How often should a Motorcycle Chain be replaced? Detail Guide

Right interval to replace motorcycle chain
Right interval to replace motorcycle chain

The motorcycle chain is the most crucial part by which the engine rotation power gets delivered to the rear wheel. And the chain is a link between both wheels that enable it to run. Thus, taking care of the motorcycle chain and replacing it at the right time intervals are important habits that a responsible rider will have. 

So, How often should a Motorcycle Chain be replaced? The motorcycle chain should be replaced every 20,000 to 30,000 miles ride or once a year. The life of the motorcycle chain can easily be prolonged if maintained well. Although, the life of the chain varies on factors like style of riding, types of chain used, etc.

Modern motorcycle chains are equipped with O-ring, X-ring seals. These seals are made to keep a lubricant sealed inside the chain, between the pin and bush, and keep dirt and grit out of the seal. That’s why modern chains last longer than normal older chain types.

Now, the above condition of the chain lasting up to 25,000 miles only means if you drive your motorcycle on highways. But if you are doing off-roading then the life of the chain may differ.

But, every motorcycle chain comes with a lifetime limit, and thus it also needs to be replaced at the right time to avoid problems while riding.

Factors on which motorcycle chain life depends

Chain wear is mostly affected because of several factors. In this post, we’ll delve into some of the important points more deeply. So, here is the most common factor on which motorcycle chain wear depends.

  • Chain type & Quality of sprockets
  • Riding Conditions and other environmental impacts
  • Riding style of the rider

Now, we will discuss each of the points in detail to provide you a better overview of the factors on which the motorcycle chain life depends. We’ll start with the “types of motorcycle chain“. Because the types of motorcycle chains, you purchase gives the chain a certain life. So, let’s start.

Type of Motorcycle Chain your motorcycle have

Motorcycle chains come into three major types. These include standard rolling chains (non-sealed), O-ring, X-ring. The modern O-ring and X-ring chains are designed to keep away the dirt, residue away from the rollers and pins to help the lubricant last longer inside the chain. Let’s take a look at each type of motorcycle chain.

Standard roller chain (Non-sealed chain)

The standard roller chain is the most basic type of chain. These types of chains are mostly found in smaller capacity and cheap motorcycles. These chains are not only used in motorcycles but are also used in bicycles since their discovery. This is the cheapest chain among the other types of motorcycle chains. 

A standard roller chain has less weight than the other two motorcycle chains o-ring and x-ring. The standard motorcycle chain requires more frequent cleaning and lubrication to prolong its life. Otherwise, the non-sealed motorcycle chains are more prone to get damaged easily by environmental impacts of elements like dirt, debris, water, etc.

Standard non-sealed chains are Lightweight It requires regular and periodical maintenance
It is less expensive than the sealed chain typesNon-sealed motorcycle chains have less life thus wear out faster
Pros and cons of standard non-sealed chain

O-ring and X-ring chain

These types of chains have a longer life because these chains are self-lubricated. There is less accumulation of dust, debris and it also enhances the sprockets’ life. X-ring sealed chain lasts two times longer than the standard non-O-ring motorcycle chain.

An O-ring chain contains rubber-shaped O-rings that are placed between the inner and the outer links. It is a self-lubricating chain that usually looks robust than the standard motorcycle chain type. It contains the factory grease inside the chain that helps it to remain lubricated from this inside without using any market grease or lubrication. The self-lubricating properties of the O-rings chain provide longevity, preventing premature wear and durability.

The X-ring is a seal used in motorcycle chains but has an X-shaped cross-section rather than circular. The X-ring holds the lube in place better than the O-ring chains. X-ring chains distort less than a standard O-ring chain and last twice as long as the O-ring chain. The life of these types of sealed chains is better which makes it expensive too.

These sealed chains are mostly used in off-roading bikes because they last longer and get less dirty. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of a sealed motorcycle chain.

Sealed chains require less maintenanceLittle heavy than standard non-sealed motorcycle chain
These motorcycle chains have a longer lifeThese sealed chains are more expensive
It’s doesn’t require regular and frequent maintenanceIt has some power loss because of little weight than non-sealed chain
Pros and Cons of sealed chain

Note: You should clean the sealed (O and X rings) chain gently. Never pressure wash to clean these chain, it may result in breaking the factory lubrication and letting it out. 


