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How To Adjust Motorcycle Chain Slack


Chain drives are one of the most popular methods of putting the engine's power to the wheels. It's seen on multiple riding segments from mx, off-road and road/race. Chains require a bit more maintenance than say a belt or shaft drive but they're usually less expensive and easier to maintain as well as being lighter in most cases.

Aftermarket chains and sprockets are widely available at your favorite online moto store for customization and utilizing sprockets in a motorcycle's drive system will allow you to change the number of teeth in order to mod the drive ratio - a favorite of performance riders. Riders with smaller displacement engines are probably very familiar with the phrase "520 conversion". All in all, there's a ton more flexibility with a chain and sprocket drive system.

There's absolutely a few important things to consider when maintaining your motorcycle chain. Aside from the obvious 'clean and lube your chain' advice that's often thrown around, I really want to go into specifics surrounding adjusting your motorcycle's chain slack in an effort to keep things in optimal working order.

So why chain slack is such a big deal? What are steps involved with setting it up correctly?

It is Cool? Maybe not. Is it informative and needed? You bet. Read on:

Why Bother With Chain Slack?

I'd rank monitoring the chain near the top of the routine motorcycle maintenance checklist, along with changing the oil and checking tire pressure.

Riding around with a loose, saggy chain is a recipe for disaster. In addition to creating an undue amount of wear on the sprockets, it can also create an alarming amount of noise and driveline lash that will cause a bike to jerk about when accelerating and decelerating. It might also cause the chain to jump from its sprockets. The end result of this, oftentimes, is an unprepared rider careening to the ground -- a scenario most would like to avoid, given the chance.

Having the chain too tight isn't nearly as typical, but it's also inadvisable. When a motorcycle chain is too tight, it will wear more quickly on the sprockets and also interfere with the proper functioning of the bike's rear suspension. It can also cause the chain to overheat - an equally unfortunate scenario.

It is for these reasons that keeping a bike's chain slack within acceptable parameters is paramount. Depending on the motorcycle in question, though, there may be some tools involved in the procedure.

What Tools Are Involved?

The necessary tools aren't anything particularly fancy, but they are essential to making sure the process goes smoothly. At the minimum, adjusting chain slack will require something to measure the chain to determine the current slack (like a tape measure or metric scale) and a wrench to work the chain adjuster.

While not absolutely vital to adjusting chain slack, having an extra stand to position and steady the bike will also come in handy. Whether an additional center stand or rear stand is more appropriate for the job will be dependent on the kind of bike. Checking the owner's manual for details on proper bike orientation during this procedure will help provide insight on which is better suited for the chain slack adjustment process.

The (Condensed) Step by Step

1) Before laying a finger on their bike, riders should first consult that owner's manual. The manual is the go-to source for learning about the intricacies that might apply to a particular motorcycle, along with the exact figures for the correct amount of drive-chain slack (usually somewhere between 30-40 mm).

2) Riders should always follow these instructions verbatim, as they come directly from tireless engineers and designers who created the bike and will cover most, if not all, of the nitty-gritty minutiae. That being said, there's still a general process that applies broadly to adjusting the slack on most chains, which goes as follows.

3) With the bike's engine off and the bike itself secured firmly on a stand, the first step is to take some measurements of the chain. Making sure the chain is at its lowest point, measuring should start at the halfway point of the chain, between the front and rear sprockets.

The goal here is to note the distance between the full-slack and no-slack positions. This can be achieved by pushing the chain up to a no-slack position and observing the measurement between the two points. If the measurement falls outside of the recommendation in the owner's manual, it might be necessary to tighten (or loosen) the drive-train to achieve the appropriate amount of slack.

4) Before going through the process of adjusting the chain, riders should ascertain the chain's and sprocket's overall levels of wear. If it's looking like the drive is past the point of no return, then replacing the entire thing might make more sense. If things are salvageable, though, then it's time to start adjusting.

5) To accomplish this, riders will need to get to work on the bike's chain adjuster. Typically, on bikes with lock nuts, a wrench will allow riders to hold the adjuster in place while loosening the nut. Once the nut is loose, riders can use the adjuster bolts to alter the level of chain slack. For many bikes, there's one on each side of the motorcycle's swingarm. It's important to adjust them slowly (about a quarter-turn at a time) and equally so that the alignment on the rear wheel stays proper.

6) Riders must continue this process, measuring all the while, to return their chain slack to appropriate levels. Once complete, they should tighten the axle lock nut back to its correct position (the owner's manual will provide direction on this) and confirm that the rear wheel is still in alignment, and the task is complete.

One final note. For riders who really love their chains, it might also be a good idea to give it a good cleaning beforehand. It's not always a necessity, but it's definitely something to consider for riders who want to keep their drive-chains running smoothly for as long as possible. There's plenty of chain cleaning chemicals available - including the grunge brush - that'll help you tackle this task.


By Daniel Relich


Motorcycle Maintenance Schedule Reference


From the first moment that any rider gets a new bike and starts rolling around town with it, the clock is ticking down until it's time for that very first maintenance check. Thereafter, the need for routine maintenance becomes more and more critical, and adhering to a fairly tight schedule is paramount to maximizing the life and performance of any motorcycle.

