Keep your motorcycle in peak condition

Motorbike Chain Maintenance

Motorbike Chain Maintenance

Postby Rob1965 » Sun Sep 02, 2012 4:01 pm

So you're going about your usual ride and you notice some strange vibrations in the foot peg. Don't be alarmed! Over time, your drive chain will have a tendency to "stretch" out with use and will require a certain amount of maintenance just as the rest of your bike does. "How have I never thought of this?" you ask yourself. Over the years, chains have become more and more advanced and have needed less and less maintenance. It can be easy to over look your chain especially if you bought your bike straight from the manufacturer. But no matter how advanced chains get, they'll always need a bit of tender, loving care just like the rest of your bike and will even need to be changed out periodically.

Of course it would be too easy and boring to make all motorcycles the same. Instead, many bikes are made without chains and run off of a drive shaft or belt. If this is the case for your motorcycle, we doubt this guide will be much of interest to you.

On the other hand, if your bike does run off of a drive chain, maintaining your chain can be the difference from running smoothly and some very unpleasant engine damage (not to mention body damage). An improperly maintained chain will not only affect how your bike runs, but will most likely fail. You're lucky if your chain fails without causing any damage. While it is possible that a chain can snap and fly off of your bike without coming into contact with any of your precious parts, it's highly unlikely. When a chain fails, it usually goes out with a vengeance. Often times, the chain will whip violently against your engine and since you spend so much time tweaking and tuning that beautiful machine, you probably don't want that to happen. Chain failure can also cause your motor to come to an immediate stop which will not only damage it, but probably damage you as you unexpectedly fly off of you bike. Long story short, maintaining your chain can prevent both you and your bike from being damaged.


The best way to prevent a chain from breaking or to avoid having to replace your chain more often than necessary is to just maintain it. Seems simple and obvious enough, right? To start, in order to properly maintain your chain, you'll need to know what kind of chain your bike is running with. The most simple and straightforward type of chain is a standard, non-sealed chain. This chain will require the most amount of maintenance because it doesn't have any way of keeping itself lubricated like an O-ring chain does. If your bike has one of these chains, you'll need to keep a closer eye on it for wear and attend to it more often.

So why would anyone want a non-sealed chain? There are a few advantages to having a these chains depending on the type of riding you will be doing. Many racers prefer this type of chain because they tend to have less friction than their sealed counterparts. While these chains will need more maintenance and need to be replaced more often, they allow racers to get a better ride. Also, many older bikes are not compatible with O-ring chains. While you may want to try to switch your chain over to the less demanding of the types, your engine may be better off staying with its original non-sealed chain.

An O-ring chain is a whole lot less needy. This chain has little o-rings between the link plates and rollers of the chain that are used to keep grease and lube inside of your chain while keeping dirt out of your chain. While these chains require less upkeep and tend to not need to be replaced as often, they do require some care. Over time, O-rings will lose lubrication and eventually will dry out, crack or even fall off. The best way to slow this process down is with regular lubrication with an o-ring safe lubricant. However, no matter how much you lubricate, the O-rings will get old eventually.

There are a few variations in the O-ring family. With the same concept of keeping the chain lubricated and reducing friction, other designs such as X-rings are slightly modified. For example, an X-ring chain is designed to reduce the extra friction over an O-ring chain by the shape of its cross section. X-rings have less contact area between the X-ring and the link plates and rollers. Because of this reduction in friction, X-rings also have a tendency to last longer than O-rings.


However, no matter the type of chain, it'll still need to be maintained. Gunk and grease can have a tendency to build up around the chain along with dirt and will increase the wear. Before lubing up your chain, check it for any build up that may need to be cleaned off. If you find that you chain needs to be bathed, put your bike up on its handy dandy stand so that the rear wheel is off the ground. Once your bike is flying high (and is stable while doing so), rotate the rear wheel to inspect your chain. If you notice that your chain is at the maximum adjustment, is worn down, or has any excessive rust or kinks, just forgo the chain cleaning and slap a whole new one on there.

