Useful Information About Motorcycle Chains


I hear this question all the time about motorcycle chains (applies to ATV’s too).  Which chain should I get, an O-ring or a Non-O-ring?  Through the years I’ve had the privilege of talking to some pretty smart people on this exact topic.  Due to the confusion on hear on this topic, I really thought it would be a good idea to post what I’ve learned.  Also, when I say O-ring, that covers all ring type chains — O, X, and W-Ring chains.

Almost all reasons I’ve read go something like this:

“If you are going to ride in the mud and off-road a lot you should get an O-ring chain.”

“If you race you need to get a non-ring chain because O-ring chains produce too much drag and rob power.”

“Non-ring chains don’t last as long.”

“O-ring chains last a lot longer and don’t stretch as fast.”

“Get a non-ring chain, but make sure it has a high tensile strength.”

All these reason’s seem pretty compelling depending on what type of riding you do, however, here are some facts about chains that I’ve learned over the years.  Some agree with the above statements, some don’t.

Chain Drag

Just to put the drag argument to rest, I’m going to quote a post on All Things Moto!.  This is from an ATM! member that has been around motorcycles longer than most of us have been alive.  He’s wrenched for Factory Yamaha, and believe me, he knows what he’s talking about.  The original post can be found here –> which is the best chain for power to back wheel?

FFRacing11x said and I quote (line spacing added for easier reading):

Just re-read this entire thread. For those of you have not, it really is quite entertaining. Check it out!

Since this thread has been posted, I have come up on a chain “dyno”.  It is basically a 1/2 hp electric motor with sprockets and a disc brake and an ohm meter attached.

The disc is for putting a load on the chain till it gets up to operating temp.

What I found would surprise you.

On first start up, the non oring chain puts very little draw on the motor, while the oringer pulls a few ohms meaning it is “dragging” more than the non oringer. BUT!!!

Once the 2 chains came up to temperature, the non oring chain drew more and more resistance from the motor.

Ready for the surprise???

The warmer the oringer got, the LESS resistance it made!

SO, my conclussion was that once up to operating temp, the o-ringer had LESS drag than the non oring chain did.

NOW, just think if we were to add a little bacon grease to the equation……Tdub

Pretty interesting me thinks, and it makes sense.

Why do O-ring chains last longer?

The reason o-ring chains last so long is because under all those little rings is grease (or some kind of lube similar to grease), which keeps the pins lubricated, thus reducing friction and making the chain last longer. So you can see why using a power sprayer on an o-ring chain isn’t a good idea. washing the lube out is one thing, but trapping water in there just complicates the matter.

Non-ring chains don’t have that, and therefore, don’t last nearly as long. And I don’t care what lube you use, unless you lube it often (probably after every 30 min of riding) non-ring chains just won’t last as long as an o-ring chain simply due to the fact that the lube will NOT stay on the pins. You might say yeah, but my chain lube is really sticky — well that’s nice, now you have sand, dirt and other fine particles stuck to your chain acting like sand paper to help the wear process.

Chain stretch – I’m not sure what others believe, but I personally thought that a chains tensile strength was the holy grail when it came to chains, and I’m not saying that a high tensile strength doesn’t help, but the reason chains stretch (and in fact the use of the word stretch is very misleading), is not because the metal stretches (though it certainly might to a small degree).

Chains grown in length initially because the pins that hold each link together are buffed (for lack of a better word) and all the manufacturing burrs, etc, are cleaned up. times that by 112-114 links all connected with pins and you have a little growth. Even o-ring chains need adjusting after they are broken in. After break-in the rate at which o-ring chains lengthen is reduced a lot when compared to a non-ring chain. Ok, so to my point. The pins are what wears out, they get grooves in them and that is what makes a chain “stretch”.

Don’t believe me?  Next time you replace your chain use a grinder to tear a link apart and have a look. You’ll be surprised at what you see.

That is also why they tell you to measure your chain (usually 10 links or whatever, and make sure it’s not longer than a specific length) because you can’t visually tell by looking at a chain that it’s worn out, because you can’t see the groves in the pins.  See illustration.

How to measure a chain

How to measure a chain (from a 2002 CR250R Manual)

Chain Maintenance & Chain Lube

I know some won’t agree, but WD-40 is not recommended on the o-ring chains due to it actually causing the rings to swell. However, having said that I’ve used it and have not seen that on my own chains, but that’s what they say…. go figure.  I however, do not use it as a primary lubricant for my chains.  I don’t recommend anything that’s sticky.  Get a good lube that won’t attract dirt and lube it often.  Another key is to let it dry.  I almost always lube my chain after I wash my bike, therefore, I don’t have to at the track.

One final note.  Always replace your chain and sprockets as a set.  They wear as a set and should be replaced as a set.

Just a little something I’ve learned that I thought I’d pass along — and yes, I buy, use, and recommend only O-ring chains.

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