How to Maintain a Motorcycle Chain?

How to Maintain a Motorcycle Chain Service

The drive chain of your motorcycle feels uncomfortable and they do not know the right remedy for it? Then read the following article with the recipe for proper tensioning, cleaning and lubrication of the multi-link motorcycle chains.

All owners of cardan motorcycles can safely skip the following pages – for them the information has no meaning. Or they can read on and gloat about how time-consuming maintenance and care work for motorcycle chains can be.

There is no doubt that drive chains are among the most heavily stressed components of motorcycles. Sooner or later, they all wear out. However, with proper care, their exitus can be considerably delayed. The average service life of motorcycle chains is around 20000 kilometers, while neglected specimens barely reach the 10000 mark. If you take regular care of the many-linked secondary drive and its correct tension, clean it meticulously and lubricate it properly, the wearing part will reward you with a mileage of well over 50,000 kilometers in some cases – depending on the type of vehicle and riding style.

Motorcycles with a main stand prove to be extremely beneficial for all work involving the drive chain. This allows the rear wheel to rotate freely and all chain links can be reached without difficulty. For two-wheelers that only have a side stand, assembly stands can help.

But even with the best care, the wear limit is reached at some point and replacement is inevitable. Now it is a matter of selecting a suitable chain from the huge range of accessories. The range extends from standard chains to O-ring, X-ring, XW-ring and quad-ring chains.

Only very few motorcycles – almost without exception vintage cars – are still equipped with standard chains. All others use sealed chains with permanent grease filling, so-called O-ring chains. Here, the friction surfaces between pins and sleeves are provided with lubricant and sealed to the outside with O-rings (regardless of the design). Chains of this type have lower friction losses and last considerably longer than the standard versions – but they still need to be lubricated. Especially the contact surfaces between sprocket/pinion and the individual chain links require externally applied, wear-reducing lubrication.

If the whole maintenance effort seems to be too much for you, your only option is to change to a motorcycle with a cardan drive. That will put an end to the “pain in the links” and you can enjoy the next story about chain care in a completely relaxed and uninvolved manner.

But there’s one thing you should not forget: Chain drive has many advantages. For example, friction losses are significantly lower than with the technically very complex and therefore expensive cardan drive, power transmission is more direct, and incidentally, it’s child’s play to change the gear ratio for the race track.

Cleaning a Motorcycle Chain

Chain cleaning is one of the least popular maintenance measures on the motorcycle. Many owners of two-wheelers believe that it is enough to lubricate the chain regularly and leave the cleaning to the rain. They do not think about the fact that thick sticky crusts form on the plates and between the chain links. While the dirt pads on the outer plates have little effect on service life and function, the dirt and sand particles sitting between the plates grind the O-rings flat, and the permanent grease fillings go down the drain. In addition, dirt sitting on the rollers and between the outer and inner plates increases friction. Even the layman can recognize heavily caked chain links by the fact that the chain runs sluggishly and forms kinks because the links no longer move properly.

Then it is usually already too late for a sensible chain cleaning. Special cleaning agents should be used about every 2,000 kilometers, and much more frequently for off-road vehicles – harsh cleaning agents or even gasoline can destroy the O-rings.

The application of chain cleaners is very simple: Apply the agent, work it in with a brush if necessary, let it take effect and then wipe it off or spray it off if necessary. Only after the chain is completely dry again, chain grease is used.

Chain cleaners

Just a few years ago, chain cleaners were not still a wallflower. Only a few suppliers had them on offer. Now, almost every lubricant manufacturer offers dirt-removing agents for motorcycle chains. We tested some chain cleaners. Except a few products, which are applied with a brush, all manufacturers use spray cans. These have the advantage of being easy to apply, but some of the active ingredient always passes by the object. It is also advisable to use a brush or paintbrush to support the cleaning effect, even with the spray products. Two-wheeler drivers willing to clean should take at least half an hour for the cleaning and have plenty of newspaper or cardboard boxes ready to place underneath. After a short soaking time, wipe the chain with a cloth to remove excess cleaning agent and dirt that has not dried off, or spray the chain with a water jet (be sure to visit a car wash with a dirt separator). Caution: Steam jets endanger the O-rings.

