Motorcycle Chain Maintenance. Simple, cheap and essential
by Mark DT
Cleaning your motorcycle Chain
Before I bought my first motorcycle I remember being a little hesitant about buying a bike with chain drive as I thought the maintenance would be too excessive. Being a newbie I went to one of my buddies who has had motorcycles since he was in his early teens. He laughed and told me he had never owned a bike with anything but chain drive, and that my concerns were groundless. He was absolutely right.
Chains on motorcycles are great for a few reasons. They are simple to maintain and cheap and easy to repair. They are light, much lighter than shafts, and introduce no changes to the handling of the motorcycle. Ever wonder why all the top sport bikes use chain? While belts and shafts are also excellent in their low maintenance and clean operation, they are either costlier or heavier.
What is required to maintain your chain? Ideally using a center stand or a paddock stand to get the rear wheel off the ground makes the job much easier. However, a long straight and level surface where you can move the motorcycle to get the chain to go one lap around the sprocket will also suffice in a pinch.
Clean before lube? Every time?
Inspect your chain, if it is covered in muck clean it before lubrication. Why would you consider spraying lubricant on a dirty surface? Thankfully, cleaning the chain has never been easier. There are a number of easy to use after market products like the motorcycle chain cleaner shown below. I find that I clean my chain fairly infrequently compared to how often I lube it, as I live in an area with lots of rain and generally nice clean roads. If you lube the chain every 500 miles or 800 km, then try to clean at least it at 1000 mile or 1600 km intervals. Remember, more frequent cleaning is better than less, and in all cases follow as a minimum all recommendations specified in your motorcycle owners/maintenance manual.
When using any motorcycle chain cleaner, it should go without saying… follow the instructions on the package. If you haven’t purchased cleaner yet, in a nutshell here is what you will be doing. [important]If your chain is clean you may skip this step and proceed to lubrication.[/important]
You will first need to get the motorcycle’s chain nice and warm by going for a short ride. Once the chain is warm, shut the engine off, and get the bike up on its center stand or paddock stand (otherwise, you will need to push the bike forward to get the chain to rotate). You will spray the cleaner on all the links of the chain. I usually will get a paper garden bag or paper grocery bag and place it behind the chain to act as a shield whenever I clean or lube to ensure that I don’t get any over spray on the wheels, swing arm and or brake assembly. Most cleaners will recommend that after the chain has been sprayed to wait 5-15 minutes to allow the cleaner to penetrate and break down the dirt so its easy to remove. Having some newspapers placed under the bike’s chain will help absorb any drips on the floor/driveway.
Some cleaners you simply wipe off afterwards with a rag, others will get rinsed off with a garden hose. Try to avoid getting oily water all over your driveway, and harming the environment by putting a drain pan under the chain and collecting the dirty water for proper environmentally responsible disposal. If you don’t have a drain pan, a paint tray with a plastic liner will work well in a pinch. If this sounds like too much work consider buying a cleaner that doesn’t require rinsing off such as Muc-Off Chain Cleaner. You may find having a good sized nylon bristle bush in addition to some shop rags helpful to get stubborn dirt free especially if your chain hasn’t been cleaned in ages. The Grunge Brush is highly recommended as an inexpensive and dedicated tool for the job, however, in a pinch an old toothbrush will work.
Alternatives to dedicated chain cleaners that are popular are kerosene, and WD40. I don’t use either personally although they do work very well as cleaners. Kerosene is very safe and effective however it does put out strong fumes, and should only be used in a well ventilated area. WD40 is popular, however, there is religious like fervour among riders both for and against using this product as some claims it is bad for O-rings, while others claim it works better than everything else. Personally, I just like using a dedicated product for cleaning and tend to go for the rinse free cleaners. When it comes to maintenance of such a critical component to safe riding, I have no issues spending under $10 on a dedicated can of chain cleaner to be used at 1000 mile/1600 km intervals. Others may feel differently hence why I mentioned the cheap and popular alternatives to commercial chain cleaners so you can decide for yourself what works best.
That’s it, your chain should look nice and clean. It’s time to move on to the next step, which is lubrication.
You comments are always welcome, as well as any other suggestions for chain cleaning. The links below are to recommended products, but you can search out even more on our shopping and discounts page.