How To Change A Motorcycle Chain

How To -


How To Change A Motorcycle Chain

Sooner or later, every bike will need a new chain and sprockets. Once a chain begins to wear, its pitch changes and wears the sprocket teeth. Then the chain begins to wear even faster. Then it’s time for a new chain, and a new pair of sprockets.

The rear wheel on my motorcycle had been misaligned (I had used the inaccurate etched indicators on the swingarm—rather than a ruler against the sprocket—to set wheel alignment) and ridden hard through a gritty, salty winter. The rear sprocket was in rough shape, and the chain was making lots of popping sounds as the bike went down the road.

Changing a chain is a fairly basic job that requires a chain breaker / riveting tool and whatever is needed to remove the rear wheel and sprockets. It’s nice to have a blow torch and a torque wrench on hand for this job, too.

How To Change A Motorcycle Chain

The ingenious Terra-X chain tool is made in Australia out of tool steel, and weighs just 150 grams. A big hollow bolt threads into the bigger of the two holes, and is used when pressing outer plates onto new master links. A smaller bolt with a pin can thread into the hollow bolt, and is used to push link pins out of old chains or to peen new master link pins by pushing them against a grub screw threaded into the steel body’s other hole. That little grub screw with a rounded steel end screws into the smaller hole of the chain breaker. It fits into and peens the hole of the new master link.

When changing a chain, the first step is to loosen the bolts on the front sprocket. It’s good to get those loose while the chain is still on the bike, partly to avoid putting undue stress on the transmission, and partly to avoid getting deep into the job and finding that the front sprocket bolts are stuck. In this case, the small allen bolts needed a bit of heat to come undone.

After the bolts are loose, it’s time to break the chain. With the Terra-X chain tool, you remove the small grub screw and use the small bolt with the pin to push out one of the chain’s pins. No grunting or swearing required.

Then comes sprocket replacement. Six nuts on the rear sprocket, the two bolts on the front sprocket, and that step is done. I had a torque wrench handy, so I could get the torque values just right when putting everything back together.

The next step is the big one: installing the master link that joins the ends of the new chain together. The master link comes with a little bag with some X-Rings, a master link, and some sticky tan lube. Smear the lube on the pins and inside the X-Rings, then begin to assemble the master link around the two ends of the chain, making sure to get the X-Rings in the right spots.

Pressing the outer plate onto the master link is the hardest part of the job. I removed the pin bolt from the Terra-X tool and used the hollow bolt to push the outer plate onto the master link’s pins. It took a few tries, but eventually I got it in the correct position.

After the sprockets are on and the master link is in position, the master link’s pins need to be peened. With the Terra-X, the pin bolt pushes the master link pin against the grub screw’s steel ball, and flares the pin. It takes a lot of effort—mostly because it’s not easy to get a lot of leverage on tools when they’re underneath a motorcycle.

Position the wheel for proper chain tension, torque everything to the correct specs, and you’re back on the road. The new chain is smooth, nearly silent, and ready for thousands of miles of high-speed running.

Any tips or tricks you can share? Tell everyone about them in comments.

  • jameslegg

    it’s all fun and games until the front sprocket bolt doesn’t shift with a 2 meter long bar or a truck spec impact gun with 2000+ Nm of torque or a blow torch and you have to resort to an angle grinder and a steady hand.

    It’s good to have friends with access to good tools.

    • nick2ny

      Tell me about it. This is what I’m facing on my Honda Cub. Sprocket cover bolt stuck fast. It’s a long bolt and heat doesn’t get in far enough to break it free, and I stripped the heads.

  • killian101

    Make the job even easier with a screw in Rivet…

  • Evan Zalesak

    As mentioned, that side plate is tricky. Best to fit it somewhat loose, and gradually press it tighter, comparing the link tightness all the while with one of the adjacent stock links. If you press it too tight (easy to do), the link will kink, bind and accelerate wear. Be sure you’re satisfied with the fit and flexibility before peening those little pins.

    The countershaft sprocket tends to get real tight over time/heat cycles. I find I can get away with using 10 or 15 ft lb less than the specified torque, to make subsequent removal easier. I second the previous mention of having access to a manly air compressor & impact gun.

  • Khali

    The needle on most breaking/riveting tools will actually break if you try to use them to break the chain. Instead I use a metal saw and just cut the old chain. Easier and faster.

    • nick2ny

      The Terra-X one is a beast–watch this video and see the needle muscle the pin out. It pushed it out like butter for me. The peening part seemed more stressful.

      Terra-X breaker demo</a

    • Eric Shay

      I always grind off the peened ends of a link with a Dremel and then break it.

  • nick2ny

    Some people prefer to have their tools made by the innovators, not the copiers. This tools is brutally tough and works exactly as intended.

