Whether you’re gearing up for a major roadtrip or taking time to do some routine maintenance, your bike chain may be due for a full cleaning and lubrication service. Just like your engine oil, skipping motorcycle chain lube and cleaning can reduce the performance of your bike. Find out all the tips and tricks you need to clean and lube your motorcycle chain today.

Signs your Chain Needs Cleaning

Do yourself a favor and your bike chain a good once-over. As you burn rubber on the highway or down a dirt trail you can wear out the sprocket teeth and chain. There’s nothing worse than popping a chain loose as you ham-fist your way down the road. Here are some of the signs that it’s time to maintain your bike chain.

First, look for signs of rust, excess grease and other contaminants. Crud on your chain and sprockets can encourage rust that eats away at your chain. Over time, your sprocket teeth will wear down, snap or cause your chain to sit loosely. Proper maintenance can not only prevent these conditions but can improve the overall safety and lifespan of your chain.

Get the Right Gear

The most common maintenance steps for your motorcycle chain are cleaning and lubricating. Invest in quality cleaning gear to keep your chain in prime condition. A quality motorcycle chain lube kit should have all the necessary gear for the job. Look for these cleaning products before you get to work on your bike:

  • Chain cleaning brush
  • Chain cleaner or kerosene
  • Chain wax
  • Work cloth

Prepare Your Bike

Swing your bike into your garage or a clean, well-lit area where you can get a good look at the chain and sprockets. It’s worth investing in a paddock or center stand to keep your bike safe as you wrench away at the chain and sprockets. You can still clean your bike chain right off your kickstand if you’re in a pinch. Either clean it section by section, moving your bike to be sure you can access the entire length of the chain, or take a few extra minutes to completely remove your motorcycle chain for a complete cleaning process.

Check Out Your Chain and Sprockets

There are two basic types of motorcycle chains: sealed and plain. A plain motorcycle chain is relatively straightforward to inspect, clean and lubricate, but a sealed chain will require a more delicate cleaning routine.

The easiest way to tell the difference is to check out the links. A sealed chain has an O-ring, X-ring or Z-ring rubber seal to prevent the bushing cavity and pin from being coated with debris, grease and grime. A standard chain uses a metal-on-metal link design, so you won’t have to worry about damaging any rubber seals.

Either way, spend some time inspecting your chain and sprockets. There shouldn’t be too much wiggling or wobbling happening. Your chain may stretch over time or with extreme wear, but too much stretching can make it inefficient and dangerous. Measure the overall chain length and compare it with your owner’s manual. Most manuals provide a maximum chain length, so anything longer should be replaced.

Another great place to check is your master link. This is the link that joins the entire chain together, so it should look different than the rest of the links. Master links use clips or rivets that are peened over for a firm hold. If anything looks bent, loose or damaged, it may be time to swap out your chain before it snaps.

Your sprockets also wear out with extreme use, so this is a good time to be sure your sprockets are ready to ride. Look at the teeth for signs of wear. Worn-out sprockets start to look like shark fins or waves. Other wear patterns are even on both ends, so your teeth start to look thinner and more pointed. An old chain or hard accelerations and braking cause these wear patterns and will eventually start snapping off teeth. Change your sprockets and chain at the same time to avoid damaging a brand-new part with an older, worn-out one.

Clean Your Chain

Assuming your chain and sprockets are still ready to ride, you’ll need to know how to clean a motorcycle chain. The most important step is to use the right products and not substitute chain cleaner with another cleaning solution that may cause it to rust, corrode or stick.

If you’re fresh out of chain cleaner and desperate to wipe off some crud, kerosene will work. Don’t skimp on the cleaning solution, since a dirty chain can quickly become a broken one. Compared to the price and hassle of replacing your chain, kerosene or chain cleaner are surprisingly affordable.

After liberally coating your chain with cleaner, use a specialized brush to clean multiple sides of your bike chain at once. If you have a sealed motorcycle chain, be a little gentle during this step to avoid damaging the rubber rings. Otherwise, really go at it and scrub vigorously to get all that gunk out. For extra measure, give your motorcycle chain another coating of cleaner when you’re done scrubbing.

Dry and Lubricate Your Chain

A clean chain needs a new coat of lubrication to ride smooth and catch free. After cleaning and scrubbing your bike’s chain, take some time to dry it with a cloth. Chances are you’ve gotten grease and debris all over your work area and bike, so take a minute to tidy up before you break out the chain wax.

Just like chain cleaner, there are plenty of excellent specialized chain wax products and some more basic lubrication options. Premier chain wax is easy to apply and keeps your chain operating smoothly, but chainsaw bar oil will do the trick. Be sure to properly lubricate all sides of the chain to avoid any catch points.

Prepare to Hit the Road

After you clean up your work area and tidy up your ride, it’s time to take it for a test drive. Now that you know how to lube a motorcycle chain, you’ll save yourself plenty of headaches by increasing the lifespan of your motorcycle chains on all your favorite bikes. Invest in quality cleaning products today to get the most out of your motorcycle chain.

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