Keeping your motorcycle chain clean and properly greased is tantamount to other routine maintenance; people often overlook it, however. A dirty, dry chain increases the risk of it snapping while speeding and can cause serious injury. A clean and well-greased chain, on the other hand, greatly reduces that risk and makes the chain last longer. Having to replace a chain isn’t necessarily cheap, either; chain replacements require new sprockets, too. Over time, chains file down the sprocket’s teeth. A new chain won’t match the profile of the old sprockets, so if you change the chain you’re going to have to change the sprockets, too.
The upshot of this, however, is that cleaning and greasing your chain is one of the easiest forms of maintenance and requires minimal equipment.
Tools and Equipment
- Rear wheel stand or follow my DIY motorcycle lift tutorial
- WD-40 – there’s been a lot of debate about whether to WD-40 will destroy your chain; I’ve never had a problem and for those interested check out this video
- Chain wax
- Grunge Brush or Wire Brush
- Old rags
Cleaning and Greasing
There’s no steadfast rule for how often you need to clean and grease your chain; riding environment, time of year, and other factors will affect how often your chain should be cleaned and greased. As a general rule of thumb, however, inspect your chain around every three to four hundred miles. You might be able to get away with simply greasing your chain instead of a full cleaning; but, I recommend that you at least give your chain a full cleaning every time you wash your bike.
Step 1: Warm the chain
Take your bike for a 5-10 minute ride prior to cleaning; cold chains are harder to clean because the grease is solidified and makes cleaning difficult. Alternatively, you can let the bike run in first gear after jacking it up. The rear tire should be off the floor and able to spin freely. Only use the latter method if you’re in a well-ventilated garage or outside, as the exhaust can be harmful.
Step 2: Lift the rear wheel
Set the bike on its stands so that the rear wheel spins freely.
Step 3: Coat with WD-40
With the rear tire off the ground, put the bike in first gear and start the engine. Focusing on the back sprocket, thoroughly coat the entire chain with WD-40. Take precautions to ensure you don’t spray the brake calipers or disc on the other side of the wheel. Kill the engine and let the WD-40 or chain cleaner to sit for a few minutes.
Step 4: Scrub
I personally just use a wire brush but many people swear by the Grunge Brush; regardless of which you use, the principle is the same: turn the bike back on and begin cleaning the chain. Don’t worry about actually scrubbing, that part comes next; instead, hold the brush at various angles and allow the moving chain to scrub itself. This is the most dangerous part of chain maintenance; if you’re not careful, the sprocket and chain can pull your fingers or hand into its path.Please pay attention, you don’t want to lose a finger.
Step 5: Wipe
Kill the engine and put the bike in neutral. Use the old rags to wipe off the chain and sprockets while inspecting for any damage to the chain.
Step 6: Repeat if Necessary
If your chain is still dirty you may need to repeat this process. The second time through, however, do not turn the bike on to scrub the chain; instead, spin the wheel manually and focus on the remaining grit.
Place a piece of cardboard in between the wheel and chain; this prevents wax from making its way onto the brakes and ruining them. With the engine running and rear wheel spinning, spray the inside of the chain. Spraying the outside and top of the chain will cause a lot of spray and just make a mess. Only spraying the inside prevents this and allows the wax to work its way through the chain during step 8.
Step 8: Wait
Let the wax work its way through the chain and into all the nooks and crannies. After about 20-30 minutes you should be able to ride. It is a good idea to check your chain’s tension while you wait, however.