Your motorcycle chain is one of the most important components on your bike. It goes through a lot of stress every ride and keeps you moving when you’re on the road.
The chain is the point of communication between the rear wheel and engine. Any issues with this communication and your motorcycle will suffer.
Whether it becomes damaged or it’s time for regular maintenance, replacing the chain on your motorcycle is inevitable. That’s why it’s important to know how to choose the right chain for your motorbike.
In this post I want to share my recommendations for the best motorcycle chains. At the end you’ll find a buying guide and FAQ that will help you make the most informed decision.
As always, refer to your motorcycle owner’s manual to verify you’re using the right chain for your bike. Otherwise, let’s jump right into it!
The Best Motorcycle Chain for Most Riders
The type of chain you use depends on the make and model of your motorcycle. Different bikes require different chains, so always verify you’re using the right one.
After our recommendations we’ve put together a helpful guide. This guide will make it easier for your to choose the right chain for your bike.
It also goes over the differences and benefits of each type. Should you have any additional questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.
RK Racing Chain 520-SO-120 (O-Ring)
The RK Racing Chain 520-SO-120 is our recommendation as one of the best motorcycle chains for most riders. It’s created from durable carbon steel components that have been heat treated for better longevity.
The chain itself is made of mostly steel components and comes equipped with solid rollers and bushings. This specific chain is popular with the World Championship motorcycle teams as well as the AMA World Superbike team.
As a 520 chain with an 0-Ring design it’s well suited for sport bikes, touring bikes, and any motorcycles using this style. It has been pre-pressed and pre-stretched which results in maximum performance and increase longevity.
Along with the easily maintained O-ring design, the RK Racing Chain 520-SO-120 comes equipped with a clip type master link. This makes it easy to install and helps to keep it in place during various riding conditions.
If you’re in the market for the best budget motorcycle chain it’s the RK Racing Chain 520-SO-120 that we would recommend. This is a great choice for small displacement motorcycles.
RK Racing Chain GB530XSOZ1-120 (X-Ring)
The RK Racing Chain GB530XSOZ1-120 is an X-Ring style available in 520, 525, and 530 sizes depending on your bike.
This is a durable and reliable X-ring chain from RK, one of the most well-known motorcycle racing parts company in the industry. They’ve recently upgraded their factory and it has resulted in even better gear coming out of RK.
Compared to your traditional O-ring style, this X-ring motorbike chain comes with two lubrication pools and seal points. This is superior in quality and performance when compared to the O-rings.
The RK Racing Chain GB530XSOZ1-120 provides a tensile strength of 8,500 lbs/ft with a lightweight design of just 4.4 pounds. RK themselves has stated that this is a high performance chain that will last up to 8x longer than a standard motorbike one.
Depending on your style of bike, the RK Racing Chain GB530XSOZ1-120 is another great choice for most riders. It’s reliable, durable, affordable, and the X-ring design makes it suitable for riding in most conditions.
JT Sprockets JTC520X1R2120DL Steel X-Ring Drive Chain
The JT Sprockets JTC520X1R2120DL is another great choice if you’re in the market for a durable and heavy duty steel X-ring drive chain.
This chain is specifically designed to offer high performance in both street (road) and off-road use. Those of you riding dual sport, dirt, enduro, and even sport bikes will find this to be a suitable choice.
The JT Sprockets JTC520X1R2120DL Steel X-Ring Drive Chain is made from high-grade steel alloys and meets, or exceeds, the requirements for all modern motorbikes. With the X-ring seal riders will enjoy a longer lifespan and less friction than from a traditional O-ring seal.
As a heavy-duty chain, the JT Sprockets JTC520X1R2120DL features quad-riveted pins. These result in extra strong rivets that are better suited for the powerful lateral forces experienced in different styles of riding.
Despite its durable, heavy-duty design this chain weighs a surprising 2.25 pounds. For attaching, there is a clip style master link, although some users have reported issues with it.
Overall, the JT Sprockets JTC520X1R2120DL Steel X-Ring Drive Chain is a great choice for most riders in different conditions and riding styles. Always verify that any chain will fit your specific bike, make, and model before purchasing.
Best Motorcycle Chain Buyers Guide + FAQ
It’s important to regularly maintain your motorbike chain for two main reasons. First, it will increase the lifespan of the chain while providing you with a smoother rider. And second, a poorly maintained chain could break off while riding damaging both you and your bike.
It’s also important to use high-quality, reliable chains for your motorcycle that are designed for your style of riding. Whether you’re commuting, racing, long-distance touring, or riding off-road, there are different types suited for each purpose.
Regular maintenance will give you the best idea of the health of your chain, whether it needs to be cleaned or lubed, and how long until it needs to be replaced. This type of maintenance is easy to do on your own, even as a new or intermediate rider.
