January 22, 2021 By Maynard Marcelo

Motorcycle Maintenance Tip of the Week: Drive Chain

There are three ways how motorcycles transfer power to the rear wheel; Shaft, Belt, and Chain. Of these three, the chain requires the most maintenance. But taking care of your motorcycle chain is pretty simple. You just have to follow some simple steps to get it right.

Modern motorcycle chains are very tough but they get a beating the moment your motorcycle leaves the dealer. With proper care a motorcycle chain can last up to 40,000 kilometers, sometimes even more. It really depends on how you ride and the immediate environment where you often ride. If you ride hard and in dusty environments, chain maintenance intervals should be done every 500 kilometers, or less. If you ride moderately and mostly on pavement then every 1000 kilometers should be fine. 

Brand new motorcycles still have factory lube on their chains that should be good for at least 160 kilometers before needing any cleaning and lubrication. Inspection is key. Then again it depends on how you ride and where you ride. Always remember that the number one enemy of motorcycle chains are dirt and moisture. Keeping your chain free of dirt and moisture will ensure a longer service life.

Don’t be confused between O, X, or Z rings type motorcycle chains because they are one and the same. X and Z ring type motorcycle chains have O shaped rubber rings with grooves sandwiched between the inner and outer links that supposedly seal in grease better to keep the inner chain components lubricated. Nevertheless, O ring type motorcycle chains (and their X, Z variants) are proven to last twice as long than ordinary non-O-ring type chains. They also cost twice as much, but their benefits outweigh the price difference.

Inspection: 

A responsible motorcycle rider always checks his/her chain and sprockets for any signs of damage or excessive free-play before every ride. If you find something irregular, like premature wear on the sprocket, cancel your ride and do a more thorough check. 

Put your bike on its centerstand or a paddock stand then with the transmission in neutral slowly rotate the rear wheel. It should spin freely. If you notice a tight spot then a new chain/sprockets may be required. 

Assess if your bike is rideable to the nearest bike shop for repair or chain and sprocket replacement without putting yourself at risk. If it’s rideable do so slowly and listen for any shattering or rattling noises even if the chain is well lubricated and adjusted. That’s a sign of a worn out or an overstretched chain. This noise is the result of the widening of the holes where one link attaches to the next one. 

It’s perfectly normal even for meticulously maintained chains to elongate after a while. One way to tell if your bike’s chain has reached its service life is if you’ve already reached the maximum adjustment on the swing-arm and the chain still sags. 

It’s highly advisable to replace the front and rear sprockets when you change your chain because these are complementary parts. The sprockets and the drive chain are meant to synchronise. Putting a new chain on a worn out sprocket will wear out the new chain prematurely.     

Cleaning:

The chain should be thoroughly cleaned before lubrication. Applying chain lube/grease to a dirty chain will result in a grinding-paste-like substance that will wear out the chain prematurely and will severely reduce service life. 

As much as possible, do not use petroleum based degreasers because it might damage the rubber O rings. There are water based degreasers specifically designed for cleaning motorcycle chains that you can just spray on and rinse off. 

Never use wire brushes for removing grime. Use an old toothbrush instead. Also avoid using high pressure washers or compressed air because water can be forced inside the O, X. or Z rings. Use a dry rag to wipe off excess water from the chain.   

Lubrication:

Make sure the chain is completely dry before lubricating it. Also make sure to lubricate it after a ride, and not before. This will allow the solvents in the spray to evaporate and let the lubricant penetrate the links properly before the bike is used again. A quick 15 minutes ride around your village after cleaning your bike’s chain should remove excess water and dry it completely. Also a warm chain will absorb lubricant much better than a cold chain. 

Put your bike on its centerstand or a paddock stand. While turning the wheel spray the chain with a thin and even coating of chain lube. Aim the spray nozzle at the inside of the chain until you covered three full revolutions of the chain. Let the lubricant sit for 5 minutes then wipe off the excess lube with a clean rag. Use only motorcycle specific chain lube. A  motorcycle chain should be lubricated every 500 to 1000 kilometers to ensure peak performance and long service life.   

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