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Manual Vs. Mechanical Cam Chain Tensioner

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I hear the mechanical units (ie Dirt Tricks) with the ratchet system, the teeth can strip over time and cause it to fail.  Can anyone shed some first hand insight into this?  I need to replace my cam chain tensioner and I only want to do it once.  Having to adjust the manual isn't a factor.  Thanks.

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I bought a TT manual tensioner. I used it for a couple rides, but I just did not trust myself to set it correctly. Ended up putting a new honda tensioner in my bike. I think I'm just gonna stick with replacing it every 100 hours with an oem.

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Manual tensioners are by far a better way to go. Once set, they almost never need adjusting. OEM 'automatic' ones tend to over tighten the chain, causing it to wear out prematuretly and are the cause of many 4S 'skipping a tooth' on a cam and bending a valve. The issue with a manual one, is people do not understand how to adjust them. Simply to do really.

Valve cover off

Cam lobes at 10 and 2 oclock.

Adjust tension with you fingers until just snug. You should be able to slightly life the cam chain (or push it down, depending on bike design) 1/2" or so. Tighten the tensioners nut. Put the valve cover on. Ride the bike. You will never need to readjust it unless you remove the cams. The cam chain too, will last forever.

 

To fine adjust, with the bike running, slightly loosen the tensioner. You'll hear the 'coffee can of washers' sound. Tighten till it just goes away. Do not tighten to remove all noise, This is where the inexperienced have problems.

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Great reply William.

Replacing the cam tensioner every 100 hrs is ludicrous and not an option for me.

The mechanical unit I was looking at is the Dirt Tricks ratcheting spring loaded unit. It's not just hydraulically actuated like OEM part. Anyone used it and can shed some light on the lifespan?

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Great reply William.

Replacing the cam tensioner every 100 hrs is ludicrous and not an option for me.

 

Do you have an hour meter? I ask because riding every other weekend I put 30 hours a year on my bike. 100 hours is over 3 years. And yeah, it may be overkill but a $40 tensioner is cheaper than a $1500 failure. It's also fraction the cost of what I spend on the 20 oil changes I do over that period. Do what you want, it's you're bike, but I will say periodically replacing a cam chain tensioner is not ludicrous.

Edited by problem_child

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Yes, I put about 8-10 hrs a week on my bike in season.

The mechanical unit costs me 120 plus 13% tax, pretty sure my OEM one is same price.

For me, I'd rather replace it once and keep an eye on it

Edited by idratherberiding

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The self adjusting problems sure seem to be model specific. Many go for hundreds of hour while some go away fast.

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Great reply William.

Replacing the cam tensioner every 100 hrs is ludicrous and not an option for me.

The mechanical unit I was looking at is the Dirt Tricks ratcheting spring loaded unit. It's not just hydraulically actuated like OEM part. Anyone used it and can shed some light on the lifespan?

A spring loaded unit is not a manual one and is not an improvement. Most MX bike tensioners are spring loaded ratchets.

A real manual one is simply a threaded rod that presses against the cam chain slider. I suspect the reason the OEMs do not used them is because owners would over tighten them and cam chain problems would be even worse. Bikes used to have manual ones butthe sprong loaded ratchet type reduced warranty claims.

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Okay, I knew they differed from the manual screw type, but was not sure if was an improvement over stock hydraulic type. The strange thing is both shops I go to recommended the dirt tricks over the manual, they even advised against getting the manual. Maybe they are afraid I will mess something up installing the manual, or they want to sell more parts.

Edited by idratherberiding

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A spring loaded unit is not a manual one and is not an improvement. Most MX bike tensioners are spring loaded ratchets.

A real manual one is simply a threaded rod that presses against the cam chain slider. I suspect the reason the OEMs do not used them is because owners would over tighten them and cam chain problems would be even worse. Bikes used to have manual ones butthe sprong loaded ratchet type reduced warranty claims.

What do you think about the ape manual tensioners?

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Manual tensioners are by far a better way to go. Once set, they almost never need adjusting. OEM 'automatic' ones tend to over tighten the chain, causing it to wear out prematuretly and are the cause of many 4S 'skipping a tooth' on a cam and bending a valve. The issue with a manual one, is people do not understand how to adjust them. Simply to do really.

Valve cover off

Cam lobes at 10 and 2 oclock.

Adjust tension with you fingers until just snug. You should be able to slightly life the cam chain (or push it down, depending on bike design) 1/2" or so. Tighten the tensioners nut. Put the valve cover on. Ride the bike. You will never need to readjust it unless you remove the cams. The cam chain too, will last forever.

 

To fine adjust, with the bike running, slightly loosen the tensioner. You'll hear the 'coffee can of washers' sound. Tighten till it just goes away. Do not tighten to remove all noise, This is where the inexperienced have problems.

William1- after you take the looseness out of the chain and stop the noise I read your suppose to go a 1/4 turn than tighten stop nut. Is this not right? I'm wanting a manual cam chain tensioner for my 2011 Suzuki RMZ 450 for the reasons you explained. After 37 hours my chain was junk, but like you said I don't know how to adjust them and have been reading up on it, so I'm glad you posted! Do you know where I can get one for my bike? eBay has them, but are they quality units? Tokyo mods sells them to, but they seem awfully high on price? Thanks for the help!