If your chain is still in good condition but just needs to be freshened up, you should use a mild soap or WD40 and brush to scrub off any dirt or excess grease build up. Kerosene can be used but we recommend something more mild on O-ring chains as kerosene can dry them out. While you can use a wire brush on a non-sealed chain, be sure to use a much softer brush on a chain with rings. We really like to use a Simple Solution's Grunge Brush with Degreaser. Wipe away the dirt and grease with a clean cloth and let the chain dry. Try not to let your chain sit without lube for too long as the o-rings could dry out. When lubricating your chain, do it while the chain is warm. Riding around for a few minutes in order for your chain to be warm when you apply lube will help the lube to work its way into the chain.

Every now and then, or if you get your chain particularly dirty by riding through some extreme terrain, you should remove your chain, brush it well to knock off build up and then submerge it completely in a mild solvent to get rid of any build up that your brush can't reach. Once most of the build up has broken free from the links and rollers, let the solvent completely evaporate before you reapply lube.


Once your chain is back to being as clean as it was when you first slapped it onto your sprockets, you'll need to lube it up again. If your chain is still wet, be sure to allow it to dry before adding any lube. If you add lube to a still wet chain, the lube will trap the moisture inside the chain and cause it to rust. If you're impatient or if you're re-lubing your chain after washing your bike, pick up a water dispersant, such as WD-40 or chain cleaner, in order to knock off any moisture before you spray on lube.

Believe it or not, there is a wrong way to add lube to your chain. Start out by using a lube like Bel-Ray's Super Clean Chain Lube. We definitely do not recommend the point and shoot method. You'll want to get the lube inside the pins and rollers and a little precision is necessary. With your motorcycle still mounted on its stand and the rear wheel elevated, apply lube to the lower chain while spinning the rear wheel forwards, allowing the chain to climb on the sprocket. Once you've managed to cover the entire length of the chain, wipe off any access lube so that it doesn't build up or attract dirt and let it sit for about ten minutes. Give the rear wheel a spin every few minutes in order to help the lube work its way into the chain.

Can't manage to get your hands on a can of spray lube? If you have some extra oil (no we don't mean olive oil) laying around in your workshop, you can lube your chain the old fashion way. Remove your chain and, after cleaning it, place it in a pan or pot filled with oil. Allow the chain to sit for about an hour while being sure to move it around every now and then. We recommend using a screwdriver to do this as not to get your hands dirtier than you need to. Once your chain has had a chance to soak up as much oil as it wants to, take it out of the oil and hang it so that the excess oil can drip off. If you haven't figured it out already, dripping oil can cause quite a mess so we recommend putting a catch pan underneath your chain as it drains. Once most of the oil has dripped off, wipe off any remaining excess with a clean rag and put your chain back on your bike. Be sure to get all excess oil off as regular oil will fling off excessively. We've just fallen in love with this Motorex Street Bike Chain Clean Care Kit because it comes with everything you need to keep your chain maintained.

You'll find that a properly cleaned and lubed chain can have a huge impact on how smoothly your bike can transfer its power from the engine to your rear wheel. Be sure to add chain maintenance to your list. The standard for checking your chain is every 300 miles but check your owner's manual for your specific bike.


Sometimes, cleaning and lubing your chain just won't be enough. Just like everything else on your bike, even the best of chains will get worn down eventually. Chains will get stretched out, rust and age. When they do, it's better to catch it early and replace your chain before it lets you know that it's time by failing on you during a ride. If you didn't catch on earlier, a failed chain can wreak havoc.

