With most of us stuck home with nowhere to go, the list of things we can do to keep ourselves entertained is probably getting a little short. How about learning how to perform a few simple but key maintenance on your bike? Since we all have time to spare, this is the perfect occasion to get up close and personal with our bikes and to learn to do some basic fiddling with tools we all likely have at home.
Since I’m the least experienced of the team in terms of motorcycle maintenance, it only makes sense that I should be the one to do a deep dive and share with you what I learn along the way, right? I thought so too. Something, something “If I can do it, you can too.” So here is the first article of our special lockdown series touching on mechanic 101’s maintenance tips. If you own a bike with a chain (not a belt or a shaft) then, lucky you! You now have something to do.
The final drive chain is one of those components that should get a lot more attention than it usually receives. As long as the bike is running fine, it’s easy to take it for granted and forget it needs a bit of love. The general consensus is that the chain should be cleaned and lubed every 500 miles or so. When was the last time you did that? That’s what I thought.
Because it’s the type of maintenance that comes around fairly quickly depending on how much riding you do, taking your motorcycle to a mechanic to get this taken care of can quickly become annoying and/or time consuming. Have you ever considered doing it yourself instead? It's actually pretty easy to learn to do and it’ll save you a few trips to the garage—provided you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty.
The first thing you want to do beforehand is to stabilize the bike. If your bike is equipped with a centre stand or if you have a paddock stand in your garage, it will make your life easier. If you don’t have a stand, don't rush to your computer to order one from Amazon—it's not a requirement.
You can simply push your bike forward or backward and work on the chain in sections. It's not ideal, but it works. The goal here is to be able to rotate the rear wheel so that you get to access the whole chain. You can also remove the chain altogether but that's a bigger commitment. Whatever you do, do not leave the engine running while you're doing this, whether it's to move the bike or to run the chain faster while you're spraying or cleaning. That's both dangerous and dumb.
Note that the cleaning process will be a little messy so I recommend you place something under the rear wheel like a piece of cardboard or a tarp to protect the working surface.
Once you’re set up, it’s time to get your hands dirty (if you don't have gloves). When it comes to the product you should use to clean your chain, chances are your bike’s manufacturer has something to say about it. The good news is that the recommended product will likely be a standard spray-on chain cleaner. If you don’t have a bottle of cleaner, you can also use kerosene which is both a cheap and efficient alternative. Some out there will even suggest that you use gasoline, but keep in mind that this is only a good option if you own an older bike that doesn't have a sealed chain (o or x-rings.)
If you don’t have either of those products on hand, you do have the possibility of using some good ol’ WD-40. It’s definitely not the best product out there but considering we’re stuck home, it's a good “in the meantime” option until we get to freely roam again and hit the store for a better-quality product. If you’re on the fence about what brand of product to use, FortNine tested a lineup of chain cleaning products with the following results.
Once your heart is set on a product, spray it generously on the chain. Use a piece of cardboard or plastic to hold behind the chain as a sort of screen to keep the product from getting everywhere.
Once the chain is well coated in the cleaning product of your choice, it’s time to start scrubbing. You should use a brush with nylon bristles—brass bristles could damage the seals. You can buy a dedicated chain ("grunge") brush that will clean both sides of the chain at the same time or you can use a simple toothbrush—you’ll only have to work a little extra. Make sure you scrub the top, the bottom, and both sides of the chain.
This is where being able to jack the bike up on a stand and release the rear wheel becomes useful—you can simply apply the brush to the chain and turn the wheel so that the chain runs under the bristles. It saves you a bit of energy versus having to do all the scrubbing yourself.
One you’re done scrubbing the chain clean, you can spray it once again with the cleaning product to get rid of any residue before rinsing with water. Don’t use a pressure washer for this, you want the seal between the o-rings and the links to remain intact. You can use a hose (running water, no pressure nozzle) or pour water from a bucket, then gently pat the chain dry with a clean cloth.
You’re almost done! Your chain is clean, now what? It rubs the lube on its chain. Lubricating the chain helps protect the links from friction, dirt, and oxidation. Once again, a dedicated chain lubricant is the best tool for the job.
If that’s not something you have on the shelves in your garage, however, some people out there suggest that you resort to your can of WD-40 (yeah, that stuff again.) It’s definitely not the best guy for the job—it’s a worse lubricant than it is a chain cleaner as it’s a water displacement solution and not a lubricating agent. If it’s the only one you have on hand, however, it’ll do as a temporary measure, provided you intend to get your hands on a can of proper lubricant once the stores re-open.
Another option is to use engine oil, though it’s highly recommended you use a high-viscosity one so that it doesn’t splatter on your gear or on your wheel. One again, the folks at FortNine put a few lubes to the test to help you make an informed decision.
The last thing you want is a chain snapping and slashing you in the leg while you’re on the highway. Since you’re dressed for the job and crouched down anyway, you might as well do a few visual checkups to make sure the chain is top shape.
Our colleagues over at RevZilla did an entire video on how to care for your motorcycle chain which includes a list of checkups you should perform regularly. That list includes checking the chain’s seals and testing its integrity. Their footage is far more efficient at illustrating what to do than any description we might give you of the steps to take so check out their video here.
You might also notice during your checkup that the chain needs to be tightened and adjusted. I didn’t dive into that part of the maintenance as this might not be one you are equipped and/or ready to tackle on your own. If you're up for it, once again, RevZilla comes to the rescue with a step-by-step video on how to adjust the chain and sprockets.
Congratulations. You’ve just completed your first motorcycle maintenance. It wasn’t so bad, was it? I bet that you feel pumped and that you want to do more now, eh? I got you, don’t worry. Next up, we’ll learn how to verify and maintain the tires together. Stay tuned!