How to Inspect, Maintain, and Replace your Motorcycle Chain

Motorcycle chains should take a high priority on your motorcycle’s inspection checklist, as they are one of the more important parts on your bike. The chain is responsible for providing power to the rear wheel, and hard accelerations or deceleration puts a lot of additional strain on this crucial part. If the chain breaks, it could become a projectile, and not only do damage to the bike, but cause serious injury to its rider, especially if it gets caught in the wheel when it breaks. Frequent inspection, at least every 500-700 miles, or twice a month, is recommended by most professionals. A cursory inspection should also be made each time the rider plans to ride.

Some of the tools you might need to have on hand for basic chain maintenance are: old toothbrush or soft bristle brush, old rags, rubber mallet, O ring friendly chain lubricant and O ring friendly chain cleaner (if your chain is of the O ring type – most modern chains are), and a new cotter pin for adjusting the chain tension. It also might be a lot easier if you have a rear wheel stand, but it is not required.

The give in a motorcycle chain should be no more than one inch up or down, but can vary from motorcycle to motorcycle, so be sure to check your motorcycle owner’s manual for the correct specifications. Begin the inspection by grasping a section of chain about halfway between the front and rear sprockets, and move it up and down. Roll the bike a few inches, and continue to do this this with each section of the chain. If you have the bike on a rear wheel stand, just to spin the tire a little bit to do this. If sections are too tight, you can loosen them, and if too loose, they can be tightened. If you have too many individual rings that are tight, you may need to buy a replacement chain.

Next, inspect the sprocket for wear. If the teeth out of shape or worn, the chain probably is, too, and might need to be replaced. Whether or not you need to replace the sprocket or chain, you will certainly need to keep everything clean and lubricated. Wipe off any excess grease and grime from the sprocket and chain – this can get messy, and the old rags will come in handy. All the sprocket teeth and chain links need to be thoroughly wiped clean. Rotate the wheel and spray an even layer of lubricant across the chain. Wipe off excess with an old rag.

Finally, set your chain tension. There are various types of adjustment mechanisms, so be certain to consult your motorcycle owner’s manual for proper adjustment. The last step in the process is to tighten the rear axle. It is important to make sure the wheel is properly aligned prior to tightening to avoid premature wear of both the chain and sprocket. Evenly tighten the axle nuts and replace the cotter pin with a new one.

Inspecting the chain, cleaning, and doing maintenance can be a time consuming task, but the rider will be rewarded by knowing they have increased their safety and possibly increased the longevity of the chain and sprocket. With proper care and maintenance most modern chains can get 15,000 miles before replacement is needed.

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