Out of all motorcycle types, the most common drivetrain is the chain-drive. More than 60% of motorcycles have this type of drivetrain.

From dirt bikes to cruisers and even super fast 1000c+ sport bikes – chain drive is the go-to drivetrain. It’s simple, efficient, and reliable when set up correctly.

But as the saying goes, “the chain is only as strong as its weakest link” – even the trusty chain drive can develop issues.

In this blog post, you’ll discover the 5 main problems you might expect to encounter with a chain-driven motorcycle.

#1. Improper Chain Tension

image of stretched motorcycle chain

Original Image by luis arturo aguilar medina from Pixabay

Proper chain tension is like adequate tire pressure – absolutely crucial.

Too loose, and the chain will slap around making annoying noises and eventually destroy your swingarm.

Too tight, and it strains the bearings and can snap the chain.

So either way, chain tension isn’t something you should take to the extreme, or you might end up with a chain that has either snapped or fallen off.

And depending on where you are and how fast you’re going, it could spell disaster, death, or even both.

To avoid this, the chain must have a certain amount of slack, or movement, to function.

This slack allows the chain to engage with the front and rear sprockets smoothly without putting too much strain on the transmission– even when the suspension compresses and decompresses.

If you’ve ever wondered, it’s this reason why this is called “chain tension” in the first place.

#2: Poor Chain Lubrication

So now that the chain has enough tension, it’s time to make sure it’s been lubed up.

Even though the chain is exposed to the elements, your chain is in many ways like one of the countless moving parts inside the engine – it needs to be lubricated to run smoothly.

Actually, because the chain is exposed to the elements, it needs to be cleaned and lubricated regularly.

Just think about all the rain and mud (especially if you love a bit of off-roading) that your bike soaks up on a regular basis.

All that junk is an abrasive – meaing that it will wear out vital O-ring seals, rollers, and side plates.

That’s why lubricating and cleaning your drive chain is one of the most regular parts of regular motorcycle maintenance.

Fortunately, it’s also lubricating your drive chain is one of the easiest maintenance jobs to learn.

Also, since it only takes 15 minutes at most, it’s a maintenance job that is as quick as it is easy.

#3: A Worn-Out or Rusty Chain

image of a very rusty motorcycle chain

Original image by Max Lochner Lomax58 from Pixabay

No matter how good the chain tension might be and how well-oiled your chain is, there’s one inevitable thing.

Over time, chains will start to stretch. It’s a slow but steady process, like many other mechanical components.

As your chain wears out, the pitch between pins and bushes increases, causing sloppy engagement with the sprocket teeth. This accelerates wear even further.

Put it off too long, and it might snap one of these days.

Excessive chain slack is the most obvious indicator of a worn chain.

However, a visual inspection revealing cracked seals, stiff links, and discolored metal signifies replacement time.

Measure your chain periodically with a chain wear tool indicator. Please don’t wait until it snaps to replace it!

#4: Worn-Out Sprockets

image of motorcycle sprocket

Wait – wasn’t this article about chains? What do sprockets have to do with the chain?

Well, remember, the chain is just one part of the chain drive. As I said earlier – “the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

In the case of the chain, this is the sprocket (among other things).

If you’ve discovered that your chain is worn out, before you replace it, make sure to inspect the rear sprocket, too.

Putting a shiny new chain on a worn sprocket leads to rapid chain stretch and wear. The teeth chew through chain side plates.

Damaged and uneven teeth also produce vibration and noise issues.

What are some signs that the sprocket is worn out?

The most obvious sign that your sprocket needs replacing is the shape of the teeth. If several of them have a shape that looks like a shark’s fin, it’s time to get a new one.

Apart from that, look for teeth that are either too long or even missing altogether.

If your rear sprocket looks as immaculate as the one in the image above, you’re in good, capable hands.

#5: Misaligned Rear Wheel

image of motorcycle rear wheel

Just like a worn-out sprocket, a misaligned rear wheel might not seem directly related to issues with the chain.

But it is – remember that the chain wraps around the rear sprocket, which, in turn, is located at the rear wheel.

And a misaligned rear wheel can be a real hidden chain-killer.

The rear sprocket might be fine, but if you’ve got a misaligned wheel, you’ll notice that the chain will start to wear out abnormally.

So what makes it different from the previous one? Well, in this case, the abnormal wear will happen on only one side of the chain.

This is because the sprocket teeth will start to grind down the chain side plates much quicker on the tight side.