Learning how to clean a motorcycle chain is pretty much mandatory if you want to be a motorcycle owner as even if you’re willing to spend a lot of money on frequent check-ups, the time may still come when you find yourself in need of a quick maintenance.
As we all know, motorcycle chains get dirty and when we say dirty we mean grease-all-over-your-clothes-throw-them-away dirty. Whether you’re riding over a smooth track or carving a new trail through uncharted woods, your chain seems blissfully happy to just pick up debris and grime.
While occasionally wiping it down with your trustworthy cleaner-moistened rag may work well enough in terms of some overall maintenance, every oil change should bring about a true deep cleaning, in the same way your dog gets a bath every time you make a barbershop appointment for the furry creature.
It is for this reason we have developed a guide that will walk you through the entire process and should be easy enough to follow even if you are a newbie in terms of this. Since a good cleaning can extend the life of your chain and sprockets, reading on now should pay dividends further down the road.
Why Is Chain Cleaning Important?
If you crunch the numbers, an average middleweight motorcycle puts about the same amount of power to its rear wheel as a small car, and compared to the car, it all goes through that very important link called the drive chain. If you don’t take care of it properly and you take it for granted, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out how the chain and the sprockets will end up.
Ignore your chain and your best bet is it’ll wear out three to four times faster than it should if you give it a little bit of your time and attention. Not only that, but your bike’s overall performance will also suffer so there really isn’t any excuse when it comes to properly cleaning your bike chain and knowing how to do some maintenance every once in a while.
Old dogs certainly know all about cleaning their bikes but newer riders may love theirs so much that they may be tempted to overdo it just a bit in certain directions and this is not something anyone wants to see. Washing any part of a motorcycle is not the simple task that it seems to be at first, especially since it can inflict quite a bit of damage to the vehicle.
Also, if your current routine is all about letting a blast of pressured water go while the rest of the bike is also getting cleaned, and then quickly squirting some lube on top if it looks dry or rusty, then we strongly advise you to read the following and pray to the gods above and below to forgive you.
Before we get into the actual technicalities, it’s important to have everything prepared right from the get-go. Cleaning your bike and your chain is not rocket science but being ready to do something always beats not being ready, right? Getting what you need is not going to cost you a fortune either and keep in mind you are likely to use them more than once anyway.
Inspect Your Drivetrain
When you go jogging, you check to see if your sneakers are okay. When you go to the gym, you check your gym gloves and gear to ensure they’re in working condition, right? In the same way, the process of cleaning your motorcycle chain should always start with inspecting it and the sprockets for wear signs.
If the oily thing is sporting some kinks that weren’t there, damage to the rollers, plates, or is simply very rusty, it may be time to think about changing it. Also, if the teeth of your sprocket look sharp and seem to curve to one side, the same replacement is probably in order so you can keep riding safely.
Something you do not ever want to do is replacing your chain and your sprockets separately. This is a big no-no as they always need to come and go as a unit to ensure your old sprockets are not going to town on the new chain and vice versa.
Put Your Bike on a Stand
You should never just walk out of the house, get in the garage, and start cleaning. Rather, you want to go through this process right after a ride when the chain is all warm, toasty, and ready to get sparkly. In all seriousness, doing it this way will help loosen up the gunk and grime that adhere to it like…dirt on a motorcycle chain.
Make sure to have the bike parked on its center stand or on a rear stand that’s found near a hose and throw that baby into neutral. If you’re about to ask why the neutral, keep reading and wondering how we knew exactly what you were thinking about.
Here Comes the Chain Cleaner
Now this is where the fun part truly begins! Get a piece of cardboard that’s wide enough to exceed the width of your chain and place it beneath its lower rung. We do this in order to protect your wheel and tire from potentially over spraying and causing unwanted effects. Once this is done, feel free to liberally apply an O-ring-safe chain cleaner and let it go to work.
Don’t just spray it in one place though! Keep on rotating the wheel until the entire chain and the sprockets are dripping degreaser all over the cardboard. After that, you need to give the substance about five minutes to soak into and loosen up the dirt and grime in order for your trusty chain cleaning tool to cause enough damage and get the pieces clean.
Scrub the Pieces Clean
Feel free to go old school here and use an old toothbrush or embrace all the rage and get a motorcycle-specific chain cleaning brush. Regardless of how you choose to pursue this step, it’s important that you get some sort of object you can clean your chain with. Once you give it a thorough scrubbing, do the same with your sprockets and really get in there in those gaps.
Wipe Down Your Chain and Sprockets
Next up, you need to bring the “clean” part into play once you’re done with wiping all the debris away from your items. Get a clean rag, soak it in some solvent and wipe down the entire chain as well as the sprockets. If you’ve been putting this off for a while and you’re facing some stubborn grime, a plastic putty knife should work in a pinch.
Now if you’re the overachiever of the family or perhaps a bit of OCD as well when it comes to keeping things clean (we don’t judge, we’re exactly the same), you can also remove the front cover of the sprocket and scrub the crud from its countershaft pocket as well.
Rinse Is the New Black
Remember a few paragraphs ago that we asked you to do this entire operation next to a hose and you were asking yourself why quietly in your head? Well, here’s the answer: Having access to a jet of water will make it extremely easy to rinse off your things and leave them freshly cleaned.
If you didn’t listen to us, feel free to choose the more difficult option of filling up a bucket with water and pouring it all over. If this is not an option either, just rub the chain down using a couple of damp rags and this should be good enough provided you’ve done a thorough job in the previous steps.
If you are using the hose though, resist the child inside of you and don’t pressurize the stream using your thumb. Furthermore, don’t even think about charging up that pressure washer or you might damage your chain.
Drying the Chain
Once the dust has settled, dry off everything with a clean rag and then take your baby out for a quick spin around the block, no more than five minutes. This way, you will have the chain warm and ready for the lube. Get the bike back on the stand and use whatever product you deem good enough, applying it to the overlapping link of the lower rung.
After you got through that, simply wipe off any excess substance, check your chain slack to ensure everything is in working condition, and don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. Now you’re good to go with a beautifully cleaned and lubed chain and guess what? You didn’t spend a single dime on having someone else do it for you. Great job!