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Chain Replacement
 MOTORCYCLE CHAINS

This article is written to assist in understanding, evaluating the condition of, and replacing the chain on your motorcycle using the RK Heavy Duty Chain Replacement Tool. The text is supplemented with numerous pictures from RK’s instruction sheet and an actual chain replacement.

The following are the major sections:
MOTORCYCLE CHAIN OVERVIEW
MOTORCYCLE CHAIN CLEANING
MOTORCYCLE CHAIN INSPECTION
MOTORCYCLE SPROCKET INSPECTION
MOTORCYCLE CHAIN REPLACEMENT
MOTORCYCLE CHAIN ADJUSTMENT
Conventions- Written with the assumption you are in the garage getting some quality time with your motorcycle. In addition to the instructions, this manual is supplemented with: 
 

 NOTE: Notes provide information about the RK chain tool that deserve special attention

TIP: Tips provide suggestions you may find useful when performing the work described.

 Warning: Warnings contain information which, if not followed, can cause damage to the motorcycle and possible injury to the operator.

 MOTORCYCLE CHAIN OVERVIEW 

A motorcycle chain is an efficient method of transmitting engine power to the wheel resulting in forward motion (fun!). With current generation O-ring type of chains (X-ring and Y-ring too) you can expect relatively long life from your motorcycle chain. Let’s examine the components of a chain as well as what actually “wears” to understand why a chain and/or sprockets require replacement.  

 A chain is a continuous assembly of (alternately) roller links and pin links. The roller links contain the rollers which engage the sprockets and creates the driving force. The pin links hold the roller links in place: When operating, the outer surface of the pin and inner surface of the bushing rub against one another, creating wear. (Frequent cleaning and lubrication reduce the wear, but will not eliminate it). This wear of the pins is the major component in the aging of the motorcycle chain. As the pin is worn away from contact with the bushing the strength of the pin is decreased. The problem is the wear of the pin. As the surface of the pin is reduced, the rigidity of the pin decreases and eventually fatigue failure may result. The typical failure is a broken motorcycle chain which can wrap around the drive sprocket damaging engine casings ($$$$) or get caught in the rear sprocket causing an immediate (and dangerous) rear wheel skid.

 Another type of failure is the chain just falls off and the motorcycle coasts to a stop leaving you stranded. Nothing good results from the motorcycle chain failing. Other parts of the chain are moving and wearing at the same time. The roller is moving against the bushing from contact with the sprockets and the side plates (roller link plate and pin link plate) are moving against each other. The outer components of the chain are easy to lubricate: Getting the lubricant into the area between the pin and the bushing is more difficult.

The breakthrough of the O-ring Motorcycle Chain is the lubricant is sealed in the pin/bushing area by the O-ring. Therefore care in cleaning is important: the wrong solvent used can deteriorate the O-ring and deplete the lubricant: accelerating wear.    Typically, chains require the most frequent maintenance of any part of your motorcycle. It is rewarding in both mileage and security to buy quality components for the drive system: the chain and sprockets. There are two main types of chains available for motorcycles: the O-ring chain and the non-O-ring chains. Most modern motorcycles come with O-ring chains. The designation refers to the fact there is a little O-ring (X-ring or Y-ring, etc.) seal between the side plates of the chain and the roller pins (The pins going through the chain).

The purpose of this O-ring is to keep the grease (or other lubricant) sealed in and the dirt out: effectively providing superior lubrication and reduced wear over the life of the chain. Care must be exercised when deciding which cleaning methods used. O-ring chains provide the longest life for the least amount of care. In spite of this advance, chains still require a certain amount of attention to provide trouble free riding.For street riding an O-ring chain and steel sprockets will give maximum service life for the least amount of effort. Keeping a chain clean and lubricated is the simple way to get 15k miles or more out of your chain.

  A Worn chain will accelerate the wearing of the sprockets and the reverse is true: worn sprockets will accelerate the wearing of the chain.

 MOTORCYCLE CHAIN CLEANING

A chain should be cleaned and lubricated about every 200 miles or so. Some of the newer motorcycle swing arm designs make changing a motorcycle chain a very laborious process, so it pays to keep the chain clean and lubricated to help make it last as long as possible. Correct chain adjustment is also crucial to the longevity of your motorcycle's chain, but is covered in a later section. A clean motorcycle chain and sp rockets allow for proper visual inspection.What is the best way to clean a motorcycle chain? Many recommend using kerosene and a brush. Kerosene is one of many cleaners available: excellent results can be obtained using any of several spray chain cleaners. Gunk engine bright is a form of Kerosene in a can.