    • KevinB

      You second statement applies to both these tools. One costs $125 and one costs $16. Nobody is innovating here. It’s a chain break. How long do you think chains have been around? Yeah, that’s how long chain breaks have been around.

      Sure, if you want something to take on your dakar experience and save weight, it looks like that would be a great tool. For everybody else changing chains in their garage or driveway, it’s a ridiculous waste of money.

      • nick2ny

        This seems like a totally innovative chain tool to me, unless I’m missing something. It’s tiny and lightweight, and an all new design. Terra-X’s main customers are adventure riders who don’t want to drag a huge tool around.

        If you break the pin on a harbor freight chain tool, can you order another single pin? Or do you have to buy the entire chinese-made part again?

        Maybe it’s a luxury tool, but then again, my tools are a mixture of craftsman and snap-on and park-tool. I like buying good tools, and they’ve treat me well. Most of the frustrations I run into when I’m working on stuff is with my own ability, not the tools.

    • Keith Lamb

      If you’re buying a tool you’ll use a handful of times a decade, there’s no need for a $125 tool. If you’re working on a lot of bikes, regularly need to replace chains in the middle of nowhere, or you have time to ride a heck of a lot of miles, then it might be worth it.

  • TP

    You guys completely breezed over telling the kids how to tighten that sprocket on the rear wheel.

    The way I was taught to tighten stuff like that (sprockets, handlebar mounts, engine cases, anything that has nut/bolts/screws around a perimeter) was to crisscross back and forth to the screws most opposite one another, and work your way around tightening everything up in small increments, the idea being that you’re evenly and incrementally torquing what you’re attaching to the piece it fits to. And take 2-3 laps around to tighten it up all the way to the spec torque.

    And also to keep an eye on the tightness of your rear sprocket. It’s a somewhat common failure on mx bikes that the sprocket gets loose and under power the hub explodes because the forces are unevenly concentrated where the sprocket meets the hub. I’d be less worried on a street bike but its something to think about (or one more thing to be paranoid about if you’re the type).

    • nick2ny

      Thanks for the note. I tightened the sprocket in a crisscross out of habit, but ought to have noted that technique in the article.

  • Jay

    I don’t bother to push the pin out to split the chain–not when I’m replacing the chain. I just push the rear sprocket assy forward and lift the chain off the sprocket. That gives me enough slack in the chain to cut the chain off quickly with a dremel cutting wheel by slicing through the sideplates. On reassembly, I use a micrometer when pressing the side plate into position on the master link; using neighboring side plates as a reference. I also use the micrometer (to measure the flare) when peening the pins to make sure I don’t over or under peen.

    • Chris

      The advantage of pushing the pin out (and another thing the author forgot to mention) is that it allows you to re-thread the chain if you didn’t happen to be taking the case cover off for this chain replacement (bad chain but sprockets are still okay, for instance). Connect the master of the new chain to the end of the old one temporarily, pull it through, then shed the old one and link the master up to itself.

  • Mugget

    The Terra-X looks like a neat tool, great for on the road repairs (if you happen to have a spare chain/sprockets…)

    For most people though I would recommend a more substantial tool. I have used the more “compact” variety that requires fiddling with two spanners in lieu of handles, then I got fed up and ordered a full size RK chain breaker tool. You get a good size handle so you only have to concentrate on one spanner, much easier, much better leverage. Also it will press on the side plate in one hit, no need to go back and forth between the two pins (I think it’s the same for pressing out the old link).

    Surprised that there was no mention of grinding off the pin heads before pushing out the old link. If the Terra-X can manage that more than a few times without breaking, then I’m seriously impressed!

    On the subject of chains – it’s worth mentioning that when you’re lubing a sealed chain (x-ring, o-ring, etc.) the only reason you’re using lube is so the rubber rings don’t dry out. You don’t need to lube the rollers or sprocket contact surfaces. With that in mind, go easy on the lube and you’ll avoid picking up lots of grit that will just accelerate the wear of your chain. I actually wipe off the excess lube from the links and rollers after I lube my chain. Doing that means that the chain hardly gets dirty, I haven’t had to clean it yet and it still looks brand new.

  • Scottie Ray Smith

    Came here for chain changing advice…Stayed for what looks like a 900SS-CR. That was the first NEW motorcycle I ever owned; having owned prior a Yamaha Seca-II. Had to wait a whole month for it to come in from Italy. Sold it a year later for exactly what I paid for it. It covered 10000 miles in that year without a single problem.

  • doctorbrody

    Having a cheap chain breaker / riveting tool doesn’t matter if you just use a sawzall on the chain. Totally underrated motorcycle repair/modification tool.

  • Chris Snyder

    Nice pictures and all that however you are pretty sparse with providing details.
    If you are doing this yourself, during the process of peening the ends of the chain rivets be sure to compare the width of the press plate that you are working on with another in the chain. Break out the calipers! Don’t over peen the pins!