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Home Repair And Restoration

Changing The Chain

Change Date 26 August 2017

By Pocket Pete

Just prior to going to The Lake District on our camping trip I adjusted my chain which took it just into the red warning zone. Being concerned I reported this to Ren who was surprised my chain was so stretched. The chain appears fine and it doesn't have many stiff links but its just stretched. 

I researched the chain life on the CB500X on various forums and the bike chain experience seems divided into two distinct groups. Long life and poor life. The lowest mileage was 4000 and the highest 28,000 miles. Lots of reported failures around the 7000 mile mark like mine. I think it depends on many things but the recurring theme is one of winter usage and short distance commuter work. 

Those who did mostly motorways and slightly longer distance reported much higher life spans. Various people said they didn't lubricate their chains some did extensively. Who knows what the answer is, so many people have different ideas. I accept everyone is different but it's like a nightmare.

I decide to buy a chain. "Which one?" is the cry.

DID gold O ring X ring VX high tensile? I go to my local shop who supplied me with a DID standard 520 chain with Soft Rivet link and sprockets. This is the standard Honda chain it was factory fitted with. Ren's has somehow done twice the mileage mine has done without failure. I suspect his secret is in the lubrication. I have been using Castrol Premium chain spray lube, Ren uses his patented secret oil.

I go with the Honda chain and sprockets to keep the bike standard and it's only £20 more than the Gold DID chain I fancied. Stick with Honda stuff whilst in warranty. 

Ren informed me on our camp all about fitting it. Hmm no split links for this chain, bummer I think I could have managed to fit that. I start looking at videos on chain removal and chain fitting - OMG looks a bit to much for me. I see a DID chain riveter and splitter for sale, rather expensive but I purchase it.

The Hi-Level chain tool stripped to its component parts

Ren says he will come over and have a look at replacing the chain. Hurray........

It's Saturday 26th, Ren and Sharon are coming over so I get up early to wash and clean my bike. It's not really that dirty but I don't want a Paddington Bear stare off Sharon. She looks quite scary despite her hobbit proportions, I have not recovered from last time she saw the state my bike was in. So it was washed and cleaned and polished. Hmm Quite shiny.

They arrive and seem in very good spirits, the suns shining and all is well. I can see Sharon's already seen how clean my bike is. No abuse today then, and I also polished my Daytona boots as I thought she would be wearing her new boots so I have to keep up with the Jones'.

A cup of tea later Ren's into action and before I have chance he's got the axle loose and pushed the wheel forwards and my chains hanging down. He takes off the rather tricky front cover to examine the sprockets. He declares the sprockets in A1 condition despite the state of the chain and says well at least you have them for the next chain. I ask why some people say you have to change them. He shrugs his shoulders and says no one can agree on anything where bikes are concerned. We examine the sprocket teeth and compare with the new ones, he's right they are perfect.

The chain on the CB500X hangs loosely in preparation for removing it
The front sprocket is still in situ on Pete's bike and it is hardly worn at all

Ren takes the DID tool thingy I purchased and cuts the chain with it. He doesn't grind off the rivet heads despite what I have read on the internet. The tool pushes out the pin without problem. The 'O' rings look squashed on the outside. I check the chain - only 2 stiff links and even they aren't too bad. One other looks a little stiff. So why did it stretch so much? Maybe my big fat arse was to much weight for it...a few 'O' rings look iffy.

The chain splitting tool is on the chain ready to push a rivet out

He cleans all the front sprocket area and then very carefully counts the links in the new chain. Several times. He then gets Sharon to check it before he then takes the tool and removes the surplus links, the chain is 120 links we need 112. This chain fits about 30 Honda bikes hence you have to cut it to length. He takes the link and greases the O rings and fits it together. Then clamps the link cover over. He then presses this over the pins using the tool and that seems pretty straightforward. He's never used this tool before but manages it without problem.

Putting the soft link in ready to put the plate on and peen or rivet the ends

Once the link plate has been pressed on its pretty tight and looks like it would stay on but the next step is the flare the pin heads to stop this plate coming off. Again set up the tool and tighten it seems to work pretty well the first pin flares out. He checks and does the process again and I can see one pin is nicely spread like the other rivets and he then repeats the process for the other pin.