According to the manufacturer, however, all chain cleaners are O-ring compatible. The cleaning results achieved cannot be compared due to the fact that the agents were tried out on differently soiled chains. The only thing that became clear was: lightly soiled chains become clean – if you try to clean an ancient, stuck and caked chain, you’re out of luck. None of the cleaning agents can work miracles.

Lubrication of a Motorcycle Chain

All motorcycle chains need a portion of lubricant from time to time to avoid premature wear. Certainly, spraying on chain spray is one of the most frequently used care measures, which is not least due to the simple procedure and the small amount of time required. If you’re not really clumsy, you won’t even get your fingers dirty. The spraying itself takes less than a minute, the exposure time is up to 15 minutes, depending on the product.Basically, it is better to apply frequently and sparingly than rarely and thickly. Too much chain grease flies off anyway in no time and gums up chain and sprocket cases, rims and tires. Unnecessary smearing due to incorrect application can already be avoided during application: do not spray too laterally against the chain links and never against the tire.

Wherever mechanical components work and move, friction occurs. Therefore, it is often necessary to lubricate them. This is primarily to prevent excessive friction and thus wear. Oil is a very important lubricant in this context. You can find it as gear oil, as well as for chain lubrication on the bike. But also if you want to process wood, chain oil for the saw is indispensable.

Are you interested in a chain oil or lubricating grease and would like to know, among other things, which product has a particularly good lubricating capacity? What to consider when a chain oil for the racing bike is needed? Read below.

How to choose motorcycle chain lube

Especially often chain oil is used on the bike. Here we often talk about a wet lubricant. Furthermore, you can also get chain oil for a motorcycle and for other machines and devices.

If chain spray is applied regularly, it provides excellent corrosion protection. In addition, there is a reduction in friction. Thus, you automatically also have less wear. Many chain oils can also be used in a humid environment.

The lubricant for a bicycle chain you get either in a spray can or alternatively in a pressureless bottle. Advantageous is a chain oil for the chainsaw or a bike, which can be applied very precisely.

Chain oil – the universal lubricant for all areas

Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine life without chain oil. It does not matter whether it is used in the private or professional sector. It is used, for example, for regular chain maintenance on the moto, but also for the lubrication of other components such as on a chainsaw. A chain oil on the motorcycle is necessary, among other things, to prevent rust. For this reason, a chain oiler is also often installed here.

If you provide regular care and oil chains and components sensibly, you can enjoy the nice weather and turn your tours carefree. Chain oil, by the way, also has a very good lubricating capacity when it rains or splashing water gets to the chain.

If you conduct a chain oil test, it quickly becomes clear that the lubricants are suitable for different areas. Chain oil is particularly often used on the bike. We now tell you the advantages and disadvantages that an oil has during the ride:


Friction is reduced, thus also reduction of wear and tear

Protection against corrosion (rust)

In case of dirt and grime during the ride the surface is protected

Also lubrication of other components such as derailleurs


Can get on and stain clothing if used excessively

Find the right lubricant with a chain oil test

Whether you are looking for a chain oil for the bike or motorcycle. Perform a test for chain oils, you will quickly and easily find the product you need. It is particularly important to know what you want to use the oil for. Because not every lubricant can be used universally, because the products have different ingredients, for example. For example, a chain oil for a saw (e.g. STIHL chain oil) has a completely different composition than one for bikes.

Go through all the features one by one in a chain oil comparison to find out what they are suitable for and what needs to be taken into account when using them.

Type of lubrication, quantity in ml and application – there are different characteristics.

You can get a cheap chain oil. But here you should first and foremost pay attention to whether the oil meets your requirements at all. Because as already mentioned, not every product is suitable for every application.

In the type of lubrication is basically distinguished between chain oil, chain grease, as well as chain wax. Oil and grease differ in that they are flexible in different ways. While oil is liquid, grease can be a lot more solid in its flexibility. Among other things, grease also occurs in a container for a chain oiler, which is located on a motorcycle.

If you use oil only for bike care and want to spray the chain now and then, smaller quantities of, for example, 250 ml are usually sufficient. But beware, with larger containers you usually save money. Larger quantities are usually cheaper than small bottles.

