How to Clean and Lubricate a Motorcycle Chain

Along with routinely checking your oil and tyre pressures, knowing how to clean a motorcycle chain is essential.

At best, unloved chains and sprockets will wear up to 3-4x faster than they would have if maintained correctly. The increased level of wear and tear will also reduce the performance of your motorcycle in the process.

Having a chain snap on while riding is not something you ever want to experience. This could cause all sorts of damage to your swingarm, engine, and transmission. In a worst-case scenario, the chain could even wrap around the rear wheel causing it to lock up.

In short, it’s best to avoid all of these scenarios with adequate chain and sprocket maintenance.

1. Positioning Your Motorcycle Correctly

If you’re fortunate enough to have a motorcycle equipped with a centre stand, now is the time to use it.

Elevating the rear wheel off the ground will allow you to gently rotate the wheel. This will make the whole process a lot easier and less time-consuming. 

If you don’t have access to a paddock or centre stand, using the side stand will suffice. You’ll just need to manoeuvre your motorcycle around the garage to get access to each portion of the chain.

2. Inspection

This stage is crucial for understanding the current state of your chain and sprockets. You’ll then be able to select the best approach to cleaning and lubricating them based on your findings.

The Different Types of Chains

Motorcycle chains come in two main forms: standard (or unsealed) and sealed.

Standard motorcycle chains consist of metal-on-metal links without a rubber seal in between. These are typically found on vintage motorcycles, smaller capacity machines, and off-road motorcycles. 

Standard chains are usually a lot cheaper than their sealed counterparts but require lubricating every few hundred miles. These chains can be cleaned more aggressively without the fear of damaging the rubber seals found in sealed chains.

Sealed chains were introduced in the late 1970s and transformed chain maintenance. They did this by greatly increasing the intervals between lubrication and the expected lifespan of a chain.

With that being said, sealed chains still require maintenance but must be treated with a more gentle approach.

Examining Your Motorcycle Chain and Sprockets

Now is a great time to get up close and personal with your chain and sprockets.

How much free play does the drive chain have? Does the rear wheel rotate freely, or have you noticed any tight spots? Can you identify any spots or patches of rust?

Ultimately, we recommend consulting your owner’s manual for the recommended chain specifications. If it appears to be excessively worn or overly stretched, it may be time to ditch the old in favour of the new. 

To avoid having to replace chains and sprockets at different intervals, we recommend changing them together.

A sprocket in good condition should have even wear on either side of the teeth with flat tips to match.

Sprockets with sharp-angled teeth are often referred to as “Shark fins.” This is usually caused by a riding style that consists of hard acceleration and gentle deceleration.

If the teeth on your sprockets begin to resemble Shark fins, it could well be time to switch them out!

Worn motorcycle chain and sprocket

3. Spray The Chain with Chain Cleaner

Now it’s time to grab your favourite chain cleaner and spray it liberally onto the entire chain. As mentioned earlier, raising the rear wheel off the ground and rotating will make this step a lot easier!

If you don’t happen to have any chain cleaner lying around, Paraffin also works wonders! This will help to dissolve the grime as well as any old lubricant that’s lingering around.

Aim to clean your chain once every 750-1000 miles at the very least.

4. Scrubbing The Chain

This stage is all about agitating the grime and working the chain cleaner into all the hard-to-reach areas.

While there are brushes designed for this, a toothbrush and some effort will allow you to achieve some excellent results. Avoid using wire brushes altogether, especially if you have a sealed chain! 

Depending on how thorough you are the first time around, we recommend carrying out this entire step twice. This will help to avoid leaving any nasty remnants behind.

5. Drying The Chain

This a crucial step that shouldn’t be overlooked as it will allow the lubricant to adhere to your chain properly.

Take a cloth (with permission) and begin to gently pat the chain dry. Remember to take your time to ensure that all of the chain cleaner has been removed.

6. Lubricating The Chain

Now that the chain is clean and dry, it’s time to apply your lubricant of choice.

Wax tends to solidify more quickly and has a visibly white finish. Due to the quicker solidification, wax is generally less messy to work with and leaves behind less residue.

On the other hand, Lube maintains a liquid-like state for a much longer period and is generally clear. Unfortunately, it does tend to allow more grime to cling to the chain, sprockets, and even more annoyingly, the swingarm.

Whichever option you choose, make sure to apply it evenly and liberally. Sealed chains require less lubrication due to the inner seals and mainly need protection from rust. Unsealed chains require a considerable amount more due to their maintenance-heavy nature.

Aim to lubricate your chain once every 300-500 miles. This will ensure peak performance and give your chain every chance at living a longer life.

Now, Get Out There and Ride!

As we’re sure you’ll agree, maintaining your chain and sprockets isn’t difficult, although maybe a little time-consuming. Especially if you’ve failed to stay on top of it for some time.

Routine motorcycle maintenance will ensure peak performance and save you money in the long run from replacing prematurely worn parts.

Enjoyed this article? Consider checking out our guide on the Best Biking Roads for your next motorcycle adventure!