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What You Should Know About Motorcycle Chains

(Image Source: Flickr)

Knowing about motorcycle chains is an important part of owning your own motorcycle. The good news is that a few basics are really all that is required to make you an expert. The great majority of both dirt and street bikes make use of a roller chain, which was invented in 1879 by Hans Renold. That the chain has remained essentially the same for well over a century is a testament to its design and practicality.

Motorcycle chains and sizing

There are three ways in which motorcycle chains are sized – roller diameter, pitch and the amount of width in between each link’s inner plates. The idea of rollers is to reduce friction and thus also reduce the amount of wear. Because chain rollers are able to move freely they produce less friction than is the case with something that is more rigid when being spun at speed around sprocket teeth. The size of the sprocket teeth can impact on roller diameter. The term pitch simply refers to the distance that lies between the heart of two pins, with pitch measurement being based upon eighths of an inch. The inside width needs to be wide enough to be able to fit around sprocket teeth.

Required knowledge

In the event that you need another stock chain to replace your current chain, you would ordinarily need to count the number of links that are featured on your old chain and then simply ensure that the replacement you order has the same amount. If in doubt, go for a longer chain as taking out a couple of the links is a simple enough task. There are other forms of measuring criteria for chains, but the reality is you do not really need to know about them as those sums have already been performed on your behalf. Those who ride street or dirt bikes will find the numbers ranging from 415 to 630. The first number is a reference to the pitch, with the second and third referring to the inside width.

How to connect links

In order to install a new chain, the two ends need to be joined together after the chain has been wrapped around the back and front sprockets. There are primarily two forms of connecting links – rivet and clip. Rivet style links are perfect for bikes that are fast and powerful as they are very strong and durable. A chain rivet tool flattens each pin’s heads within the connecting link so that they are unable to slide out. The connecting link is then unable to be removed without causing the chain to break and resembles every other link. Clip style links are better suited to smaller displacement engines and dirt bikes. The master link is able to work just by having a small plate clipped over the pins, which can be disconnected by removing the clip and having the pins pushed back again through the link.


Finally, two sprockets drive motorcycle chains – a big one at the rear and a smaller one at the front. The size of the sprockets and the chain should always be matched correctly.