How to maintain a motorcycle chain

How to maintain a motorcycle chain

Do you take good care of your chain, or know how to maintain your motorcycle chain to a long happy life?

Although the chain is one of the most import parts of most motorcycles, as it drives the power from the engine to the wheel, it is also one of the ones that are more prone to wear and tear by being exposed to the elements, and yet, a lot of us don’t take care of them with the respect they deserve.

Let us admit it, it is understandable. We keep an eye out for strange sounds or feedbacks from the engine, but other than that, its gas and we are good to go for thousands of miles.

The suspension, if it's not leaking or seizing up, its perfect. A lot of us - myself included - even forget to do the scheduled maintenance on their suspension until its waaaaaaaaaaaay overdue.

The same could be said for the tires, that until the day they either pop or scare the hell out of us, will run until they are paper thin.

And that leads us to the chain. Although they require more care than any other part on a bike, they don’t bother us much.

If they produce sound, it's usually very gradual, so we only acknowledge it when its already seriously problematic, and if they start to seize up or jump around, again we already have problems.

There is not a lot of feedback from the chain to a large number of riders, so it becomes easy to forget about its maintenance.

And yet, we shouldn’t! The chain is what keeps us running, and a well-maintained chain will not only last longer but allow us to take the most power out of our engine.

On the other hand, a poorly maintained chain can at the limit break on you.

Now, you might be “lucky" and the chain may slide out of the bike leaving you without power but with an “operating” motorcycle, or you might be unlucky, and the chain may jam on one of the sprockets making you go from whatever speed you are going to 0 in a split second, or just slap around the bike on its way out, slicing everything it touches like a metal whip.

So what can and should we do to prevent that?

Inspect it, know it, stretch it, clean it, and lube it.

Inspecting is simple, although dirty work, as everything will be when working on the chain.

Wearing gloves is a big plus here!

Grab your chain and move it side to side on the rear sprocket, spin the wheel a bit, do it again until you run over all the links.

This will allow you to touch the links, which will let you see if there is anything loose or broken and if there is side to side play on the sprocket - a worn out sprocket may also produce side to side play on the chain - while also forcing you to look at the links, producing a general visual inspection.

No need to be doing this every week, but if you inspect your chain once a month under heavy use, or every couple of months if you only ride a couple of miles every other weekend, you will be golden.

If you are going on a big trip, do it before you start, even if you had done it a couple of weeks prior.

Also important is to know your chain. Are you rocking o-rings, x-rings, w-rings, or no rings at all?

Different chains for different uses, and with different maintenance needs, but yet they all require our attention.

Adjusting our chains is key for safety and performance, and it should be checked regularly.

All bike will have specific measurements of slack - how much the chain should go up and down as you push it with your finger - but if you keep yours between one inch and one inch and three eights, you will be on average.

This measurement should always be taken with you sitting on the bike and all the weight you will be carrying. If that implies a pillion and loaded bags, well, then that is all the weight you will have to put on the bike to adjust your slack.

This means that you will have to suit up and ask a third person for help. However, just once!

After the slack is adjusted, just dismount, remove all the weight from the bike, and measure the slack.

It will be an insane number, but that will be your “unloaded slack”.

If you always look for the "unloaded slack" when inspecting by yourself, you know that once you pack up and hit the road, your “loaded slack” will be perfect.

Unsealed chains tend to require more cleaning than the ones with o-rings, so keep that in mind, but for one with o-rings, if you clean it once a month and keep it lubed, you will be more than ok.

Always a good time for that is when washing our bikes. Remember, a clean bike is a healthy bike! But more on that on another blog post.

For an unsealed chain, a hard brush and some soap or a dedicated chain cleaner will do the trick, as for an o-ringed chain, a soft brush will be required not too damaged the rings. Warm water is highly advisable!

Once cleaned is time to lube it.

Although most of us tend to spin the rear wheel while we spray lube to the outside of the tire, that is not totally correct.

As the chain spins, the centrifugal force is pushing the lube out of the chain, so when you lube the outside, you are not allowing for any lube to go to the inside of the chain.

If on the other hand, you lube the inside of the chain as it spins, all the lube will be forced to travel the entire width of the chain before physics spells it out.

This will allow for total lubrication, which will make your chain last longer and perform better.

Doing this every two fuel tanks will allow you to ride with a very well lubed chain.

However, if its raining or you are doing off-road, lubing it every time you fuel up will be the way to go.

As a note, we advise the use of the correct lube.

Nowadays you will find everything from lubes for the rain to lubes dedicated to adventure riding, so there is no excuse to use the wrong one.

A properly maintained chain is a happy chain, and that will always make you a happier rider.

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