How to Tighten a Motorcycle Chain: Step By Step Guide

How to Tighten a Motorcycle Chain: Step By Step Guide

Upon regular use, motorcycle chains can become too loose. If a chain is too loose, it could cause a chain lash or make the sprocket and chain wear out faster. But if it’s too tight, it puts a lot of pressure on the other components of your bike, which could cause motion and safety issues. 

So, if you must adjust your chain tension, it’s important to follow the correct steps to avoid damaging your bike. 

I’m a motorcycle enthusiast who’s worked with several bike models. In this article, I’ll show you how to tighten a motorcycle chain with easy steps. 

How Do You Quickly Tighten A Motorcycle Chain?

Use a center stand to lift your rear tire and loosen the axle nuts to allow the rear wheel to move in the swingarm. Turn the bike’s adjuster using quarter turns and remeasure the slack after each turn. Repeat this process till you hit the right chain tension and re-tighten your axle nuts. 

Before you tighten your motorcycle’s chain, it’s important to check the chain slack to determine if it needs adjusting. In the next section, I’ll provide a step-by-step guide on how to tighten a motorcycle chain

Tightening a Motorcycle Chain

Tightening a Motorcycle Chain: How to Do It

Before learning about how to tighten your motorcycle’s chain, here’s a few tools you’ll need to get it done:

    • Torque wrench

    • Chain tensioning tool(optional)

    • Measuring tape

    • Bike stand

Now that you’ve got all you need to tighten your motorcycle’s chain, let’s find out how it’s done: 

Step 1: Put the bike on the stand

Turn off your motorcycle’s engine and get it on a motorcycle stand. Alternatively, you can lift your bike using its center stand or side stand. Once your bike’s off the ground, shift the transmission to neutral. 

Step 2: Find out how much chain slack  it should have

You can check your motorcycle’s recommended chain slack on your owner’s manual. On some bikes, it’s written on a sticker on the swingarm. Generally, street bikes need their chain slacks set between 30 and 40 millimeters. Meanwhile, dirt bikes are usually set between 35 to 50 millimeters

Step 3: Measure your chain’s current tension

With your bike’s chain slack specifications in mind, you need to measure where your slack is currently. Pull the chain down midway between the sprocket and place a tape measure on the underside of the swing arm to take the measurement.

After noting the measurement, push the chain up and take the measurement again. Calculate the difference between the figures from both measurements to get your total chain slack.

man working on bike

If the measurement shows your slack is loose, you can tighten it up. If you don’t want to waste time doing the measurements, you can use a slack measurement tool to measure your chain slack accurately

Step 4: Tighten your motorcycle chain

When you’re sure your motorcycle’s chain needs tightening, use a wrench to loosen the axle nuts. You don’t need to spin it off, though. Simply loosen it enough to allow the rear wheel to move in the swing arm.

Most motorcycles come with an adjuster bolt that you can use to tighten or loosen your chain tension. You can tighten the chain tension through the backward movement of the rear axle.

Turn the adjuster bolt a quarter turn at a time to move the axle and tighten the chain tension. Re-measure your chain slack after each turn to check if the adjustment is right, and repeat this step until your chain is within its specifications. 

Step 5: Tighten the axle nuts 

When you have the correct chain tension and your bike’s chain is tightened, put a screwdriver in the sprocket and use your hands to turn the wheel to pull the axle against the adjuster. The next step is to tighten the axle nuts according to the torque specified in your owner’s manual.

Take out the screwdriver and tighten the lock nuts. Lastly, measure your chain slack again to confirm it’s within the right specs. When you confirm it is, you can take out your motorcycle for a test drive. Also do not forget to clean your motorcycle chain, a well-maintained chain is necessary for the functionality, safety, and longevity of your motorbike.

