Cleaning and lubricating your drive chain will extend the working life of your motorcycle drive chain and sprockets. How To Clean and Lube Your Motorcycle Chain is not always as straight forward as it may seem. Given that a dirty chain and sprockets will reduce the ability of your engine to efficiently transfer drive power to your rear wheel, sapping the power you enjoy so much.
Need to Know: Properly adjusted free-play in your drive chain is also important, and you will become familiar with the feel of your chain while you’re cleaning and lubricating it. Over time as your motorcycle drive chain wears it will become stretched and feel loose. Sometimes chains wear unevenly, and you may feel spots that are more ‘wriggly’ than others. Your sprocket will wear too; the tips and the sides of the teeth will wear and change shape.
If you clean your motorcycle chain regularly you will get to know when it needs to be tightened or if it is too tight (chains don’t tighten themselves, but they can be improperly adjusted). How long your chain and sprockets will last depends mostly on the size and configuration of your motor, and partly on the quality of the chain, but you can greatly extend the lifespan of any chain and sprocket with regular cleaning and lubrication.
WHAT YOU NEED:
OLD CLOTHS: you can use old socks, cut up old t-shirts but you will need cleaning cloths which are ready to be disposed of (this is the last step in the life of a ‘shop-rag’).
OIL: The least expensive motor oil will work fine. Also, other useful cleaning tools include an old toothbrush, nail brush or paint brush. Just make sure the brush you use will not leave bristles behind in your chain.
SOLVENT: If your chain is really dirty you may need a solvent and not oil to clean it but be very careful to use something suitable for an O-RING chain. If you’re not sure, assume you have an o-ring chain, a non-o-ring chain would be very uncommon on a modern street-bike.
Precautions: Anything that should go on your chain should NOT go on your tires. Be very careful not to get chain lubricant or oil from your chain (or hands, or cloth or…) onto your tires. If you do get anything oily on your tires, wash immediately with soap and water.
What To Do
- First, read the section in your motorcycle’s owners manual about cleaning and adjusting your drive chain – that’s where you’ll find pointers specific to your make and model of motorcycle.
- If you have a rear wheel stand, or a bike with a centre stand, chain cleaning will be a bit easier, you can put your transmission in neutral and access the entire length of the chain by turning the rear wheel. If not, you will walk your bike backwards and forwards a few inches at a time until you’ve been able to reach the entire length of the chain.
- Using an old cloth or an old sock (you’ll be throwing it away after this!) soak an area the size of the palm of your hand with clean motor oil, wrapping the oily area of the cloth around the exposed part of the chain, begin to wipe and rub off the black gunk on your chain. If your chain has not been cleaned or lubed recently, the black grime may be very hard to wipe off, so be prepared to be persistent. Soaking grime with oil will make it easier to remove.
- Clean the accessible portions of chain and rear sprocket, then move the bike forward a few inches to expose a new section of chain to clean. If your bike is on the centre stand or a wheel stand, it will be easier to access the entire length of the chain, but be careful not to pinch your fingers or put oily hands on your tire.
- Turn the wheel with one hand, by spinning the tire, (make certain your fingers and your cleaning cloth are out of the way and won’t get caught between the chain and sprocket) using the other hand to manage the cleaning.
- Don’t stop cleaning until you see clean bare metal on all surfaces on the chain – internal dirt is the problem, but you can’t get at that until you’ve removed all the external dirt.
- Scrubbing the chain with an old nail-brush or an old paint brush will help push dirt out from between the plates of the chain, where you really want to clean.
Lubricate your chain with a good quality motorcycle chain lubricant spray, by spraying forward and down onto the top of the lower run of the chain, walking your bike until you have sprayed the full length of the chain. Wipe away all the excess lubricant after.
One last step – just give your rear tire a quick inspection to make sure it’s not greasy anywhere and you’re done. You are probably dirty by now, but your chain isn’t, and that means your bike will work better and last longer, and that’s worth a bit of dirt isn’t it?
There are also kits you can purchase designed by motorcyclists which aim to make this process a little easier, well, not on your budget. Check out the KettenMax kits just for your chain.
Now go get clean – and then take your bike out for a ride!
*Note: when sourcing info for this article, we came across many images of hands with missing fingers due to motorcycle chain mishaps! Please use caution, it is very important your motorcycle is not running and you keep your hands away from the chain when the wheel is moving.