Riding style and environmental conditions

Dirtbike riding in sand
Dirtbike riding in sand

The chain types do affect the life of the chain and the smoothness of the ride. But, the life of a motorcycle chain also depends on your riding style. If you frequently ride in rough conditions, like doing off-roading, riding in mud or sand, then it will affect the motorcycle chain. 

Also, for off-road riders, the motorcycle chain will get more attracted to dust, water, debris, and other environmental elements. Thus, to keep your motorcycle chain clean and prolong its life, you must lubricate your chain often.

Also, doing extensive riding, long drives, riding at constant speed can lead to wear and tear of chain more quickly. If you didn’t take care of your chain properly while doing extensive riding then the early wear will happen.

And, you should upgrade your motorcycle with high-performance chains and sprockets set. It will help you in your extensive rides and get less prone to wear and tear.

Do I need to lubricate the self-lubricated O-ring and X-ring chains?

O-ring and X-ring are self-lubricated motorcycle chain which contains factory grease inside it. Thus, there is a misconception among people is that O-ring and X-ring don’t need lubrication. Therefore, many people are confused about whether to lube the chain or not. So, here is my answer.

Is lubrication needed for modern sealed motorcycle chains? Cleaning & lubricating O-ring and X-ring is as important as lubricating any non-sealed (standard rolling) chains. If you don’t lubricate these chains then it will become dry and crack, resulting in letting the factory grease escape. So, you must clean and lubricate O-ring and X-ring chains to prolong its life. 

Apart from it, these chains are self-lubricated from the inside which helps a lot in smooth riding. But your motorcycle chain will come in contact with sand, debris, dirt, water, etc which can result in rust, water, and tear of the chain from outside. And, ultimately letting the factory grease escape.

That’s why you have to take proper care of these chains also, in order to get a smooth ride and prolonged life.

If you want a smoother ride then the chain should be properly clean and lubed. And, If the chain is rusted and full of dirt, debris, then the riding experience will get compromised.

Although, you can cut the chase and lube if on every 2,500 miles and if you do off-roading then do it periodically for a smoother ride.

4 Signs that your motorcycle chain needs replacement

The pre-ride inspection of your motorcycle will help you to know the condition of your chain. Although, it goes if you pre-check your motorcycle and lube it when needed then your chain life will be prolonged. But, here are certain indications by which you will know that your motorcycle chain needs replacing.

Irritating Noise

Properly taken care of chains make little or no noise during the ride and give a smooth ride. But, if you don’t maintain your motorcycle chain then the first sign is that you will hear rattling or squeaking noises during the ride.

If your motorcycle chain has started to make irritating noises then first lube it and see if the noise goes low. But, if this doesn’t help then it’s a clear sign that your motorcycle chain needs replacement.

Apart from this, in most cases chain starts to make noises when it got rust. So, in this case, you must inspect your sprockets too because there is a high chance of sprockets getting damaged due to the rusty motorcycle chain.

Corrosion on motorcycle chain

Rusty motorcycle chain
Rusty motorcycle chain

As time goes and if you don’t maintain the chain properly then your motorcycle chain gets more available to environmental effects. This results in rusting of the motorcycle chain.

And rusted motorcycle chain is a clear sign for replacing your motorcycle chain. Even though you can make the chain available for a longer period by cleaning and lubing it. But, even this will not prevent you from replacing your chain. Although, if you have maintained your motorcycle chain in the first place then it can be prevented.

Motorcycle chains are more prone to rust in wet areas or rainy seasons thus you have to take special care in the rainy season. 

Stuck Links And Kinks

Kinks and stuck links are the indications that the seals could not be able to keep dirt and dust out of the pins. Stuck links weaken the chain protection from residues, dirt making it prone to get wear early. If you early found that your one or two links are stuck then you can try cleaning and lubricating and check whether it works.

If it works and you stuck links got free then you can be saved from replacing your chain and sprockets for that moment. But, even after lubing and cleaning the kinks don’t get free then it is time to replace your motorcycle chain.

Stretching & loosening

Loose motorcycle chain
Loose motorcycle chain

Motorcycles come with speed transmission gear. Each time we shift gear there is a jerk, the jerk over time tugs the motorcycle chain and stretches it. So, over time your motorcycle chain gets loose or stretched because of this. You can try tightening or adjusting the chain and even if it doesn’t solve your problem. Then, it’s a clear indication that it is time for the replacement of your motorcycle chain. 

Apart from this if your chain is easily able to touch the tires of the motorcycle then it is a clear indication of a wear-out chain. It should be replaced.