Though the specifics will likely vary from bike to bike, the general rule is that in addition to your regular checks for things like tire condition and oil levels, a bike will require more involved servicing every 2,000-4,000 miles. The following is a list of general maintenance timeframes and mileage intervals that apply broadly to a large number of motorcycles.

Routine Motorcycle Checks

These are items that riders should get in the habit of checking every month, every couple of weeks or every ride if necessary. These go beyond the standard pre-/post-check riders will perform before going out, and while they may not have to actually perform any maintenance on these systems, these components are so central to the functioning of a bike that it's critical to stay on top of whether or not they are in working order. These six critical routine motorcycle maintenance checks are:

Oil
motorcycle oil change
Before every ride, it's a good idea to check the oil levels and make sure that they are high. Low oil levels can lead to an unwelcome bike disaster, so riders should be prepared to top them off if needed. When inspecting oil levels, it's important to remember to:

* Check oil levels when the oil is cold.
* Keep the bike level while checking.
* Keep the oil tank free of foreign debris during inspection.

In addition, oil and filters need to be completely replaced at regular intervals. I'll cover that in more detail when going over the in-depth service schedule. Make sure to a motorcycle engine oil that's up to or exceeds OE specs.

Tires
When tires are under or over-inflated, riders risk having a catastrophic blowout while on the road. Therefore, it's important to regularly check tire pressure with a simple pressure gauge, and keep tire PSI within the acceptable parameters laid out in the owner's manual. Tire condition should also be ascertained on a regular basis--the health of the tread, overall wear and presence of foreign objects most especially.

Batteries
It might not be necessary to check a motorcycle battery but once a month, but check it riders must. They should ensure that the battery is charged, and make sure the battery is free of external grime and internal sediment buildup. Furthermore, riders should take care to inspect the battery's cables and clamps for damage and faulty connections that could hamper proper functioning.

Drive System
motorcycle drive system
Essential to getting power to a bike's rear wheel, the drive system will require routine checks to ensure it isn't damaged. The drive on a motorcycle can vary, be it a chain, shaft or belt drive, but the basic idea remains the same: make sure it's clean and nothing is obviously wrong.

Belts and shafts require relatively little in the way of maintenance, aside from making sure the tension is correct, while chains may require a bit of lubrication along with an inspection of the sprockets and tension as well. Riders should consult their owner's manuals for specific details about their drive systems and keeping them in proper order.

Brakes
While brake fluid will only require changing every one or two years, inspecting the brake pads is something riders should get in the habit of doing regularly. The brake pads are the target here and a major part of maintaining your motorcycle brake systems. Riders should make sure that their thickness has not worn away, as letting the brake pads wear down to the metal can necessitate a costly replacement.

Fuel System
Like the brake fluid, items like fuel filters usually only need to be replaced every two years or so. What riders should do on a monthly basis, though, is make sure that the fuel filter is clean and unclogged. In addition, they should check fuel lines for signs of damage or cracking and be ready to replace them if they have become worn.

Motorcycle Service Schedule

As mentioned at the outset, motorcycles require servicing of various systems at specific mileage/time intervals. The owner's manual will provide precise details (with European makes generally requiring more maintenance and Japanese makes requiring less), but here's a general idea of what most riders can expect from the date of purchase:

1,000 Miles or 1 Month
* Fluid check
* Coolant check
* Lubricant check
* Tire check
* Drive check
* Exhaust check
* Brake check
* Clutch check
* Engine oil/filter replacement

5,000 Miles or 6 Months
* Side stand check
* Battery check
* Turn signal check
* Brake/clutch lever lubrication
* Cable check/lubrication
* Chain check/lubrication
* Fuel system check/replacement
* Exhaust check/replacement
* Air filter check/replacement
* Clutch check/replacement
* Cooling system check/replacement

10,000 Miles or 12 Months
* Side stand check
* Battery check
* Turn signal check
* Wheel bearing check
* Shock system check
* Spoke check
* Brake/clutch lever lubrication
* Cable check/lubrication
* Chain check/lubrication
* Engine oil/filter replacement
* Spark plug replacement
* Fuel system check/replacement
* Exhaust check/replacement
* Air filter check/replacement
* Clutch check/replacement
* Cooling system check/replacement

15,000 Miles or 18 Months
* Side stand check
* Battery check
* Turn signal check
* Wheel bearing check
* Shock system check
* Spoke check
* Brake/clutch lever lubrication
* Cable check/lubrication
* Chain check/lubrication
* Spark plug replacement
* Fuel system check/replacement
* Exhaust check/replacement
* Air filter check/replacement
* Clutch check/replacement
* Cooling system check/replacement

20,000 Miles or 24 Months
* Check of all systems
* Engine oil/filter replacement
* Spark plug replacement
* Wheel bearing replacement
* Air filter replacement
* Brake and clutch fluid replacement
* Coolant replacement

From this point, the servicing schedule repeats itself, for the most part, and riders should continue getting their bike serviced at those regular mileage/time intervals to ensure proper functionality well into the future life of their motorcycle.

Keep in mind that if you have aftermarket parts and accessories, they may require additional checks to make sure all the bolts, etc. are properly tightened and up to spec and if you're hitting the race track, intervals will be more aggressive in order to keep the motorcycle running smoothly as a racing and high performance environment will also add more stress to your motorcycle components.
By Daniel Relich