When Should You Change A Motorcycle Chain?
With regular cleaning and oiling of your motorcycle chain, you will be able to keep an eye on your chain and sprockets’ condition.
Motorcycle chains should wrap snuggly around the sprocket, and if your chain is in good condition, you should not be able to pull the chain away from the sprocket.
Here are the indicators to look out for which will visually show you if you need to change your chain:
- Can the chain be pulled away from the rear sprocket? If I can pull the chain away from the sprocket so that there is at least half a tooth showing, then it’s time to change the chain.
- Kinks in the chain: Does the chain maintain the same tension throughout when you spin the rear wheel? You will need to put the motorcycle on its center stand or rear stand to carry out this test. If the tension is different around various parts of the chain then it’s time to replace the chain.
- Binding: Binding will occur when the chain has become too tight around the sprocket, and as you turn the back wheel, you will be able to see if the chain tightens up around the rear sprocket. Too much pressure around the sprocket makes the crank harder to rotate. Sprockets are not perfectly round or centered, and this can become more prevalent as the motorcycle covers more miles. If the sprockets become too far off-centered, the chain can tighten up and cause the crank to lock because the chain will no longer reach around the front and rear sprockets. In the worst-case scenario, this could lock up the crank. It’s time to change the chain.
- Excessive Rust: Having excessive rust on a motorcycle chain can cause all manner of problems, of which one of the worst is that it can cause the chain to weaken. If you find that the chain has excessive rust then it’s time to change the chain.
Every time you accelerate on a motorcycle, the chain takes the pressure and is stretched slightly. When the bike decelerates, the chain compresses. This stretching and tightening of the chain causes wear to both the chain and sprockets and magnifies if the chain is either too tight or too loose, which is why it’s essential to adjust and clean the chain regularly.
When replacing the chain on a motorcycle, both the front and back sprockets should also be replaced simultaneously. There is a symbiotic relationship between the chain’s wear and the sprocket’s wear pattern.
Cleaning, lubricating, and checking the chain’s slack and adjusting will give a motorcycle chain a long life, and I have written an article that will provide you with plenty of tips regarding this. You can read the article by clicking HERE.
What Items Are Needed To Change The Chain And Sprockets On A Motorcycle?
- A socket set usually between 10-19mm
- A socket that fits the rear wheel spindle nut
- A torque wrench
- A set of spanners usually between 8-19mm
- Some Copper Grease
- A set of Allen Keys Usually between 4-10mm
- Motorcycle chain rivet tool
- Mole grips
- A chain splitter tool
- Mini disk grinder
How Do I Know Which Replacement Chain And Sprockets Are Correct For My Motorcycle?
Now you have the items you require to carry out the chain and sprockets replacement, how do you know which chain and sprockets to purchase are going to be correct for your motorcycle?
You can check the owner’s handbook to find out how many teeth the bike’s front and rear sprockets should each have as well as the correct chain length for your motorcycle. The handbook will inform you of the correct amount of links your replacement chain should have.
My owners handbook listed all the details I required in the specifications pages.
As you can see, my Honda CB500X requires a drive chain with 112 links, the drive sprocket has 15 teeth (shown as 15T), and the driven sprocket or rear sprocket has 41 teeth (shown as 41T)
What parts will you need to replace a motorcycle’s drive chain and sprockets?
Once you have found out the correct sizes from the motorcycles owners handbook you can now purchase the parts.
Here are the parts you will require:
- One drive chain with the correct number of links (as stated within the owner’s handbook)
- Two sprockets. One front and one rear sprocket (each with the correct number of teeth as stated within the owner’s handbook)
1) Place the motorcycle on its center stand or a paddock stand.
You will need to place the motorcycle on its center stand or a paddock stand to carry out the chain and sprocket replacement, as you will need to remove the rear wheel.
My motorcycle has a center stand so this is what I used.
2) Remove the sprocket cover and loosen the front sprocket retaining nut.
Ensure not to lose any of the small retaining screws and bolts when removing the front sprocket cover, so place them in a safe place away from where you are working, not to kick them or lose them.
Tip: I placed my removed parts in an old washing up bowl to keep everything in one place.
When loosening the front sprocket retaining nut, you will need another person to hold the rear brake to stop the driveline from turning. You could place a wood block between the rear sprocket and chain, but I found having another person to help me was the best way to get this job done.
Luckly enough my friend came over to give me a hand.
My motorcycle’s front sprocket retaining nut was on quite tight, and it took quite a bit of effort to loosen it, so be prepared to put a bit of effort in.
3) It’s a good time to clean the front sprocket cover of excess chain lube and grease.
My motorcycle’s front sprocket cover was full of excess grease and muck, which had been thrown against it from the chain’s rotation.