In this section we’ll go over some important factors to consider when it comes to motorcycle drive chains. We’ll look at how to find the best one suitable for your bike, different features chains come with, and how to replace your motorcycle chain.
Keep scrolling past this guide for an in-depth FAQ about motorcycle chains as well.
Tips for Buying a Motorcycle Chain
Your motorcycle chain will stretch a small amount on every ride. Eventually this will cause it to sag and hang from the sprockets.
The more it stretches the more likely you are to experience an issue with your chain. As it stretches out of alignment it can start to skip over the sprocket, causing premature wear.
Continuing to avoid maintenance at this point can lead to serious damage to your chain and sprockets. It’s even possible for it to break while riding, a critical issue you want to avoid at all costs.
Should you find the chain needs to be replaced, here are the main factors to consider when buying a new one:
Type (O-Ring vs X-Ring)
The two most popular types of motorcycle chains are the O-Ring type and X-Ring type. These rings are the seals on each link that keep the lubricants in place. They also help to prevent dirt and debris from getting in between the links.
Chains with the X-Ring seals offer better durability, provide a longer lifespan, and have less power loss than the O-Ring style. There is less friction with this design, and this results in increased reliability.
Keep in mind that both the X-Ring and O-Ring designs are superior to standard rollers. This outdated design doesn’t come equipped with lubricant seals and requires more ongoing maintenance. These standard chains are much less durable and not ideal for modern bikes.
The pitch is the distance between each pin in the chain. The most common pitch lengths are 520, 525, and 530. Check your owner’s manual for the correct pitch to use. With the wrong pitch the chain won’t properly fit over the sprocket teeth.
Along with the pitch, there’s also the size of the chain to consider. The size is rated by the length from the number of links on any chain.
This is the part used to attach one end of the chain to the other. There are different types of master links, such as the clip and rivet style. Rivet style links offer better durability, however they’re harder to install than a clip master link. All of the best motorcycle drive chains will come with a master link. If not, you’ll have to buy this part separately.
The tensile strength is the load, measured in pounds, that the chain can take before stretching. A higher strength rating means the motorcycle drive chain can tolerate more force before it stretches.
It’s important to look for pre-stretched chains when you’re replacing the one currently on your bike. These have been properly tested under high tension that stimulates normal riding conditions. Pre-stretched chains offer a better longevity and are more reliable in most cases.
Types of Motorcycle Chains
X-Ring, O-Ring, and non-sealed are the three main types of motorcycle chains.
Any type, such as heavy duty motorcycle chains or those designed for a specific style of riding, will fall into one of these three types.
O-Ring chains are designed with an O-ring in every link. Having this O-ring helps keep the pins between each plate lubricated. They also protected the links from dirt and road debris that’s kicked up when you’re riding.
All new O-ring chains come with grease that’s pre-applied at the factory before they’re shipped out. This means they don’t require much maintenance compared to other styles.
However, it’s still important to properly maintained any O-ring chain. This maintenance will include regular cleaning, inspections, and regular lubrication.
The O-ring design makes for the best motorcycle chains for most riders. The main drawback with this style is that there is a lot of drag at higher speeds. For racing you’d want a different design, but in most other cases O-ring chains are ideal.
X-ring chains are another popular type that don’t present the same issues at high speeds as the O-ring style. These chains have less surface area, so there is less drag at higher speeds.
The X-ring design commands a higher price, although the trade-off is less maintenance and a longer life span.
X-rings are still sealed, easy to maintain, and there are options available for most bikes.
This type of motorbike chain is the most basic option. They’re typically found on older bikes, so you won’t see any on a modern sportbike, cruiser, or tourer.
Compared to X-Rings and O-Rings, non-sealed chains are more affordable and relatively reliable. Unfortunately, they need more maintenance to keep them running properly.
Non-sealed motorcycle chains will need to be cleaned, lubricated, and adjusted on a regular basis. This could even mean weekly or daily depending on how often you ride and in what conditions.
Neglecting this type of chain will mean you’ll have to buy a new one every year, or even more often. Unless you’re riding an older bike it’s unlikely you’ll run into any non-sealed chains.
How to Replace Your Motorcycle Chain
It’s inevitable that your motorcycle chain will eventually wear out. Despite your efforts with regular cleaning, inspections, and adjustments, even the best motorcycle chains will stretch beyond safe use.
At this point, as your chain reaches the end of its life span, it’s time to put on a new one. Failing to do so could result in a catastrophic failure and you can be injured while riding.
Some signs that your chain is wearing out include requiring more frequent adjustments or needing to be lubricated more often. Any kinks, rust that can’t be washed away, or rough gear changes also indicate that it’s time to be replaced.
