The Best Motorcycle Chains to Keep Your Bike Running in Top Condition
By Wesley Pestana | Updated Oct 11, 2019
While a few motorcycles connect their rear wheels to their motors by means of a shaft or a belt, by far the most common method of primary drive is via chain. Almost every rider will be familiar with chain drive from riding bicycles as a kid. In motorcycles the same principle is at play, only the chains are a lot beefier than bicycle chains, and a motor, instead of the action of your legs, is transferring power to the rear wheel. Your motorcycle’s chain is one of your bike’s most important components, and without regular maintenance it’s a component that will wear out really quickly. Like a battery, without which most bikes won’t start or run, without a chain, your bike isn’t going anywhere. Read on to find out more about maintaining your chain, and finding the best motorcycle chain for your bike - because yes, there are different types of motorcycle chains.
Best Motorcycle Chains Quick Review
|Product||Best For||Our Rating|
|1. Renthal R3 O-Ring Chain||Best Motorcycle O-Ring Chain|
|2. DID 520VX2-120 X-Ring Chain||Best Aftermarket Motorcycle Chain|
|3. DID 520ERV3-120 Gold Chain With Connecting Link||Best Gold Chain|
|4. RK Racing 520-SO Chain||Best Motorcycle Chain For Enduro Riding|
|5. JT Sprockets 120-Link 525 X1R Heavy Duty X-Ring Chain||Best Budget Motorcycle Chain|
Top Choice: Renthal R3 O-Ring Chain
Renthal’s R3 O-Ring Chain offers excellent performance as well as extreme durability. It’s great for off road riding.
Best Motorcycle O-Ring Chain
Best Aftermarket Motorcycle Chain
Best Gold Chain
Best Motorcycle Chain For Enduro Riding
Best Budget Motorcycle Chain
Why Do Chains Need So Much Maintenance?
A motorcycle chain is one item on a bike that takes a lot of strain, especially on motorcycles with very powerful motors. When you’ve got all that horsepower transferred to the rear wheel via a few small steel links, which also have to fight against a number of forces to actually get the bike moving forward, it’s easy to see why your bike’s chain takes a lot of strain.
Like any mechanical component on your bike, lubrication with good quality, part-specific oil will aid immensely in greatly prolonging the life and functionality of your motorcycle’s chain. While you could theoretically lube your chain with almost any kind of motor oil, it’d be a dumb idea to simply dump, say, two-stroke oil all over your chain and imagine that it’d do same the job as quality chain lube. Along with basic motorcycle maintenance knowledge like how to start your bike if it’s not turning over or what to do if your bike’s battery keeps dying, chain maintenance is one of those things of which most motorcyclists should learn the basics.
Essential Motorcycle Chain Maintenance Tasks
All right, I’ve lubed my chain up, that’s all my chain maintenance done and dusted, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, motorcycle chain maintenance requires more than just lubing your chain. You also have to keep the chain clean of dirt and grit, which can accumulate on the chain and accelerate wear and tear on the chain and sprockets, and regularly adjust its tightness to keep it performing optimally.
Motorcycle Chain FAQ's and Answers
Q: How to Clean Motorcycle Chain?
Okay, so how should one go about cleaning a motorcycle chain? Well, as with all things in the world of motorcycling, safety first! While many an old hand will tell you that you can save time and effort by cleaning your chain with the bike on the center stand with the bike in first gear and the motor running...DON’T DO THIS. Seriously, just don’t. Clean your chain with the motor OFF.
Putting your bike on its center stand, if it has one, will make the job easier. If it doesn’t, then an aftermarket paddock stand will make the job a breeze. Even if you don’t have one, you can do it with your bike on its kickstand. It’ll just take a little longer.
You’ll need, for the bare minimum, a rag, but it’s better to use a dedicated chain cleaning brush, and a product for cleaning motorcycle chains. Here is our very detailed guide showing you every step of the process to ensure that your chain gets thoroughly cleaned, but basically you just need to make sure that you let the cleaning product soak in for a while, and then use the brush or rag on the whole length of the chain by rotating the wheel.
Q: How to Tighten Motorcycle Chain?
A good rule of thumb is to check your bike’s chain every 500 miles or so (or half that for a dirt bike) to see if it needs to be adjusted. You’ll need to check your bike’s manual (or look online if you don’t have one for your particular model) to see exactly how much tension and free play there should be with your chain. For the job itself, you won’t need many tools; a ruler and a few appropriately sized wrenches should do it.
As with cleaning your bike’s chain, you’ll need to get the rear wheel up off the ground. Again, if your bike has a center stand, this will make life easier. If it doesn’t, an aftermarket paddock stand will make this even easier. If you don’t have one of those, though, you can get a buddy to help you get the rear wheel up off the ground. You’ll need to check the chain’s tension, according to your model’s specs, with a ruler, and then loosen the rear wheel axle to get the right chain tightness. Again, there are very detailed guides online for the complete beginner on every step of this process.
Q: How to Lube Motorcycle Chain?
Chain wax, chain oil, gear oil, WD-40...what should you be using on your motorcycle chain? Generally, as is the case with most other motorcycle products, products designed specifically for the application and part are better; chain wax is generally designed to cling to the chain while it’s moving, while other more general lubricants, like gear oil, are not. While pretty much any oil will provide lubrication for your chain, lubricants not designed for chains are likely to get flung off the chain while it’s moving - and all over your bike, your boots and your pants.
Lubing your chain with chain wax or chain oil, both of which usually come in aerosol cans, is as easy as getting the rear wheel off the ground, squirting some onto the chain, rotating the wheel to get to an unlubricated part of the chain, and then repeating this process until the entire chain is coated.