I sprayed my front sprocket cover with a degreasing agent and then wiped it clean with a cloth.
4) Loosen the rear sprocket retaining nuts
Now you can loosen the rear sprocket retaining nuts which are very easy to get to. These rear sprocket retaining nuts can be very tight, so get a friend to stand on the rear brake or use some wood to stop the rear wheel from turning.
We put my motorcycle in first gear to help stop the back wheel from turning which really helped.
I used a long rachet to loosen the nuts, which were very tight and needed some muscle to loosen them. NB: My motorcycle wasn’t on the center stand for this part of the operation
5) Use a chain breaker on a lower chain run link or use a grinder as I did to grind off the rivet heads.
Now take your chain breaker and choose one of the links in the lower chain run. We didn’t have a chain breaker, so I used a mini grinder to grind off the two rivet heads.
If using a mini grinder make sure you position it so that the sparks are directed away from the motorcycle.
You could place a wet cloth on the bike areas that may get sprayed from the sparks, but I didn’t do this. Everything was fine. I just made sure that most of the sparks were directed away from the motorcycle.
6) Now remove the chain’s link.
Now it’s time to remove the link from the chain. I pulled the link out using a pair of pincher pliers, but you could push the link out using a punch or nail if this suits you better.
4) Remove the rear chain cover and remove the chain by pulling it back gradually.
The next part of the process was to remove the drive chain cover and then pull the chain out slowly and gradually until it is clear of the motorcycle.
Whilst pulling the drive chain out from the bike allow the front sprocket and rear wheel to turn until the chain comes away. You can now dispose of the old chain.
I took my old chain and both old sprockets to a recycling center.
Tip: You could remove the drive chain cover earlier in the operation if you wanted to.
5) Remove the rear wheel
Now remove the rear wheel. I put my foot under the rear wheel to make it easier to remove the rear axel. Be careful to check how the rear wheel spacers or shims come away from the rear wheel, as you will have to replace them in the exact place you removed them from.
Tip: A shim is a rubber coated metal spacer.
6) Remove the front sprocket and clean the area
It’s now time to remove the front sprocket, so I continued undoing the retaining nut, which I had loosened earlier, not forgetting to put it in a safe place.
Again, I put mine in my old washing up bowl with the other parts I had removed.
I used a good degreacer to clear the front sprocket area of excess grease.
7) Check the condition of the old front sprocket
My old front sprocket had some warn teeth.
8) Remove the rear sprocket from the rear wheel
With the rear wheel laying on some solid ground, I now remove the sprocket retaining nuts with a wrench and remove the rear sprocket.
9) Check the new rear sprocket is the same size as the old one
You can now place the old rear sprocket next to the one you have purchased to check it is the same size. You can also check to see how the old rear sprocket has worn over time by comparing it to the new one.
My old rear sprocket which I had removed had some warn teeth so it was a good time to change it for a new one.
10) Check the new front sprocket is the same size as the old one
You can now also place the old front sprocket next to the new front sprocket you have purchased to check it is the same size. You can also check to see how the old rear sprocket has worn over time by comparing it to the new one.
My old front sprocket definitely looked worse for wear.
11) Clean the rear sprocket mounting area.
Now is a good time to clean the area where you are going to mount the rear sprocket. I have my sprocket mounting area a really good clean.
12) Fit the rear sprocket to the mounting studs
It’s now time to fit the rear wheel sprocket to the clean mounting studs.
I placed the nuts finger tight onto the studs and then tightened them up to the required torque. When tightening, tighten the nuts tighten in a criss-cross way (top right, bottom right, etc.), making sure that the sprocket lays completely flat against the hub of the wheel.
I also used some lock thread.
13) Tighten the rear sprocket nuts to the correct torque specification and replace the rear wheel
If you are unsure of the torque amount you should tighten the nuts too, you can contact your local dealer or check in the service manual if you have one. I just checked on google to get the correct torque for my motorcycle rear sprocket nuts.
Now fit the rear wheel back onto the motorcycle.
Tip: do not tighten the rear wheel bolt completely as you will need to adjust the new chain once it is fitted.
14) Fit the new front sprocket
Its now time to fit the new front sprocket onto the output shaft not forgetting to replace any spacers or shims back in the same order you removed them.
Do not tighten or torque the front sprocket yet as you will need it to easily spin as you thread the new chain through.
Tip: You could take some photos or a video when removing the front sprocket or rear wheel to give you a reference as to where any parts like spacers need to go when you come to replace them.
15) Remove the new chain and links from their packets
Its now time to fit the new chain to the motorcycle.
