How To Change Your Motorcycle’s Chain and Sprockets

rear chain and sprocket

While there are a lot of consumables on your bike, few are as important as the motorcycle’s chain and sprockets. And when I mention them both I really want to stress how important it is to change them both at the same time. Swapping out a used chain with a brand new one on the old sprockets will cause uneven wear on the new chain and putting new sprockets without changing the chain might cause an equal amount of issues. In this article, I will walk you through how to change your motorcycle’s chain and sprockets by discussing each step in-depth.

Here are the steps we are going to go through together:

  • Inspect the new parts
  • Loosening the front sprocket’s retaining nut
  • Removing the bike’s rear-wheel
  • Removing the old chain and sprockets
  • Putting the new sprockets
  • Installing the new chain
  • Inspecting your work

Required Tools

For this process, there are a lot of methods that all require different sets of tools. Still, having these is going to guarantee that you won’t be left with a missing tool in the middle of your process:

  • Rear stand or a paddock stand
  • Half-inch drive socket set
  • A socket for the rear wheel spindle nut
  • Torque wrench
  • Combination spanners
  • Allen keys
  • Grease
  • Latex gloves
  • A hammer for the chain’s master link
  • Chain tool (chain breaker/riveter toolset)

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of the steps of this process!

Inspect the new parts

Before you get into the nitty-gritty, you will have to take a closer look at the parts that you bought. Manufacturer defects happen and it is better to find out about them before you actually change the parts and take your bike for a test drive. Check with your manual to make sure that the sprockets have the necessary number of teeth on them. The chain also has to be the right length and have the right amount of links on it. The chain’s pitch is also important. That pitch is often marked on the chain’s links themselves and is a number like 420 or 525.

Loosening the front sprocket

This step might require a little bit of extra help depending on how tight the front sprocket retaining nut is. Usually, it is torqued really hard in there and you will need your bike’s transmission and rear brake to work with you in order to loosen the sprocket without allowing it to turn. This step is much easier if you have a big impact gun, otherwise, you will have to work with a long breaker bar. If you don’t have a friend to stand on the rear brake, you can also place a block of wood between the chain and the rear sprocket or between the spokes of the wheel to prevent it from turning.

If the breaker bar doesn’t work, you might have to get an even longer extension for it. Put your whole weight on it and hope that the nut comes off easily. Once the nut is loosened up, put your bike on your stand and find a pair of gloves because things are about to get greasy…

Removing the old chain and sprockets

Greasy hand working

With the front sprocket now being loose, put your bike in a neutral gear lifted on its stand. Now its time to start removing the old chain. Depending on your tool, you might have to follow different instructions, so make you you read the manual that comes with it. I prefer working on the rear sprocket since the chain there is much more stable. Remove the linking pin with your tool and remove the chain from the bike altogether by pulling it from one end. If you don’t have a chain breaker, you can use a mini-grinder to cut the rivet head. Make sure you place damp cloths around the bike to prevent damage from the sparks.

Next up is the rear sprocket. The first thing you need to do is remove your bike’s rear wheel. Once it is removed, place it flat on its rotor side by making sure that the rotor doesn’t touch any uneven or rough surfaces with debris on it.

Putting the new sprockets

Once you have the tire laid out flat, swap the sprockets by making sure that you follow the recommended torques by the manufacturer. Now is also the best time to compare the two sprockets by carefully laying them out on top of each other (without them touching) so that you see that they are the same size and have the same number of teeth. Once the new sprocket is in place, it is time to get the wheel back on your bike. Don’t tighten up your axle to its recommended amount just yet, because you will need to set the chain’s tension in a few moments and you will need a little leeway for that. If this is your first time putting your wheel in and out of the bike, you might get surprised at how touchy the axle can be and how hard it can be to put back into the wheel. Having a low-impact rubber hammer for this job will be perfect.

The front sprocket’s bolt is already loose, so move on with removing that. Compare the old sprocket with the new one and if everything is okay place the new one on its position. Torque the nut back according to the recommended numbers. Typically, putting the bike into gear should allow you to bring it to the correct torque but if that doesn’t happen, use a friend again to stay on the rear brake.

Installing the chain

Close up motorcycle chain

New chains typically come to your bike’s specifications, especially if you’ve made sure to order the correct length. It is, however, a good practice to always order a few lengths more than what your bike is. Double-check with that and then brake the chain down a few lengths if needed, just like you broke the old one upon removal. This is yet another place where you can benefit from having a bike chain tool.

Wrap the chain around the sprockets and have it overlap over the furthest part of the rear sprocket that is facing outwards. Now, get the master link from your new chain package and apply grease to its parts before putting it in. Press it into the chain’s gap with the chain tool and rivet it. Most chain tools come with riveting capabilities and are quite easy to use. Just place them over the exposed end of the master link. Then, upon applying pressure, it evenly deforms the exposed legs but you have to be careful not to crack them by putting too much pressure onto those pins. All that is left to do after that is adjusting the chain’s tension and inspecting everything you’ve done so far.

Inspecting your work

Once everything is done, you have to go through all of your steps again and make sure that you’ve done everything correctly, placed all the parts back at their right slots, and torqued all the nuts and parts to their recommended numbers. If that is all good, you should take out your bike for a test drive. I know you’ve been itching to do that ever since you started working on it.

If you want more motorcycle maintenance tips, I suggest checking out my spring motorcycle maintenance checklist where I discuss all the necessary check-ups that you will have to do before you head out on the road.

Final Words

Learning how to change your motorcycle’s chain and sprockets for the first time can be a little challenging, especially if you don’t have the right tools for the job. From all the necessary tools here, a chain removal tool is perhaps the most invaluable since it will help you remove the old chain, place the new master link, and rivet it in place. Having a bike stand and a buddy ready to assist is also extremely helpful when you have to loosen the front sprocket retaining nut and remove the rear tire to swap out the rear sprockets. As a whole, it isn’t something that you have to do often and many bike owners only swap their chains and sprockets once in the service life of their bikes.