 

Choose your cleaner. Sometimes it is a matter of personal choice so grab the preferred one and start cleaning. In addition to your favorite cleaner an assortment of brushes and rags is essential. Pictured with the brushes is a cookie sheet to help contain the mess of cleaning a motorcycle chain. Newspaper is also a good way to catch the drips.

 

The chain might appear clean; the “grunge-line” on the sprocket reveals the truth: the buildup of dirt and dried lubricant t acts as an abrasive on the metal components.



 


  Start by wiping off the loose stuff.
Pour a little kerosene of chain cleaner into a pan.
Dip the brush into the cleaner and apply to chain and sprocket
Be patient: let the cleaner have a chance to work

A Grunge Brush is terrific for getting the back-side and bottom of the chain.

An old tooth brush can help in those hard-to-reach areas

Don’t forget to get the “grunge-line” off the sprocket

The downside of using kerosene: a mess. The cookie sheet (or newspaper) can help contain the mess. Even with spray cleaners, it is easy to spray beyond the chain or sprocket and coat tires, wheels, and brakes with cleaner.  Be sure to wipe it off of everything!

Now it is all loose and ready to wipe off. Some spray cleaners (Motrax and Motoul chain cleaners) can be rinsed off with a hose, but you still should wipe the chain down to complete the job.

 


A clean chain and sprocket ready for inspection. Remember to let dry before lubricating

 



 MOTORCYCLE CHAIN and SPROCKET WEAR

   Inspection is most effective after the components are clean. In many industries, cleaning is a form of inspection and regular cleaning helps make potential problems visible (worn cables, small leaks, loose fasteners, etc.) before they leave you stranded, or worse, along the highway. Once the components are clean, inspection can help you determine if components require replacement or not. Unfortunately, these components don’t last forever.    

  The life of motorcycle chains and sprockets is dependent on the environmental conditions (dirt, mud, rocks, etc.), operating conditions, and care. Coupled with these in-use factors is the initial quality/durability of the components? Steel sprockets and O-ring chains will give you the longest lasting components with the least amount of maintenance. When cost and longevity are considerations, choose these components.

  The question we often ask is how long does a chain last? How long do sprockets last? Or the reverse: how often should I change these things? Most manufacturers recommend changing the chain and sprockets at the same time. There is good reason for this. The manufacturers are concerned you have a great experience with their product and recommending new sprockets to go along with their chain ensures satisfactory results. There is a more pragmatic approach: Change out the chain when it’s worn and change the sprockets when they’re worn: they don’t wear equally as a set. 

 Chains wear out where they are stressed. When a chain is operating, the outer surface of the pin and inner surface of the bushing rub against one another, wearing little by little. (Proper lubrication reduces the amount of wear but does not eliminate it.)  This wear results in elongation: the incremental increase of spacing between the centers of the pins. When the chain elongates (wears) to a certain point, the chain can “jump” a tooth. When this happens, a tooth can break and a host of other unpleasant issues can follow.

  Sprockets wear as the chain rollers make contact with the sprocket teeth. The tooth become worn as the chain moves and pulls the rear wheel sprocket forward. Typical wear is visible on the teeth of the sprocket. The teeth become broken, pointed, hooked, or any combination of these three. A proper inspection will reveal the condition of your motorcycle drive components.

 MOTORCYCLE CHAIN INSPECTION  

Like it or not motorcycle chains wear out. As chains wear, they lose strength and their ability to transmit engine power effectively to the rear wheel. A worn (weakened) chain can break leaving you stranded or worse: causing an accident or injury to you or the person following you. As the chain wears, the drive and the rear sprockets can wear too. Prevention by keeping the chain/sprockets clean, lubricated and adjusted as necessary to get the most out of these components. How do you know if the chain is worn and needs replacement?Fortunately, there are easy indicators to let you know the chain is worn and needs to be replaced.

 

Some things to look for as indicators of a worn out chain: The first one is kinked links. This is a sign t he chain is binding and not moving smoothly. It is robbing power and poses a potential for damage and or disaster.

Another visible indicator is an excessively rusted chain. If it is rusted on the side plates, you can bet it’s rusted between the pins and rollers as well. Replace before it causes more heartache.

 

    If all visual indications are good, here is the definitive way to see if the chain is worn to the point of replacement. Place the motorcycle on the side stand or a paddock stand. The correct way to check is at the middle of the rear sprocket.