You can tell when you should change your chain fairly easily. The fastest and most straightforward way to tell is to grab hold of one link of your chain (while your engine is off if you care to keep your fingers) that is resting on the rear sprocket and pull it away from the sprocket. If you can pull the link halfway off of the sprocket's tooth, your chain has gotten too loose and should be adjusted. If you've reached your maximum adjustment or if you notice that you sprocket teeth are worn down excessively, it's time to replace your chain. However, if you're one of the cool kids who likes to adjust their chain as it stretches out, you'll be able to tell when your chain needs replacing if your model has a "replace chain" marking and the rear-axel adjusters have reached it. If you don't trust your eyes to catch the signs of a worn out chain, check your owner's manual to find out at what mileage your chain should be changed.

If you find that it's time to change your chain, do not despair. Changing your chain is a fairly simple process that can easily be done. The hardest part is probably finding a new chain to replace it with. There are so many different varieties and brands of chains. You may think that it might just be easier to get the same chain that your bike came stock with. However, other than being far more expensive, many motorcycle manufacturers sell the chains without a master link which may force you to bring your bike into a dealer to have your chain changed.

Removing the old chain

In order to get your bike ready for a new chain, put it in neutral and rotate the rear wheel to find the master link. Once you've found it, loosen the rear axel of your motorcycle and slide the rear wheel as far forward as you can in order to get the chain to be as loose as possible. If your master link is the clip style, use a screwdriver in order to break it loose. If you have a hefty chain breaker or your chain is a fairly small chain, you can also use a chain breaker, like this Smith Tools Chain-A-Part Model A Chain Breaker, to remove one of the pins. However, because chains are getting stronger and stronger, you may find that your chain will out power the chain break and may only end up breaking the chain break (oh, the irony). Some people find the easiest way to remove a chain is to simply cut right through it. With a hand held grinder, grind off the heads off one of the links, be careful not to hit anything around the link, and then punch out the pins. Once you have the master link disconnected or have the chain separated, carefully pull the chain until it is completely free.

Sprockets: To replace or not to replace, that is the question

There seems to be a bit of a debate on whether or not you should change your sprockets at the same time that you replace your chain. Manufacturers will always tell you to replace them at the same time. While this has become generally accepted among bikes that run off of aluminum sprockets, many people try to refute this suggestion with sprockets made from more resilient metals. An aluminum sprocket is a lot softer than other types of sprockets and is known to wear down a lot faster. With these sprockets, changing them at the same time as you replace your chain is a definite must otherwise your sprocket will chew up your new chain a whole lot faster. Since chains can be a bit spendy and are vital to the health of your bike, you don't want them to wear any faster than they already do.

On the other hand, sprockets that are made of a more resilient metal will have a tendency to wear at a much slower pace. Many people find changing out their sprockets to not only be unnecessarily expensive but to be quite annoying as well. This means that it can be easier to justify cutting corners and only changing out your sprockets every other time that you replace your chain.

Our opinion? Cutting corners on your bike may save you time and money, but in the long run will only up your chances of having something go wrong. With a motorcycle, it's always better to be safe than sorry and since chains and sprockets are meant to wear together, putting a new chain on an old sprocket will not allow the two parts to mature simultaneously. This could either have no affect on how your bike rides or your chances of chain failure, or it could cause your chain to wear much faster and fail on you in the middle of a ride. Since we all know what can happen when a chain decides to bite the dust unexpectedly, we vote for the safe option of always changing your sprockets when you change your chain. After all, it may cost you a few extra minutes and a few extra bucks, but it'll help make sure that you also save yourself time fixing your engine after your chain has tore through it or save you the pain of having to grow back the skin you left on the asphalt when your bike stopped short.

Making the sproket switch

Once you're old chain is chillin in the trash and your new chain is waiting to make its way onto your bike, you'll want to remove the old sprockets and let them join their resting place with the old chain. In order to remove them from your bike, just loosen the bolts holding them in place with a breaker bar. Be careful when breaking bolts free as sprockets have a tendency to bite. Once the bolts are loose, you can then use your hands to take them all the way off.

