The humble chain is usually the highest maintenance part on any motorcycle. Despite alternative final drive devices being available, such as shaft and belt drives, the chain and sprocket remains the most common way in which to transfer the power from the engine to the back wheel thanks to a simple design that’s cheap, light and very efficient.
The only downside to the chain is that it stretches slightly and requires constant adjustment to ensure maximum efficiency. There are many reasons to ensure that your chain is properly adjusted. A well adjusted chain delivers around 90% of the engine’s actual power to the back wheel, but this will reduce if the chain is slack. A loose chain also risks wearing out the sprockets and, as a worse case scenario, can even jump off the sprocket. Equally an overly tight chain is potentially just as damaging, putting excessive stress on the sprocket and bearings. Tight or loose, an incorrectly tensioned chain will wear out excessively too – hitting you hard in the wallet over time too. Well maintained chains can last tens of thousands of miles. Neglect can mean that they last a fraction of that.
Maintaining the chain shouldn’t be left until servicing time. It’s worth adjusting the chain every 500 miles or so and is crucial in ensuring that your bike runs sweetly. It’s a task that many riders put off, but done regularly it can soon become second nature and a five minute job. Along with checking tyre pressures and oil levels, chain adjustment should be one of your core pre-ride checks.
To help you on your way, we’ve compiled these five top tips to help you become a spanner spinning guru.
1. Invest in a stand
If your bike has a centre stand, great, otherwise you’ll need to invest in a paddock stand to raise your back wheel off the ground.
Adjusting a chain while the bike’s on its side stand is almost impossible. You’ll need to put the bike in neutral and be able to spin the back wheel around freely during the chain adjustment process, meaning a centre stand, paddock stand or bike lift is essential.
2. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions
Simple as it seems, the chances are that your bike’s handbook will tell you how to adjust the chain, as well how much slack there should be on a correctly adjusted chain. This information can usually be found on a sticker on the swingarm, although chances are this will wear off on older bikes.
Instructions will give an indication of the wear limits, telling you when they should be replaced.
3. Work clean
As well as adjusting the chain, good maintenance also involves cleaning and lubricating.
Use a spray on chain cleaning product to remove caked on grease, while there are some dedicated brushes that are designed to scrub all the dirt away. While you are doing this, check for wear on the chain and sprockets. Sprocket teeth should generally be flat in appearance and evenly worn. Teeth that are worn away, or have a pronounced sabre toothed appearance, are most likely excessively worn and should be changed in conjunction with the chain.
4. Adjust as per instructions
To adjust the chain, you’ll need a torque wrench to loosen the axle nut. Slacken this off and then adjust the smaller adjuster nuts to essentially tighten up the chain. Push up the bottom of the chain to check that it is within the correct tolerances stated by the manufacturer, which will usually be between 25-40mm. Slacken or tighten the adjusters until the chain is correctly adjusted, remembering to tighten up the rear axle nut to the correct torque setting before riding off.
Don’t forget to lube the chain too, using a good quality lubricant designed specifically for motorcycle chains. This is important, as these are formulated with a special tack, to ensure that the lubricant doesn’t just fly off the chain under power.
5. Consider fitting a chain oiler
Many high mileage riders swear by automatic chain oilers, the most famous of which is the British made Scottoiler.
These automatically drop tiny amounts of lubricant on the chain and sprockets during the ride and when set up properly they can greatly reduce the amount of maintenance required, while increasing the life of the chain dramatically.