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How to Clean and Lubricate a Motorcycle Chain

January 17, 2024 Comments Comment

Motorcycle upkeep is crucial for extending the life of your bike—and maximizing its performance in the meantime. Regularly cleaning and lubing your motorcycle’s chain is one of those essential motorcycle maintenance tasks that you simply can’t afford to overlook. Luckily, with the right guidance, it doesn’t have to be a task that takes up a lot of your time.

Use this guide to cleaning and lubricating motorcycle chains to perfect your maintenance routine, protect your investment, and help improve your bike’s performance out on the road.  

AVOID HARMFUL MOTORCYCLE CHAIN CLEANING PRODUCTS

Inspecting, cleaning, and lubricating your motorcycle chain can be a pretty quick task once you come to understand the process. To speed things up and make it easier to apply cleaner and lube, use a center stand or service lift that allows your rear wheel to spin freely. 

You can't just use any old product on your drive chain. It's important to use the right techniques and products for cleaning and lubricating the chain. To avoid damage to your chain’s rings, do not use the following:

  • Steam cleaners
  • High-pressure cleaners
  • Wire or hard bristle brushes
  • Volatile solvents like gasoline or benzene
  • Abrasive cleaners
  • Chain cleaners or lubricants not specifically designed for your type of chain rings.

See your motorcycle's owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendations on chain cleaners and lubricants.  

How to Clean a Motorcycle Chain

To clean your chain, follow these steps:

  1. Spray the chain liberally with your cleaner, soaking the entire chain.
  2. Scrub the chain on all sides with a motorcycle chain brush to remove all the gunk and grime from the links and seals. The better you’re able to clean the chain, the more effective your chain will be.
  3. Dry the chain with a dry cloth, taking care to fully remove all chain cleaner before moving on.

How to Lubricate a Motorcycle Chain

Once your chain is clean and dry, you can lube your chain. To do so, simply:

  1. Apply chain lube evenly to all sides of your chain and sprocket by turning the wheel as you add lube.
  2. Let the lube set for at least 15-20 minutes, or as otherwise indicated by lubricant instructions.
  3. Take your motorcycle for a short ride to help the lubricant spread around the chain.

Note: If you have a sealed chain, your lubricant will primarily help keep the outer portions of the chain from rusting. However, if your bike uses a plain chain, you should use significantly more lube. Without O-rings helping to lubricate the plain chain, it’s important to ensure that the chain is fully and continually coated with lube. See below for more on the types of motorcycle chains.


Motorcycle Chain FAQs

The actual process of applying cleaner and lube to your chain is quite simple. However, like anything to do with motorcycle maintenance, even the simplest matter can raise a number of more complex questions. Learn more about motorcycle drive chains with these answers to common questions.

What are the different types of chains? Does this affect how I clean and lube my motorcycle’s chain?

There are two types of motorcycle chains: plain (or unsealed) chains and sealed chains.

Plain or unsealed chains are commonly found on vintage bikes. These chains are made of metal-on-metal links. Because there are no seals to be disturbed, you can clean plain chains a bit more aggressively. However, with no seals to retail lubricant, it will be up to you to apply lubricant regularly to reduce friction and wear.

Sealed chains are constructed with rubber seals between their plates and links which lock in lubricant and grease and keep dirt, grime, and water out. Introduced in the 1970s, sealed chains were quite an innovation, greatly reducing the need for lubrication and extending the life of chains. You might also see these chains referred to as O-ring, X-ring, or Z-ring chains depending on the particular design. No matter which design a sealed chain uses, if you’re cleaning it, you need to approach it more gently than a plain chain, taking care not to disturb or damage the seals .


My chain has slack in it. How much is too much slack?

When you inspect your drive chain, in addition to individual links on the chain, you should also be looking at how much slack is in the chain.

Having only the right amount of slack in your motorcycle chain is vitally important. A chain that’s too tight can increase the amount of wear and tear placed on your chain and sprockets. A chain that’s too loose may not only cause premature wear but can cause excessive noise or, even worse, jump off the sprocket and jam up.

That’s why checking the slack, or measuring deflection, on your chain is crucial. To do so during a chain inspection, follow these steps:

  1. Place your transmission in neutral.
  2. On the lower section of your chain, find the center point between your transmission sprocket and rear wheel sprocket or where your owner’s manual recommends.
  3. Rotate the wheel to find the tightest point of the chain at that center point.
  4. Push the chain up and then pull it down. Measure this deflection distance.
  5. Repeat this measurement process several times as you fully rotate the wheel.
  6. Use the average of all your measurements to determine your drive chain deflection.
  7. Compare your deflection with the specifications provided within your owner’s manual. If your deflection falls outside of recommended specs, take it into to your local dealer for a professional inspection.


How often should you clean and lube your motorcycle chain?

Maintaining your motorcycle chain is an essential part of keeping your bike road-ready and in tip-top shape. To extend the life of your chain—and your motorcycle—it’s typically recommended that you clean and lubricate your chain at least every 500 miles. In between those periods, though, you should inspect, clean, and lubricate your chain after rides in wet conditions, as well as whenever your chain simply looks dry. Check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations.

Visit an authorized Harley-Davidson® dealer to shop for Harley-Davidson® motorcycle chain cleaning and lubricating products,  request assitance or to schedule a service appointment. 

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