Monday, November 30, 2015

JT Sprockets and Tutoro under harsh conditions review

It takes a very good chain and sprocket set to survive this, especially when the set has already done some 18,000 km before we entered this 350km long badly rutted sandpit. It also takes a very good chain oiler to work and survive under these conditions. The chain oiler's function in this is to wash the sand away, while keeping everything lubricated. Despite the conditions these chain and sprockets had to work under, they continued on and clocked up an impressive 35,000 km in the end...
On the net there is a lively debate about chain oilers. Some swear by them, some claim they aren't necessary, others say they just make a mess... The debate has been going on for years, so what can I possibly add to it? Well, my two cents worth is based on one simple thing: a trip around the world on two motorcycles through all the conditions which the so called experts claim will not work with a chain oiler... We rode through sand, gravel, half a metre deep mud, heavy rain, freezing temperatures and blistering heat... all on JT Sprockets and chains and with an inexpensive and easy to fit chain oiler from Tutoro. The chains and sprockets lasted 35,000 km, which I guess ends the debate if chain oilers work... or if they are worth their money. Quite frankly the combination of JT Sprockets and a Tutoro, for me, also ended the question if I'd rather have a shaft drive or not... 

For years I had been wondering why we still had chains and sprockets and why not all bikes came with shaft drives. With the very modest outlay of a set of JT chains and sprockets and yet still getting 35,000 km out of them under these conditions, that question is answered now. I'm glad we found JT Sprockets and Tutoro as this combination gives me all the advantages of chain drive, without the down sides of high chain and sprocket wear under harsh conditions! But before I continue, lets get one myth out of the way from the start: all the 'specialists' who claim lubricating an o-ring chain isn't necessary don't know a thing about the function of lubrication. Lubrication has two main objectives: reduce friction and dissipation of heat. Anyone who claims an o-ring chain is sealed and therefore needs no lubrication, is wrong. There is also contact between roller and sprocket and even link plates and sprocket to consider. Apart from that the o-rings will need to stay wet to prevent them from drying out and cracking. I recently came across an interesting report made by the Mechanical Engineering department of the University of Leeds, who conducted a test of various types of motorcycle chain lubricants. Their tests were done in a controlled laboratory environment to ensure equal testing and showed some remarkable outcomes, even though the chains were in perfectly clean environments. Chain elongation or wear between roller and pin was twice as high using spray lubes compared to a chain oiler. Chain oiler lubrication also reduced the friction by 11% over spray lubes. In the real world, where salt, sand and dust are thrown into the equation, the advantages of a chain oiler will be even more profound as it is the only system which ensures clean lubricant is present at all times, rather than a mixture of sand and lube. A proper chain oiler will also protect the chain and sprockets from rain and salt spray in coastal areas. A chain oiler really is a very good investment... assuming it's a good oiler like the Tutoro.

Also often overlooked is the ease of operation. Being in your comfy shed at home to clean the chain and re-apply lube with an, expensive, chain spray may be easy enough. Doing it in the middle of nowhere when its all covered in sand, clay, gravel etc. is something else. Having a good oiler means we never have to clean the chain as the Tutoro keeps it clean... even when riding though thick mud, as it won't stick to the chain or sprockets (see photo further below). Keeping a chain lubricated while riding through the conditions we have been through would have been impossible without a chain oiler.

One more note: there are chain oiling systems on the market which work on what I call the Loobman principle of lifting a plunger to dump a load of oil on the chain and then hope it will disperse. They are called chain oilers, but they're not! All they are is a bottle of oil strapped to the bike and what they do most is make a mess as the oil simply flings-off. Don't confuse these with a proper chain oiler like Tutoro for instance as they won't give continuous lubrication. They won't wash away sand and dirt and won't keep the chain lubricated at all times. The Tutoro does and also has a built-in motion sensor, so it starts dispensing oil only when the bike moves.

Just one day of dust...
On this part of the trip we faced a number of challenges. The conditions were going to be the harshest we had seen yet as we wanted to go via Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. At the same time we were heading for countries where chains and sprockets for bikes like ours are hard to come by. Getting them send up would be looking for trouble, as many who tried before us will testify, as they all have difficult and unpredictable customs processes. Just read our post about getting shock absorbers replaced to see what I mean. In effect they had to survive from Holland through Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, India and Myanmar... as Thailand would be the first option where we could replace them. Already a tall order on normal roads... and these weren't normal roads.