Pretty good job if you ask me, I don't think I would have the confidence to do this but for a first timer he looks like he's done hundreds of these. We break for a cooked breakfast and tea then Ren reassembles the bike. Seems to take him only a few minutes. Sharon then mixes me their special chain elixir. This is old used engine oil mixed with grease to make a sort of chocolate sauce. Just the thing to apply with a toothbrush. He does this everyday. Hmm we shall see if this sorts out my chain problems.

A gloopy black mixture of oil and grease on a dirty old toothbrush

Ren and Sharon return for yet more tea and a heated discussion of chains, oils, grammar and spelling commences. They leave as I have to pop out and harass my tenants for their rent. I give Ren the chain tool - I really cant see me using it and it is a small price to pay for having my bike chain done. At least he now has it in case another chain needs doing.

Another big thanks to Ren and Sharon. I am learning more and more about this biking lark. I took the bike out for a small spin, it certainly sounds and runs better. Quite smooth and on my return I oiled the chain as shown.

Got a handy tool you'd like to tell us about? Maybe just a motorcycling related tale. We'd like to share it here on Bike And Travels. Drop Ren a line ren@bikesandtravels.com.

Reader's Comments

CrazyFrog said :-
Unless it's a sensible bike like an MZ with a fully enclosed rear chain, all my bikes get a chain oiler fitted. The BMW came with a none functional Scott oiler which I have now repaired, but normally I just fit a cheap Loobman kit. The Scott oiler is completely automatic and probably takes quite a while before you recoup the initial payment cost, but Loobmans are only about £25. Easy to fit, and all you do is press the little button before every ride and the chain gets a nice measured dose of oil. By my reckoning this doubles the life of the chain and [aysfor itself within about 10k miles.

Also being a naturally lazy person, there's no faffing about with 'orrid oily chains. Wunderbarr...
29/8/2017 8:08:46 AM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
O ring and X ring chains make a huge difference. My Hinckley Tiger 955i with something like 100 bhp covered 20,000 miles or so on the chain it had when I bought it at a year old (and yes, I did ride it in the rain although not through winter). It was still fine when I sold it (checked using the recommended method ie hanging a weight on the chain and measuring the distance between 20 or so links). I admit I rarely used the bike's full power......

All I ever did was to spray it with Wurth chain wax every few hundred miles. In all that time I adjusted it once. I did, following the general Triumph wisdom, run it slightly slacker than the recommended figure.

If you think about it, if the X rings work they not only retain the lubricant inside the bushes and rollers which is where all the wear would take place but stop anything else (eg scottoil etc) getting inside. The rollers should not slide on the sprockets but should stay relatively static if you look at chain construction. The only place where any relative motion takes place apart from the parts inside the X rings are where the edges of the side plates rub on each other and the sprocket edges, but there is little force on these. That's my view anyway......

In the bad old days, I used to boil the chain regularly in Linklyfe (horrible stuff) but now even on the "classics" which don't have room for O rings I just use an aerosol - Silkolene on these - as I can't abide the back end of the bike being coated with filthy muck. But admittedly these don't do huge distances.

Oh, and that drive sprocket, although not hooked, does look a little worn to me. The classic test is to pull the chain tight by squeezing top & bottom runs together with one hand and then seeing if you can lift the chain away from the sprocket on the far side. Although I can see access is difficult with that coolant hose being in the way.
29/8/2017 9:16:49 AM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Pete - "naturally lazy". I well remember something I once read suggesting that the best computer programmers were the lazy ones as they would always find a way to write re-usable and generic code so they wouldn't have to do it all over again. A principle I've always tried to follow.......
29/8/2017 9:18:48 AM UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Quite right Ian. Necessity is supposed to be the mother of invention, but in reality it's laziness, IMHO!

