Tech Tuesday: Chains

NEWS November 29, 2011


Tech Tuesday: Chains

Photo by Brian J. Nelson


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In this week’s edition of Tech Tuesday, we'll cover the basics of motorcycle chains in simple detail.

Chain sizes: What do they mean?

If you're a track day rider, you have probably read online or heard other riders talk about 520, 525, 530 and 630 chain sizes. Here’s what you need to know to understand the significance of the number. Take the 530 size chain as an example: The number 5 is the pitch, or distance from one pin to another pin on your chain, and the number 30 is the width of the roller section in eighth’s of an inch. So a 530 size chain is 3/8" wide, whereas a 520 size chain is 1/4" wide.

Motorcycle manufacturers primarily produce streetbikes with 630 and 530 size chains. The reason that OEMs have their motorcycles sitting on showroom floors with these two chain sizes is durability. Heavy duty chains better hold up to wear and tear and, with proper maintenance, will last a lot longer.

Chains come in various sizes to provide specific benefits for different applications. For a daily rider, or a motorcycle rider that rides a powerful motorcycle, larger chains provide a higher level of resistance to wear. For racing applications, riders tend to select 520 or 525 chains for a few reasons, including weight savings, gearing selection and wheelbase distance.

We'll cover the last two items in another edition of Tech Tuesday and will focus on the weight savings provided by a lighter chain.  Lighter chains reduce your motorcycle’s rotating mass. What that means is that you have less weight rotating on your motorcycle which increases the transfer of power to the rear wheel.

Please keep in mind: smaller chain sizes provide increased performance, but reduced longevity. For a budget-minded rider, you could buy a 530 size chain with colored sideplates and still get the mileage you want out of it.

Next up is chain maintenance. It's very important to care for your chain and to check it at recommended service intervals, as improper chain adjustment or poor maintenance could lead to catastrophic failure of your motorcycle. Remember these useful tips:

  • One method for checking chain wear is to pull the chain away from the sprocket by hand. If you can see daylight between the chain and the sprocket, it may be time to replace your chain and/or sprocket.
  • Set your chain slack when the chain is cold, because chains will stretch when they heat up. If you set your sag with a hot chain, you could unknowingly over-tighten your chain, causing excessive wear on your chain, sprocket or countershaft bearings. Many countershaft bearings failures are due to over-tightened chains. Always follow the chain manufacturer's recommendation for chain slack.
  • Lube your chain when it’s hot.  Chains take lubrication much better when they’re warm compared to when they’re cold.  Always check with your chain manufacturer for recommendations on chain lubrication.
  • Though most chains on motorcycles today have internal lubrication thanks to o-rings or x-rings, it’s still beneficial for you to clean and re-lubricate your chain regularly to get the most life out of it.  Always check with your local dealer or chain manufacturer on the recommended procedures for cleaning and lubricating your chain.

We want to shed a few words on sprockets since they interact with chains. Depending on what your intentions are, you can either lighten up your rotating drive mass by purchasing an aluminum sprocket, or get better longevity with a steel sprocket. Sprocket sizes vary with your chain size in both pitch (distance between pins) and width. A 520 chain requires a sprocket fit for that specific size. Generally speaking, putting a 520 chain on a 530 sprocket will not work. Many dealers sell kits that include the proper length chain and the proper toothed sprocket in a set.

When making a selection on what chain to have on your pride and joy, keep quality in mind over hunting for a bargain price. You can find lots of cheap chains and sprockets online from companies you've never heard of, but remember that quality manufacturers will stand behind their products.

The following companies are proud contingency partners of AMA Pro Road Racing in the chain and sprocket category: D.I.D., Kayo, RK Excel, Renthal, Sato and Vortex.
 


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