Every joint or 'articulating point' in a chain is actually a bearing of steel to steel surfaces. It is essential that a film of lubricant is at all times present to reduce friction, protect from corrosion and extend the life of the chain. This film of lubricant not only cuts down friction but also assists in cushioning the drive, in effect hydraulically. If a chain is not too dirty, the process of lubrication is normally sufficient to clean it.
If the accumulation of dirt on the chain is excessive, the chain can be washed with a brush (not a wire or harsh type) with kerosene or paraffin and then preferably dried immediately witha jet of compressed air. Do not use steam, petrol or solvents. Be careful not to damage the rubber seals with O and X ring chains.
Sealed 'O' and 'X' ring chains - Even though these chains are sometimes thought of as being maintenance free - it is important to ensure that the outside of these chains are kept well greased. Both the rubber seals and the exposed metals need to be kept lubricated and this job should be carried out every 250 - 300 miles or so, depending on conditions. If this type of chain is left on a bike which is not going to be used for several months, it is a very good idea to attend to lubricating the chain first.
Ordinary roller chains (not sealed) - When used as a final drive chain which is exposed, this type of chain needs more care and attention.in terms of cleaning and lubrication.
Chains can be lubricated with SAE 80-90 oil or with a specific chain lubricant. Ensure that any chain lubricant to be used on an O, X or Z ring chain is suitable for the purpose by checking that the product states that it is "O ring friendly". There are several automatic chain oilers available and these generally work well but be sure that it is fitted correctly and in our opinion, especially with O ring chains it is better to use an oiler which has a "dual feed" - where both sides of the chain are oiled.
Never use WD40 or similar product to lubricate a chain - it is NOT A LUBRICANT and it contains a solvent. Some say that it can be used to clean a chain though. 'WD' stands for water displacement.
"When a chain is well maintained a chain drive is 97% efficient in transmitting power"
Choice of chain
The first consideration is the choice of chain to be fitted. The choice of chain will depend upon the type of motorcycle and the job it will be expected to do. Chain technology has moved on over the years and there are many different types of chain available - all designed to do a job - ie. transmit power. On a motorcycle, there is an important factor to consider - your safety - therefore if you are in any doubt about what chain you should fit to your machine (especially for modern superbikes) you should take the advice of the manufacturer. Believe us - there are huge differences in the quality of chains available and a chain that has been designed to run a low powered conveyor at a constant speed and loading in a food processing factory is unlikely to be able to cope with the power delivery and loading expected of a chain driving your motorcycle! So please be warned - the old saying of 'horses for courses' is relevant here and quality is important.
Alignment, Adjustment & Clearance
Unfortunately, alignment is something that is overlooked - to the cost and inconvenience of some motorcyclists.
We will state the obvious - chains are designed to be run in straight lines! - so do check that your sprockets are aligned, because if they are not, your chain won't be. Two sprockets can be checked for alignment by using any straight edged rule. Both sprockets should also be on a vertical line ie. not tilted, and of course, they should be securely fitted without any possibility of movement or float. It is also well worth carrying out a visual check if possible (and safe to do so) by observing the chain in action from behind the bike - (in appropriate safety gear of course - sturdy boots, goggles and sensible clothing). Get the back wheel off the ground, start the engine, place in 1st gear and take a good look at the chain in action . If the chain and both sprockets are new and are of the correct size, most problems encountered will be the fault of one or both sprockets. Some sprockets are not produced to the same extreme tolerances and standards to those used for chain production..
The fractured & broken sideplates on this chain were caused by a protruding bolt. You can see the polishing where the bolt had been in contact with the chain - this caused metal fatigue - fracturing the metal and then finally the sideplates broke.
Our tips for maintaining chains and some horror stories - or just some common sense! by 'Sprockets Unlimited'
Most non 'O' and 'X' ring chains are joined with a split link where the side plate is a 'loose' fit which is held in place by a spring clip. These links should be inspected regularly to ensure that the spring clip is still in place. It is a good idea to replace the whole split link during the life of the chain as it is likely to wear at a faster rate than the rest of the chain. The premature wear of a split link is due to the nature of the 'loose' fit sideplate which by its nature, has more movement than the chain itself. This movement also creates flexion in the opposing sideplate (the fixed sideplate) which over time with use may cause fatigue to occur, finally resulting in fractures. These fractures are most likely to appear right accross the centre of the sideplate and when this happens ................. well need we say more!
Rivet or Soft links
These are far safer than split or spring links when fitted properly. The two holes in the separate side plate are made to be an 'interference' (tight) fit, so after having fitted this over the two pins of the chain to the correct position and riveted over both pins - there is nothing to worry about.
The Regina range of sealed 'O' and 'Z' chains are supplied with rivet links and split links where the two holes on the separate side plate are designed to be a very tight fit over the pins thus making the joining link secure and strong. A tool will be required to squeeze this side plate over the pins eg. mole grips. Be careful not to drift the side plate too far over the pins otherwise you will end up with a tight link and squashed, distorted rubber 'O' ring seals - to prevent this from happening, Regina supply two spacers in every packet of 'O' and 'Z' ring rivet links. These spacers must be removed from the link once the rivetting has been completed.
For more detailed advice on fitting joining links, we suggest you visit the Regina website where there are videos of joining links being fitted in the workshop. To visit the Regina website, just click on the Regina logo on the top of this page.