TIP: it helps to have a clean chain and sprocket to work with, it make it so much easier to measure. Once clean, use a sharpie or other marker to trace and outlines of the chain onto the sprocket: it makes measuring more accurate.

 


At the midpoint of the chain’s contact with the rear sprocket, pull the chain away from the sprocket.If the distance the chain travels is over 1/8” it is time to replace the chain. Here you can see the distance is over ¼” of movement: this chain was long overdue for replacement.

   After the determination to replace or retain the chain has  been made  by looking for kinks, excessive rust and measuring the wear (distance the chain moved) at the middle of the rear sprocket. Be honest here and replace the chain if it failed the inspection criteria. Once decided the chain does/does not require replacement; inspect the sprockets.

 MOTORCYCLE SPROCKET INSPECTION

    Most manufacturers recommend you replace the sprockets every time you replace the chain. Chains and sprockets wear at different rates. It is possible to wear out a chain and not wear the sprockets sufficiently to replace. How do you tell? Look at the sprockets “teeth”. In this illustration you notice the alloy sprocket on the left has sharp pointy teeth (left) compared to the new sprocket on the right. Worn sprocket teeth can fail, causing the chain to jump with nothing good following that sequence. The drive sprocket can wear in a similar manner and requires inspection periodically.

    As mentioned previously, steel sprockets will (generally) give the longest service life when compared to alloy sprockets. When inspecting sprockets for wear pay particular attention to the shape of the teeth to look for wear: Examine the picture comparing a new steel sprocket with an aluminum (alloy) sprocket with about 10,000 miles.


The definite signs of wear on the aluminum sprocket: the teeth are pointed and the “shoulder” of the sprocket is non-existent. These sharks’ teeth indicate this sprocket is worn out and has the potential to cause a failure. Another visual sign is “hooking” where the teeth start to have a hook on one side.

 

 

 The next picture shows a steel sprocket with about 30,000 miles to a new steel sprocket. The wear isn't as dramatic as the previous picture, but close inspection reveals the sprocket is worn and there is visible cross-hatched wear across the teeth. Circled is worn area on the tooth of this sprocket. The sprocket should be replaced at this time.


 MOTORCYCLE CHAIN REPLACEMENT

  The purpose of replacing the chain is so you can ride thousands of trouble free miles without being stranded in the wild. The chain is your life line of forward motion and requires care and maintenance to keep rolling at a great pace. Motorcycle chain replacement isn’t difficult, but must be accomplished correctly to ensure operator safety and reliable operation of the motorcycle. Here is the proper sequence of motorcycle chain replacement using the RK Heavy Duty Chain Tool (Rented from Ducatitoolrental.com).  This is a heavy duty motorcycle chain tool and can easily accomplish the job and save you money over having a dealer replace your motorcycle chain.

     If you have decided to replace your motorcycle sprockets too, please refer to the service manual for your specific model for detailed motorcycle sprocket replacement instructions. The following steps assume you’ve replaced the sprockets or determined the existing ones are serviceable.

Here is a list of recommended items to have on hand prior to beginning:

  • RH Heavy Duty Motorcycle Chain Tool
  • Motorcycle Chain
  • Master link (rivet type strongly recommended)
  • Motorcycle Chain Cleaner (WD-40, Gunk, Kerosene, your favorite)
  • Rags/Paper towels
  • Wrenches (for Motorcycle chain tension adjustment)
  • Center stand, side stand, or paddock stand
  • 14MM Wrench
  • 17MM Wrench

MOTORCYCLE CHAIN BREAKING

    Many modern motorcycles have the chain running through the swing arm or otherwise configured so you have to break (remove a link pin) the chain. If you can remove the chain without breaking it, great, but you will still have to cut the new chain to length so these instructions are applicable too.

 Secure you bike on a paddock stand, a center stand, or a side stand. It helps to put your bike in first gear to keep it secure for installing and using the RK Heavy Duty Motorcycle Chain Tool. Open the tool kit you’ve received and assemble the tool to “break” the chain.    

     

 1.  Install the chain cutting tool piece into the tool body.

2.  Install the Large Pressure Bolt into the opposite side of the tool body.       

3. Position the chain to be cut (or position the tool onto the existing chain) Align the chain in the tool so the pin being pushed is centered in the tail piece and the pressure bolt opening



4. Using a 17mm wrench (or socket, snug up the large pressure bolt so that the chain is held firmly in place and the pin that is going to be pushed is centered in large pressure bolt and Chain Cutting Tool Tailpiece openings.

