Most motorcycles rely on chains in order to put the power down to the wheels. Chains are also a part of maintenance. To prolong the life of a chain and sprocket, you need to make sure that it’s lubed well and tensioned right before you go out for a ride. Eventually, after many kilometers of travel, your chain will wear out and be in need of replacement.
However, the question remains, how long does a motorcycle chain last? It’s a straightforward question with a not-so-straightforward answer. There are a few factors to unpack and consider when taking account of a chain’s longevity, as such, we’ll run through them all and give you a general idea of how long a chain will last on your motorcycle.
What bike do you ride?
Depending on the bike you ride, you might experience different rates of wear for your chain and sprockets. For most commuter motorcycles, the chain and sprocket can last a long time when compared to bikes that are more powerful. Sportbikes, sport nakeds, and other performance bikes tend to go through sprockets and chains fairly quickly given that they are ridden regularly. A commuter bike or a small-cc motorcycle may not experience the same level of wear as a performance bike.
How do you ride?
Even if you have a lot of power in your motorcycle, riding it gently can prolong the life of your chain. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get on the throttle when you want to. The key here is to ride your bike smoothly. Do not apply sudden bursts of power. Pulling stunts like wheelies where you need to pop the clutch or add a big serving of throttle, will wear out your chain. Shocking your chain will stretch it out, but this also applies to smaller bikes as well when dumping the clutch at high engine speeds.
On top of that, you don’t want to be going flat-out all the time and accelerate hard and in a hurry. Remember, be smooth with your clutch and throttle, and your chain will thank you in the long run.
However, if you find yourself riding hard or on the track often, the stresses imparted on the chain will definitely shorten its life. As such, having replacements at the ready for your motorcycle is a must at all times if you do frequent the race track or if you like riding fast.
Where do you ride?
If you primarily ride on paved roads and don’t experience rain all that much, then your chain is in the best condition it can possibly be in. If it is well-lubed and cleaned regularly, it’s almost a certainty that your chain will have a long life ahead of it. However, if you find yourself riding in the rain almost consistently, then consistent and more regular chain maintenance is a must. This is because water and dirt tend to fling up and touch your chain, causing its pins, rollers, and o-rings to rust and deteriorate.
However, if you are an adventure rider or a dirt rider, then chains tend to wear out and deteriorate quicker because of the dirt and debris that it comes into contact with on dirt roads. This is especially apparent with water crossings. Remember, water is the number one enemy of a chain.
What kind of chain do you have?
In general, there are two types of chains, the standard or “old” style and the newer ones, which can either be an O-ring or X-seal. Most modern chains will be an O-ring style, with the X-seal typically being on the more expensive side of the spectrum. Classic-style chains are simply in their construction, but they have a shorter lifespan compared to modern-style chains.
The benefit of an O-ring or X-seal chain is that they aren’t as vulnerable to dirt and moisture. The rings/seals in these chains help keep grime away from the critical parts of the chain that link it together, thus giving the end user a longer lifespan. Even with these protective elements, however, you don’t want to skip your regular chain maintenance. Regardless of what chain you have, make sure that you’re on top of your maintenance. Treat your O-ring or X-seal chain like a traditional or standard chain, and you should see plenty of life out of either.
How often do you maintain your chain?
Typically, you need to maintain your chain every week if you use your bike regularly. Make sure that you have a chain maintenance kit at home which should include chain cleaner, a chain brush, a paddock stand, and your lubricant of choice. We recommend that you lube your chain with gear oil, but you can get specialized products that adhere to your chain better and provide a good amount of protection and lubrication. Still, however, regular maintenance is better than top-shelf products every blue moon.
Also, you want to make sure that your chain is not loose, otherwise, you run the risk of it jumping teeth on your sprocket. Make sure that you’re on top of your maintenance otherwise, you could run into some big issues like a chain snapping mid-ride.
It is imperative that you keep checking your chain before you go out on a ride. Make sure that there is no rust, frozen links, or kinked links that can cause your chain to break. These indicators often are telltale signs that your chain is on the way out and is in need of replacement.
How long does a chain last?
According to manufacturers and mechanics, in ideal conditions, a chain will last up to 30,000 to 60,000 kilometers with regular maintenance. If you ride hard, have a very powerful and torquey engine, and if you tend to neglect your maintenance, you can expect your chain to have a life of around 10,000 to 20,000 kilometers or even less, even if it is an O-ring or X-seal chain. If you are using a standard/traditional chain, expect this number to go down by more or less a third of the projected mileage of a modern chain.
However, sprockets tend to wear out faster than chains, so a good rule of thumb is to replace your chain and sprocket at the same time. Stock aluminum sprockets typically last about 10,000 to 30,000 kilometers depending on how hard and how often your ride. What also matters is how often you lube your chain. A proper lubing can prolong the life of both your chain and sprocket, so be sure to be on top of it. Remember, there are two sets of sprockets, so inspect both if you want to keep your chain drive in top condition.
On average, you can expect to replace your chain and sprocket between 20,000 to 30,000 kilometers, less if you ride fast and hard. However, if you spot any damage to your chain or sprocket, it’s better to just go and replace the prematurely-worn part right away.