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Selecting the right chain, maintaining it and when to replace it

RK Excel


There are hundreds of glamorous products that catch our eye on today’s motorcycles, however – one of the most overlooked products on your bike is the drive chain. They’re dirty, grungy, ugly and as a result, many riders are uninformed about selecting, installing, and maintaining their chain. Selecting wrong chain, improper installation and neglect can cause an extremely dangerous situation which can result in not only harm to your bike, but your body! This article will help you make the most of your chain investment.


People say, “I want the best chain you make”. Well, there isn’t just one “Best Chain”. There is however, a chain that is “Best” for your bike and type of riding.

When selecting a chain, the rider needs consider several factors:

1. What type of riding will you be doing?

2. What chain did my bike come stock with?

3. Is the chain’s warranty (if offered) applicable for this application?

4. Have I made any modifications to the bike that would increase the torque output?

Your local motorcycle dealer can help you answer these questions to determine which chain is suitable for your bike & riding style. Keep in mind that the most important aspect of selecting a chain is to BUY THE RIGHT CHAIN! Make sure the chain you’ve selected has a CC rating at or above the number of CCs for the bike. For example, you wouldn’t want to run a chain

rated for a maximum of 300ccs if you’re going to install it on a 525cc bike.

Also keep in mind that any bike that came stock with an O-ring style chainshould always be replaced with an O-ring style chain. The factory put an O-ring chain on that bike for a reason and installing a standard or heavy duty chain is downgrading from OE standards and should never be done. Check your owner’s manual for information regarding the type of chain your bike

came stock with.


Why do chains break? Incorrect application or length, mis-installation, improper adjustment, mismatched drive components – any of these can create the dynamic force, which can break a chain. Chains are a required yet expensive investment for most motorcycles, so the goal should be to maximize your chain investment by getting the longest wear possible.

NOTE - To ensure safe, trouble-free riding, you should always install new sprockets when replacing your drive chain. :thumbsup:

A sure chain killer that most riders overlook is misaligned sprockets. No matter what brand of chain and sprockets you purchase, if your drive system is misaligned you can count on your chain and sprockets to wear faster and cost you more money. Sprockets can be misaligned either side to side, or the leading edge of a sprocket can be off center, or both problems at once. The best way to align sprockets is to lay a straight edge along the flat planes of both sprockets and make sure they touch all the way along. Misaligned sprockets are also one of the primary causes of tight spots.

All of RK’s literature states that RK Chains should be installed by a trained mechanic using the proper chain installation tools. Adjustments to the chain should be per the owner’s manual. Most connecting links (AKA master links), including RK use the press-fit design. This means that the connecting link side plate must be squarely pressed over the link pins, with the link pin heads peened over to hold the side plate on (AKA endless chain or rivet style master link). This process can RARELY be installed correctly using vise grips and a hammer. Using tools not designed for chain installation can cause links to bind which decreases the chain’s, performance, life and costs you more money. Also, many chains can be purchased with a clip style master link, including RK, should you want to be able to break your chain more quickly. However, even when installing a clip style master link, a chain press to properly install the side plate is still recommended.

Many chain companies sell their own chain tools to help mechanics properly install connecting links. RK’s tool (UCT4060) for example, is both a chain cutter and press-fit/rivet tool. These tools allow you to properly install the connecting link components. However, even using the proper chain tools it is possible to install a chain incorrectly by either flaring the pins too much or not enough. Refer to the chain boxes’ instructions for proper connecting link installment. Always follow factory recommendations for chain adjustments.


No matter if you purchase a heavy-duty chain or an O-ring style chain, ALL CHAINS REQUIRE MAINTENANCE! Maintenance is the most vital part of maximizing the life of your chain. The finest chain made will not last if it is improperly maintained.

Cleaning and Lubrication

The main purpose of lubricating your chain is the keep the metal from rusting and the O-rings from drying out. Street riders should clean their chain and check adjustment every 400 miles (sooner if the chain gets excessively dirty). Dirt Riders should check chain adjustment before every ride, and clean their chain after every trip (sooner if the chain gets excessively dirty).

Use a suitable chain cleaner to remove dirt from building up around the link plates and rollers. Do not use contact cleaner, high-pressure hose, steam cleaner or a coarse brush on an O-ring chain. All these can damage the O-rings and/or wash away the internal lubricant. It’s OK to hose off a non O-ring chain, but be sure to use a moisture dispersant (like WD-40) after any chain comes in contact with water. After cleaning, it is important to lube your chain properly.

O-ring and non O-ring chains have different lubrication requirements.

Non O-Ring Style Chains (Heavy Duty)

Most quality chain lubes will work well on RK’s standard and heavy-duty chains.

O-Ring Style Chains


All RK O-ring style chains are injected at the factory with a lifetime supply of internal lubricant. An O-ring lube must keep the chain from rusting and the O-rings from drying out. Use only O-ring chain lube that is specifically designed for use on O-ring style chains. Non-Aerosol lube will ensure optimal performance and chain life as these products do not contain thinning ingredients needed for aerosol containers. However any quality O-ring chain lube aerosol or non-aerosol can be used to lubricate your chain.


NO. Chains don’t actually stretch. A more correct term is elongate. This happens due to a process called chordal action. Essentially this means the constant back and forth movement of a sideplate around the pins. The softest part of a chain is the pins, and when it happens correctly, that’s where a chain elongates. The sideplates and rollers have a Rockwell hardness

of around C30. The pin material is what’s called “Dead Soft”. Wear occurs between the outside diameter of the pin and the inside diameter of the sideplate hole. Small countershaft sprockets cause more chordal action, as smaller sprockets makemore revolutions than larger sprockets.


Besides the obvious signs of long-term wear, rust, “hooked” sprocket teeth and bound links; there is a Mathematical formula you can use that can tell you when you need to replace the chain.

A=# of Links (We’ll use120 for an example)

B=.625 for 520 type chain


(A x :busted: = Y

(Y x C) = Z

(Y + Z) = X X= When the chain exceeds this length – Replace the chain.

(120 * .625)=75

(75 * .03)=2.25


You should replace the chain when its length exceeds 77.25" in length. There are many other methods of estimating when you should replace your chain. For example – if you’re able to pull the chain off the back sprocket, using a chain wear guide, etc. But this mathematical formula tells you exactly when your chain has reached its life expectancy.

If you have any questions regarding the proper selection, installation and maintenance of your chain, we are more than happy to help you. Please contact one of our knowledgeable sales representatives at 760-732-3161 or email us at

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