     


 TIP: If you are cutting a new chain to length, be sure to remove the chain pin that will leave you with an inner side plate as the end of the chain. A connecting link can only be installed onto inner side plates.

DO NOT CUT THIS PIN

  This link cannot be joined together with a Connecting Link (Master Link) 
 
                                                                                          CUT THIS PIN

The ends of the Chain should look like this To join with a Connecting Link!

 
 

5. Thread the Cutting Pin Pressure Bolt into the Large Pressure Bolt and tighten by hand until contact with the chain pin. Verify alignment of all parts.

         
   

  DO NOT CUT MASTER LINK!  - This is how a factory Master Link appears.  Do not cut this link: damage to the tool will result.

                                                                               


Using a 14mm wrench (or a ratchet/socket combination), tighten the Cutting Pin Pressure Bolt until the chain pin is pushed completely through the side plates (pin will fall out of the cutting tool piece).

                                                     Here is the pin being pushed through.


CAUTION: The first few turns will be very hard as the riveted edges on the chain pin are pushed through the side plate. If it seems exceptionally hard, check the alignment of the chain pin with the hole in the end of the large pressure bolt. You will feel tension initially as the chain tool begins to push the pin though the hole then it should continue to tighten smoothly. If the chain pin does not start to break free and the effort to turn the wrench increases to nearly impossible, back out the alignment bolt just enough to verify the breaking tip is correctly lined up with the chain pin. If the alignment is correct reset the alignment bolt and continue applying pressure. Do not use air tools or wrench extensions (cheater pipes) because you will damage and or break the tool.

MOTORCYCLE CHAIN RESTORATION

CHAIN MEASUREMENT

When replacing a chain with an identical one (i.e. - a 525 with a 525) the simplest way to cut the new chain to the correct length is to align the new chain with the old one and cut the new one to the same length as the old one. Alternately, count the links on the chain you just removed. Count the side plates and multiply by 2 to get the total number of links in the chain.

If for some reason this method isn’t practical (you’ve changed chain size and sprocket sizes), here is an alternative.

  Move the wheel forward in the carrier by loosening the alignment bolts on the re a - wheel.    Thread the new chain onto the sprockets and hold the ends of the new chain together. Note: where the inner end of the new chain would fit and remove the side plate (completely) so the ends of the chain look like this.                  
 

 

   Cut this pin                               So the ends of the chain look 
like this to join properly.
 

                  
 CONNECTING THE CHAIN

INSTALLATION AND PRESS FITTING OF SIDE PLATES

  1. Refer to the illustration below for reference. Route chain over and around the rear sprocket and the counter-shaft sprocket   

     
         TIP When installing a new chain, it is sometimes easier to tie the end of the old and the new together and pull the new chain into place. Place the motorcycle in neutral to accomplish this.

 2. If using an O-ring chain, put 1 O-ring over each connecting (master) link pin. Slide the pins through the two ends of the chain from the back to connect the chain near the bottom of the rear sprocket. If applicable, put the other two O-rings over each pin.

 1    2    3
Installation sequence showing connecting link with O-rings being inserted into the open links of the new chain (1), O-rings installed on the connecting pins after being inserted through the links (2), and placing the side plate on ready for pressing (3).
 
  1. Select the correct plate holder and slide it inside the large pressure bolt hole and position the connecting link side plate in the plate holder. The plate holders have different sized channels to allow the connecting pins adequate clearance as the side plate is pressed into place. For ease of identification the side plate for riveted style connecting links has a yellow dot in various places. The unpainted plate holder is to be used for clip type connecting links.                                     

     
     4. Place the tool so the new side plate aligns with the pins on the connecting link and the pins will have clearance to extend into the channel cut is the side plate pressing tool.

          Turn the Large Pressure Bolt by hand making sure to keep the pins and side plate holes aligned until snug

 
 
   5. Use a 17mm socket/ratchet or a 17mm wrench to tighten the bolt. The side plate should press-fit (slide over the connecting pins) firmly, but without difficulty.
6. Tighten the pressure bolt to the correct depth allowed by the plate holder channel (do not over-torque). Once the side plate is in the correct position, loosen the pressure bolt and remove the tool. You are now ready to install the clip or rivet the pins, depending upon which type of connecting link you have.

       CONNECTING LINK PIN RIVETING:

 

Staking the rivets (expanding them so the link pin does not back out). Once the connecting link is installed and the chain pins are protruding past the side plate sufficiently to complete the chain installation.  

