Monday, January 9, 2012

Maintain Your Chain

Extremely important but often overlooked, the drive chain is quite possibly the most important part of your motorcycle.  Without it you couldn’t carve through the canyons or do week long tours across the country.  Failure of even on link could leave you stranded somewhere, or worse. Chances are it will tear up your bike and give you a swift introduction to the pavement.  Bruising you, your ego and the object of your affection all in one go.  In this article you will learn how easy it is to keep your chain in good working condition and avoid any possible mishaps caused by neglect of simple maintenance.

So often we clean our bikes, wax the plastics, change the oil and pamper our beauty. But then we completely forget to take care of the item that transfers power to the wheel giving us what we really want, acceleration and speed.  

What is required to keep the chain working properly?

There are four things that every rider must do to ensure their drive chain is in good working order.
  • Inspect
  • Clean
  • Lubricate
  • Adjust
Inspection and lubrication should be done about every 800km or roughly every two weeks depending on your riding behavior.  Aggressive riding or riding in dirty conditions would require a more frequent service interval to ensure proper working order.

How do I lubricate the chain and what am I looking for during inspection?

Lubrication of the chain is quite simple.  The best method for doing this would require the use a paddock stand.  If you don't have one I'm sure one of your buddies could take the place of a paddock stand for a few beers.

Begin by lifting your bike using the paddock stand, or ask your friend to hold the bike balanced on the front wheel and the kickstand leaving the rear wheel to spin freely.  Next you should have a clean rag to wipe off any excess dirt.  After the major junk is cleaned off you will want to use kerosene or a cleaning product such as Motul Chain Clean.  You should make sure the chain is thoroughly cleaned before applying any lubrication.  This would be a good time to inspect for any damage to the sprockets or sticking of links indicating that a replacement would be needed in the near future.

After you have wiped down the chain with a rag and ensured that there are no damaged or sticking links you can spray the lubricant onto the chain.  I like to aim the can at the back of the rear sprocket and spin the wheel a few times to make sure all of the links are well lubricated.

What type of lubricant should I use?

There are many types of lubricant that can be used to oil the chain, from regular old motor oil to expensive race formulas. However, I prefer lubrication that has been specially designed as a low fling highly penetrating product specifically for bikes.
I use Motul Chain Lube Road on my bikes.  It is a very tacky lube that sticks to your chain no matter how fast you are going.  There is nothing worse than getting grease all over that shiny clean bike of yours.  I made that mistake once...never again.

How do I adjust the chain? 

Now that you have cleaned, inspected and lubricated your chain it is time to adjust the slack.  It is quite simple but extremely vital to extending the life of your chain.  Generally you will want about 30-40mm of movement in the chain but check with your owner’s manual for the proper specification for your motorcycle.

Take a piece of cardboard or stiff paper and make marks showing the min and max amount of allowable slack.  This will make it easy to check whether or not you are within spec.  After you have done this place the lower mark at the top of the chain while applying light tension downward.  While holding the cardboard still, apply light tension to the chain in an upward motion and check that the top of the chain is within the marks you have made on the cardboard.  If so, you’re done!  Easy, right?  If not, the next step is to loosen the axle nut and use the adjusting bolts to set the tension.  Place your bike on the stand or have your friend help you to lift the bike.  This time I would recommend placing something under the bike to hold it up since it will take a few minutes for this segment.

Now that you have the bike suspended with the weight off the rear wheel go ahead and loosen the axle nut to make the adjustments needed.  It is helpful to break the nuts loose before you lift the bike so that you avoid any heavy jerking movements while it is up.  If the chain is too loose you will need to tighten the adjustment nuts on the back of the swing arm.  If the chain is too, tight go ahead and loosen the adjustment nut and push the wheel forward until the correct tension is achieved.  Then tighten the nuts back just tight enough to keep the wheel from going forward.  You will need to make sure that the wheel is true which can done by checking that the arrows on both side of the axle are on the same adjustment marks either side.  Once complete it is time to tighten up the axle nut to the manufacturer’s recommended torque specs, insert the new cotter pin and take it out for a spin.  Always check the torque of the axle nut and the adjustment screws for movement after a short ride around the block or down to the local 7-Eleven just to be sure that everything is still good.  Done, now get out and ride!

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