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XRing Vs ORing Motorcycle Chain

Chaparral Motorsports
May 11, 2021
Last Updated: May 11, 2021
Motorcycle Chain on Tire

When you need to buy a motorcycle chain, you've got a few options. Specifically, there are both O-ring and X-ring chains. Plus, some older bikes use non-O-ring or non-sealed chains. For most riders, it's enough to simply check what their bikes came with and buy the same type again. For those more curious, understanding motorcycle chains and the final drive can help you to make better choices for your bike, especially if you want to upgrade.

Motorcycle Chains and the Final Drive

Heavy Duty Motorcycle Chain on Tire

No matter what type they are, motorcycle chains are important parts of the final drive of a most motorcycles. They are how power is moved from the engine to the rear wheel.

On any motorcycle, there is an engine producing the power. Most motorcycles use internal combustion engines. However, a few models use an electric motor. Some bikes rev up to 6,000 or 7,000 revolutions per minute, and modern sport bikes can hit 17,000 RPM. In either case, the turning of the engine produces the power that ultimately propels the bike.

If it is a bike with an internal combustion engine, the engine connects to a transmission. Simply put, this lets you change the ratio of engine rotations to wheel rotations. Low gears move the wheels more slowly but with extra torque. High gears move the wheels quickly but with much less torque.

The transmission is connected to the final drive assembly. The final drive transfers power to the rear wheel. Its name comes from the fact that it is the last section of the drive train.

Depending on your bike, the final drive may be a driveshaft, belt, or chain. Driveshafts are typically found on BMW motorcycles, select Honda and Yamaha motorcycles, as well as few others. Belts are more commonly used on Harley-Davidsons. Chains are the most common type of final drive and also the oldest. Chains wrap around the front sprocket (counter shaft) that is connected to the transmission and the rear sprocket which is connected to the rear wheel. The good thing about chains is that they are strong, affordable, and typically the easiest to replace but require a little more attention than the other options.

X-Ring vs. O-Ring Chains: What's the Difference?

As you likely know, a motorcycle chain is made up of several link plates that are connected to each other with pins. This creates a flexible but very robust loop that can be used by the drive train to transfer power to the bike's rear wheel. For a long time, chains were simply this structure of rollers, plates, and pins. These are called non-O-ring chains. They are very simple and work reasonably well. However, they have some challenges with lubrication. There is a lot of metal-on-metal contact and lubricant cannot be easily retained by the chain. Plus, they have a tendency to trap dirt and debris around the pin. This means that the chain requires relatively regular maintenance.

The solution came in 1971 with the development of the O-ring chain. In short, this innovation added a rubber insert between the inner and outer link plates to act as seals to keep dust and debris out, retain lubrication, and reduce metal on metal friction. This helps to solve many of the maintenance issues experienced by non-O-ring chains. More recently, X-ring chains have come into the market. These are functionally similar to O-ring chains, but they have a different insert profile.

These are the key characteristics:

O-Ring Motorcycle Chains

As the name suggests, an O-ring chain adds rubber O-rings to the chain links. They fit around the pins in between the inner and outer link plates. The cross-section of these rings is a cylindrical shape like a doughnut. The O-rings are self-lubricating and also help to seal lubricant into the links of the chain to keep the pins lubricated. Additionally, they keep dirt and debris out of the inner chain components. When tension is applied the o-rings become flatter and squish between the plates.

O-Ring Motorcycle Chains

About a decade ago, an update on the O-ring chain started coming onto the market that featured X-rings instead. Similar to the O-ring the X-ring is round to fit between the plates and over the pin. However, the main design difference between the two is that the cross-section of the rings is an X-shape. The X shaped cross section allows the X-ring to twist when tension is applied while maintaining a smaller surface area. The results in more sealing surfaces, better lubrication, and better performance.

It is always important to choose a motorcycle chain that works for your bike's mechanical needs. There is no reason to buy a better chain if it isn't going to fit on your bike. However, if you can find one for your model of vehicle, you should seriously consider using an X-ring chain.

To make sure that a given chain will work for your bike, it is a good idea to check online using a website that can filter by model. Chaparral Motorsports helps you do this by only showing parts and accessories that work for the year, make, and model of your ride.

Choosing the Right Chain Type for You

The pecking order of performance and cost of motorcycle chains from low to high goes: non-O-ring, O-ring, then X-ring. For most riders, the non-O-ring chain type is not really worth considering. Although they are cheaper, their longevity is much shorter, requiring more frequent replacement.

Both the O-ring and X-ring chains can offer extended service life with less maintenance thanks to better lubrication and protection against dirt. However, you may be wondering whether the X-ring is worth the additional cost.

These are some of the advantages:

Deformation Resistant: A standard O-ring tends to deform when it has been pressed between the plates for too long. Conversely, an X-ring holds its shape much better.

More Sealing Surfaces: The X-ring shape has more surfaces that can hold lubricant against the plates and pins. Additionally, it twists when compressed. This helps to better seal in lubricant compared to an O-ring which simply squashes down and loses efficacy.

Longer-Lasting: The above benefits mean that an X-ring chain typically lasts longer than an O-ring counterpart. Some sources estimate that an X-ring chain can last about twice that of the O-ring style. Most riders can get about 10,000 miles out of an O-ring chain. While the actual difference may vary from situation to situation, there is no question that X-ring chains can last longer. This can often make the X-ring style more than worth the extra cost.

Upgrading Your Final Drive

Now that you know the difference between motorcycle chains, you may be wondering when you should consider replacing the chain on your bike. There are two major situations in which a motorcycle chain upgrade is a good idea. First, if the chain has broken, you need to replace it. Of course, it doesn't need to be a full break to be time for a change. You should regularly inspect your chain and look for excessive wear on the rollers, You should also check the chain at the back of the rear sprocket by pulling the chain away from the sprocket. If the chain easily pulls away and shows a half tooth or more of the sprocket — and it can't be adjusted out via the wheel adjustment in the swingarm, then it's time to replace the chain.

Another reason you may consider changing your chain is if you are modifying part of your drive train. For example, you may want to change your gearing ratio. Depending on the gearing change you may need a longer chain in order to fit your new setup. If you are going to replace the front or rear sprocket (or both), it's always best to replace the chain so that the new components fit together good and wear together.

Installing a New Motorcycle Chain

All this information is great in theory, but it won't be much use if you can't actually upgrade your chain. Fortunately, it is a fairly easy process. Most motorcyclists can do it. The exact process depends a little on the chain and your setup. It's best to refer to your owner's manual or a service manual on how to correctly service, remove, and install your chain.

Most dirt bike chains have a removable master link which can be removed and installed with a screw driver. More powerful motorcycles have a riveted master link that will require a bit more work and tools. If you end up with a rivet style chain you should look into getting something like Motion Pro's Chain Breaker, Press, and Riveting Tool. This one tool will serve all three functions of removing and properly installing a new chain.

For more detailed instruction, view How to Inspect and Replace Your Motorcycle Chain.

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