At the same time that you change your drive chain it’s recommended that you change your sprockets as well. This is especially accurate if the teeth on your sprockets are worn down or broken.
Changing your chain and sprockets at home isn’t difficult thanks to YouTube. Having the maintenance manual for your bike can also make this process easy.
However, if you’re not mechanically inclined or unsure about your motorcycle maintenance skills it’s a good idea to bring your bike to your local mechanic. This is not a labor-intensive maintenance and can be done in under one to two hours.
The first step to replacing your motorcycle chain is buying the right chain for your motorbike. Then, follow the steps below to complete the process.
- With the proper chain and sprockets in hand, lift your bike using a motorcycle stand. This makes it easy to access and remove the rear wheel.
- With the bike raised, check if the gear level needs to be removed before taking off the sprocket cover. Note the position of the spline boss before removing it. Next, remove the cover from the front sprocket.
- With the cover removed, note how the front sprocket is secured. It’s likely secured with a self-locking nut that can be easily removed. Always refer to your owners or maintenance manual before removing any parts from your bike if you’re unsure.
- The back wheel needs to be secured so that it doesn’t turn when the front sprocket nut is loosened. Either apply the rear brakes or use something in your workspace to hold the wheel in place.
- Remove the front sprocket nut using a breaker bar. Leave the sprocket in place for the next step.
- Take the rear wheel off the bike. Place it on the floor with the socket side facing upwards. Undo the sprocket nut and remove it from the wheel. Compare it with the new sprocket to verify it’s the right size. Fit the new sprocket in place.
- Repeat the same steps with the front sprocket before replacing it on the bike. Wrap the old chain around the new sprocket.
- Loosen the chain adjustments before putting the rear wheel back on. This will make it easier to install the chain.
- Break the old chain using a splitter tool. Without the tool it’s possible to cut the chain off entirely. Next, loosely attached the old chain to the new one. Pull the old chain through the front sprocket until the new chain is fixed around both sprockets. Using the master link, join the new chain together.
- It’s time to reattach the front sprocket nut. Holding the rear wheel, tighten the front sprocket nut while preventing the rear wheel from spinning. With everything tightened, properly tension the drive chain and tighten everything up.
Best Motorbike Chain FAQ
What is a Motorcycle Chain?
The motorcycle chain on your bike is a metallic chain used for transmitting power from the engine to the rear wheel. This is a basic motorcycle part and will wear down over time with regular use. As the chain wears down it will become loose and will no longer fit properly on the sprockets.
A loose chain will result in decreased performance and will wear down the teeth on your sprockets. Proper motorcycle drive chain maintenance is important for increasing its lifespan and providing you with a better ride. This maintenance will include regular cleaning, adjustments when loose, and regular lubrication.
How Tight Should the Motorcycle Chain Be?
The answer to this question is specific based on your motorcycle make and model. Always refer to your owner’s manual or maintenance manual for specific measurements.
It’s a good idea to regularly check if your chain needs adjustment. Too much slack can affect your bike’s performance and will eventually damage the chain and sprockets.
To check for adjustment, start by turning off the engine and putting the bike on its side stand. With the transmission in neutral measure the slack of your chain halfway between the sprockets.
If the distance traveled exceeds what’s allowed in your owner’s manual, it’s time for a motorcycle chain adjustment.
This is a simple maintenance process that can be done at home. It’s possible to find instructions in your maintenance manual or by watching a relevant YouTube video.
For adjusting your own chain, start by loosening the axle nut on the rear wheel. Next, loosen the locking nuts on either end of the swing arm that hold the chain adjustment nuts in place.
With the locking nuts loosened, twist the adjustment nuts a quarter turn on each side. Check the slack after each turn until it is within the prescribed limit. After you’re finished with the adjustments, tighten the lock nuts and axle nut to keep everything in place.
When Should You Replace a Motorcycle Chain?
The biggest indicator of when to replace the motorbike chain is when it’s no longer able to be adjusted. Your motorcycle will have indicated adjustment levels for the chain. When the level reaches the end of its length it’s time to replace the chain.
It’s also a good idea to replace it if it’s starting to kink, if there’s rust that can’t be removed, or if it’s damaged in any way. Another indicator would be rough gear changes or damaged sprockets.
Don’t forget to change the sprockets and chain at the same time to avoid any premature wear.
Do Motorcycle Chains Stretch?
Despite popular belief, the motorcycle chain doesn’t stretch on its own. The high-tensile, steel design prevents it from stretching.
What’s really going on is the wearing down of the O-rings/X-rings and connecting pins. This increases the space between the links which causes the chain to “stretch”.