care of my chain well enough. Since I wasn’t doing things myself back then the cost of labour to have the kit replaced made this a quite painful experience for my wallet. But even doing things yourself you still have to pay for the goods and take the time to install it. And if you are travelling ouside of the “western” countries you might have difficulties getting the parts for your bike locally.

The classic option is to use a chainlube like the common ones in spray cans and give it spray like every 1000 kilometers or after a ride in rain or with watercrossings. Sure it’s probably the cheapest method (at least in the short and mid term) but it involves discipline and if your travelling also that you carry a can of chainlube. Furthermore if travelling alone and not having a centerstand it can be a bit annoying of a job to apply it all by yourself if no helping hand is around.

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The second option is installing a chainoiler on your bike. A chainoiler is basically a reservoir that holds a chain lube oil that is being fed to the rear sprocket and the chain through a hose. While most of these systems aren’t completly set & forget solutions they still greatly reduce the necessary discipline to keep your chain nicely lubed. As the oil used is usually not as adhesive as the one from spraycans another advantage is, that the oil is being thrown off the chain along with dirt while new and clean oil is constantly (at a certain rate) applied to the chain. Some people claim that chains last longer when using a chainoiler.

Photo by Tutoro

While I am too forgetful (or simply to lazy) for a manual system (you have to turn it on and off yourself), I like to interfere as least as possible with the bikes systems (usually chainoilers have to be hooked up to the carb or electrical system of the bike) and I didn’t want to spend hundreds of Euros on a highend computer controlled system either. Also, those systems usually keep feeding oil when the engine is running, even if you are not moving.

While looking at a manually operated model from a british company called Tutoro, I saw this company has another model which they call the “Auto”. I was quickly intrigued by the system and decided to order one for my upcoming bike journey. Like the name suggests it works “automatically” or “autonomously” but it does NOT need to be connected to any systems of your bike (other than the hose feeding the oil to the sprocket). The principle is quite simple but ingenious: The reservoir has two valves. There is a small weight in the reservoir which is being moved through fast and little up and down suspension movements while you ride, operating the primary valve feeding oil into a smaller chamber. From there the oil runs by force of gravity into the hose while the rate of flow is manually controlled by a little thumbscrew that sets the second valve. When the bike does not move (but even when then engine is running) the weight closes the primary valve and because of the vacuum building up in the smaller chamber no oil is being fed to the sprocket.

Photo by Tutoro

And since you do not need to connect it any systems of your bike it is super easy to install. Just find a spot for the reservoir, route the hose to your rear sprocked, aim the nozzle to the sprocket and you are good to go! While on the older model I have I had to manually pull up the weight to prime the system (fill the hose with oil) it is super easy on the current models, you don’t even need to open up the reservoir. Simply put the small magnet you get in your package on top and watch the oil flowing down into the hose. Then you need to set the flowcontrol valve to match the used oil to the general temperature you’re riding in. So basically you re-adjust the flowrate if you switch to another viscosity of oil, change to another climate zone or when seasons change. For a quick temperature change while riding a high altitude pass you do not need to worry too much. While it is not a complete Set & Forget system it doesn’t need much of attention. An occasional glance at your chain and rear wheel will tell you if the flowrate is set correctly. And of course you need to refill the reservoir once in a while. While you can use specific chain lube oils (Tutoro sells these as well) I simply used a thicker engine oil. That works as well it does make finding the best flowrate a little bit trickier as even a thick engine oil is still thinner that a specialized one. You also get a very nice and detailed workshop manual to help you with the installation and with the operation of the device.

The device has constantly been refined and they undergo very strict QC tests before they are shipped to the customer. I have taken this little device from Canada down to South America, on good and bad roads and many times offroad as well. It had to take quite some beatings you could say but it held up really fine and always kept my chain nicely lubed. Only once in Mexico I parked my bike in a hotel lobby walked away when the owner pointed to my bike to let me know it’s losing oil. The oil was definitely coming from the sprocket, so something had happened. I contacted Nick from Tutoro he walked me through the very easy fix. It has to be said that I use one of the earlier models which used different materials that under extreme conditions led to this small but fixable issue (*see more at the end of the article about the issue). The new models use improved materials that prevent that from happening in the first place. And even if something happens it’s probably very easy to fix and Tutoro is happy to help, the service is excellent.

Photo by Tutoro

Another time in Mexico I simply lost the nozzle which is connected at the end of the hose and feeds the oil on the sprocket. After some brainstorming with friends where or how to get a replacement one pulled out a biro, took it apart and held the biro tube under my nose “does that work?”. And it did, after cleaning it with some fuel it fit perfectly into the hose, just hat to be secured with some silicone or super glue. Another easy fix :)

I’ve been running my DID chain for 25.000 Km and it looks like it can easily do another 10.000 Km. After roughly 40.000 Km with the Tutoro Auto I can highly recommend it. It’s so easy to install, even easier to operate and it does the job of keeping your drive chain running smooth without having to interfere with any systems on your bike. Furthermore the support from Tutoro is excellent and it is a “from riders – for riders” type of company that takes quality serious!

Note: I am not affiliated in any kind with Tutoro, I am simply a happy customer!

* The weight was at the top end of it’s moving range (which means primary valve was always open). It turned out that the weight had slid down a bit and changed the preload of the spring beneath it which in turn pushed the whole part up and kept the valve open. The fix was as easy as popping off the resevoir glass and then sliding the weight back up, giving the spring the correct preload again.