Many people like to mess with the amount of teeth that their sprocket has. Putting a new sprocket on with a different amount of teeth will affect your gear ratios and your RPM's at a given speed. We don't recommend messing with the number of teeth on your sprockets unless you fully understand how it will affect your bike. Most bike manufacturers choose the sprockets that they put on their bikes stock because it will give the average rider the best performance. Changing your sprocket size could give you better performance but it will also come with downsides that you may not be aware of. For the sake of this guide, we recommend only replacing your sprockets with the same size and tooth amount unless you've done the adequate amount of research and talked to your dealer or manufacturer to understand you bike's sprockets and gear ratios.

Chuck the old sprockets and put the fresh sprockets onto your bike. Replace all of the bolts and cinch them down to the manufacturer's recommended torque spec with a torque wrench. Once the new sprockets are on, you're ready to slap a new chain on them.

Installing a new chain

One of the easiest ways to get the right size chain is to simply count the number of links in your old chain and buy the same size chain. If you happened to fail your high school math class enough times that you don't trust your counting skills, buy a chain that is a few links longer just to be safe. It's always better to have to knock a few links off with a chain breaker rather than add an extra master link or have to buy a second new chain that is long enough.

Once your chain is at the correct length and the new sprockets are happily in place, take your new chain and feed it onto the front sprocket and around the rear sprocket until the two ends meet. Then, secure both ends of the chain together with the master link. When putting on a clip style master link, make sure that the closed end of the link is facing the direction that your chain will be rotating as the inertia of your moving wheel can cause the clip to come undone. This is also always a good precaution because, while it may not happen that often, a rock or a fall may cause hit the master link and cause it to come undone at a very inopportune time. If you're installing an O-ring or X-ring chain, be sure to slide the seal over the pins of the master link before attaching the master link plate and clip.

While clip style master links are easier to install, many people prefer to use a rivet style instead. These master links are stronger and have a better ability to hold their own at high speeds. In order to install one, before trying to connect it to the chain, you should coat the link with the lubricant that came with it. Be sure to coat the O-rings as well and then slide them onto both of the master link's pins then coat the remaining pair of O-rings and the master link's side plate. Once everything is all nice and lubed up, insert the master link into the chain by sliding the pins into the chain from the back. Then put on the remaining two O-rings and use a chain tool (we're in love with this RK Chain Cutter & Press Fit Rivit Tool becuase it is also a great chain breaker) to press the master link's side plate onto the pins. With a wrench, slowly tighten the chain tool until the side plate is evenly mounted onto the master link with a small portion of the pins sticking out of the outer surface of the side plate. Beware of pressing the link plate on too far, which can cause the chain to have a kink that will not flex easily. Then insert the rivet flare pin into the chain tool. If you really don't trust yourself to not over rivet the chain and cause a kink, a stalking plate will space the plate and keep you from over riveting. This will allow you slowly tighten the wrench in order to flare the tip of the pin. Once the pin is in a mushroom shape, repeat on the other pin. Keep a close eye on the pins as you do this in order to not over tighten as this can damage the flare on the rivet and cause the chain to kink as well. And presto! You've got a perfectly secured rivet master link that will hold even while you ramp up your RPM's.

After the master link is all set and ready to go, recheck the length of your chain; adjust accordingly and lube that puppy up (unless you put on an O-ring chain that comes pre- lubed). You'll also want to make sure that your chain is neither too loose nor too tight. If it's too tight, your chain won't be able to rotate properly. If it's too loose, you risk the chance that your chain will fly off of your sprockets. A standard recommendation is 1" to 1 3/8"s of slack but we recommend checking your owner's manual so see what it says to keep your chain at. With a new set of sprockets and a new chain, you'll be surprised at how much better your bike will run.
Rjh for the No 1 in CBT, DAS, ERS and ADVANCED in Salford Manchester, and Leigh Lancashire
User avatar
Posts: 526
Joined: Sat Jul 14, 2012 4:52 pm
Location: Manchester

Return to Bike Maintenance

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest