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Motorcycle Chain and Sprocket Maintenance

Motorcycle Chain and Sprocket Maintenance

Posted By: Mike.D Published: 14/06/2016 Times Read: 903 Comments: 0

With a little maintenance you chain and sprockets will provide you with many miles of trouble free riding. HOWEVER, if you ignore them you will learn the hard (expensive) way to bend down and pay attention to them more often.

DISCLAIMER: if you are unsure as to your skills, PLEASE consult a qualified motorcycle mechanic. (Not the neighbor kid who rides that clapped out KX80). Some motorcycles do require specific maintenance procedures and specialty tools. Refer to your owners manual before attempting any work on your own.

CHAIN CLEANING: First off determine what type of chain you have. Is it o-ring or non--ring ?  We'll start with CLEANING O-RING CHAIN: Don't pressure wash o-ring chain! You will push high pressure water past the o-ring seals. This  will shorten the life of your chain dramatically. You do not have to remove the chain to clean it. If you choose to remove it, is a good idea to have a replacement master-link on-hand for installation. O-ring master-links can be damaged by removing them and require replacement.  The proper way to clean an o-ring chain is to use a Grunge Brush and brush away the excess mud and dirt . Over cleaning an o-ring chain usually causes more harm then good. We don't recommend using solvents to clean o-ring chains for the same reason you should not pressure wash them. Solvents will get past the o-ring seals and break down the factory installed lubricant and shorten the life of the chain. Solvents can damage or swell the rubber o-rings causing them to fail. Thoroughly inspect each o-ring and roller looking for cracks, missing o-rings and cracked and missing rollers. If you find any missing o-rings or rollers you need to replace the chain. It is no longer safe to use the chain. Closely inspect the chain's master-link. Check the master-link clip for wear. Check the ends of the master-link pins for wear. With modern motocross bikes the chain guides can grind the pins down to the point that the clip will not stay on. The master-link is the weakest link of any chain. Replacing it often or at the first sign of wear will help insure you don't have a master-link failure. NEVER run an o-ring master-link without it's o-rings.  After you have the chain cleaned and inspected you should turn your attention to the sprockets. We will lube the chain a little later.

CLEANING NON-O-RING CHAIN: With non-o-ring chain you can be more aggressive with your cleaning. However this will be more work. Remove the chain from the bike and find a shallow disposable turkey pan . Soak your chain in a non-water based solvent. in a well ventilated place like outside. This will dissolve any old chain lube and dirt. Soaking over night is ideal. It is very important to remove all the solvent and dry the chain before putting it back on the bike. This can be done by hanging the chain and letting it drip or by using compressed air to blow out as much solvent as possible. Inspect every link for missing or cracked rollers. Closely inspect the chain's master-link. Check the master-link clip for wear. The master-link is the weakest link of any chain. Replacing it often or at the first sign of wear will help insure you don't have a master-link failure. If you find any cracked or missing rollers you should replace the chain with a new one.  We will lube the chain after its back on the bike. (Note - soaking the cleaned chain in lubricant at this point will make for a huge mess when its reinstalled and run.)

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CLEAN & INSPECT YOUR SPROCKETS: Please USE EXTREME CAUTION because it is very easy to catch your fingers between the chain and sprockets when your rotation your wheel. NEVER do this while the bike is running. Using your brush, remove any dirt and from both sprockets. Carefully inspect each sprocket tooth for wear and damage. If you are missing any teeth or if they show signs of "hooking" or wear it is time to replace them. Pay attention to the rear sprocket bolts. Check them for proper torque. Check the front sprocket clip. If it is worn or seems sloppy it's time to replace it. Some front sprockets are held on with a nut or bolt into the countershaft. Make sure the nut or bolt is tightened to the proper torque.

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INSTALLING THE CHAIN (IF REMOVED): If you chose to remove the chain for cleaning and inspection now it's time to install it. Place the chain over both sprockets so that the ends meet approximately half way around the rear sprocket. Take your cleaned or new master-link and grease the pins with waterproof grease. If it's an o-ring master-link, make sure you place an o-ring on each pin before sliding the master-link in the ends of the chain. O-ring master-links require two more o-rings to be placed over the pins before you install the outer side plate.  THIS IS WHERE IT BECOMES INTERESTING. Many of today's racing chains have "press-fit" side plates. The outer side plate will not just slide into place. It requires a special tool called a master-link press.  NEVER file out the holes in the side plate to make it easier to put on. This will weaken the side plate that has been heat treated at the factor.  The press fit design keeps your chain from flying apart if you were to loose the master-link clip.

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Slide the side plate on as far as it will go. Rotate the chain to a place off the rear sprocket that allows you enough room to use the master-link Press.  (read the master-link press instructions for proper use.)  Press on the side plate just far enough to install the master-link clip if your master-link is a clip type. Install the clip with the rounded end forward in the direction of chain rotation. This will help prevent the clip from being knocked off accidentally. After you have properly installed your master-link, roll the chain slowly through at least one complete revolution around your sprockets and through your chain guide to check for interference. Make sure it rolls smoothly and easily with no binding.

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Some chains use a "rivet style" master-links. Today's narrow o-ring or u-ring sealed chains designed for 4-strokes and some 125cc motocross bikes with clearance issues are a good example of chains that use rivet master-links. Some non-o-ring chains also use rivet links for maximum strength and safety. Riveting a master-link together is almost an art form. It requires extra special attention to detail and it is not recommended you attempt it without a very good rivet tool and lots of patience. After you have properly riveted your master-link, roll the chain slowly through at least one complete revolution around your sprockets and through your chain guide to check for interference. Make sure it rolls smoothly and easily with no binding.

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The art form is riveting it tight enough to stay together, but not to tight as to cause kinking or binding of the chain at the master-link. Going slow and checking the tightness often is the preferred method. This is where extreme patience is required. Check with the chain manufacturers instructions for the specific riveting procedure as some rivet master-links do require specific procedures.

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LUBING THE CHAIN: Now that your chain is properly installed it's time to lube it. With rear wheel raised off the ground slowly rotate the wheel while spraying chain lube on the chain where the rollers meet the side plates. In the case of o-ring chains you are only lubing the rollers. You will not get lubricant past the o-rings into the bushings.  Two or three complete revolutions while spraying will be plenty. Over lubing your chain will only create a mess. DO NOT use bar & chain oil for chainsaws, gear oil, WD-40 or any other lubricant not specifically made for motorcycle chains. Many lubricants will damage the o-ring seals and do nothing but fly off and create a huge mess and possibly contaminate your brake pads and rotor causing loss of braking power. Real motorcycle chain lube is designed to go on thin and penetrate. After a period of time the chain lube sets up and becomes tacky staying inside the chain rollers. It is a good idea to lube your chain the night before you ride to give the chain lube a chance to do it's job. Any lubricant you spray on just before you ride will only fly off and make a mess.

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CHAIN ADJUSTMENT: Refer to your owners manual for the proper chain adjustment procedure for your specific motorcycle. Make sure you check the slack adjustment with the riders weight sitting on the motorcycle. It helps to have a friend for this. The chain will be at it tightest position when your bike is loaded with rider weight. Check the slack adjustment in several positions around the chain because there may be tighter places do to uneven chain wear. Set your slack adjustment at the tightest position of the chain.  Keep in mind that if you know you will be riding in heavy mud or sand that your chain will tighten up do to the mud and sand becoming trapped between the sprocket teeth and the chain. It is advisable to run slightly more chain slack in those conditions to help avoid damaging your drive system and transmission. Over tightening the chain can or not running enough chain slack may result in transmission damage, and excessive chain and sprocket wear. Chain alignment is an overlooked aspect of chain and sprocket maintenance. Pro mechanics never rely on the lines stamped on the swing-arm or axle blocks to align the rear wheel. The best method is to measure from the center of the swing-arm axle to the center of the rear wheel axle. If both sides measure the same, your wheel is straight in the swing-arm. A miss-aligned wheel will cause uneven chain and sprocket wear and handling issues when you ride. A good quality tape measure is all you need.

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DRIVE SYSTEM ODDS & ENDS: While you are servicing your chain and sprockets, this is the perfect time to check out your chain rollers and your chain guide. Worn rollers with sloppy bearings can cause excessive chain wear and drag on your system. This reducing the amount of power you put to the ground and shorten the life of your drive system. Worn chain guide wear blocks or miss-aligned chain guides will cause uneven sprocket wear and reduced drive system efficiency. Worn out chain sliders can cause swing arm damage and should be replaces as soon as possible.


Chain RollersChain GuidesChain Sliders

With a little preventative maintenance your chain and sprockets will last many miles and you will save money in the long run.

Now go ride!


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