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Old 09-28-11, 07:55 AM   #1
MNBikeCommuter
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Chains - bicycle vs motorcycle

Yeah, slightly off topic, but I got passed by a motorcycle this morning on the way into work, and I got to wondering about the maintenance issues with a motorcycle chain.

How long does a chain last, and how much cleaning/lubing do they require, how much do they cost, etc., etc.? And does asking such questions in a motorcycle forum bring out the religious "thou shalt do..." posts from everyone? :-)
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Old 09-28-11, 08:26 AM   #2
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How long does a chain last
Two main types of motorbike chain nowadays:
O-Ring, classic type of chain with the rubber o-rings people use and love all the time
X-Ring, similar to o-ring, but the cross section of it is an X. This helps keep lube inside the chain and as a result makes the chain last about twice as long for a small extra amount ($15ish)

O-ring (if properly lubricated and cared for during life) lasts around (on average) 20,000 miles, X-ring around 40,000 miles (less than most bikes have done if you splash out for a fancy chain, so this is frequently debated)

There's not so much of a "when it stretches 1/8 of an inch or 3mm you've used x% of it's life) with bike chains, but when they get to the end of their life they suddenly stretch a large amount (before they snap, see below). There's a wear indicator on the adjuster on the swing-arm which also helps with rear wheel alignment.

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how much cleaning/lubing do they require
Normally you lube the chain every 500 miles with either wax or PTFE based lubricant (I use motorbike lube on my bike chains) and should be degreased and properly cleaned every 2000 miles, according to manufacturer guidelines.

There's very big warnings about having the bike not running while cleaning the chain. If you get your fingers caught while the engine is turning over they will get cut off. It's happened MANY times to people!

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how much do they cost
A lot more than cycle chains! The last one I bought cost about 75, which is around $120.

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etc., etc.?
Some have similar "power links" like on bicycles, but most sports bike chains have rivet links that have to be broken or cur off with an angle grinder when replacing. You also don't buy a length of chain and shorten it, you normally buy one with exactly the right amount of links.

There's no tensioner (like a derailer) on a motorbike so you have to watch for chain slackening and move the back axel like on a single speed bike.

I've had an o-ring chain snap before (at 22,000 miles) when I was travelling (very) fast and it simply rolled off. I've heard of people who have lost limbs because the chains can snap just after the rear (always large ~40 teeth) sprocket. The chain whips round and can damage the engine and cause big damage to the bike and rider.


I think this is mostly representative of motorcyclists (in the UK anyway), but it could just be my opinion on everything!

Any more questions?
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Old 09-28-11, 08:38 AM   #3
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Motorcycle chains are far larger, heavier and stronger than bicycle chains for obvious reasons. A quick Google search turned up motorcycle chains costing from $25 to $450 so there is a wide range of quality depending on use and engine size. Also, motorcycle chains are all "single speed" in that they run a fixed chainline and never move from their sprockets so they don't have to allow sideways flex like derailleur chains.

I don't know how contentious the lube and maintenance issues are but motorcycle chains are available with O-ring seals which probably eliminate the routine lubrication problem and its attendant arguments. Chains that do require periodic lubrication can use much heavier body lubes since the minor drag caused by them is a non-issue where bicyclists, with their very limited "horsepower", want the lowest viscosity stuff we can get.
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Old 09-28-11, 09:08 AM   #4
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Something I forgot to mention about lubrication is that there are also continuous lubrication systems available. I think they are patented under the name Scottoiler because I've only heard of them being sold as that.

They basically have a can of oil mounted on the bike and as the bike moves along a small amount goes onto the chain to lubricate it. It's supposed to give the chain a huge amount of extra life (doubling or tripling it, apparently)
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Old 09-28-11, 09:54 AM   #5
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Motorcycle chains are far larger, heavier and stronger than bicycle chains for obvious reasons. A quick Google search turned up motorcycle chains costing from $25 to $450 so there is a wide range of quality depending on use and engine size. Also, motorcycle chains are all "single speed" in that they run a fixed chainline and never move from their sprockets so they don't have to allow sideways flex like derailleur chains.

I don't know how contentious the lube and maintenance issues are but motorcycle chains are available with O-ring seals which probably eliminate the routine lubrication problem and its attendant arguments. Chains that do require periodic lubrication can use much heavier body lubes since the minor drag caused by them is a non-issue where bicyclists, with their very limited "horsepower", want the lowest viscosity stuff we can get.
Ha, ha, ha.... Lubing motorcycle chains is the quickest and biggest religious war on those forums, just like here.

