Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Maintaining And Adjusting The Chain On Your Motorcycle

If you have a chain-driven motorcycle, maintaining your chain will become your most frequently performed task. You’ll probably need to adjust the tension of the chain, clean it, and lubricate it roughly twice a month (more often if you put a lot of miles on your bike). Although you may have to do it a lot, checking and adjusting the tension of your bike’s chain is easy. Here’s how you do it.

Check the Tension
To check the tension, grasp the lower run of the chain (not the upper one hidden by the chainguard) about halfway between the front and rear sprockets, and move the chain up and down. As they don’t wear evenly, check several spots on the chain by rolling the bike ahead and rechecking the tension. If the amount the chain moves varies from spot to spot, the chain may have a tight spot. If the chain moves up and down more than about an inch in the tightest spot, it needs to be tightened. If the movement is severe enough, you may need to replace the chain.

Check the tension along the chain’s lower run, about halfway between the front and rear sprockets.
Adjusting the Chain
Step 1
Place the bike on the centerstand (rest it on its sidestand if you have no centerstand) and recheck the chain’s tension. Once on the centerstand, your chain’s tension may vary from when you first checked it because the bike’s weight is now off the suspension. Take this difference into account when adjusting the chain. If you adjust the chain to its proper tension on the centerstand, it may become too tight when off the centerstand, and a too-tight chain can break and shoot off your bike like a slinky missile.

Step 2
Loosen the axle nut (or nuts, if there is more than one). You will have to remove a security pin on most bikes when undoing the axle nut.

Step 3
Once the nut is loose, adjust the chain by adjusting some bolts on the very end of the swingarm, one on either side of the wheel. Usually, there will be two hex-heads on each bolt—an inner nut to move the axle, and an outer nut to lock the other in place when finished. Loosen the outer nuts and then carefully adjust the inner nuts, moving the nuts on either side of the wheel an equal amount. Note: It is vital that you adjust the adjuster nut on the left as much as the nut on the right side; otherwise you’ll be making your back wheel sit completely wonky.

Step 4
When you have tightened your chain by the desired amount, tighten down the outside nuts. Retighten the axle nut, and insert a new security pin.

Loosen but don’t remove the axle bolt. Make certain to adjust the bolts on each side of the wheel the exact same amount. Don’t over-tighten the chain.

The procedure for adjusting your chain varies from bike to bike, but most bikes use something similar to this method. Some bikes have a bolt on the back of the swingarm, with the locking nut between the bolt and the swingarm. A few bikes, especially modern sportbikes with single-sided swingarms, use an eccentric cam on the axle to adjust chain tension. See your owner’s manual for the procedure for adjusting these types of chains.

Cleaning and Lubricating Your Chain
To get the most use out of a chain, you’ll need to keep it clean and lubricated. Most bikes now use longer-lasting O-ring chains (chains with internal lubricant kept in place by tiny rubber seals), but these still need surface lubrication. The problem with O-ring chains is that many substances degrade rubber O-rings, including common lubricants and cleaning solvents. Use only cleaners and lubricants approved for use on O-ring chains.

Cleaning the Chain
Cleaning your chain is a messy, dirty, frustrating job, but it greatly increases chain life, and chains and sprockets are extremely expensive. To clean a chain:

Step 1
Place an O-ring-approved cleaner on a soft brush and clean the grime off the chain.

Step 2
When you’ve got all the crud off, wipe the chain dry before applying fresh lubricant.

Lubricating the Chain
To lubricate your chain, aim the spray from the can of lubricant at the inside of the chain while rotating the wheel to evenly coat the chain’s entire length. Like all motorcycle maintenance, this is infinitely easier if you have a centerstand.

As lubricant and tires don’t make a good combination (you could lube yourself right off the back of your bike) it’s wise to protect the back tire while you spray on the chain lube. Holding a newspaper between the chain and the tire works fine.

When to Clean and Lubricate
You might clean your chain every few rides, but you should be lubricating it after every single ride. It’s best to lube it after a ride, not before, because after a ride the chain is nice and hot, meaning the lube will penetrate into the links more deeply.

Motorcycle drive chains last much longer than they did just a few years ago, but they also cost a lot more than they used to. And they still wear out. With good chain adjustment and lubrication, you can go through two chains before your sprockets needed replacement. That’s a good incentive to look after your chain! You can also minimize wear on your chain by not beating on your bike. The harder you accelerate, the more you stretch your chain.

Now that you’ve got your bike’s chain adjusted, it’s time to get back out on the road! Happy motoring!

1. From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles, Fifth Edition, by Motorcyclist magazine with John L. Stein
2. This article also appeared on

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