Basic Chain Care for Your Motorcycle

Tips on keeping your chain clean

Judging by what I see on the street, the vast majority of riders pay little or no attention to their motorcycle's drive chain. In part this sad situation exists because it can. Current-generation drive chains, the majority of which use some form of O-ring sealing between the moving parts to retain lubrication, are incredibly durable. Modern chains, even the economy versions, will tolerate the sort of abuse that would have left a top-shelf premium chain of just a few years ago in smoldering ruins. But continue to ignore it, and even the best chain will display its indignation, usually by leaving you stranded in some out-of-the-way place on a dark night. Dry, kinked and out-of-adjustment chains steal horsepower and will ruin a set of sprockets in short order. In extreme cases, I've seen a poorly maintained chain take out everything from swingarm and rear wheel bearings to transmissions and even engine cases. Besides, nothing marks you as a mechanical loser like a dry, rusty chain drooping forlornly between the sprockets like a limp—well, use your imagination here.

drive chain maintenance
Don't overlook your drive chain's maintenance, all it needs is just 10 minutes of maintenance to avoid trouble in the long run.Photography by Jeff Hackett

Fortunately most chain woes can be forestalled with a little simple maintenance. As with most things mechanical, 10 minutes of preventive maintenance can save 10 times that in cost and labor over the long run. Depending on how often and how hard you ride, you should initially perform the following ritual once a week or every 600–1000 miles. Once you get a feel for the amount of chain maintenance your bike requires, the schedule can be adjusted up or down to suit.

  1. Visually inspect the chain—is it as dry as a bone, rusty or kinked? Is the free play correct? Is it centered on the rear sprocket? Chains that are biased to one side or the other of the sprocket indicate alignment problems. Consult your shop manual for the correct free play and adjustment procedure.

  2. Preferably a chain should be lubricated when you return from a ride; the chain is nice and warm then, and the lubricant tends to flow into the nooks and crannies more readily. Jab the extender straw into the inside run of the chain; that way centrifugal force will help distribute the goo. There are four areas that require lubrication: the area between the chain's connecting links or side plates, both inner (the side facing the wheel) and outer, and the chain rollers, again inner and outer.

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