Experienced motorcyclists develop an eye for the condition of their chain over time. You may see them casually check its tension with the flick of a finger or the toe of their boot. Regardless of the subtlety of their attentions, they are assessing the condition of their motorcycle. If you ever have any questions about the condition of your chain – aside from its slack – all you really need to do is spend a quick 10 seconds looking at it.

Has grease or crud built up on it? You need to clean and lubricate it. Visible rust? Clean and lube also. Suppose you’ve noticed that you need to tighten the chain’s slack a little more frequently than you used to. It my be approaching the end of its useful life. Other signs are worn spots on the insides of the plates which usually signal that the chain is out of alignment. Look for matching worn spots on the sides of the sprockets’ teeth.

chain wear check

You want your chain to look like this. No daylight between the sprocket’s teeth and the chain.

The quickest way to check the status of your drive chain is to get on your hands and knees and look at it. Inspect the sprocket’s teeth. They should not be arched on one side, like a cresting wave. If it is, you need to replace the sprocket, and your chain is probably toast, too. At the far back end on the rear sprocket, pull the chain away from the teeth parallel to the ground. A new chain will barely move. If you can pull it back to expose half a tooth or more, you need to replace the chain. You can perform this task just by spending a couple extra seconds by the rear wheel when you’re checking its tire pressure before a ride. You do check, don’t you?

Take the time. A motorcycle chain has a challenging enough job dealing with any ham-fisted throttle inputs or botched downshifts you make – and that’s before we consider other shenanigans, like wheelies or burnouts. Take care of your bike, and it will take care of you.

  • Starmag

    The pic at the top is someone being possibly a tad too “economy minded”. Stretching your dollar and chain is all fun and games until you have a gaping hole in your cases.

  • azi

    Another way to check with less fudge factor: put the bike into gear, then push/pull until the lower part of the chain is under moderate tension. Measure the distance between 16 link pins. It’s worn if this measurement is more than 10.1 inches on a standard 520/525/530 o-ring chain.

    • Ian Parkes

      My inch ruler doesn’t have tenths of an inch on it. (Mine’s all decimal). So on an imperial ruler that’s more than a sixteenth and less than an eighth, so that’s thirty-tooths. Say 10 inches and three thirty-seconds, roughly. Now convert that to millimetres. Umm. Hang on, what’s my chain number? Sod it. Think I’ll stick with the toe test – just the right amount of fudge.

  • Ozzy Mick

    Not too difficult when you know what to do, Evans. I thought you’d take on a lighter approach like 1. When the bike won’t change gear and cruises to a stop (after the chain’s fallen off), 2. When you hear an almighty bang as the chain breaks and smashes some casing, etc. Kinda like a “weather report rock” hanging in the centre (center, if you insist!) of one of our country towns: If it’s dry – it’s fine, if it’s wet – it’s raining, covered in white – it’s snowing, swaying – it’s windy, rocking – there’s an earthquake!

    • terry bigler

      if there is a tornado it’s gone