From Turkey to Thailand we would be basically on our own and, as we were about to find out, we had drastically underestimated the road past Atyrau in Kazakhstan which was 24 hrs of sand mulching in 48°C on chains and sprockets which had already covered around 18,000 km by then. The rest of Kazakhstan was long and hot, very hot. Next up was Kyrgyzstan, adventure riders' paradise where we took as many of the dusty gravel roads as we could, as we prefer the solitude over asphalt boredom, and found the grit between our teeth. China did it's best with roadworks so dusty we couldn't see 5 mtr ahead at times but then things cleared up in Pakistan and we thought we had seen the worst. We were wrong.

Riding up the Rohtang pass in the biggest torrential downpour I have seen in 50 years, saw us riding through pools of slimy mud of about half a metre deep in places. It was so abrasive that it chewed up the brake pads on Mike's Yamaha! Riding into Sikkim was one big dusty roadwork where sand ended up everywhere. Add to that lots of braking/accelerating in traffic conditions we can only describe as mad and we can say that India was a lot harder on chains and tyres than we had thought it would be.

You could say, 'yes, but there is a chain oiler fitted' which is true, but a crappy chain oiler wouldn't keep a chain alive in these conditions... nor would a good chain oiler keep a crappy chain alive... As they say 'it's the weakest link which determines the result' which is why I made a combined post of both. JT Sprockets and chains are very good quality, no question about it. They lasted longer than the DiD we had before and much longer than an expensive RK Chain we also tried. At the same time the Tutoro has now proven itself beyond any reasonable doubt too. 

Once the chain started to wear, another positive came to light about chain oilers and JT. Normally a chain needs one adjustment after it has bedded-in and then needs no adjustment after that for a long time. Once the chain needs a second or third adjustment, it is on it's way out and does so quickly. Part of the reason is that as a chain wears it gets more sideway movement, the o-rings can't seal the increased gap anymore or have dried out and the original grease inside the rollers leaks out. With a chain oiler, not only does it take longer before the chain wears, the oil also leaks in past the seals. As the oil is replenished continuously, the inside of the rollers remains lubricated. Being good quality chains means the lubrication kept them alive much longer. In Kyrgyzstan we had the first signs of wear on the chain and thought it would be up for replacement soon. But then I noticed that the distances ridden between chain adjustments were a lot longer than without an oiler, plus they remained virtually the same while normally the distance ridden between adjustments would become shorter and shorter rather quickly. The chain subsequently lasted through China, Pakistan, India and Myanmar... Again, a crappy chain wouldn't have done this, but without lubrication it wouldn't have happened either.

In the end the teeth on the front sprockets became quite thin. The Yamaha sprocket needed replacement just before the Myanmar border, having covered just over 31,000 km. Nothing for an XT660 was available so we adapted a Hero 14T sprocket to get us through Myanmar. It worked. The rear sprocket and chain on the Yamaha continued on until 35,000 km, when I could replace the complete set for both bikes. Under normal conditions, whatever that is I can't remember though :-) they would have lasted a lot longer. If fact I could have got away with just replacing the front sprockets and quite possibly have got 40,000 km out of them. The reason I didn't was because of logistics. In Thailand it's easy to get chains and sprockets, in Laos and Cambodia it isn't, so we replaced them for a full set before we went into Laos. These JT chains and sprockets have seen so much sand, grit and gravel that it wouldn’t surprise me if they would do double the mileage we have done with a Tutoro under normal road riding.

One more thing. The reason we could ride as long as we did and could continue when we knew the front sprockets were showing signs of wear is because of the steel used by JT. Quite a few sprockets are hardened steel, JT doesn't do that. Instead their sprockets are made from C49 Carbon and SCM420 Chromoly Steel, which means there is no thin hardened layer which, once worn away, reveals a quick wearing mild steel sprocket. The JT sprockets are very hard all the way through, there is no point after which they suddenly wear out quickly.

The mud found its way everywhere, and yet the chain and sprockets
survived and as the Tutoro had kept the chain in a film of oil, it didn't
stick to it. I simply removed it from the casing with a screwdriver.
I lubed the chains well, perhaps a tad on the high side, and also did so when riding gravel or when it rained. On gravel and wet we opened up the Tutoro one full turn further. Oil used is therefore perhaps on the high side at 1.5 litre over 35,000 km per chain/sprocket set. Unlike chain lube, gearbox oil is available everywhere though and costs next to nothing. Try getting chain spray lube in the deserts of Kazakhstan… yet that’s where I bought a litre of gearbox oil at the petrol station, a bottle which lubed two chains through the rest of Kazakhstan and only just ran out at the border with Thailand. 

35,000 km on just 1 set of JT chains and sprockets, with a Tutoro chain oiler, through the above conditions, ends the debate on the quality of JT chains and sprockets as well as the need for a good chain oiler like the Tutoro...