motorcycle chain: worn rear sprocket

Updated February 2020

If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering how you can tell when a motorcycle chain is worn out. 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 your bike’s chain? 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. This is a sign that the chain is 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 of 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 difficult 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.


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