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All About Motorcycle Drive Chain-Sprocket & it’s Maintenance

Saleh Md. Hassan
March 21, 2013

Riders, greetings to you all. Here I’ll try to illustrate some simple but major issues of motorcycle drive chain & sprockets, and also the maintenance procedures of the drive chain considering our local aspect. Drive chain simply the chain fastened with the rear wheel sprocket and the gear box sprocket of the bike. Drive chain delivers the rotation power to the rear wheel from the transmission. It’s a major part of a bike which directly responsible for the performance of a bike. So biker need to always be caring to the drive chain. Any one can say why I should care for it so much; I’ll change it when I will damage. But you should remember it’s not matter of money it’s a major factor of your bike performance. You never gain the optimum performance without perfectly aligned and perfectly maintained drive chain of your bike.

motorcycle drive chain

As the motorcycle drive chain is most frequent moving outer part of the bike, it easily gets dirty and gets rust very soon. Sometime it covers with a thick layer of dirt and doses not moves frequently and decrease the power delivered by the engine. You may see the throttle responding fast or RPM increasing in meter but bike is not responding smoothly. So you should keep the chain clean, free & aligned.

open motorcycle drive chain

Whatever, manufacturers design their bike with boxed chain or opened chain or half boxed chain. Most of On-Road bikes are designed with boxed chain & Off-Road bikes with opened or half boxed chain. Now sports shaped bike are very common on our road and they designed with opened or half boxed chain. Whatever both typed chain needs proper maintenance may be less or more.

boxed motorcycle drive chain

Boxed Chain: Boxed chain bike need lesser maintenance than the opened or half boxed chain, as the chain remains safe from dust and dirt in the box. Boxed chain can be simply maintained by minimum maintenance. But it needs careful alignment with swing-arm and the box. Otherwise the riding will be noisy and bike will not deliver optimum performance and sometime it will cause accident. Most of the time when bike became old & gets its mileage then the chain box gets worn & makes noise & hazards. And biker became annoyed even replacing it with new one. Hero Honda Hunk is a boxed chain bike.

motorcycle drive chain open

Opened or Half Boxed Chain: Opened or half boxed chain is now very popular & much frequent even in the On-Road bikes for its hassle free service, though in real situation its not really hassle free if you care about your bike and its performance. The Opened chain needs more frequent maintenance than the Boxed chain. But it can be aligned very easily and you will not feel any noise even it may not aligned perfectly. And it has a very bad drawback of jamming with loosen clothing especially of women pillion riders. My Yamaha Fazer 153 is a half chain boxed Bike.

Maintenance: Both type of chain need maintenance maybe more or less. The maintenance of bikes drive chain simply means keeping the chain clean from dust & rust, keeping fully lubricated and perfectly aligned. For the maintenance of your bike chain by your own you need bellow mentioned tools and supplies:

motorcycle drive chain cleaner

  1. Kerosene Oil / Diesel
  2. Engine Oil / Gear Oil / Grease
  3. Tooth Brush
  4. 1” Paint Brush
  5. 25cc Dropper / 25cc Medical injection syringe / Oiling kit
  6. Cotton rag (cloth) / Piece of Sponge
  7. Toolkit for opening the chain box (8-12mm wrench) / Sly wrench
  8. Toolkit for loosing the rear wheel axle nut & bolt (15-18mm wrench). 

Without those you do not need the hi-tech materials for the maintenance of your chain like solvent spray or lubricating spray or special kit or cleaning kit. We can see various cleaning items in web, but in real situation considering our local aspect they are worthless.  And once you have collect the toolkit it can be used for various type of maintenance of your bike. And it will not cost you much and save much money for not going to the technician. Whatever, first you should inspect your bikes drive chain, whether it dirty or rusted or only dry or may only need alignment. Then go for what it need, if needed go for whole procedure.

motorcycle drive chain dirt

Cleaning the chain: Drive chain gets very much dirty and rusted maybe for much Off-Road biking or long drive or riding in heavy rain fall or standing in garage for long time. And sometime the chain become inflexible and little hard to bend the joints & the rollers do not moves. Then it needed for cleaning. So:

  1. Put your bike on center stand and put the gear neutral position and keep the rear wheel high from floor.
  2. Take a cup of kerosene or diesel oil (as a solvent), a paint brush, tooth brush and a piece of cotton rag or a piece of sponge.
  3. Get the lower part of chain box opened by the toolkit (Boxed type chain).
  4. Open the front sprocket cover (Opened type chain).

motorcycle drive chain dirt clening

5. Move the chain rotating the rear wheel by hand (not starting the engine) and get wet the whole      chain with kerosene/diesel by the paint brush thoroughly.
6. Then rub the chain with tooth brush and remove the hard dirt and rust.

motorcycle drive chain solvent application
7. Use the paint brush and kerosene/diesel again to wash out the rest of dirt.
8. If needed follow 6 & 7 again to remove extreme dirt or rust.

motorcycle drive chain brush to dirt
9. Wash out the front & rear sprocket using the paint brush and the solvent.
10. Wipe the wet chain & sprockets with ragged cloth or a piece of sponge. 