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What do you think about the ape manual tensioners?

 

They are fine. Typical or a manual tensioner.

William1- after you take the looseness out of the chain and stop the noise I read your suppose to go a 1/4 turn than tighten stop nut. Is this not right? I'm wanting a manual cam chain tensioner for my 2011 Suzuki RMZ 450 for the reasons you explained. After 37 hours my chain was junk, but like you said I don't know how to adjust them and have been reading up on it, so I'm glad you posted! Do you know where I can get one for my bike? eBay has them, but are they quality units? Tokyo mods sells them to, but they seem awfully high on price? Thanks for the help!

APE, TT store possibly, a couple of other.s You'll have to do some shopping.

 

When you tighten just enough to stop the 'coffee can of washers' sound (not all sound!!!) that is it, no tighter.

 

Quality is not a whole lot different it is a very simple device. What sets them apart os slight design variations. No OEM gasket but an Oring, meaning you can install as much as you want and never deal with a gasket. Some have a oring between the threaded shaft and locking nut, which minimizes oil seepage. Not a big deal really, you'll loose like five drops after a days ride. But you pay for these 'niceties'.

If your cam chain wore out with a manual unit, it was way too tight.

 

With a stock one, you install loose, and then free the internal spring, letting the plunger extend, ratcheting out. Slowly (no spark plug in, rotate the engine a few times) and then it should of self adjusted.

 

What happens with the automatic one is 'chain whip' can cause the tensioner to 'click' a little tighter than it needs to be. Now the chain is over tightened. The chain wears, chain whip causes it to click a notch tighter again and the chain wears more, eventually wearing out. In some cases, the notches on the plunger take a beating from the whipping and then no longer hold, letting the chain go loose and then jump a tooth on the cam sprocket.

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If you have a CRF-R Honda it is mandatory you replace the stocker with a manual unit.  The stock unit is junk and is a known prone to failure item.  You won't notice it until you are wound out and the carnage happens.

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They are fine. Typical or a manual tensioner.

APE, TT store possibly, a couple of other.s You'll have to do some shopping.

 

When you tighten just enough to stop the 'coffee can of washers' sound (not all sound!!!) that is it, no tighter.

 

Quality is not a whole lot different it is a very simple device. What sets them apart os slight design variations. No OEM gasket but an Oring, meaning you can install as much as you want and never deal with a gasket. Some have a oring between the threaded shaft and locking nut, which minimizes oil seepage. Not a big deal really, you'll loose like five drops after a days ride. But you pay for these 'niceties'.

If your cam chain wore out with a manual unit, it was way too tight.

 

With a stock one, you install loose, and then free the internal spring, letting the plunger extend, ratcheting out. Slowly (no spark plug in, rotate the engine a few times) and then it should of self adjusted.

 

What happens with the automatic one is 'chain whip' can cause the tensioner to 'click' a little tighter than it needs to be. Now the chain is over tightened. The chain wears, chain whip causes it to click a notch tighter again and the chain wears more, eventually wearing out. In some cases, the notches on the plunger take a beating from the whipping and then no longer hold, letting the chain go loose and then jump a tooth on the cam sprocket.

.

Neither APE or TT have my bikes adjuster!

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The bike in question is a 2012 KTM xcfw 250. Looks like I'll need to get a manual.

How can I tell if I need to replace the cam chain as well? It sounds like shit and I don't know how long it's been like that

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One other thing William.. Mechanics keep bad talking the manual units. The mechanics at the shops I go to and a mechanic on this forum all believe the ratcheting system is the way to go, that they have taken hundreds out of bikes and have never seen any stripped teeth or major problems. They instead feel improperly adjusting a manual would be much more catastrophic than anything an oem/automatic could do. What would be your rebuttal to this?

Edited by idratherberiding

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Get the 'ratcheting' type & go ride.  A manual type is unnecessary.  The problem of a failure usually lies somewhere else, like neglect or poor maintenance.

How many times on these forums do you hear someone say...I'm rebuilding my top-end, but never mentions putting a new timing chain in it. :thinking:  :lol:

Then wonders why the bike locks-up down the road.  :huh:  One of the most critical items in the engine, oftenly overlooked...

Edited by Throttle5

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One other thing William.. Mechanics keep bad talking the manual units. The mechanics at the shops I go to and a mechanic on this forum all believe the ratcheting system is the way to go, that they have taken hundreds out of bikes and have never seen any stripped teeth or major problems. They instead feel improperly adjusting a manual would be much more catastrophic than anything an oem/automatic could do. What would be your rebuttal to this?

 

Those 'mechanics' are not pros. The are intimidated by being able to properly set up a manual one. I have seen way too many ratchet type with stripped teeth or over tightened cam chains.

Get the 'ratcheting' type & go ride.  A manual type is unnecessary.  The problem of a failure usually lies somewhere else, like neglect or poor maintenance.

How many times on these forums do you hear someone say...I'm rebuilding my top-end, but never mentions putting a new timing chain in it. :thinking:  :lol:

Then wonders why the bike locks-up down the road.  :huh:  One of the most critical items in the engine, oftenly overlooked...

A properly set up manual one will let a chain last for multiple rebuilds. A automatic tensioner the rule is to replace the chain every time you do valves and replace the tensioner.

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