You would like to learn even more about some features, which are often found in a chain grease test? We will now name three more important features that are often asked about:

Function Description
  • Available as wet lubricant and dry lubricant
  • Wet lubricants creep into small gaps and cracks
  • Dry lubricants seal and protect (e.g. wax)
  • As spray can or bottle
  • Dosage with spray cans is particularly easy
  • Bottles are smaller and more practical
  • Indicates how well the oil spreads
  • Is known as creep
  • Good creep: easily gets into cracks and gaps

Chain oil for the chainsaw is biodegradable, as wood is often sawn in the wild. It is particularly environmentally friendly and can therefore be used without hesitation. Find out more about this in the manufacturer’s instructions.

A high creeping capacity is advantageous for chain oil

If you use normal lubricating oil or grease for a bicycle chain or door hinge, it may rub very badly or even stick. For this reason, you should opt for a wet lubricant. It gets into even the smallest cracks as well as gaps and provides excellent lubrication here. In addition, moisture has no chance and does not settle on the metal parts. This prevents corrosion.

It can often happen that, despite having carried out a chain oil test, the decision is still not easy. Is this also the case for you? Then we will once again list all the purchase criteria that are important in this area. Depending on the weighting, you can thus better assess whether the respective point is important or not and you can buy the right chain oil.

  • Type of container
  • Quantity in ml
  • Type of lubricant
  • Lubricant
  • Permanent hold
  • Application
  • Effectiveness
  • Corrosion protection
  • Reduction of friction

Comparison of chain oil and chain grease

You often have the choice between chain oils and greases. We will now go into more detail about the two variants.

Chain oil is a classic wet lubricant, which is used very frequently. In addition, it can also be used for other components, including for the lubrication of the dampers or bottom brackets. It has above all the advantage that it repels dirt.

Chain grease is in principle nothing other than chain oil. Only with the difference that it has a different viscosity. This is a dry lubricant that does not have as good creep properties as chain oil. However, it adheres much better and thus provides excellent sealing.

Universal lubricants for other parts

Good bike care does not only include oiling the chain. In addition, other components should also be supplied with sufficient oil. Here, a universal lubricant is advantageous. Thus, you do not have to buy several different oils. The best chain oil is thus also suitable for dampers, forks and the gear shift. Whether this is the case with your oil, you can see, among other things, the manufacturer’s specifications.

Clamping a Motorcycle Chain

A broken chain is one of the most unpleasant defects when riding a motorcycle. The author can tell you a thing or two about it. During the last chain test, one of the test specimens broke at just under 200 km/h on the highway and caused damage amounting to 10,000 marks in a fraction of a second. The reason for the chain breakage could not be determined, as the causative chain link could not be found.

In principle, there are very different reasons for the failure of a chain, some of which cannot be prevented. The motorcyclist is no more immune to a faulty chain rivet than he is to a pebble thrown between the chain and sprocket. However, the sources of chain tension, wear and lubrication can be avoided. Ungreased chains overheat easily and wear more quickly, the risk of a crack increases almost as much as through incorrect chain tension. It hardly matters whether the chain is set too loose or too tight. Chains that are too loose (usually old, excessively worn specimens) can slip off the chainrings/pinions, jam and thus break off. Chains that are too tight cannot withstand the extremely high loads permanently, especially when the vehicle is deflected, and will burst. Therefore, check the chain tension regularly, adjust it if necessary and replace old, worn chains in good time – it is better to buy a new set of chains for a few hundred marks than to be stuck with thousands of marks worth of spare parts and repair costs. A chain is ripe for the trash at the latest when it can be lifted off up to the tooth tips of the chainring or so-called shark teeth have formed. By the way, always replace the chain, sprocket and chain wheel together, otherwise the new parts will wear out much faster and the short-term savings will turn out to be a bust. How to set the chain tension correctly and how much play must be present, can be found in any vehicle manual. Enduros with a lot of suspension travel usually require much more play in the drivetrain than sport bikes. As a rule of thumb, however, the following always applies: When the suspension is fully compressed, there must still be minimal play, then nothing can go wrong.

It does not matter whether the adjustment is made by eccentric or slider, the setting values must be identical on both sides of the swingarm so that the bike does not stand crooked. Scales on both sides of the swing arm and the eccentrics or sliders make this task easier.

After adjustment, all bolts should be tightened and the chain tension checked – in several places (turn the wheel), as the chain slack can occasionally vary. This is either due to differently worn chain sections or chainrings that are not completely centered. It is important that the chain sag is oriented to the minimum clearance.