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Motorcycle Chain Maintenance: Clean, Lube, and Tighten your Chain


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Keeping your motorcycle chain clean, lubed, and properly adjusted will help prevent it from breaking and maximize its useful life.

If it’s time for a replacement, check out some of our recommendations for the best motorcycle chains.

How to Clean a Motorcycle Chain

Cleaning your motorcycle chain is easier after it has been ridden. This can help loosen up the dirt and grime and make it easier to remove.

To clean your motorcycle chain:

  • Put the bike on the center stand so you can spin the rear wheel and chain.
  • Spray the entire chain with chain cleaner. You can use a scrap piece of cardboard to protect the ground and your bike from overspray.
  • Scrub the chain using a chain scrubber or toothbrush.
  • Give the chain another spray with the cleaner and wipe it clean.

What to use to clean a motorcycle chain?

There are a variety of different things you can use to clean your chain. Popular choices include:

  • Chain degreaser.
  • Kerosene.
  • WD-40.
  • Water.

How to Lube a Motorcycle Chain

It’s important to lube your motorcycle chain after you clean it.

Lubing your chain is simple:

  • Get your lube of choice.
    • Chain lube, wax, oil, etc.
  • Apply it to the entire chain.

If you have a sealed chain, you can be more conservative with the application.

Standard, unsealed chains should have a liberal amount of lube applied.

Keeping your chain properly lubed will keep it clean, keep it moving, and help it and the sprockets last longer.

How often should you clean and lube your chain?

You should inspect your motorcycle chain before every ride. If it’s particularly dirty, it’s a good idea to clean and lube it.

As a general rule of thumb:

  • Unsealed chains should be cleaned and lubed about once every 100 miles.
  • Sealed chains should be cleaned and lubed about once every 250 to 300 mules.

When you clean and lube your chain it’s always a smart idea to take the time to inspect the condition and wear of your sprockets too.

How to Adjust a Motorcycle Chain

If you need to adjust your motorcycle chain’s slack:

  • Loosen the rear axel nut.
  • Locate the adjusters on each side of the swingarm and loosen the locknut.
  • Turning the bolt out will decrease the slack.
  • Make small changes in equal amounts on each side until you reach the desired slack.
  • Tighten the lock nuts and rear axel nut to the proper torque.
  • Confirm the chain adjustment.

Tighten and Adjust a Motorcycle Chain

It’s important to maintain the correct amount of slack or play on your motorcycle chain.

Most motorcycle manufacturers typically call for about 1 to 1 1/2 inches (30-40 mm) of chain slack.

You can measure the chain’s slack when the bike is off by pressing up on the chain and measuring the distance that it moves.

Your motorcycle shop manual will specify the correct amount of chain slack you should have.

What Happens if a Motorcycle Chain is Too Tight?

A chain that’s too tight or too loose can cause performance issues at best and break or come off at worst.

Chains that are too tight can lead to:

  • A broken chain.
  • Poor gas mileage.
  • High-pitched noises while riding.
  • Poor suspension.
  • Quickly worn down sprockets and a stretched chain.

How Long Does a Motorcycle Chain Last?

The exact amount of time a chain will last depends on how you maintain it, how you ride, and the type of chain it is.

In general, most motorcycle chains will last between 5,000 and 20,000 miles.

Other general rules of thumb for the life of your chain are that:

  • Sealed chains will often last longer than unsealed chains.
  • Riding off-road or in dirty conditions will wear down a chain faster.
  • High speed riding and quick acceleration can wear out a chain faster.
  • Improper maintenance will decrease the life of your chain.

Whenever you need to replace your chain or sprockets, you should replace them all at once. This means you should install a new chain along with a new front and rear sprocket.

Replace everything at once will ensure each component lasts as long as possible and wears down properly.

Failing to replace your chain and sprockets when it’s time can lead to a broken chain.

If your chain breaks:

  • Best case scenario is that it rolls out behind your bike without hitting anything.
  • Worst case scenario is that it cracks your crankcase.

How to Tell if You Should Replace the Chain?

It’s a good idea to keep a regular eye on the condition of your chain and sprockets.

Inspecting the chain and final drive is a good thing to do before every ride.

If you notice any of the following, it’s most likely time to replace the chain and sprockets:

  • Rust or damage.
  • Kinks or binding links.
  • Abnormal noise.
  • Worn down sprocket teeth or stretched chain links.

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