Dear MOby,

How long do MotoGP drive chains last, do they have ‘O’ rings, (probably not?) and what do they use for lube?

Chris Backhouse
Kelowna, BC, Canada

Good question. We shot this one off to Neil Spalding, motorcycle racing journalist extraordinaire and author of the excellent MotoGP Technology (2nd Edition, 2010).

“Rossi,” Spalding responds, “is usually on DID’s finest ERV3 in 520 size. Maximum mileage is about 500 km. The only real difference in the final drive is that titanium sprockets are used, since launch control beats the crap out of aluminium (sic) ones.”

520- and 525-sized chains are generally found on 600cc sportbikes and middleweights, with a ⅝-inch “pitch” (distance from pin to pin) and an inner width of ¼- or 5/16-inch respectively. The 530 size usually found on 1000cc streetbikes uses the same ⅝ pitch, but with an inner width of ⅜ in.


DID claims an 8,660-pound tensile strength for the 520 ERV, a weight of 3.3 pounds per 100 links, and it also claims its X-ring design greatly reduces friction compared to an O-ring chain. The “No-ring” days, when people were looking for every ½-hp on their RS125s, seems to be just about over. Some things, like drive chains, may be too highly evolved for even the big factory teams to improve upon. At around $140 on Amazon, the ERV might be the most affordable component on a MotoGP bike. As for lube, the sealed X-ring design isn’t going to need anything, especially if it’s being replaced every 300 miles. But we have seen those guys spray WD-40 on entire bikes before packing them up in their crates.

Actual titanium sprockets, on the other hand, seem to be much more difficult to source. Titanium is heavier than aluminum, harder to machine and more expensive. The factories must think it’s worth the added expense, though, when it’s time to activate launch control and send all 220-plus horsepower to the rear tire ASAP. Spalding speculates those Ti sprockets are made in-house.

The third edition of Neil Spalding’s MotoGP Technology should be out in mid-2017!

PS: In reference to last Monday’s AskMOAnything, dealing with MotoGP clutches, here’s a quick video of the fastest way to disassemble one. Thanks for sharing, Evans Brasfield.

As always, direct your motorcycle-related questions to, though some say we’re better at non-motorcycle-related ones…

  • Donnie

    I would assume that to hob titanium sprockets it would take carbide hobs. A carbide hob would probably cost in the $4-5 K range. Tool life in Ti is measured in minutes instead of hours. There must be a very strong reason for Ti sprockets.

    • not-a-fanboi-honest

      Maybe they plasma or water etc. cut them from a sheet?

      • Donnie

        I was probably overthinking the process. I just know that we always hob our sprockets to get the proper involute. It is hard to get the correct involute with a endmill. Sandvik and other tool companies have been working on the technology for quite a while and still haven’t gotten it completely right, yet . The waterjet idea isn’t bad other than the finish isn’t great and the cut isn’t really that straight, maybe with a 5 axis?

    • mooner

      Titanium sprockets could easily be cut with standard off the shelf High Performance carbide endmills. No need for a custom made hob. Titanium is not nearly as hard to machine as the general public makes it out to be. Cuts like butter compared to other high temp alloys.

      • ColoradoS14

        I could see them doing a wire edm process as well.

  • JMDonald

    Titanium. Some people don’t even know what that is. Just like manganese.

    • Branson

      Similar to the concept of chinch bugs. You know this of course.

    • kenneth_moore

      Are manganese geese made of magnesium?

  • kenneth_moore

    I think MotoGP takes high tech too far sometimes. Why not make the sprockets out of steel? The weight difference between a Ti sprocket and a steel one couldn’t amount to more than a nit’s eyelash.

    • john burns

      why not race stock PW50s?

      • kenneth_moore

        Are suggesting that any technology, no matter how expensive, no matter how minor the benefit, should be used? Seems they’ve been down that road and wound up with stuff like spec ECUs because it was unsustainable.

        • TechGuy5489

          It’s prototype racing. It’s supposed to be the cutting edge of motorcycle technology.

          As for the reference to software teams were spending WAY more on electronics (and the people that look after them) than they spend on hard parts for the bikes so a spec ECU makes for considerable cost savings. Making parts out of “normal” materials instead of unobtanium saves money but we’re not knocking huge amounts off a team’s annual expenses that way.

    • ColoradoS14

      Ti is half the weight and 30% stronger than steel. So if you take a steel sprocket that weighs 2lbs and then to get the same strength from the Ti sprocket you can use 30% less material and that material weighs 50% as much you now can run a 0.7lb sprocket with the same strength. Now you have saved 1.3lbs of unsprung rotational weight off a bike where thousands of a second can make the difference. Given the mostly unlimited budgets these teams have it sounds like a no brainer to me…

  • john phyyt

    Do old chains get put in a dumpster?. I would pay twice new price for an ex-alien race worn chain. I would be so much faster with a Lorenzo drive chain .

    • Marc Jorgensen

      Unless it rains, then you can throw it in the dumpster

  • Walter

    I wonder if they lube with WD40?