Quality motorcycle chains last anywhere between 15 and 30K miles with typical maintenance. Of course there will always be someone who obsesses about maximizing that number and relating it to his penis size.

The big difference is that motorcycle sprockets wear out roughly as rapidly, and it's highly advantageous to replace them as a set, so you have three different wear components and you end up at the lowest of the three being your total chain life.

KeS
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Old 09-28-11, 10:59 AM   #6
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MNBC, Generally a motorcycle chain will stretch more rapidly when new and then settle down as opposed to a bicycle chain. Two reasons, bicyclists make less power and a motorcycle chain also is under tension during decel. I service the motorcycle chains the same as my bicycle chains, except they stay on the motorcycle. A properly broken in and maintained X ring motorcycle chain can last 40K miles and average replacement cost for a chain and two sprockets is usually in the $250USD range, which may not be far off from a bicycle's driveline expense for the same mileage.

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Old 09-28-11, 11:49 AM   #7
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Generally you replace the front and rear sprockets when you change a motorcycle chain as well. They tend to wear out together.
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Old 09-28-11, 11:58 AM   #8
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i never got more than about 5k out of a motorcycle chain (yes, even the good ones). then again, i launched quickly and used a fair amount of engine braking. shelling out $120 each time kind of hurt. that's why riding a bicycle now is nice in so many ways: i get at least 5k out of a chain, and i still go as fast as i can
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Old 09-28-11, 12:06 PM   #9
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Here is one big difference between motorcycle chains and bicycle chains: Motorcycle chains have bushing that are press fit between the inner chain plates. The pins, press fit to the outer plates, ride in these bushings. Bicycle chains don't have separate bushing and instead, the inner plates are formed to create bushings. The formed bushings on opposing inner plates meet but are not joined in the center of the chain. Lube placed on the roller of a bicycle chain can wick down under the roller, through the gap between the side plate bushings and onto the pin. In motorcycle chains, there is no such path. To lube the pin, the lube has to go between the inner and outer side plates. As others have pointed out, most motorcycle chains have rubber seals around the pins between the inner and outer plates to keep the factory lube in, but they also keep any subsequently applied lube out. When you lube a motorcycle chain, you're basically only lubricating the rollers and keeping the outside surfaces of the chain from rusting.
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Old 09-28-11, 03:47 PM   #10
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I just cleaned it with a grunge brush and kerosene every 600 miles (a couple weeks worth of riding for me) and used chain wax. My chains and sprockets lasted 20,000 miles.
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Old 09-28-11, 04:06 PM   #11
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Any discussion having to do with lubrication is guaranteed to start an internet flame war worthy of a U.N. intervention. But feel free to ask.
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Old 09-28-11, 08:10 PM   #12
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Not to get too off topic during an off topic discussion . . .

My motorcycle uses shaft drive. Maintenance consists of changing the gear oil every few years. Belts are also popular among the motorcycle set. Hmmm . . . maybe we should start a bicycle belt/shaft drive discussion.
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Old 09-28-11, 08:16 PM   #13
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One of the many good things about my old kawi was the shaft drive. Lubing splines every tire change instead of the maintenance of a chain was a dream.
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Old 09-28-11, 09:12 PM   #14
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I had a motorcycle for about two years and never did jack to the chain. Never had a problem. Not saying that's a good idea...
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Old 09-28-11, 09:27 PM   #15
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OMG It's a motorcycle chain lube thread on BF....Trust me, it is one of those topics in the motorcycle forum world that does not go well. You will get every opinion, ranging from what is the best lube to you don't need to lube. It is a no win topic.
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Old 09-29-11, 01:40 AM   #16
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Chain Lubricant !!!!

Slowly I turned.......step by step.......inch by inch......
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Old 09-29-11, 01:41 AM   #17
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Not to get too off topic during an off topic discussion . . .

My motorcycle uses shaft drive. Maintenance consists of changing the gear oil every few years. Belts are also popular among the motorcycle set. Hmmm . . . maybe we should start a bicycle belt/shaft drive discussion.
Yeah, some of the new belt drive stuff looks intriguing, and i know absolutely jack about it.
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Old 09-29-11, 09:48 AM   #18
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Do motorcycle chains have the same chain wear indicator tools? How come motorcycles don't have gears like bicycles? Should you use a wet or dry lube? Do motorcycle chains tend to come off, particularly when going uphill? Why is... ?
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Old 09-29-11, 09:57 AM   #19
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re: belts and drive shaft. Yeah, I almost threw out questions about those too but thought that may be pushing it a bit. :-)
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Old 09-30-11, 02:57 AM   #20
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Do motorcycle chains have the same chain wear indicator tools?
They use the same method (you measure a number of links that are a specific size) but I've never seen one of those tools you hook around 1 link and have a 0.5, 0.75 and 1% wear scales on it.