 

 1. Reconfigure the RK Heavy Duty Chain Tool to accomplish staking the pins on the connecting link.                                                                                                               

  2. Place the tool under the connecting link. Align the flare pin with the hole in the end of the pin. Make sure the other end of the link pin is seated in the tail piece. Tighten the bolt by hand so that the flare pin is snug against the link pin hole.

 3. Use a 17mm wrench (or socket/ratchet)  to tighten the bolt until the pin hole is flared out sufficiently to keep the side plate from coming off.Repeat this procedure for the second pin.

   4. Warning!!! Tighten the bolt only until firm resistance is felt, then loosen the bolt and inspect the pin for complete, even flaring. Do not over-tighten the bolt – you may bend or damage the link pins or bind the link entirely. A pronounced, even flare will securely connect the chain links together.

CLIP TYPE CONNECTING LINK

   

If you are using a clip type connecting link:

1. Using thin-nose pliers, snap clip into pin grooves with closed end of clip facing rotational direction of chain (Figure 3A).

2. Make sure the clip is properly tension-seated in the groove of the pins. If the clip is loose, walk the side plate up the pins with pliers until it is snug against the clip. NEVER REUSE A CONNECTING LINK.


 MOTORCYCLE CHAIN ADJUSTMENT 

    If the rear wheel was loosened the chain is now too loose and requires  adjustment. The next step is to adjust the tension on the chain and align it using the Profi-Laser alignment tool. A properly adjusted and aligned chain (rear wheel) will give maximum life and performance of your motorcycle. This is a continuous adjustment: you can’t adjust the tension independently of the alignment. So check the alignment frequently as you adjust the chain tension. As the slack comes out of the chain, it is a good idea to turn each adjuster ¼ turn at a time until the proper alignment and tension on the chain are reached.Now the new chain is on and riveted. The next step is to adjust the tension on the chain and align it using the Profi-Laser alignment tool. This is a continuous adjustment: you can’t adjust the tension independently of the alignment. So check the alignment frequently as you adjust the chain tension.
      The correct tension insures safety for the rider and maximum service life for the components. When a chain is too tight it puts unnecessary loads on the sprockets, counter-shaft bearings, and counter-shaft seals. A too tight motorcycle chain can stretch in places and lead to the kinking of links, which are a sign of a damaged/worn out chain.

    A chain that is run too loose has the potential to fly off the sprockets, which doesn’t have good results for the bike or the rider. A loose chain can cause excessive free play (slop) in the drive line, which causes lurching under acceleration as the excess is taken up. Proper adjustment of the chain is something done infrequently yet is vitally important to long, trouble free operation. 

   Many motorcycles have alignment marks on the swing arm to help in this adjustment. Start by tightening the alignment bolts alternate on either side of the wheel. The goal is to adjust the wheel (move it rearwards in the swing arm) evenly so the wheel remains aligned. The alignment marks on the swing arm aid in this task.  
Remember to alternate sides when tightening up the chain:  the chain can get over tight very quickly. As the chain approaches the proper amount of travel, start checking the alignment using the Profi Laser Alignment Tool.
   

Turn the Profi Laser Alignment Tool on to see a red laser light projecting out of one end. Set the base of the Profi Laser Alignment Tool flat against the sprocket (verify the base is FLAT against the sprocket). Note where the laser light lands on the chain: when the rear wheel and chain are properly aligned the laser light will hit on the same part of the chain all along the chain’s length.


   While maintaining the base of the Profi Laser Alignment Tool flat against the sprocket, slowly rotate the tool or the wheel so the laser light “walks” up the length of the chain. If the light from the Profi Laser Alignment Tool starts to land on other parts of the chain (moves right or left with respect to the chain), the wheel isn’t aligned. Slowly and carefully turn the adjusting bolts on the swing arm to bring the wheel in alignment.

 Once the chain (and wheel) is aligned, verify the 1” (32mm) of free play in the chain. With the new chain, check the slack after the first few hundred miles and every time the chain gets lubricated thereafter.  

LUBRICATION:

   Keep the chain lubricated: even though there is grease sealed behind the O-ring, the other parts of the chain are in need of lubrication especially where the chain rollers make contact with the sprockets. Lubricate every few hundred miles: more in dirty/wet conditions. What you use is up to you. Most of us have experience with using a particular lubricant from WD-40 to 90wt gear oil and everything in between. Heavy oils tend to fling onto the wheel, the leg, or anything else in the “fling path”. Dry climates are ideal for Chain Wax. It goes on easy, dries quickly and doesn’t leave the huge residue on other motorcycle (and human) parts. Other climates and riding conditions will require other lubricants.

 

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