It seems amazing with today's modern fuel-injected, black-box, high-tech wonder motorcycles that we're still working with the same final-drive system that was used for motorcycles 100 years ago. It's difficult to improve upon the chain-and-sprocket system. It's efficient, reliable and light – if it's operating as it should. It can also be the source of a catastrophic failure if things go wrong. How do you keep your chain happy?
Here are some secrets that you should know about your chain.
So what's the truth about O-ring chains? Do O-ring chains rob horsepower or not? When you push your motorcycle around, it's easy to believe that O-ring chains cost power. In fact, some people have performed dyno tests that show some horsepower loss. But it's not that simple. Even among O-ring chains there are many different designs. A full O-ring chain has more contact area than an X-ring or another chain, so it will have some drag and some horsepower loss when cold. But as the wheel turns, the chain gains as much as 10 degree Celsius and the drag decreases significantly. How much simply depends on the chain. For example a Smartchain II has O-rings that are impregnated with a polymer that 'weeps' as it gets hot, so drag decreases dramatically.
Do you need to lube O-ring chains? Some riders say it only attracts dirt, creating a coarse grinding compound. This is certainly true of most lubes, but the alternative is worse. Beyond the lubrication of the pins, O-rings need lube to keep from drying out and cracking. Also, a thin film of lubrication between the teeth of the sprocket and the rollers will prevent wear dramatically. A lubed chain is also less susceptible to wear caused by chain guides and chain blocks. The secret is to avoid over-use. It's a good idea to use a rag to wipe up any excess oil.
Some people maintain that WD-40 is all they need on their motorcycle chain. WD-40 does some things really well. It's disperses water and prevents rust. Also, your chain looks really clean and neat, but that's because WD-40 is mostly kerosene and is a good solvent. You can actually use it to remove lubrication. It also dries up O-ring worse than leaving your chain dry. There are a number of good chain lubrications out there.