If you lubricate your motorcycle chain properly then the life of the motorcycle chain gets extended and there will be less wear & tear.

How to prolong the life of a motorcycle chain?

As you buy a motorcycle chain, you know that it will wear & tear in the upcoming time as you ride your motorcycle. But, one thing that is in our hands is by taking proper care of the chain we can prolong the life of the chain.

It is a very easy thing to prolong the motorcycle chain life. If you just clean and lube your motorcycle chain in the right time interval or based on your ride.

However, one thing that we must consider that if your motorcycle is an o-ring or x-ring chain. Then, it has already a longer lifespan than a standard roller chain. 

As we have already discussed that these types of motorcycle chains come with self-lubrication inside the roller. Thus, these are self-lubricated from the company itself and these chains go into less wear and tear.

But one thing you should be aware of is that from the outside these chains do comes in contact with dirt, debris, water, etc. That’s why cleaning and lubing the motorcycle chain will help it to get prolonged life and maintain the grease inside of it.

So, here are some tips to prolong the life of motorcycle chains.

Tip #1: If your motorcycle comes with a standard rolling chain then make sure to clean and lube it periodically or every 500 miles.

Tip#2: If your motorcycle comes with an O-ring motorcycle chain then you must clean and lube it every 2500 miles.

Tip#3: Check your motorcycle chain every week and if you think it needs some cleaning then just do it.

Tip#4: Must check your chain cleaner before applying it to the chain. Because cleaning the sealed chain (O-ring and X-ring) can damage the seals. 

Tip#5: The motorcycle chain cleaning or lubing time interval must depend on the type of riding you do. If you ride off-road with a dirt bike, trailer, etc then you must clean and lube your chain every week, if required.

Tip#6: Make sure that the chain is adjusted properly, not too loose, and not too tight. You should check your owner’s manual for the recommended amount of chain slack.

How long do a motorcycle chain and sprocket last?

The life of a motorcycle chain and sprocket depends on your riding style and how well you maintain these components. If you clean & lube your motorcycle chain in the right interval of time then your chain and sprockets can last up to 25,000 miles or a year easily. 

But, if you don’t give proper care to these components then like any other components the chain and sprockets will get deteriorated easily.

Taking proper care of motorcycle chains not only increases the life of the chain but also its sprockets. Eventually, if you don’t maintain your chain properly then your sprocket’s life will also be short. There are several reasons for this.

Like, if you don’t clean and lube your motorcycle chain then it will become rusty and gather dust. As a result, riding with the rusty chain will cause wear and tear to the sprockets parts also.

Do you need to change sprockets with the chain?

Changing sprockets every time you change the motorcycle chain is not a must. But you must inspect the sprocket and see if there is any wear on both the sprockets. If there are signs of wear and tear on the sprocket then it’s better to change the sprockets too with the chain.

If you replace the chains on the defective sprockets it will not do any benefits of changing the chain. Because subsequently, your motorcycle chain will wear early with the defective sprocket in some time. So, it’s better to change the sprockets too even if you see a little wear on them.

The key factor for the life of sprockets and chains depends on how well you maintain both. And, I think you don’t need to maintain the sprockets if you just clean and lube your motorcycle chain properly in the right interval. Then it’s more than enough for chains and sprockets to have a prolonged life.

So, if you are to replace your motorcycle chain with keeping the old worn-out sprockets. Then you will notice that your new chain will also get prematurely worn out even if you cleaned and lube your motorcycle properly. Likewise, if you just replace your sprockets keeping the old chain, even this doesn’t gonna work and provide any benefit.

If you are looking to prolong the life of the motorcycle chain and sprocket then always change both the components.

How to check for wear & tear in sprockets?

Here are some symptoms for wear and tear of motorcycle sprockets:-

Worn sprocket
Worn sprocket
  1. Check the sprocket teeth by touching on it. If the sprocket teeth have become pointed then it’s a clear sign that sprockets have been worn because of the constant metal to metal friction between chain and sprocket.
Uneven teeth worn sprocket
Uneven teeth worn sprocket
  1. If some of your sprocket teeth are broken off! Then it’s the sign of worn sprockets.
  2. If your sprockets have become curvy in a particular direction rather than being straight. It’s the symptom of worn-out chains.
Less worn sprockets
Less worn sprockets (But it should be changed)

Note: Aluminum sprockets wear out much faster than the steel sprocket.

Now, if we talk about a good usable sprocket. Here are some things to check.