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How come motorcycles don't have gears like bicycles?
They have sequential gearboxes, similar to cars. Most bikes nowadays have 6 gears (mine both do)

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Should you use a wet or dry lube?
Huge debate over this. Also is WD40 a suitable lubricant!? Do O-ring swell or perish with WD40?

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Do motorcycle chains tend to come off, particularly when going uphill? Why is... ?
Nope, they don't have the same kind of horizontal play that bicycle chains need to move between gears so they never come off if properly tensioned and adjusted.
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Old 09-30-11, 12:19 PM   #21
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"O-ring" motorcycle chains are pre-lubed at the factory and the O or X rings are supposed to keep the lube in the roller and pin assemblies for the life of the chain. Lubing the exterior of the chain is just additive to it, but does not contribute to the lubrication of the chain as much as the internally trapped lubrication from the factory. It is not a good idea to wash off the chain with pressure wahsers as it can drive the factory lubrication out of the sealed roller pin areas protected by the O or X rings. You aslo have to be careful not to use any solvent/cleaners on motocycle chains that can attack the O or X rings. Kerosene based solvents like WD40 is safe to use on O ring chains.

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Old 09-30-11, 01:42 PM   #22
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"O-ring" motorcycle chains are pre-lubed at the factory and the O or X rings are supposed to keep the lube in the roller and pin assemblies for the life of the chain.
Not quite. The sealing rings keep the lube in the pins and bushings, but not the rollers.
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Old 10-21-11, 06:36 AM   #23
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Chains last depending on engine type, power, driving style, maintenance etc. I'd say roughly about 10,000 kms.

Set of chain and front+rear sprocket (it only makes sense to change the whole set when changing) is around 150 euros (depending on strength, quality, length - so it depends on the motorcyle).

Cleaning and lubing is a religious question. It would be perfect to clean and lube every 500 kilometres.
It is OK to clean and lube every 1000 kms.
Most bikers I know lube chains about every 1000 kms, and clean them 2-3 times a year.

Only thing that can effectively, and conveniently prolong the life of a chain is an automatic chain lubrication system (like afore mentioned Scottoiler, but there are others). It works by constantly dripping a thin (watery and water solvable... is that the English word?) oil on the chain. Oil is thin enough to fall off the chain while riding, together with all the sand, dirt, mud, dust etc. That way chain is always lubed and cleaned during the ride. It costs around 100 euros and lasts for years and years. Can prolong chain life up to 7 times and saves hassle of cleaning and lubing the chain.


Chain has advantages over shaft drive, but cleanin/lubing/setting correct tension is a hassle.
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Old 10-22-11, 02:45 PM   #24
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I use to ride a dirt bike in the 70s and the lube I used then came in a spray can and it was very very sticky to it wouldn't be thrown off. Do they still use these lubes today?
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Old 10-22-11, 11:34 PM   #25
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I lube my motorcycle chains with 80/90 gear oil and wipe off the excess with a rag every 500 miles. This floats the dirty oil away and onto my rag. I never clean them. I got 25K miles out of my OEM Honda chain and it was still going strong when I changed it. I did so because I read that if you change it before it starts wearing (stretching is just pivot wear multiplied by the number of pivots) rapidly you can change your sprockets every other chain. My sprockets still looked fine. Oring/x-ring chains basically require one adjustment after about 1000 miles and then you never have to adjust them again until the seals fail. Once you have to adjust it again, you will adjust it every 500 miles until it wears your sprockets out. IMO the canned sticky lubes suck because you have to clean your chain regularly or the dirt they attract will cause premature failure. OTOH those old bikes didn't have sealed chains so they needed more lube. When I got on a trip I take a one ounce vial of oil, a little flux brush and a red shop rag rolled up into a ziplock bag that is half the size of a sandwich bag. It takes me all of 2 minutes to lube the chain. Shafts are do require less maintenance but when the do fail (and they will) the repairs are expensive and a way bigger PIA than changing out a chain and sprockets. Scottoilers made sense in the old days but sealed chains make them more or less obsolete.
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