For more detailed and good advice on fitting and maintaining your chain, we recommend you visit the Regina Chain website. Just click on the Regina logo
Well, what can we say - your chain was designed to run in an environment where it will not be hindered by anything - other than intended eg. chain guides, so, for your own safety and of others, please ensure that there is nothing that could catch, rub or come into contact with it. Just take a look at the picture below - the owner of this chain took full responsibilty for the failure of it - it was fitted to a special off road autograss vehicle.
Most standard, modern motorcycles have plenty of clearance to accept a good quality O, X or Z ring chain but older bikes can often have very limited space in which the chain can run freely without colliding with a chain guard or chain case. We are fairly experienced (over 21 years) of knowing what chains will fit what bikes. Although most chain sizes are pretty standardised these days, eg. 428 and 530 (1/2" x 5/16" and 5/8" x 3/8") - these standard measurements only relate to three dimensions - pitch, inside width and roller diameter - they take no account of the outside measurements. So, for example, a 530 (5/8" x 3/8") chain could have a pin length (usually the widest point, except for any split link) measuring anything from 19.5 mm to 25.5 mm. The size of the profile of the chain (sideplates) can also be important on some bikes.
When buiding a special machine yourself - always ensure that you have allowed adequate space for the chain - you might be surprised at the number of folks that have not - much to their frustration as they near the end of their beloved project!
Damage similar to this is caused by either misalignment of a sprocket or a loose sprocket (but please see the paragraph below). The inside of the innermost sideplates on this chain have been polished by contact with an incorrectly fitted sprocket which in turn then forced the inner sideplates out towards the outer sideplates, totally closing the clearance gap between the two and thus causing tight spots or total seizure of the chain. Once this happens, the chain will get very hot in use, loose all its lubricant and eventually seize solid.
Testing for wear
Chains do not stretch as such - they wear. The wear happens at the bearing surfaces between the pins and bushes and as the bushes become elongated the pins move excessively creating the effect of stretch over the length of the chain.
We are often asked how a chain can be tested for wear and as a rough guide wear of upto 1/4" per foot of chain length is acceptable and after this the chain should be replaced. Before carrying out the tests below, ideally, the chain has to be removed and washed eg. in parrafin, relubricated and laid on a flat surface. One end of the chain should be anchored and then tension can be applied at the other end by hand. A vernier gage is useful or a rigid rule can be laid next to the chain. If the chain is not removed from the bike, engage a low gear and rotate the back wheel so as to tension the upper strand of the chain and carry out the test on this tensioned upper strand of the chain.
With a new 5/8" pitch chain, 16 pitches will come to the 10" mark on a rule. The limit for wear measured over 16 pitches on a used chain of this size would measure 10.197 inches (10.098 inches for 'O' and 'X' ring chains).
In the case of a new 1/2" pitch chain, 23 pitches will measure 11.5 inches on a rule and the limit for wear over the same number of pitches would be 11.732 inches (11.650 inches for 'O' and 'X' ring chains).
For a 3/8" pitch chain, 24 pitches of a new chain will come to the 9 inch mark of the rule and the limit for wear would be 9.192 inches for 24 pitches.
It is a good idea to test several parts of the same chain because chains can wear unevenly, causing 'tight spots'. 'Tight spots' are often discovered when attempts are made to adjust a chain and as the back wheel is turned, the bottom strand of chain appears to be slack and then loose. This is an obvious indication that a chain should be replaced.
Correct chain tensioning is extremely important for the efficiency and safety of a chain drive. Excessive chain tensioning creates additional loading on a chain and can cause excessive loss of lubricant from the bearing areas thus causing premature wear or even breakage, especially when a bike is ridden over bumpy surfaces. Excessively slack chains are submitted to violent whipping during acceleration and deceleration and additional loading is put on the chain. A slack chain could jump off the sprockets causing serious damage and injury.
For normal road use, chains should be checked and tensioned initially after the first 60 miles (100 Km) and thereafter every 250 miles (400 Km).
For off road use, chains should be checked after every time it is used.
For the correct method and tension allowances, please refer to your handbook or workshop manual. However, in the absence of any manufacturers guidance we can offer the following advice. In most cases it is helpful to have a weight placed on the bike to compress the suspension or ask someone to sit on the bike. so that the front sprocket centre, the swinging arm pivot and rear sprocket centres are aligned on the same line. Adjust the chain tension by turning the tensioning bolts or cams until the bottom strand of chain has a total of 10 to 15 mm (0.4" to 0.6") of up and down movement, while the upper strand is tight. Fasten the rear wheel and check again that the chain is tensioned correctly and that the chain moves freely. Finally, fix the bolts or nuts of the tensioning system.
We feel that it is worth mentioning here that the primary drive design on some motorcycles do not have sprockets which are kept in a fixed position. An example of this type of design is where there is end float and the sprocket has been designed to move or 'float'. Under these circumstances a standard or even a high quality chain will suffer in the same way as described above and in some cases to such an extent that the chain can actually be flicked off the sprockets. Another cause of sprocket misalignment can be created by the flex of a frame - particularly on road racing bikes and go carts. When either of these circumstances cause a problem with the chain, the same 'tell-tale' evidence will be seen i.e. a polishing effect on the innner surface of the inner most sideplates. Please note that there are special chains that have been designed to cope with these situations, so if this is a problem for you, please ask us to see if we can offer a solution.