Motorcycle chain care
There are a few different types of final drives that are used for motorcycles. The chain and sprocket system is the most common. A neglected motorcycle chain will only last a fraction of it's normal life and can be dangerous and damaging if it breaks or slips off the sprocket. In this article, I will go over the basics of maintaining and keeping your chain in top condition.
Types of chains
There are two basic types of motorcycle chain. The O-ring type and the standard type. An O-ring chain has little gaskets between the link joints to keep the lubrication close to the joints. A standard chain works pretty much the same way, but is lacking the O-rings. Basic care of the chain can be completed identically for both types.
Every 300-500 miles, the chain should be lubricated. This keeps rust from developing and keep the chain from overheating, stretching, and wearing prematurely.
There are many different brands and styles of chain lubes and waxes. Used properly, any type will do the job well, and everyone has their favorite. Lighter chain lubes will produce more “fling” or lubricant spraying off the chain while riding and getting on other motorcycle parts. Heavier lubricants will stick better, but may collect more contaminates, calling for more frequent cleaning.
The chain should be lubricated both on the inside and outside of the links. A warm O-ring chain will absorb the lubricant more efficiently, so it's always better to lube right after riding if possible. Roll the motorcycle forward a couple feet at a time to cover the entire chain. Never try to lift the rear wheel and run the motorcycle in gear to move the chain while lubricating. Many riders have lost a finger or two doing this, and it makes a mess. Take your time and do the job safely and correctly.
The chain needs to be cleaned once contamination and dirt starts to build up between the links. I would recommend a thorough cleaning at least at every oil change and more often if riding in dirty conditions. Visually inspect the chain at lubrication intervals to determine if it's starting to get mucky.
There are several chain cleaning products available, but I have always used kerosene since it seems to be the most economical and does a great job. A gallon will last for years. Never use gasoline or paint thinner, since it can damage the O-ring type chains and can be hard on other parts of the motorcycle.
Use a rag or toothbrush to gently clean the chain. It's pretty amazing how quick the crud comes off. Don't forget to re-lube the chain before riding again.
Chain adjustment and sprocket inspection
While lubricating, check the chain for the proper amount of slack. There should be 1 to 1 ½ inches of slack in the mid point of the chain, depending on model. (Check your manual for the exact specs) If the chain is too tight, it will wear quickly, and if it is too loose, it may come off the sprockets while riding. Inspect both the front and rear sprockets for wear. If the teeth are starting to look hook-shaped, it's time to replace.
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