How to Change a Motorcycle Chain

motorcycle chain

Every motorcycle will need a new chain at some point. Once a bike’s chain begins to show signs of wear, it will need to be replaced promptly in order to ensure your bike is safe to ride. When a chain starts to wear out, the pitch will change and it will begin to wear down the sprocket teeth.

This can cause the chain to wear out even faster. Learning how to change a motorcycle chain yourself will allow you to take care of this problem right away, so your bike always remains riding ready.

If you’re not sure how to go about changing a motorcycle chain, this article will walk you through the process, while also going over the signs that indicate your chain needs to be changed, and how to keep your bike well-maintained and safe to ride.

Tools for the Job

Gear like the best full-face helmet, a motorcycle jacket, and even riding boots are essential for long rides during the summer and winter months. But if you don’t want your bike to quit on you in the middle of your adventure, then you need to make sure it’s road-worthy, which includes changing out the chain or adjusting the tension in the chain, if it doesn’t need to be replaced yet.

Taking good care of your bike, especially before a long ride can significantly lengthen the life of your bike and many of its components. Learning about different motorcycle engine types, and the unique needs of each type of bike is an important first step in bike ownership, but it’s also important to learn how to work on your bike on your own. Not only will this help you save cash, but you’ll also be able to take care of business should something happen when you’re on a cross country ride with your buddies.

Changing a chain is pretty simple and requires a chain breaker to do, or a riveting tool. Basically, you’ll need a tool that allows you to remove the sprockets and rear wheel. You may also want to keep a torque wrench or a blowtorch on hand for this task as well.

When you change the chain, the first step will be to locate the front sprocket and loosen the bolts. Make sure you get those bolts loose while the chain is still on the motorcycle. Doing so will prevent putting any undue stress on the transmission and will also help you avoid getting into the project only to find that the bolts on the front sprocket are stuck. If you do come across stuck bolts then you can use a small Allen wrench to loosen them.

Once the bolts have been loosened up you can break the chain. Using a chain tool you can remove the small grub screw, then use the smaller bolt with the pin to push out the pins in the chain.

The next step is replacing the sprocket. On the rear sprocket, you’ll find six nuts, with two bolts on the front sprocket. If you have a torque wrench on hand you can get the torque values correct when it’s time to put everything back together.

Master Link


Installing the master link, the link that joins the ends of the new chain together, is the next step. This link will come in a small bag with some sticky lube, a master link, and X-rings. You can smear the lube on the X-rings and the pins. Next, you’ll assemble the master link around both ends of the chain in order to ensure you get the X-rings placed correctly.

The hardest part of this job is pressing the outer plate on the master link. You can remove the pin bolt and use a hollow bolt in order to push the outer plate onto the link of the master pin. It may take you more than one try, but you will get it in the correct position, eventually. Once the master link is in position and the sprockets are on, the link’s pins must be peened.

For proper chain tension, position the wheel, then torque everything to the right specs and your bike will be road-ready. The new chain will be almost silent and smooth, so your bike will be ready to take on thousands of miles, at a higher speed.

Extending the Life of Your Chain

In order to prolong the life of your chain, you must keep it adjusted properly, keep it well-lubricated, and keep it clean. However, even if you manage to stay on top of regular maintenance, the chain will wear out eventually, which will cause both of the sprockets to wear out as well. Once a sprocket begins to show wear and tear you’ll need to replace both of the sprockets and the chain at the same time.

How Often Should the Chain Be Replaced?

A chain will stretch out as they wear. All types of bikes will come with an adjustment mechanism that’s designed to take up any slack. When you have reached the max adjustment point you will need to replace the chain.

Signs of Wear

In order to check for worn-out sprockets, take a look at the top of each of the teeth, as well as the valley between the teeth. The tops of all the teeth should be nice and flat, while the valleys should have a symmetrical, U-shaped appearance.

A sprocket that’s worn out will have teeth that have a sharp point on top. The valley between each of the teeth will have become elongated, especially on the thrust side. If you find elongation in the valleys or the top of each tooth is sharp, then it’s time to have the sprockets replaced.

Adjusting Chain Tension

In order to adjust the tension in the chain, you’ll need to use a wrench or a sprocket on the axle nut. Next, you’ll unscrew the bolt that controls the tension and raise the adjuster, pushing the rear wheel forward completely, in the slotted swing arm.

You can relieve tension by loosening the rear axle nut and by loosening the chain adjusting bolt. Removing the chain by pushing the rear wheel forward is the next step.

If your bike has a master link you can remove the clip using some pliers and disassemble the chain. If your bike’s chain doesn’t have a master link then you will have to purchase a chain-breaking tool and use it to mount and break the chain.

Disconnect the stay and the drum brake link. If your motorcycle has disc brakes then you will also need to remove the caliper.

Pull the axle out, removing the brake assembly and rear wheel. Replace the rear sprocket then replaced the transmission’s drive sprocket.

The next step will be reassembling the chain and adjusting it. To do, slide the pins from the master link into the ends of the chain and assemble the clip and outer plate. Place the rear wheel back on, in addition to the brake assembly and axle.

Make sure the rear wheel is pushed all the way forward in the swingarm. Tighten the axle nut slightly in order to keep it securely in position. Place the chain onto the rear sprocket, around the drive sprocket and keep the open link near the rear. Replace the master link.

The chain-adjusting bolts will need to be tightened in order to obtain one inch of play both up and down on the bottom of the chain. Keep in mind, a loose chain is better than a chain that’s too tight since a chain that’s overtightened tends to wear out rapidly. Tighten the axle nut correctly, bending the tabs against the nut. The last step is replacing the transmission cover.


lubricating chain

Make sure you lubricate the chain using a spray that’s chain specific. You will also need to rotate the wheel several times, which will work the wheel into the links. Before you hit the gas when you first take your bike out, make sure you drive slowly at first in order to get rid of any excess lube.

Basic Motorcycle Maintenance

When you’re on the road, there are many things that can go wrong, especially if you’re riding several hundreds of miles a day. Learning how to take care of your bike and prepare it for an upcoming cross country adventure can prevent your bike from breaking down in the middle of nowhere when the closest mechanic is hundreds of miles away. If you want to prepare your bike for your first ride of the season, then click here to read my guide on the spring motorcycle maintenance checklist.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to change a motorcycle chain ensures your bike is ready to hit the road, allowing your bike to run smoothly and throughout the duration of your trip. Fortunately, changing the chain is a very simple and straightforward process and one that doesn’t take much time or experience. By following the steps and tips in this guide, you can easily change or adjust the chain when you notice a dip in your bike’s performance or slack in the chain, or signs of wear and tear.