Maintaining Your Motorcycle Chain: A Comprehensive Guide

Why Chain Maintenance Matters

The final drive chain on your motorcycle is one of the most critical elements requiring regular care. If overlooked, your chain and sprockets might become unusable within a mere 3,000 miles.

However, with diligent attention and maintenance, a quality pair of steel sprockets and a top-grade chain can last up to 30,000 miles.

Ensuring the longevity of your chain and sprockets primarily involves routine cleaning and lubrication. Our suggested regimen includes cleaning the chain each time the motorcycle is washed or, at the very least, during every oil change.

Depending on your riding conditions, your chain should be lubricated after every 300 to 500 miles or after every other fuel fill-up.

Harsher conditions such as dust or moisture necessitate more frequent upkeep. Water, in particular, tends to wash away chain lubricant, requiring re-lubrication after each rainy journey.

Interestingly, a well-lubricated chain operates more quietly and slightly improves your fuel efficiency. This reduction in rolling resistance can translate into a subtle increase in horsepower as measured in dynamometer tests.

Safety Precautions

Important Safety Alert

Under no circumstance should you engage the engine, shift to first gear, and allow the motor to spin the rear wheel while performing any chain maintenance.

Tragic accidents have resulted from this practice, leading to the loss of fingers and hand injuries. Keeping the engine off and the motorcycle in neutral during maintenance is critical to avoid any mishaps.

The Cleaning Process

Despite its reputation, WD-40 does not make for an effective chain cleaner or lubricant. It could dislodge the grease behind the O-rings or X-rings of an O-ring chain. Furthermore, compared to other readily available products, WD-40 is quite time-consuming to use.

There are numerous chain cleaning products on the market that outperform WD-40. However, none surpasses the chain cleaner that has been our go-to for years and comes highly recommended by chain manufacturers – Kerosene.

A Note on Kerosene vs. Camp Fuel

Kerosene should not be confused with camp fuel or ‘white gas,’ which is volatile and can harm your chain. Kerosene, typically packaged in a blue can (as opposed to the red can of camp fuel), is gentler and effectively cleans your chain to a brand-new appearance astonishingly quickly.

When it comes to cost-effectiveness, a $20 bottle of kerosene lasts about three years, while a $10 chain cleaner might only clean three to four chains. To make the most of your kerosene, use a generic spray bottle for direct application to the chain.

However, it’s crucial to avoid harsh degreasers. Some people resort to aggressive cleaners like aerosol parts cleaner or carb cleaner, which, while efficient at removing grease, can cause severe damage to the O-rings, leading to leakage of the manufacturer’s internal lube.

Even milder degreasers are often too harsh. We recommend sticking to kerosene for the best results.

Tools for Cleaning

For the actual cleaning process, we suggest procuring a grunge or spiral brushOpens in a new tab., like the one made by Tirox, available at most motorcycle dealers or online.

To clean the chain effectively, lift the rear wheel off the ground, allowing it to spin freely. Protect your work area with towels or a catch tray to prevent chemicals from contaminating your rear tire.

Liberally spray your chosen chain cleaner, letting it soak in briefly before scrubbing with the brush. Use a rag to remove the black residue released by the cleaner. Repeat these steps as necessary until the chain shines like new.

We also recommend occasionally removing and cleaning your front sprocket cover to remove any built-up debris.

Similarly, clean off any chain lube buildup on the swing arm top, near the rear sprocket, or any other areas where lube might have been flung. Depending on the mess made during cleaning, you might want to rinse your bike with a low-pressure garden hose.

Key points to remember:

  • Always ensure safety by keeping the engine off during chain maintenance.
  • Avoid WD-40 and harsh degreasers. Opt for Kerosene for effective cleaning.
  • Use a chain-specific lube and apply it on the inside of the chain for best results.
  • Over-lubrication can accelerate chain wear; apply just enough for a light coating.

The Lubrication Process

Once the chain is clean and dry, it’s time for lubrication. We highly recommend using a motorcycle-specific chain lube. Our current favorite is the Motul Factory Line chain lubeOpens in a new tab..

For application, we suggest a product like the Grease Ninja. Despite its amusing name, this tool does an excellent job of directing lube onto the chain’s pins and rollers without waste or overspray, leading to longer-lasting chains.

During lubrication, apply the lube on the inside of the chain. As the wheel spins, the lube is drawn outwards between the plates and the rollers, minimizing wastage. Over-lubrication can attract dirt, leading to faster chain wear.

When done, you should see tiny lube beads over the chain O-rings between each of the plates. And there you have it – a perfectly cleaned and lubricated chain!

Chain Maintenance Features and Benefits

Regular CleaningPreserves chain lifespan
Use of KeroseneGentle and efficient cleaning
Proper LubricationReduces noise and increases fuel efficiency
Using the Grease NinjaPrecise lube application with minimal waste

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