Tip: When you remove the new chain from its wrapping, you should notice that it has been pre-oiled as my one had been, so you will probably want to wear some clean gloves for this part if the gloves you have on already are greasy.
16) Fit the chain to the motorcycle
I now fitted the new chain so that both ends of the chain meet at the rear sprocket.
This is how to thread the new chain:
16a) Thread the new chain through the front sprocket first
I laid the chain onto the rear sprocket first and then threaded the chain through the front sprocket, resting the chain on the chain guide to keep it straight as I pushed it through.
16b) Feed the chain through the front sprocket
I pushed the chain over and round the front sprocket allowing the sprocket to turn as I did so.
16c) Pull the chain through to the rear sprocket
I then pulled the chain through to the rear sprocket allowing the two ends to meet up and rest on the rear sprocket teeth.
16d) Check both ends of the new chain meet at the rear sprocket
I now checked that the two ends of the chain met correctly at the rear sprocket.
17) Push the rivet through the two ends
My chain is an X-Ring and came with some grease to smear onto the new link. Make sure you put plenty of the grease onto the new link and then push the rivet link through the two ends of the chain. Make sure you fit the O rings first according to your chain manufacturer’s instructions.
This is a bit of a messy job, but it’s the only time you get to do this part, so make sure you carry out this part of the chain replacement well.
18) Put the rivet link plate over the pins
Now put the rivet link plate over the link pins and squeeze it into place using some pliers or mole grips.
I managed to squeeze my rivet link plate over the protruding pins using some pliers. Still, if you find this a problem, you could use some mole grips or put a solid metal object against the rear of the rivet and tap the rivet link plate on with a small hammer by tapping around the sides of the plate.
19) Flatten the pins
It’s now time to flatten the rivet pins, which stops the rivet link plate from coming off and secures the new chain to the motorcycle. I used a chain rivet tool to carry out this part of the procedure.
20) How to use a chain rivet tool
Here is how I used the chain rivet tool:
- Place the tool’s rear over the back pin, and you will feel it cups the pin correctly.
- Line the front part of the rivet tool up against the pin you want to flatten.
- Twist the rivet tool until you see the pin starting to flatten
- Don’t flatten all the way. Turn the device one or two revolutions and then carry out the same on the other pin
- Carry out the same process moving from one pin to the other until the pins have flattened and secured the chain’s rivet link plate.
Tip: I found that the tool became very hard to turn the more I flattened the pins so be prepared to put some hard work in!
Tip: Check as you go as you do not want to overtighten. this will cause the plat to crush the O Rings which you do not want to happen.
21) Tighten the front sprocket to the correct torque
Its now time to tighten the front sprocket to the correct torque and re-fit the front sprocket cover.
You will want your friend to hold down the back break whilst carrying out this part.
I put the bike in gear to help stop the back wheel from turning while I tightened the front sprocket retaining bolt.
Tip: I also inserted some copper grease into the bolt hole thread and onto the bolt itself before tightening.
22) Adjust the chain as normal
Its now time to adjust the chain as you normally would.
Tip: You will need to re-ajust the chain in a couple of hundred miles or so because the original grease applied by the chain manufacturer workes its way out of the chain which slackens it slightly.
This shouldn’t be a problem because you should be checking and lubricating the chain on your motorcycle every few hundred miles or so anyway.
Make sure you tighten your rear axel nut to the correct torque as specified in the motorcycles owners handbook.
23) Job Done!
What are you waiting for? Go ride your bike and have some fun!
- Place the motorcycle on its center stand or a paddock stand.
- Remove the sprocket cover and loosen the front sprocket retaining nut.
- It’s a good time to clean the front sprocket cover of excess chain lube and grease.
- Loosen the rear sprocket retaining nuts
- Use a chain breaker on a lower chain run link or use a grinder as I did to grind off the rivet heads.
- Now remove the chain’s link
- Check the condition of the old front sprocket
- Remove the rear sprocket from the rear wheel
- Check the new rear sprocket is the same size as the old one
- Check the new front sprocket is the same size as the old one
- Clean the rear sprocket mounting area.
- Fit the rear sprocket to the mounting studs
- Tighten the rear sprocket nuts to the correct torque specification and replace the rear wheel
- Fit the new front sprocket
- Remove the new chain and links from their packets
- Fit the chain to the motorcycle
- Thread the new chain through the front sprocket first
- Feed the chain through the front sprocket
- Pull the chain through to the rear sprocket
- Check both ends of the new chain meet at the rear sprocket
- Push the rivet through the two ends
- Put the rivet link plate over the pins
- Flatten the pins
- How to use a chain rivet tool
- Tighten the front sprocket to the correct torque
- Adjust the chain as normal
- Job Done!