Maintenance Tips for a Motorcycle Chain 

Motorcycle chains are exposed to a lot of strain and gunk from everyday use. If they’re not properly maintained, they’ll wear out quickly and require frequent adjustments. In the worst-case scenario, it could break while you’re riding and land you in the hospital.

man repairing a motorcycle

In this section, I’ll be sharing a few maintenance tips to help you keep your bike’s chain in top condition:

1.Clean the chain regularly

Dirt and debris can accumulate on the chain, especially if you use your bike regularly. This causes the chain to wear down faster and not operate as smoothly. Follow the steps below to clean your motorcycle chain:

    • Step 1: Shift your motorcycle into neutral and place it on a stand or lift to give you access to the chain.

    • Step 2: Use a cloth or brush to remove dirt and debris from the chain. You might not be able to remove all the particles stuck within your chain, but try to clean out as much as you can. 

    • Step 3: If the chain is heavily soiled, use a chain cleaner or degreaser to loosen and remove the dirt. To do this, apply the cleaner or degreaser to the chain and leave it for a few minutes to allow it to penetrate and loosen the dirt.

    • Step 4: Use a cloth or brush to scrub the chain. Pay more attention to the links and rollers.

    • Step 5: Rinse the chain with clean water to remove any remaining dirt and cleaner or degreaser.

    • Step 6: Dry the chain thoroughly using a cloth or compressed air.

2.Lubricate the chain

This can help reduce friction and wear. To lubricate your chain, use a dedicated motorcycle chain lubricant and apply it to the chain according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In case you no longer have access to your user manual, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to lubricate your motorcycle chain:

    • Step 1: Clean the chain: Use a brush or a clean cloth to remove any dirt or debris from the chain. Be sure to get all the nooks and crannies.

    • Step 2: Apply the lubricant: Hold the can of chain lubricant about 6 inches from your chain and spray a light, even coat over the entire chain.

    • Step 3: Wipe off excess lubricant: Use a clean cloth to wipe off any excess lubricant. Leaving excess lubricant on your chain can attract more dirt and debris, so be sure to get the sides of the chain as well.

    • Step 4: Let the lubricant dry: Allow the lubricant to dry for between 15 to 20 minutes before riding your motorcycle again. This will give the lubricant ample time to penetrate and protect the chain.

3.Check the chain tension

Motorcycle chains must be tightened to the manufacturer’s specifications. A chain that is too loose can cause the chain to come off the sprockets, while a chain that is too tight can cause excessive wear and strain on the engine. If the chain tension is too loose or too tight, follow the steps above to adjust it. 

4. Inspect the chain regularly

Look for any signs of wear or damage. This could appear as stretched or broken links. If the chain is damaged, replace it as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the motorcycle.

5. Protect the chain

If you intend to store your motorcycle for an extended period, it is a good idea to cover the chain to protect it from the elements. You can use a chain cover or a plastic bag to cover the chain. After all this you should also know how to start a motorcycle safely, starting a motorcycle is not as straightforward as you might think, especially if it is not in great working condition.

person working on motorcycle chain 

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if the motorcycle chain is too loose?

If a motorcycle chain is too loose, it can cause problems like decreased performance, reduced stability, permanent damage, or increased wear and tear.

Does a motorcycle chain tighten when you sit on it?

No, a motorcycle chain does not tighten when you sit on it. The tension of a motorcycle chain is determined by the position of the rear wheel in relation to the swingarm and the position of the engine in relation to the frame. Hence, the rider’s weight does not significantly affect the chain’s tension.

Should I wipe my chain after every ride?

Yes, it’s a good idea to wipe down your motorcycle chain after every ride to remove dirt, debris, and excess lubricant. This will help keep your chain clean and in good condition, which can improve its performance and prolong its lifespan.

Final Thoughts

Whether you own a dirt bike or a regular motorcycle, you don’t need to be professional to know how to tighten the chain. With the right tools provided above, you can tighten your motorcycle chain if you follow the steps in this post.

Also, regular maintenance will save you a lot of stress and keep your bike’s chain in top condition. The maintenance tips I provided should be enough to help you preserve your chain’s lifespan. 

Jude Odumamwen

Jude became obsessed with motorcycles after his dad got him a 2007 Suzuki SV650 for his 16th birthday. He's since ridden a few more bikes and made a career out of writing about them. Jude also writes about cars, but his first love runs on two wheels. When he's not writing, he likes to watch movies or read mystery novels.