Brand new set of sprockets
A brand new set of sprockets
  • All the teeth of the sprockets will be evenly shaped and straight.
  • A perfect sprocket will have a flat even spot at the top.
  • A good sprocket will have an equal distance between each tooth.
  • A perfect sprocket will not have broken and unevenly shaped teeth

So, these are the signs of a perfect conditioned motorcycle sprocket or say a new one. 

How to replace motorcycle chains and sprockets?

Replacing motorcycle chains and sprockets is not that hard and hideous thing to do. If you have the necessary tools and equipment with you then it is a fairly easy task to replace your motorcycle chains and sprockets by yourself.

Just follow the procedure step by step and I have also included a Youtube video that will help you to understand better.

List of tools that you will need to replace chains and sprockets:-

  • Paddock stand or center stand to put the motorcycle on the stand
  • Tools to remove the rear wheel
  • Tools to remove sprockets
  • Chain tool to break the old links and rivet the new master links (Motion pro PVR tool)

After you have all the necessary tool, here are the basic order of operation to remove motorcycle chain and sprockets:-

  • First, loosen the front sprocket
  • Using the chain breaker tool remove the old chain
  • Replace both the sprockets 
  • Install the new chain in the motorcycle
  • Lube the chain (not a necessary step, but it can enhance the smoothness) while riding.

Now, as we have discussed the fundamental order of operation. Let’s get into the details of it.

  • Put the motorcycle on the stand either using the paddock stand or use the center stand (If your motorcycle has). Now, it’ll be easy to remove the rear wheel and sprockets and install chains when the motorcycle is on the stand.
  • It’s time to remove the front sprocket. Thus, unscrew the rear sprocket with proper care by using the impact wrench or breaker bar.
  • First, break the chain master link using the chain breaker tool. The pins will easily get removed and you can take out the chain.
  • It’s time to remove the rear wheel of the motorcycle. Remove it using the tooth gear of the right size, just unscrew the rear wheel nut.
  • Take proper care while laying down the rear wheel on the ground, it should be placed on the wood or metal to keep the brake disk off from the ground. So, be careful with taking the rear wheel and the disk brake.

  • Now, it’s time to unscrew the sprockets from the rear wheel.
  • As you unscrew the old sprockets, make sure to clean the screw /nuts also, as these got rusted overtime.
  • Put the new sprocket on the rear wheel and tighten the nuts using a breaker bar of appropriate size.
  • As your new sprocket got installed on the rear wheel. Now it’s time to reinstall the rear wheel on your motorcycle. But don’t tighten the axle now, keep it somewhat loose because we will need to adjust the chain tension after.
  • Now, it’s time to install a new chain. If you have bought a chain for your motorcycle model then it will easily fit your motorcycle. But, somehow if your chain comes with some extra links then you can cut the links as we did earlier with the old chain.
  • Now open up the master link (you got with your chain) on a clean surface. Apply the grease on the pins of the link before connecting it to the chain.
  • It’s time to rivet the master tool using the chain tool. You must use a chain tool to rivet the master link because it is the safest option

Finally, you have installed a new chain and connected it with the master link. The last thing you have to do is adjust the chain tension according to your manual by tightening down the axel. And you are done!!!

Here is a reference youtube video to help you out changing your motorcycle chain and sprockets by MotorcyclistMagazine.

What are the dangers of riding motorcycles with worn-out chains?

You should never ride motorcycles with worn-out motorcycle chains. Riding with worn-out or damaged motorcycle chains can be a dangerous and daunting experience that can lead to some serious damage to you and your motorcycle. Here I am listing some of the events that can happen with you too if you ride with worn-out chains.

  • Now, imagine you are riding in full throttle and cornering, and suddenly your chain brakes and get tangled in the rear wheel. It can be frightening as well as dangerous, isn’t it? It can possibly damage your legs or get into some accidents.
  • There is another scenario, where you are riding at normal commuting speed, and if your chain breaks. You will lose the power and have to pull over your motorcycle.

It simply is not a good thing to ride with a worn motorcycle chain. You can’t even predict what fatal issue can it cause to you and your motorcycle. From my perspective, any wise rider will always precheck the motorcycle chain before getting into riding. 

Wrapping up

In this post, I have tried to cover most of the aspects that a reader requires to get in-depth knowledge regarding chains and sprockets. But, your chain life can’t be increased if you didn’t put these into your regular life. 

Thus, keep in mind the proper maintenance of a motorcycle is only the key option to get a smooth ride.

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