How To Clean Your Motorcycle Chain

Drive chains are one of the most heavily stressed components in a motorcycle. Sooner or later they all wear out. However, with proper care, their wear and tear can be delayed. The average lifespan of a good motorcycle chain is around 20,000 kilometers, while the ones that are poorly maintained may last till 10,000 kilometers. In fact, riders who meticulously clean and lubricate their motorcycle chain can stretch the life span to almost 50,000 kilometers.

Motorcycle chain is one of the most important technical components in a motorcycle that is responsible for a smooth ride. The engine provides mechanical power to the main shaft, which in turn is connected to the secondary shaft responsible to drive the rear wheel with the help of a chain. In short, motorcycle chain is used to rotate the rear wheel and move forward. If the chain does not spin smoothly due to excessive friction, it creates a lot of stress on the engine, which will eventually lead to more fuel consumption. Thus, it is important to regularly clean and lubricate the motorcycle chain.

But before you learn about cleaning and lubrication of motorcycle chain in detail, it is important to understand their types.

Types of Motorcycle Chains

Primarily there are two types of motorcycle chains; standard chains and sealed chains. Sealed chains are further sub divided into O-ring and X-ring depending on the shape of the rubber sealant.

Standard roller chains without seals

The standard roller chain is probably the cheapest option for riders and is only recommended for motorcycles with a displacement less than 125 cc. These inexpensive chains have to be lubricated frequently as they lack the internal lubrication between the pin and the sleeve. Furthermore, due to the lack of a sealing ring between the components, moisture and dirt can penetrate quite easily between the links, thus, increasing the probability of wear and tear even more.

Sealed O-ring and X-ring chains

Unlike standard roller chains, modern motorcycle chains have a grease filling between the pin and the sleeve, which is sealed by small rings made of synthetic rubber between the outer and inner plate. According to the shape of the cross-section of these sealing rings, they are called as O-ring or X-ring. These rings prevent dirt from entering between the links and thus reduce the frequency of lubrication. This increases the life span of your chain considerably.

O-Ring motorcycle chain
O-Ring motorcycle chain

The only difference between the X-ring and O-ring is that the cross-section of the sealing rings are shaped like an “X” or “O”. However, X-ring has four arms that seal the surface more efficiently due to better contact, thus, making them more durable than the O-ring.

How to clean your motorcycle chain

Chain cleaning is one of the less common motorcycle maintenance measures that riders usually undertake. Truth be told, there is a misconception among many motorcyclists that you do not really need to clean your motorcycle chain since it is an external component and gets dirty all the time. And there are some that believe it is sufficient to just lubricate the chain and let the rain do the cleaning. Sadly, they do not realize that a dirty motorcycle chain increases the friction and causes the engine to overheat.

Below is a complete step by step guide to keep your motorcycle chain clean.

  1. First of all, it is important to thoroughly clean your motorcycle with water. This removes excessive dirt and soil stuck around the chain and sprockets which will reduce your efforts in cleaning.
  2. The second thing you need to do is place a flat cardboard or a rag beneath your motorcycle to prevent the floor from getting oily.
  3. Wear latex gloves and with the help of a brush, scratch the surface of motorcycle chain to remove any visible dirt. In case you do not have a specialized chain cleaning brush, a tooth brush will suffice.
  4. Once you have scratched the surface of the chain, clean the area with a dry cloth.
  5. Now it is time for a thorough cleaning. Park your motorcycle on center stand and ensure that the bike is in neutral.
  6. Once most of the visible dirt is removed with a brush, wipe the chain dry using a cloth.
  7. Start a thorough cleaning of the inside of your chain using Muc-Off motorcycle chain cleaner or similar products of this type.
  8. When the chain is completely degreased, you can finish the cleaning job by wiping the entire chain with a soft clean cloth.
  9. Once you are done, the chain should look like sparkling new. Repeat the process if required.
  10. It is advisable to wait for few minutes before you take a test ride. Let the chain dry completely else it may attract more dirt.

Warning: Never try to clean your motorcycle chain with a gear engaged! There are a considerable number of cases where a motorcyclist accidentally minced his fingers between the chain and the sprocket. Before cleaning, ensure that the engine is turned off and the motorcycle is in neutral.