Your right about the 'O' and 'X'ring chains too - most of my experience with chain oilers has been with normal chains, though obviously, they can't do any harm with an 'X' or 'O' ring chain I suppose.
29/8/2017 9:35:25 AM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
.... and I'm still trying to work out how to fit a scottoiler to the Guzzi......
29/8/2017 11:30:58 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
There is an endless spectrum of opinions on chains. Pocket Pete discovered this when researching them. I have my own opinions just like everyone else.

I believe in lubrications and lots of it. I believe O rings help but they are far from perfect. I've never tried Scottoilers despite Bob's insistence. I wish motorcycles didn't have chains but I understand why they do.
29/8/2017 1:12:24 PM UTC
Pocketpete said :-
Ok why do they chains and not shaft drive.

Is it purely down to cost.

Honda seem insistent on having a full range of cb500 engined bikes why not a touring version with shaft drive.
29/8/2017 1:37:26 PM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Shaft drive is inherently more expensive than chain. Lots of people don't like it especially with a longitudinal engine like the Guzzi and (most) BMWs as these generally have engine speed clutches which can lead to clunky gear changes and torque reaction when you blip the throttle at standstill (which is a bit weird the first time you encounter it). But most of that dislike is prejudice.

But of course when the shaft eventually does fail it's expensive.....
29/8/2017 2:07:25 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
My NTV600 Revere was shaft driven. There's 2 problems with shaft drive as I see it.

1. Efficiency. Chains rattle, wear out, require a lot of maintenance and are a pain in the ass but they transmit power very efficiently. Shaft drives sap power. If you're not bothered about power then they sap economy. A shaft will increase fuel consumption.

2. Repair. Chains rattle, wear out, require a lot of maintenance and are a pain in the ass but they are easy to replace. The bearings within my rear bevel drive were shot and Honda's only recommendation was to replace the whole unit at...£1300!!!! That was considerably more than the bike was worth. I stripped the bevel unit and sourced the bearings for around £30. There was one large bearing within that was fine but a peculiar size, presumably specific to Honda.

As Ian stated shaft drives are more expensive to manufacture. When we're stood in the shop with 2 almost identical models side to side and one costs £800 more due to the shaft, most folks plump for the chain option.
29/8/2017 2:27:20 PM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I'm not actually so sure that modern chains are all that bad, especially given my experiences with X rings on the Tiger and V-Strom that followed it in my garage. Pretty much fit and forget, with the odd squirt as I say of chain wax. The hipsters amongst us could probably use beard wax......

When I was but a toddler, my father had a Norton sidecar outfit (similar to my "new" bike but pre-war and probably a 600cc Model 19). Times being hard and a country copper not being paid much, preventative maintenance was probably not high on the agenda.

Every Christmas we used to make the trek from County Durham across the Pennines to Farnworth where my mother's family lived. I dimly remember (or may have been told about it afterwards) one such trip when the chain kept jumping off the sprockets. It would have been worn well beyond sensible limits.

This was on the infamous Blubberhouses Moor - well before motorways of course - and Dad had to slither about in the freezing snow reattaching it only to restart and go through the whole process a few miles later. No breakdown cover of course, and no money to seek shelter in a welcoming hostelry. Mum and I would have been shivering in an unheated sidecar.

We had it tough in those days......

a similar outfit with me aboard.....
29/8/2017 3:55:19 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Eeeeeee when theee wur a lad, times wur 'ard but we wur 'appy n all that.

I find it hard to compare modern chains from those of 25 years ago for 2 reasons. Firstly I was a youth and I rode the motorcycles I had quite differently back then. Secondly I think my maintenance schedule has probably improved somewhat. As such I'm not comparing eggs with eggs.

I daresay metallurgy has moved on considerably so it's likely the modern chains have better materials in them. As I've stated I think the O ring system helps too. Other than that there has been no discernible change in the construction of a chain for aeons.

