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How To Inspect And Replace Your Chain

Chaparral Motorsports
February 10, 2011
Last Updated: May 11, 2021
How to inspect and replace your chain

The drive chain and sprockets on your motorcycle are the moving parts most prone to wear on your motorcycle. It is always advisable to regularly inspect, and replace your drive chain when determined necessary. The other components of your final drive, the countershaft sprocket and drive sprocket also wear quickly and should be inspected. A chain that breaks or jumps off of the sprockets can easily snag on the countershaft sprocket or lock up the rear wheel, possibly causing severe damage to the bike and your wallet.

When inspecting your sprockets, check for roughness or binding when the chain engages or disengages from the sprocket. Inspect the sprocket teeth for reduced tooth section and hooked or wave shaped tooth tips. Once you have determined that it is time to replace your chain, it is always recommended to replace your sprockets at the same time. Replacing one part of the equation will lead to premature wear of all the final drive components. It's really a good idea to replace all three at once.

One of the most expensive wear items on a motorcycle is the drive chain. Not only are good, quality chains and sprockets expensive, but shops also routinely charge $65 or more an hour for labor alone. Luckily, changing a chain on a motorcycle is a straightforward procedure most shade-tree mechanics can do on their own - if they know how.

This article will give the reader the quick step procedure for changing a motorcycle chain. Although this information will likely apply to most motorcycles, if you own an unusual machine that has a single-sided swing arm or some other rare suspension, you will want to consult your owner's manual.

It is advisable to change your front and rear sprockets when changing your chain. These pieces wear together and you drastically cut down on the life of your parts if you choose not to replace them as a unit.

One advantage to changing your sprockets is that you will be able to alter the gear ration of your bike. By raising or lowering the number of teeth on your sprockets you alter when your motorcycle will hit its power band. It's best to discuss these changes with your local dealer when ordering your new sprockets, however, since motorcycles are often geared to appeal to a middle-of-the-road sort of rider and changes can radically affect gas mileage and performance.

Make sure you order your chain to the right length or have your shop cut it down. Consult your owner's manual to determine the correct links or simply mark one link, put your motorcycle in neutral, lift your bike on its center stand, and count the number of links in your original chain. If you need to remove links at home, use a chain breaker tool to push out link pins or grind down one side of a pin and push it through using a punch and hammer.

Before you begin the job, be sure you have all the tools you will need. You will be removing the front sprocket panel, chain guard, axel nut, and the front sprocket nut - which can sometimes be quite large. In addition, you will need a chain breaker tool to break the old chain and install the new one.

Suggested Tools:

Gather up the following tools:

  • Motion Pro needle-nose pliers
  • Ratchet
  • MSR rider wrench for rear wheel nut
  • Allen head socket for rear sprocket
  • Closed-end wrench for rear sprocket
  • A shop rag

Time: This task should take about 45 minutes to complete.

Level of Difficulty: 6

Step 1: Loosen Hardware

Loosen all hardware, countershaft nut and allen bolts on rear sprocket because the chain will act as a holding tool for the rear wheel and countershaft.

Step 1: Loosen Hardware

Step 2: Chain Removal

Find the chain's master link. Using a pair of Motion Pro masterlink pliers, pop off the master link clip by applying pressure between an arm on the clip's open end and the adjacent chain pin. With the clip off the chain, remove the master link and your chain can be pulled off.

Step 2: Chain RemovalStep 2: Chain Removal Step 2: Chain Removal

Step 3: Rear Wheel Removal

If your axle has one, take the cotter pin out with a pair of pliers, and loosen the large axle nut with the appropriately-sized socket. Apply some upward pressure under the tire with your foot. This will help take the pressure off of the axle. The axle should now slide easily out of the wheel.

Step 3: Rear Wheel RemovalStep 3: Rear Wheel Removal

Step 4: Countershaft Sprocket Removal

Remove the front sprocket cover and set it aside with the bolts positioned in their original holes. The bolts vary in size, maintaining their position will save time and aggravation during reinstallation. Some bikes have a nut that must be removed first, but others, require only the removal of a cotter pin. If it is a nut, "break" the nut loose while the bike is weighted and in gear.

Step 4: Countershaft Sprocket Removal

Step 5: Rear Sprocket Removal & Re-installation

With the proper-sized wrench on the inside nut, first break the nut loose slightly, and then completely loosen the outer Allen side. Remove all of the bolts and swap out the worn sprocket with the new one. When reinstalling the bolts, tighten them in a cross pattern to distribute equal pressure throughout the sprocket. Check your manual's torque spec if you're not comfortable guessing the appropriate tightness.

Step 5: Rear Sprocket Removal & ReinstallationStep 5: Rear Sprocket Removal & Reinstallation

Step 6: Rear Wheel & Chain Installation

Reinstall the rear wheel by reversing the procedure that you used to pull it off. Before completely tightening the rear axle nut, however, check that your chain has the proper tension. About 2 to 2 1/2 inches between the top of the swingarm and the bottom of the chain, just behind the chain guide is good.

Step 6: Rear Wheel & Chain InstallationStep 6: Rear Wheel & Chain Installation

Step 7: Torque Rear Wheel Nut

Check your owner's manual for the proper torque spec, and tighten the rear axle nut back into place. last, lube your chain.

Step 7: Torque Rear Wheel NutStep 7: Torque Rear Wheel Nut

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