How to clean your motorcycle chain with kerosene oil

There are different ways of cleaning the motorcycle chain, but the least expensive and the most common among them is by using kerosene oil. It can be used as an alternate to professional chain cleaners and offers similar results. Kerosene acts as a degreaser and cleans the chain by removing all the dirt stuck between the plates of chain. In addition to kerosene, you can use diesel as well, but refrain yourself from using unleaded petrol as it can compromise the functionality of the rings.

However, before cleaning with kerosene, it is advisable to wash the motorcycle with a moderate pressure hose in order to remove mud and dirt stuck on the outer surface.

Things you will need to clean your motorcycle chain

  • Common toothbrush or three-sided brush
  • Kerosene oil
  • Disposable gloves
  • Plastic pan to collect the oil
  • Cardboard pieces to put under the bike
  • Cloth or rag
  • Roll of absorbent paper
  • Grease

Step by step procedure to clean the motorcycle chain using kerosene

  1. Place a cardboard and a rag beneath the chain of your motorcycle.
  2. Pour some kerosene in a glass and soak the toothbrush.
  3. Once your brush is soaked in kerosene, start rubbing the brush all over the chain.
  4. Alternatively, you can pour some kerosene directly over the chain and use the brush to scrub the dirt away.
  5. If you do not have a specific can to spray kerosene, you can pour it in a disposable water bottle and create a small hole with the help of screw driver. This bottle will now serve your purpose of pouring can.
  6. Leave your chain to rest once it is completely soaked in oil (30 minutes minimum).
  7. After 30 minutes brush the entire area with brush and use more oil if necessary.
  8. Clean the entire surface with a soft dry cloth and inspect the chain for dirt.
  9. You may repeat the entire procedure in case you are not satisfied with cleaning.
  10. This operation requires patience and a lot of manual work. However, the results are similar to any chain cleaning products.
  11. Once the motorcycle chain is sparkling new, wipe it using a tissue or a dry cloth and prepare for lubrication.

Experts recommend that you start cleaning the chain after a short ride. So once you have washed your motorcycle, it is best to warm it up for an hour before cleaning the chain. This short ride allows the chain to warm up, which decreases the viscosity of dirty grease, and thus helps in effective cleaning.

Can you use high pressure cleaners to clean the motorcycle chain?

High-pressure cleaners that are available in the hardware store are not at all ideal for your motorcycles. The pressure created by these types of machines is quite high and the water may enter undesired places. Also, there is a high possibility that a strong jet of water might damage the soft rubber seals inside your motorcycle chain. It is best to refrain from using high pressure water jets to clean any of your motorcycle part, including the chain. Instead, you can use a normal garden hose that has a moderate amount of pressure to clean your motorcycle parts.

Which chain cleaner is best?

Chain cleaning is a regular activity and depending on your riding style, the frequency of cleaning may increase or decrease. However, the ideal product that serves as a chain cleaner is always debated. For instance, Muc-Off is totally effective product, but is also expensive. On Revzilla, 500 ml of Muc-Off chain cleaner costs around $16.

WD40, alcohol, ethanol, acetone or even nitro thinner should not be used to clean your motorcycle chain as these agents damage the rubber rings inside the chain. A damaged ring loses its properties of retaining lubricating oils which increases the friction and decreases the engine power.

The advantage of using special chain cleaners is the guarantee of maximum protection. The lubricants in the cleaners protect the chain and ensure sparkling shine for a prolonged time.

S100 is one of the cheaper options that can be used for effecting chain cleaning (1.32 gallon costs around $45). This being said, it is not necessary that you have to purchase specialized cleaning agents to clean your motorcycle chain. Kerosene, for instance, is readily available in every household and serves as an effective degreaser.

Best motorcycle chain cleaners

There are two main types of chain cleaners; water-based and solvent-based. Solvent-based cleaners work just like brake disc cleaners. They remove tough grease and oils that accumulate along with dirt inside small parts of your motorcycle chain. The pressure from the spray combined with the solvent helps in removing the stubborn grease while simultaneously evaporating it from the surface.

Water based cleaners, on the other hand, remove the grease from the chain as you spray it on by chemically reacting with it. They produce thick foam around the metal which eats up all the tough grease that is stuck inside your chain.

Listed below are some of the best motorcycle chain cleaners.

