How To Maintain Your Motorcycle Chain and Why It’s So Important

The chain on your motorcycle plays a vital role. It transfers power from the engine to the back wheel. If it fails to function due to lack of maintenance, you’re going nowhere fast.

This ‘How to maintain your motorcycle chain’ guide will provide you with the information you need to keep your motorcycle rolling.

Chains Explained

There are two types of motorcycle drive chains; roller and sealed. Roller chains are simple, strong, and inexpensive to produce. On the downside, they are maintenance-heavy and need regular lubrication to prevent their component parts from seizing.

Sealed chains on the other hand are self-lubricating. This creative piece of technology is performed at the production stage when lubricant gets injected into the gap between the pin and bush.

The O and X seal on a motorcycle chain helps keeping the oil in place
The O and X seal on a motorcycle chain helps to keep the oil in place

The grease stays in place thanks to an O or X seal. Unlike tire coding, the O and X prefixes describe the cross-section of the seal only and are unrelated to speed rating.

This type of chain may be self-lubricating, but don’t get fooled into thinking that they are maintenance-free. All motorcycle drive chains need regular maintenance. It’s as simple as that.

Why is Motorcycle Chain Maintenance so Important?

Each Individual link of your chain is made up of plates, bushes, and rollers. With the average motorcycle chain having more than 100 links, that’s an awful lot of moving parts.

During the normal course of riding, dirt, dust, and general road debris gets kicked up in and around the chain. As the miles under your wheels clock-up, the dust acts as a grinding paste wearing away the chain until the individual components become worn.

motorcycle chain too loose
Besides causing excessive wear on sprockets this can also happen if your motorcycle chain is too loose. This is on our own Ducati Monster 1100 EVO – and it’s clear, that the chain has slapped against the swingarm under hard acceleration or deceleration. Image: Old News Club

Poorly maintained chains can also cause excessive wear on sprockets and replacing them as a set is not cheap. At worst, a worn chain can also snap or jump the sprocket. Avoid either of these scenarios at all costs.

So How do I Maintain my Motorcycle Chain?

Generally speaking, routine chain maintenance should be carried out every 500- miles depending on riding conditions and the type of bike. This procedure requires good hands-on inspection, so break out the nitrile gloves and follow these easy steps.

  1. With the bike on its side stand, you can assess whether your chain needs tightening or just a clean and lube. Vertical play of around 1.5- inches generally means the chain is fine, any more and it will need tightening.
  2. Get the back wheel off the floor either by using the main stand, paddock stand, or wheel roller.
  3. Rotate the rear wheel by hand and halfway along the bottom run of the chain, check the tension for tight spots. Important: Exercise care during this process. Under no circumstances start the engine to rotate the wheel, as this may lead to trapping your fingers between the chain and sprocket.
  4. If the chain requires tightening, loosen the rear axle bolt and free-up the left and right adjusters. These adjusters move the wheel backward in small increments until the chain is the correct tension. Important: Care is needed with this process and if you’re unfamiliar with the procedure consult your owner’s manual.
  5. Before you begin cleaning your chain, remember it’s a messy process, so get everything you may need to hand. This kit will include degreasing agent, chain brush, dry rags, chain lube, and some old newspapers to place under the chain.
  6. Rotate the wheel by hand and soak the chain in degreaser. Use a chain brush to work the fluid in between the links. Leave for at least 10 minutes to make sure the degreaser has worked its way in. Important: Check the type of chain you have and use a specifically recommended motorcycle chain degreaser. You can use kerosene for this process, but not petrol as it may damage the nitrile seals in your chain.
  7. Rinse all the grunge off the chain and dry thoroughly with the rags. Important: With the chain free of dirt and debris, now is an ideal time to inspect your sprocket for wear too.
  8. With all the muck removed from the links, spray your motorcycle chain-specific lube on the bottom row of the chain. Aim for the back of the link while slowly rotating the wheel. Important: Rotate the wheel so the chain is moving away from you.
  9. Double-check everything. If you’ve adjusted the chain, ensure all the nuts and bolts are tightened correctly and the wheel is properly aligned and runs true. You should also stop the chain at regular intervals to check for tight spots.
  10. Depending on the chain lube you’ve used, you may have to leave it for 30 minutes or so to set. Important: When you do head out for a ride, take it easy for the first few miles. Take time out to check if any lubricant has flung off onto the tire wall.

Disclaimer: This part of the article contains affiliate links*

The best ways to make maintaining your chain easier

Top Tips Product Key Features
Cleaning Brush Simple Solutions Grunge Brush Tough, replacement brushes available
Cleaner and Lube Kit Motul Chain Care Kit Cleaner, lube plus free gloves and brush
Wheel Stand Grand Pitstop Wheel Stand Compact and well-made
Wheel Alignment Tool Motion Pro Alignment Tool Easy-to-use and cheap

Product recommendations and where to buy

products for maintaining your bike chain

The Simple Solutions AGB888 Aluminum Grunge Brush is a solid, heavy-duty chain brush. In fact, it may even outlast your bike, let alone the chain. With a three-sided brush on the top and a long bristle brush on the bottom, caked-on crud won’t stand a chance. A replacement brush kit is also available.

Get it here

products for maintaining your bike chain

If you can’t decide which chain cleaner and lube to choose, take the guesswork out and go for the Motul 109767 Chain Care Kit. The kit not only includes top-shelf cleaner and lube but also a pair of nitrile gloves and a brush.

Get it here

products for maintaining your bike chain

If your bike doesn’t have a main stand, chain maintenance is a real pain. The Grand PitStop Motorcycle Wheel cleaning stand is a great device that allows you to rotate your wheel easily.

Get it here

products for maintaining your bike chain

Adjusting your chain can be daunting so make sure the adjusters are screwed in the same distance on each side. The Motion Pro 08-0048 Chain Alignment Tool, is a simple piece of kit that will ensure you’ve got perfect alignment every time.

Get it here

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve got an X-ring chain, do I still need to clean and lube it?

Yes, you do. All chains need to be clean and lubricated to prevent failure and to achieve their maximum life-span.

Can a correctly maintained chain save me money?

It can. Not only will you spend less on replacement sprockets and chains, but you’ll also get better gas mileage.

Why does my chain need adjusting and how do I know when it needs replacing?

Over time, the pins and bushes in all chains will stretch. Although this is only a comparatively small amount of wear per link, multiply the number of links in your chain and it will add up. It’s time to replace your chain when you can no longer remove the slack because you’ve reached the limit of your adjusters.

*Products in our Buyer’s Guide section are carefully chosen and we recommend only the best for our loyal audience. Bear in mind that this article contains affiliate links and if you purchase via our links – Old News Club will earn a commission.

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