Q: How Often to Lube Motorcycle Chain?
So, now that we know that lubing a chain is a pretty essential part of chain maintenance, how do we know how often to lube it up? Some riders say every other ride, some say every few hundred miles. It really depends on the kind of riding you do, and the kind of weather you’re often out in. Do you ride off road a lot, in harsh conditions? You’re going to need to lube your chain a lot more frequently than the guy who rides a lot of easy commuting miles on smooth pavement.
Generally, a good rule of thumb for motorcyclists who ride on the street is to lube your chain every 400 to 500 miles. If you ride very aggressively and frequently thrash your bike, you may want to do it more often. Also, you should generally lube your chain after a ride, not before one. This is because after you’re done riding the chain is hot, and the lube will penetrate more effectively into the chain.
Best Motorcycle Chains Review
Renthal’s R3 O-Ring Chain offers excellent performance as well as extreme durability. It’s great for off road riding.
If you ride off road a lot, you’ll already know that the harsher conditions riders encounter off road compared to motorcyclists who stick to the pavement translate to going through consumables like chains at a much faster rate. An o-ring chain, however, in which o-rings keep the grease packed in and the dirt out of the pins and rollers of the chain, even in the harshest conditions. So while you’ll pay a little more for a good o-ring chain like Renthal’s R3 O-Ring Chain, it’s going to last you almost double the life of a regular chain. Renthal’s R3 O-Ring Chain is built with extreme durability in mind, so even though it costs a little more, it’ll save you time and effort by outlasting cheaper chains.
- Extremely durable; will last longer than most other chains
- Gold-coloured side plates prevent corrosion
- More expensive than other chains
Best Motorcycle Chain for Enduro Riding
For a decent quality o-ring chain that’s perfect for most off road riders and won’t break the bank, look no further than the RK Racing 520-SO Chain.
If you’re doing a lot of casual off road riding on a smaller capacity enduro or MX style bike, you’re probably going to want the kind of durability and long chain life that an o-ring chain offers, but you might not want to pay top dollar for chains designed for racing machines. In that case, RK Racing’s 520-SO Chain offers a good balance between a solid, durable chain and not leaving a major dent in your wallet. If you’re not a hardcore racer, and your bike isn’t putting out tire-shredding power, then this chain will probably suit your needs just fine, and leave your bank account relatively full.
- Good price for an o-ring chain
- O-ring design provides durability and long chain life
- Not for very powerful motorcycles
DID has been a big name in street bike chains for years, and their 520VX2-120 X-Ring Chain offers minimal friction as well as great durability.
DID has been a big name in motorcycle chains for many years, especially among motorcyclists who primarily ride street bikes. Their 520VX2-120 X-Ring Chain provides an ideal mix of durability and performance, without coming in at too steep a price. Their VX2 series of chains are known for their superior rigidity and strength, and promises minimal friction. This translates to less chain noise, a more efficient transfer of power from the motor to the rear wheel, and a quieter and perhaps slightly quicker bike. This all comes at a fairly decent price as well. You’ll have to look for a higher spec DID chain if your bike is bigger than 750cc though.
- Excellent durability due to x-ring construction
- Minimal friction ensures quick response and minimal power loss
- Not for bikes over 750cc
For street riders who don’t ride their bikes through seriously adverse conditions and harsh terrain, a hard-wearing, well-made x-ring chain like the JT Sprockets 120-Link 525 X1R Heavy Duty X-Ring Chain represents both quality and value.
While cheaper is usually synonymous with poorer quality, this isn’t always the case, and JT Sprockets’ 120-Link 525 X1R Heavy Duty X-Ring Chain represents a good compromise between price, longevity, strength and quality. While JT Sprockets aren’t quite as well known in the motorcycle chain world as, say DID, they do produce good quality chains, and their JT Sprockets 120-Link 525 X1R Heavy Duty X-Ring Chain, which offers the durability and minimal friction of an x-ring chain at an affordable price, is a decent buy for the budget-conscious motorcyclist. If you buy this chain, make sure to do regular lubing and maintenance to prevent the surface of the links from rust and corrosion.
- Good price
- X-ring construction means it’s durable and that there’s minimal friction and power loss
- May corrode a little faster than more expensive chains if not maintained properly
The DID 520ERV3-120 Gold Chain with Connecting Link is a chain that looks as good as it performs. This chain combines excellent durability and low friction with good looks.
DID’s 520ERV3-120 Gold Chain with Connecting Link is a chain that not only looks fantastic, but also performs really well. DID claims that the friction of this chain is half that of an o-ring chain, but even so, it sacrifices nothing in terms of durability. This chain is designed for performance motorcycles, and will provide minimal power loss and greatly reduced friction compared to a standard chain. Did we mention that the entire chain is gold? Not solid gold, obviously, but the coating protects against corrosion and rust, and makes cleaning the chain a breeze. While this is a great chain in terms of performance, this sort of quality does come at a price; it’s over $130.
- Half the friction of an o-ring chain
- Excellent durability
- Looks fantastic
- Quite expensive
Get A Good Chain, Take Care of It, and Ride Happy
As long as you invest in a decent quality chain and take good care of it, you should be able to ride worry free (at least in terms of your chain’s health) for many thousands of miles. While motorcycle chains are consumables, if you invest in the best motorcycle chain you can afford, and maintain it properly, you can stretch its life out for many thousands of miles, even tens of thousands of miles, depending on how and where you ride, beyond that of a cheap, poorly-maintained chain. As with many things in terms of motorcycling, you get what you pay for - and what maintenance you do.