One very important component on your motorcycle is your chain whose job it is to deliver all that power from your engine to your rear wheel. Without a chain, your bike would just sit there making noise. Without a properly maintained chain your bike will lose power, lose it's smooth drive, or in a worst case scenario, your chain will break while riding creating a very dangerous situation. Chain maintenance is an important yet easy task that will keep your motorcycle moving smooth and safe.
There are four main procedures to chain maintenance; inspection, cleaning, lubrication and adjustment. How often you clean and adjust your chain will depend a great deal on what type of riding you do.
If you are an aggressive rider that likes to push your bike, if you ride off road, or if you commute on your motorcycle everyday, you may have to clean and adjust your chain every 500 to 700 miles. If you like to take it easy and cruise on a smooth highway or mountain road, you may be able to go more than 700 miles between maintenance sessions. Consult your motorcycle manual for recommended maintenance intervals and also consult the manufacturer of your chain
Your first step is INSPECTION:
Inspecting your chain should be done before every ride. Incorporate a quick chain inspection into your pre-ride routine and look for things like sticky links or excessive dirt and check your sprockets for excessive wear or missing teeth. Also do a quick check of your chain tension. Just under the swing-arm lift the chain up with your fingers. If there is more than 1 to 1 1/2 inches of play, it needs adjusting. Make a judgment call before you ride. If the chain is only slightly out of adjustment, it may be safe for one more ride. If you find sticky links, give it a quick squirt of lubricant before you ride out
Pre-ride inspections will give you an idea of when you will need to do some thorough chain maintenance which will consist of all the steps of a quick inspection, but with much more attention to detail. To measure the amount of slack in your chain, first put the rear wheel of your motorcycle up on a paddock stand and put the bike in neutral allowing you to spill the wheel freely. Because chains do not stretch evenly from link to link, you will want to measure the slack in three different places on your chain. First, rotate the wheel to find the point where your chain sags the most. With a straight edge measure the distance from the bottom of the swing-arm to the top of the chain. Now lift the chain up. If it measures more than one inch, your chain is too loose and is ready for adjusting.
While cruising down the road your motorcycle chain will collect all kinds of dirt, dust and sand. Dirt constantly rubbing inside a metal chain and sprockets is what causes excess wear and tear. Choose a cleaning product specifically for motorcycle chains and one that is O-Ring safe. Use a shop rag and a brush to clean the chain and don't forget to clean the inside portion of the chain. When spraying the cleaning fluid on your chain be sure to protect other components of your motorcycle like your breaks or tires. You can do this by leaning a piece of cardboard against the wheel, behind the portion of the chain you are spraying.
If your chain does not have O-rings, you can use products such as W-D40 or kerosene. This, or any camping stove fuel can be put in a spray bottle and applied directly to the chain. Be wary of using kerosene on your chain as there is no guarantee that it is the best product to preserve the life of your chain. Using W-D40 as a lubricant is not recommended as it has a tendency to pick up dirt.
That brings us to lubrication. There are a multitude of chain lubricants on the market and every rider seems to have their personal preference. But in my humble opinion the best type of lubricant is chain wax. It is designed to prevent dirt from sticking to the chain and to prevent that nasty "fling" that gets other parts of your motorcycle dirty. After a good cleaning apply the chain lube to both the inside of the chain as well as the outside. Spin the rear wheel while spraying to get an even coat. Avoid spraying the chain wax on other parts of your motorcycle like the swing arm or wheels or do a quick clean up if you miss.
If you are extremely particular about your motorcycle chain you will give it a quick clean and lube after each long ride (300 miles or more). When you pull into your garage put your bike on the paddock stand, run a rag soaked with cleaner along the chain to pick up any dirt, then apply the lubricant while the chain is still warm. The advantage to doing this after your ride is that the lubricant will soak into the chain and your bike will be ready for the next ride.
ADJUSTING your motorcycle chain:
The procedures for adjusting your chain will depend on what type of motorcycle you ride so follow the procedures in your shop manual. When adjusting the chain always be sure to adjust each side of the wheel evenly. Check the rotation of the tire to make sure nothing is rubbing, such as the rear brake pads. Use the measurements describe above to adjust your chain to the proper tension. Don't adjust the chain too tight as this will cause your chain and sprockets to wear out faster than necessary.
To sum it up, inspect your chain before each ride; lube your chain on a regular basis; keep your chain clean and properly adjusted.