Save yourself money by following MCN's guide to looking after your motorbike chain


A motorbike chain is a vitally important bit of kit. It’s essentially the part that connects your motor to your back wheel in most cases, so careful maintenance is key to keeping your bike moving.

In this article we tell you everything you need to know about looking after motorcycle chains including cleaning, lubricating and adjusting.

Related pages and guides

How to adjust your motorbike chain tension

1. Get the back wheel off the ground

Get back wheel off the ground

The drive chain on a bike is entirely responsible for transmitting the power from the engine and gearbox to the back wheel. A good maintenance routine will make it last longer and feel smoother. Part of that routine is making sure the chain is correctly tensioned. Do a visual check by putting the bike on centrestand or rear paddock stand, allowing you to turn the wheel and inspect the chain.

So why’s it so important?

An incorrectly adjusted motorbike chain

 Here is an example of an incorrectly adjusted chain. In this situation the chain would eventually start to run off the edge of the sprockets. The consequences if this happens are severe, as the chain is likely to get tangled up with the sprocket carrier and lock the back wheel. Alternately, if the chain tension was too tight this would create excessive stress on both engine, chassis and swingarm bearings.

2. Check your manual

Check your manual

 The amount of slack varies from bike to bike so check your manual. The tension is usually measured midway between the front and rear sprockets at the bottom side of the chain. The up and down movement of the chain at this point should be measured and checked against the spec in the manual. This is usually quoted as a minimum and maximum in millimetres, for example 30mm-45mm.

3. Get ready to pull the pin

Get ready to pull the pin

The spindle that goes through the wheel has to be loosened off and quite often there is a split pin that goes through a castellated nut. This acts as an added measure to prevent the spindle nut undoing. The split pin needs to be removed using a pair of pliers. With the pin removed you can then loosen the spindle nut.

4. Undo the adjuster lock nuts

Undo adjuster lock notes

Undo the lock nuts with a spanner on both the left and right- hand side. They only need to be loosened a couple of turns. With the lock nuts loose, the adjuster bolts can be turned. This arrangement allows the wheel to be moved backwards and forwards. When the wheel is shunted, back the chain tightens and vice versa.

5. Use the marks as guidance

Use the marks as guidance

There are reference marks on either side of the swingarm to help you align the wheel. The wheel has to move backwards in parallel, offering equal distance on both sides to maintain alignment. When you adjust the tension of the chain you should turn the bolts equally on either side, checking that the reference marks are the same either side.

6. Get the ruler out

Get the ruler out

As you turn the adjusters you can see the tension of the chain change. When you think it’s about right, measure it with a steel ruler or tape measure. If it’s OK, check the alignment marks are still correct and turn the wheel slowly to make sure the tension remains within spec. Tighten the locknuts whilst using a spanner to hold the adjuster steady.

7. Time to talk the torque

Time to torque the talk

Use a torque wrench and single hexagon socket and tighten the nut to specification. The setting is usually quite high so make sure you don’t cause the bike to become unstable on the stand – 100Nm or more is quite common. When the nut is tight you need to recheck the chain tension because on some models it’s not unkown for the tension to change as the spindle is torqued up.

8. Give it some love

Give it some lube

With the correct tension in the chain and the spindle nut torqued up correctly, make sure the castellated segments line up with the hole in the spindle. Refit the split pin or use a new one. When in place bend the ends over so it cannot come out. Apply chain lube carefully on the inside of the chain turning the wheel slowly so it gets an even coating all the way round. Check your work and you are good to go.

How to lube your motorbike chain

1. Lube it or lose it

Winter salt will destroy your chain in double-quick time so stay on top of cleaning and lubing. Alternatively you can fit an autolube system such as a Scottoiler to lube your motorcycle chain without using a stand. These devices automatically meter a precise amount of oil to the chain, and they work so well that they can substantially extend the life of your chain and sprockets.

Applying chain lube to a motorcycle chain

2. Premium chain lube

Year-round riders should own two types of chain lube: dry lube for the summer months and a decent grease-based lube for the winter. The sticky grease-based lube holds up better against rain and dirt. Expect to pay around a tenner for the dry lube and £15 for the grease-based version.

Head here for the best motorcycle chain lube.

How to clean your motorcycle chain

This is a relatively simple process of applying degreaser and going at the chain with a cloth or a brush to remove any residue. Do the same to the sprocket for total peace of mind.

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