Mastering Motorcycle Mechanics: Understanding Motorcycle Chain Types

Motorcycle chains are an essential part of a motorcycle’s drivetrain, which transfers power from the engine to the rear wheel. Riders must choose the right chain type that suits their riding style, motorcycle model, and budget. There are two main motorcycle chains types: standard or unsealed chains and O-ring or sealed chains.

Standard chains are the most basic type of motorcycle chain, consisting of metal links without any additional sealing mechanism. They require frequent lubrication to prevent rust and corrosion, and they wear out faster than sealed chains due to exposure to dirt, dust, and moisture.

On the other hand, sealed chains have O-rings or X-rings between the links that seal in lubrication and keep out contaminants. They are more durable and require less maintenance than standard chains, but they are also more expensive.

Choosing the correct type of motorcycle chain depends on several factors, such as the rider’s skill level, riding conditions, and budget. Riders who frequently ride in harsh environments or perform off-road riding may benefit from using sealed chains that offer better protection against dirt and debris.

However, riders who prefer to ride on paved roads and have limited budgets may opt for standard chains that are cheaper and easier to replace. Ultimately, selecting the correct chain type is crucial for ensuring optimal performance, safety, and longevity of a motorcycle’s drivetrain.

The Three types of Roller Chains

Roller chains are the most commonly used chain for transmitting mechanical power in motorcycles. They consist of a series of cylindrical rollers that are connected by links. These chains are widely used in many motorcycles, including touring bikes, sports bikes, and cruisers.

Motorcycle chain types

Standard Roller Chains

Standard roller chains, or non-sealed chains, are the most basic type. They are typically used in low-performance motorcycles and unsuitable for high-performance bikes. Standard roller chains are not sealed, which means that they require regular lubrication to prevent rust and wear.

O-Ring Chains

O-ring chains are a type of sealed roller chain that features rubber O-rings between the pins and bushings. These O-rings help to keep the lubricant inside the chain and prevent dirt and debris from entering. O-ring chains are more durable than standard roller chains and require less maintenance.

X-Ring Chains

X-ring chains are similar to O-ring chains, but they feature X-shaped rings instead of O-rings. These X-shaped rings provide better sealing and reduce friction, which makes them more efficient than O-ring chains. X-ring chains are more expensive than O-ring chains, but they offer better performance and longer life.

Heavy-Duty Chains

Heavy-duty chains are designed for high-performance motorcycles that require more power transmission. These chains are stronger and more durable than standard roller chains and are suitable for racing bikes and other high-performance motorcycles. Heavy-duty chains are available in both O-ring and X-ring configurations.

In conclusion, roller chains are the most commonly used chain type in motorcycles. Standard roller chains are the most basic roller chains typically used in low-performance motorcycles. O-ring chains and X-ring chains are sealed roller chains that require less maintenance and offer better performance and longer life. Heavy-duty chains are designed for high-performance motorcycles and are suitable for racing bikes and other high-performance motorcycles.

Basic Chain Maintenance

To keep a motorcycle chain in good condition, regular maintenance is essential. This includes cleaning, lubricating, and adjusting the chain tension.

I’m guilty of not maintaining my chain enough, but some of the best riders say that chain maintenance, especially for off-roading, is not mandatory. They said lubrication can attract dust and stick to the chain and sprockets (See the video from CrossTrainingEnduro). I think that for most riders, it is a better idea to keep their chains and sprockets well-lubricated and clean.

Cleaning the Chain

Cleaning the chain is the first step in maintenance. A dirty chain can cause wear and tear on the sprockets and chain itself. To clean the chain, use a chain cleaner or degreaser. Apply the cleaner to the chain and use a chain brush to scrub away the dirt and grime. After cleaning, rinse the chain with water and dry it with a clean cloth. Please read our article here to know more: How to Clean Motorcycle Chain: Essential Adventure Tips.

Lubricating the Chain

Lubricating the chain is essential to prevent rust and corrosion and to keep the chain running smoothly. Different types of chain lubricants are available, including spray-on and drip-on options. Apply the lubricant to the inside of the chain while turning the wheel to ensure even coverage. Be careful not to over-lubricate, as excess lubricant can attract dirt and debris.

Adjusting the Chain Tension

Chain tension is crucial for optimal performance and safety. A loose chain can cause the chain to slip off the sprockets, while a tight chain can cause excessive wear on the sprockets and chain. To adjust the chain tension, use a chain tension tool to measure the slack in the chain. Adjust the tension by loosening or tightening the rear axle nut or chain adjusters. Be sure to check the owner’s manual for the recommended chain tension for your specific motorcycle.

Following these simple maintenance steps, a motorcycle chain can last longer and perform better. Regular cleaning, lubrication, and tension adjustment can help prevent costly repairs and ensure a safer ride.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sealed chain, and how does it differ from a standard chain?

A sealed or O-ring chain is a motorcycle chain with rubber O-rings between the link plates. These O-rings help to keep the lubricant inside the chain and prevent dirt and debris from getting in. This makes sealed chains more durable and longer-lasting than standard chains.

What are the benefits of using an O-ring chain on a motorcycle?

Using an O-ring chain on a motorcycle has several benefits. Firstly, it reduces the amount of maintenance required as the O-rings help to keep the lubricant inside the chain. Secondly, it provides better protection against dirt and debris, which can help to extend the life of the chain. Finally, it reduces the chain’s noise, resulting in a quieter ride.

How do I determine the correct size of chain for my motorcycle?

The correct chain size for your motorcycle can be determined by consulting your motorcycle’s owner’s manual. The manual will provide information on the recommended chain size for your specific make and model. Alternatively, you can measure the length of your existing chain and count the number of links to determine the correct size.

What are some of the best motorcycle chain brands on the market?

Several high-quality motorcycle chain brands are on the market, including D.I.D., RK, and EK. These brands are known for their durability and reliability, and they offer a range of chain types to suit different riding styles and needs.

What is the difference between a 520 chain and a 428 chain?

The main difference between a 520 chain and a 428 chain is their size. A 520 chain has a pitch of 5/8 inch (15.875 mm) and a width of 1/4 inch (6.35 mm), while a 428 chain has a pitch of 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) and a width of 5/16 inch (8.0 mm). 520 chains are typically used on larger, more powerful motorcycles, while 428 chains are used on smaller, less powerful motorcycles.

Simon Dufour

Meet Simon, the 46-year-old aficionado behind YourMotoBro. With a lifelong passion ignited by motocross dreams and a Canadian Tire bicycle, Simon’s journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. From coaching underwater hockey to mastering muddy terrains, he’s an authority in thrill and adventure. Certified as an Off-Road Vehicle Excursion Guide and trained in Wilderness First Aid, Simon’s love for bikes is as diverse as his collection—from a robust BMW GSA R1200 to the memories of a Harley Davidson Night Train. By day a respected telephony consultant, by night a motorcycle maestro, Simon’s tales are a blend of expertise, resilience, and undying passion. 🏍️✨