Now the chain is clean from dirt and rust and also the solvent.

motorcycle drive chain lubrication

Lubrication: Opened chain need very frequent lubrication as it dries very frequently than boxed chain. After a long drive or Off-Road drive or riding in rainy season and after every soap-water wash or bath, the chain must be lubricated, specially the opened chain. Boxed chain does not need much frequent lubrication as it remains lubricated even for a long time. Whatever, if you have just cleaned and dried a chain, than:

1. Put your bike on center stand and put the gear neutral position and keep the rear wheel high from floor.

2. Use grease for the boxed type chain for the first time (after cleaning), rubbing slightly with your finger in the inner side of the chain.

3. Then move the chain rotating the rear wheel by hand or starting the engine with second gear to get the chain & sprockets fully greased.

4. Stop the engine and stop wheel from rotation.

5.Take the oiling kit (Dropper/Medical injection syringe/Oiling kit) full of fresh engine oil or gear oil.

6. Move the chain rotating the rear wheel by hand (not starting the engine) and spread the oil on the chain from outer side squeezing the kit.

7  Do no.3 again, so that the lubricant can spread every portion of the chain.

8. The front and rear sprocket does not need any thing but if you want then use a little grease.

9. For the boxed chain, when you have not gone for the cleaning process and you only need for lubrication, you only use fresh engine/gear oil spreading over the inner side of the chain.

10. For the opened chain you do not use the grease, because grease is very much sticky and grabs dust frequently. So it is commonly used for the sealed area. So use only fresh engine/gear oil on both side of the chain every time.

11. Opened chain should be wiped with ragged cloth when access oil is spreaded.

Alignment: This is a major thing to do. If you have done cleaning or lubrication, than do not fit the sprocket & chain cover/box. Or if you only need for alignment it will be better if you uncover the chain box. And if the rear break is drum type, then release the break rod from wheel break mechanism.  For alignment:

motorcycle drive chain slack check

  1. Put your bike on center stand and put the gear neutral position and keep the rear wheel high from floor.
  2. Rotate the rear wheel by hand and observe, the tension of the chain remains same or not in whole rotation.
  3. Observe for the chain is extreme loosen or tighten.
  4. Observe the wheel rotates with same smoothness or get jammed sometime.
  5. Observe if any portion of the wheel has the tendency to rotating down (due to imbalanced weight of tire or rim).
  6. Observe, the chain releases from the sprocket frequently or stays fastened.
  7. If one of above problem (2-6) seen or observed you should go for bellow mentioned alignment process (or go to the technician).
  8. Loose the rear axle nut with wrench and loose the drive chain adjustment nut (both side). [to identify the axle nut & drive chain adjustment nut see your owners manual or just ask any bike technician]
  9. Set the drive chain adjustment nut in that same position, where you can bend your chain up and down for 0.5”-1.0” from normal position (pushing up & down the chain in the middle position by your finger)
  10. Tight the axle nut (softly) then rotate the rear wheel and observe for free rotation.
  11. If there a little jam noticed than it need a precise adjustment.
  12. Keep the axle nut loosen 1.0-2.0 torque from fully tighten position.
  13. Precisely adjust the drive chain adjustment nut from only one side and check the wheel for free rotation.
  14. When the perfect adjustment found than tight the axle nut and the rod from both side with two different wrenches simultaneously.
  15. After the above alignment if the tension of the chain does not remains same in whole rotation, then it is the notice to replace your chain & sprockets.
  16. If after the alignment any portion of the wheel shows the tendency to rotating down (5), you should go to the technician to adjust the weight distribution of your rim or tire. Or in minor case you can use weight adjustment clip (frequently used on bike or car rims) or tube/tire repairing tuck (rubber sticker) setting on rims.
  17. After the alignment is done then set the front sprocket cover and the chain box and also the rear break rod. And be sure they have fitted nicely and have not touched the moving parts like with chain, sprocket or with any portion of wheel. And be sure they will remain in same position & noise free even riding in high speed. 

fresh motorcycle drive chain

Replacement: Every part needs replacement when it expires its working age & loses its performance & efficiency due to every day use. As the chain and sprockets are moving outer part, it needs earlier replacement. Normally they became replaceable within 10,000-14,000 km mileage. When the sprocket teeth gets decayed & sharpened or worn or some are broken than it needs replacement. And when the tension of the chain does not remains same in whole rotation even after all the alignment, and you could not achieve the alignment trying all the process then it needs to replace. It is best to change the chain and sprockets with a complete set. Without that you cannot get actual working life and performance from them.

motorcycle drive chain ready to ride

Cautions for safety:  Every work related with machines need minimum proper cautions for safety. We will work always with ensuring maximum safety. So:

  • The chain sprockets are moving parts and their edges become sharp with extreme use. When engine is on, never put your finger or hand or brush on the chain or sprockets.
  •  And solvents are very much flammable. So be careful working with them & wipe off the solvents properly after use.
  • Ensure that the lubricant can’t get inside of breaking mechanism and also on tire. So wipe off access lubricants.
  • Do not allow children within your working area.
  • Use a tray to keep your toolkit, nut & bolts and other equipments.
  • Work in daylight or under sufficient lighting.
  • Don’t hesitate to work on something you haven’t done before, only ensure that you are proceeding after proper understanding the mechanism.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask to experienced person about something that you need to be clear.

 Hope you like the methods of Motorcycle drive Chain maintenance. i would love to read your valuable comments below. So don’t forget to share your thoughts.

By Saleh Md. Hasan

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