S100 chain cleaner

S100 Total Motorcycle Cleaner

S100 has an excellent penetration property which allows it to enter every part of your motorcycle chain. As a result, you get an ultra-shiny chain that is free from dirt, grease, and oil. Moreover, it is completely compatible with any type of motorcycle chain (standard, O-ring, and X-ring).

Liqui Moly chain cleaner

Liqui Moly chain degreaser

Liqui Moly is an excellent degreaser and cleaner for all types of motorcycle chains. It is made from a specially formulated solvent that not only cleans the area but also lubricates it for a smooth ride. Many riders claim that half a can of Liqui Moly is sufficient to clean a mud soaked motorcycle chain.

Motul Chain Cleaner

Motul motorcycle chain cleaner

Motul offers a first class chain cleaning solution that is customized to meet every rider’s needs. The chain cleaner comes in the form of spray and works perfectly around the motorcycle chain by dissolving all the tough grease and dirt from the inside. All you need is a cleaning brush and your chain will be as good as new within minutes!

Advantages of regular chain maintenance

  • Less noise (motorcycle chains that are dry and un-lubricated are much noisier)
  • Lower fuel consumption (a clean and lubricated chain creates less friction)
  • Greater safety (an unmaintained motorcycle chain is more likely to break)
  • Improved performance (a clean chain delivers more power to the rear wheel)
  • Long life of chain ( an unkempt motorcycle chain will only survive 10,000 kilometers or less)

In short, it is best to invest some time and money on your motorcycle chain so as to ensure trouble free ride and optimal performance.

Do not forget to lubricate after cleaning the chain

The centrifugal force of the wheel combined with water and dirt usually removes all the essential lubricants of the chain that are responsible for its smooth function. While periodically lubricated chain can last up to 50,000 kilometers, chains that are not properly maintained carry a risk of breaking. We have often seen riders complaining about a broken chain in the first 10,000 kilometers itself.

It is therefore important to lubricate every time you have properly cleaned your motorcycle chain. Make no mistake, a chain cleaner will not serve the purpose of lubricant, as their main function is to degrease and remove all the dirt from the chain.

Another important point to keep in mind is to lubricate only after cleaning the chain. Spraying lubricants over a dirty chain will not serve the purpose since the dirt usually forms a layer that prevents any oil from entering.

Regular inspection of motorcycle chain is important after every long distance tour. You need to check for traces of rust or corrosion apart from any physical damage to the sprockets.

In order to lubricate properly, deepest penetration is important. Thus, it is essential that before you start spraying, the chain should be completely dry.

Tips for lubricating your motorcycle chain

  • Once you have washed and cleaned your motorcycle chain allow some time to dry.
  • Place the motorcycle on the main stand and place a cardboard or a rug beneath the chain.
  • Spray the lubricant on the inside of the chain and slowly rotate the motorcycle tire to ensure complete penetration.
  • Allow the lubricant to settle around the chain overnight before you take a test drive.

When to replace the motorcycle chain?

A worn out motorcycle chain usually displays symptoms like rattling noise or jerks while riding. If left unattended, in majority of the cases, you may need to replace the sprockets as well. You can check if your motorcycle chain needs to be replaced by following these steps:

  1. Lift the motorcycle chain near the sprockets at the level of its axis.
  2. If the chain lifts for more than half centimeter, it is advised to replace the chain with a new one.
  3. Before replacing your old motorcycle chain, take a closer look at the sprockets as well. If the teeth are pointy, blunt, or not symmetrically similar to other sprocket teeth, it is advised to replace the entire sprocket as well.
  4. If the chain only lifts slightly (few millimeters) you do not require a replacement.

Bottom Line

It doesn’t matter whether you have an Aprilia, BMW, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, KTM or Triumph. A clean and lubricated motorcycle chain allows the entire transmission system to remain in good condition.

Word of advice; a perfect cleaning method does not cause any kind of damage to the motorcycle, something that new riders should take a note of. One of the most common mistakes is unknowingly using chain cleaners instead of lubricants, or, vice versa. Be careful while using each of them.

While cleaning the motorcycle chain, the engine must always be off, firmly on the rear stand, and without any gear engaged. Furthermore, you should never use petrol to clean the chain because it can damage the O-ring.

Lastly, it is important not to soil the rear tire with lubricant, as it could become slippery and cause an accident while riding.

Happy cleaning! 🙂