How to Replace Your Motorcycle Chain

No doubt at one stage in the life of owning a motorcycle you’ll need to either replace the chain, or at the very least install a new master link. While it may sound a bit overwhelming, replacing your chain and riveting in the new link isn’t very difficult and as long as you continue to clean and lubricate your chain will mean it’s a once in a blue moon task.

In this guide, we’re going to solely focus on rivet master link type chains. The alternative is a clip style chain but in 99 per cent of circumstances, we think using a rivet link is better. It’s extremely strong and durable and is far less likely to fail than a clip link. You can use safety wire to help keep clips in place, but then if you’re going to go to that extra effort, why not just use a rivet link to begin with?

The only time we’d really choose a clip type link over a rivet one is if you take your bike off-road a lot and need to change the gearing on it regularly. In that case, using a clip style master link allows you to quickly swap chains and sprockets without having to use tools like an angle grinder and chain riveter.

Tools you’ll need for this job are:

  • A chain tool that can break, press and rivet links. You’ve really got two choices here, either a cheap one or an expensive one as there seems very little in-between. Cheap ones are a lottery – if treated right they can last a long time but then again, they can break without warning. Motion Pro offer a fairly generic tool (and we own a copy of it) which will probably suit most people if looked after. Below is an image describing the parts you’ll find on almost all motorcycle chain tools.
  • A wrench – you’ll want this for leverage when tightening bolts on the tool.
  • Vernier calipers for measuring rivet diameters.
  • An angle grinder or dremel.

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Step one is to grind off the rivets on your old chain. For high end tools this might not be necessary, but for cheaper tools it’s almost mandatory. Grinding off the riveted pin heads means there’s far less resistance when pushing the pin out. If you don’t grind them down, the breaking tip in your chain breaker is more likely to snap. Those with high end tools can get away with not grinding the rivets, but doing so probably will still increase the longevity of the tips. Plus, who doesn’t like sparks?

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As you can see, with the heads of the pins ground down, it’s just a case of enough force to push them out.

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To ensure your braking tips don’t snap, recess them a few miliemtres inside the alignment bolt and then hand tighten the tool so both ends are flush on the link. Each end should cover the rivets. Once tight against it, get your wrench and tighten the push bolt. Eventually, the pin will come out.

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If you feel any resistance, undo everything and check that the tool is aligned correctly. Don’t force it – if you force it you’ll have a broken tip very quickly. Before putting on your replacemen tool, you’ll most likely need to cut your new chain down to the correct number of links. Repeat the same process that you just did to break your old chain – grind down the rivets, push the pins out.

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Once done, it’s time to put your new chain on. Here we’re using an RK XW ring chain. If getting access to your front sprocket can’t be done without taking a whole bunch of panels off, try this trick. Connect your old chain to your new chain with a master link, and then pull the old chain through so that it seats the new chain on both sprockets.

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Using your rear sprocket as your work bench, place the master link through the two ends of the new chain. Make sure that one washer is placed over each pin before inserting it. Then put two more washers on the other end, followed by the end plate.

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Take your chain tool again and get your press plates. You’ll have two such plates. The one without any holes should be placed over the end of the link that is already riveted (the far side in the picture below). The plate with the two holes will go over the unriveted end and allows the pins to poke through the wholes in the plate.

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Only tighten it enough so that the plates on the master link are aligned with the plates on the adjacent links. Tighten it too much and you’ll damage the washers.

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Now, grab an anvil and your riveting tip. The anvil is placed on the stationary end of your chain tool and will essentially ‘cup’ the already riveted pin. Riveting is obviously the most critical part of this, as this is effectively the weak point of your chain as it stands. Rivet too little or too much and you can damage the master link, increasing the likelihood of the chain breaking. To make sure you rivet just the right amount, we’re going to measure the diameter of the exiting rivets.

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Using some vernier calipers, measure a rivet on an adjacent link, and then measure the unriveted pin head on your master link. We’re dealing in small measurements here, but as long as we can get our new rivets to within 0.10 to 0.20 mm of the already riveted pin, that’s fine.

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Again, have it so that your riveting tip is recessed slightly inside the alignment bolt and then hand tighten everything up. Get your wrench or spanner and do just one revolution of the push bolt and the measure the rivet. Measure it again and then keep doing just one revolution (or even less) each time and check the rivet – if you flare the pin too much there’s no way to undo your mistake except to put in a new master link again.

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Once done correctly, repeat for the second pin. Make sure you put some lubricant such as Motul Chain Lube on your new master link and then you’re done.

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