Cleaning, lubrication and setup are key

About four decades ago we ran a story called “How to oil your chain”. During that time frame dirt bikes were air-cooled, drum braked, dual shocked and suffered the growing pains that itch at a new motorized sport. Things broke. Parts were cheap. Manufacturing was inconsistent and as the sport evolved, all facets have morphed from primordial to advanced. In 1975 we had chains that stretched like rubber bands and our basic maintenance was a hard-core wire scrub brush job and then a good soaking in a tub of old engine oil.

The elements are tough on a chain and that’s one reason that nearly every off-road machine comes equipped with an o-ring, or x-ring sealed chain. It can be said that the life of the chain is the life of the sealed rings- even if one ring becomes damaged & loses all its grease, that particular spot on the chain keeps getting worn & creates a weak spot for potential failure down the road.

The advancements in technology have been stunning. Today’s chains on OE machines are quite excellent and the aftermarket is ripe with models ranging from motocross models where weight and tensile strength is a commodity, to O-ring/X-ring chains that target the off-roader who plops in a muddy world where the driveline is constantly abused by both engine torque and Mother Nature.

Too, today nearly everyone has a pressure washer in the garage. Our dirt bikes get scorched by water pressure, leaving the outside of the machine bristling while the parts that churn, turn and grind can get left unmolested and clearly in need of attention. On our drive chains this means that proper lubrication is crucial. On a standard chain spraying the outside of the chain will keep it from rusting, but it does little to penetrate the rollers that do the majority of the work. Same thing goes for O-ring/X-ring chains; they need to be properly cleaned and anointed with lubrication if you expect them to resist premature stretching and fight off high wear fatigue.

Key info for non-o-ring  chain is that it’s designed for lubricant to easily come in & out. The original chain grease can be replaced by brand new grease (i.e. chain lube) between the pins & bushings. Always select a reliable brand chain that uses good materials & manufacturing processes – lubing a junk chain is pointless. And for an o-ring chain they are designed to retain  the original grease & lubricant. You are mainly keeping the sealed rings alive as long as possible by keeping them wet with the lubricant & in good condition for best performance.

We’ve enlisted to some help from some key folks in the chain, sprocket and lubrication business for this story. The tips range from proper cleaning, to chain alignment, chain tension and of course, proper oiling. The majority of this information is basic common sense, but then again the idea for the story started when we watched one of our testers pressure wash his bike and then spray WD-40 over the chain, calling it good. It’s not.

Make sure you purchase a specific chain cleaner that’s safe for all chain types. Aggressive degreasers can degrade the rubber in O-ring style chains.

How to clean:

Every situation is different and depending on the severity of buildup from dirt, grime, sand, mud or leftover chain lube you may need a brush / chain cleaner combo or just a chain cleaner by itself. First, rinse chain with water (hose or pressure washer) to remove light buildup on the chain. Next, apply chain cleaner to all areas of the chain ensuring inner, outer and sides are covered completely. Allow chain cleaner to sit for 60 seconds or the time specified from the manufacturer. Rinse chain with water to remove chain cleaner and dissolved buildup. If the chain still has remaining buildup, re-apply chain cleaner and use a cleaning brush to breakdown stubborn areas. Rinse chain.

This is a good distance for a pressure washer spraying a chain.
This is too close and can destroy o-rings and blow out the lubricant in a non- O-ring chain.


Set motorcycle on a proper stand so the rear wheel can move freely. Apply chain lube to the inner portion of the chain while slowly rotating the rear wheel, ensuring even coverage. Note: Two complete revolutions is all that is needed, centrifugal force will migrate the lube to outer areas of the chain. Oversaturating the chain can result in excessive fling or heavy buildup on the chain. Once the chain is completely covered, allow chain lube to ‘setup’ for 10-15 minutes or as long as the chain lube manufacturer recommends. If proper setup is not allowed, the chain lube is more likely to fling from the chain.


Do not use WD40 as a chain lubricant on sealed (O-ring type)chains. It works fine as a moisture displacement  spray.


Some might say an O-ring chain doesn’t need to be lubricated like a regular chain due to grease already being packed in the pins and sealed with the O-rings, but there are many reasons why an O-ring chain still needs lubrication. Reasons include, to reduce rust and corrosion, to provide protection at extreme pressure points between the chain rollers and the sprocket teeth and to lube between the O-rings and chains plates. We like to use a good lube after washing an O-ring chain as it displaces moisture and fights corrosion.
Do not over tighten your chain! This is very hard on your motorcycle, can damage the rear wheel and/or the countershaft area when it goes too taunt as the suspension compresses. Three fingers at the back of the chain pad works and remember a little loose is way better than too tight!
When done adjusting (with the axle nut loose and before you cinch down on the chain adjusters),  put a rag between the sprocket and the chain and roll the wheel back. This will pull the wheel firmly against the adjusters, then tighten the axle, followed by the adjusters.


Keep an eye on your master link!  When it gets too worn it can fling the clip off and can possibly cause a chain derailment.


This is why serious off-road machines come equipped with a sealed O-ring chain.


We’ve been using the Maxima combo pack for degreasing, oiling after washing to remove moisture and using Chain Guard that actually has technology allows lube to penetrate critical inner pins and rollers protecting them from friction, shock load and high temperatures.


Don’t let this be you! Now good luck, we’re all counting on you.

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