I have pondered the possibility of hydraulic drive but that would be very heavy, especially in the wheel where sprung/unsprung ratios would be ruined. Belt drives are cleaner and very reliable but these also sap power like a shaft drive. What about "rod drive" similar to the way a steam loco drives it's wheels? Very heavy and very complex compared to a chain. Petrol - electric? Hmmm, still the motor would be in the wheel once again ruining the sprung/unsprung ratio. I could go on...
30/8/2017 9:53:15 AM UTC
Pocketpete said :-
Just getting my bike ready for use after a winter of none use. Not been working so not used it.

It's survived ok not much rust since last year. Sharon's cleaning method seems just as good as the acf50.

My bikes covered 4600miles since ren changed the chain. The chain has been oiled every time I've used it with the tooth brush and ren's special oil and grease mixture.

Since then the chain has not even been adjusted. I've just checked it and it's still the same as when fitted. With 3 to 4 cm of travel.

The old chain was getting adjusted all the time. So is it my oiling doing the trick or is the replacement chain a better quality one.
4/3/2018 6:47:53 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Be sure to keep local and take it easy for the first few miles. The bike should be just fine however find out the easy way.

I'll drop you a line Pete, you need to put some miles on that bike! My poor suffering 500 is at 20,000 now. It ain't new no more.
5/3/2018 7:32:12 AM UTC
tahrey said :-
I dunno about the difference between O-ring and X-ring and whatever-ring, but I'm definitely another vote in the "some kind of ring" camp, regardless of what it is.

Original Honda chain, which I assume was some kind of O-ring type, given the occasional dribble of surplus 75w90 gearbox oil (I've got loads of it left over, from a run of cars that had various gearbox woes, often tied to low oil levels)... lasted essentially forever, or in other words "until I thought it was probably high time I replaced it and the sprockets". The latter weren't too badly worn, and the chain itself wasn't at the maximum allowable slack, but both were wayyyy past the prescribed age and mileage for replacement.

Supposed "heavy duty" but non-ring chain, which I was assured was all I really needed for a dinky 125 being ridden mostly around the city, given somewhat more religious oiling including a pre-soak in a tray of the stuff because I didn't trust it... noisy and often stiff-seeming throughout its short tenure, and snapped after a couple thousand miles, without even too much power put on, just scooting across a mini roundabout in second or third gear at 20-some mph on the way to work. Briefly locked up the back wheel, almost putting me on the tarmac, and essentially meant I had to take the whole day off because of waiting around for the AA to recover me - and that being back home, because otherwise I'd have been stranded with a broken bike at work. It also made me very glad of the otherwise somewhat token plastic chain guard Honda fitted (in place of the old metal full-enclosure type), because the force of the chain letting go whilst under even that limited torque made a complete mess of both the chainguard and the (metal!) front sprocket cover, to the point that the broken pieces of the former went in the bin even before AA man arrived, and the latter has never really been right since but damned if I'm replacing it before it's in bits. Shudder to think what it would have done to my leg without those ablative parts in the way...

Third, not that much more expensive, O-ring item, subject to the original level of maintenance... no problems for many thousands more miles since, and quieter into the bargain. I don't plan on replacing it until after it's reached the maximum slackness, maybe not even until I run out of thread on the adjusters, because I have a feeling it won't be necessary, and also replacing chains is a hassle even when you use the more simple clip-link I've ended up using (which wasn't the part that failed!) because of an abject failure with trying to put the more heavy duty type together and a complete lack of desire to ever again have to deal with punching out the rivets on an actual endless one (as was the OEM type).
7/11/2018 9:38:16 PM UTC
tahrey said :-
(also don't enjoy the idea of what might have happened if it had snapped at higher speed, and/or whilst cornering, especially in the wet or on a busier road; thankfully it was a dry day, and I was going straight, on a relatively quiet 30mph section. Just for all the different factors coming together meaning I was extremely lucky that the break happened where and when it did, I wouldn't ever recommend the risk of cheaping out on your chain. Same as with brakes and tyres - if your vehicle won't go, then that's one particular annoying but rarely fatal problem. But if it won't steer or stop properly, or decides to come to a sudden unexpected and unavoidable halt at a random time, possibly along with a sudden lack of steering control, that's a much, MUCH bigger issue)
7/11/2018 9:42:02 PM UTC

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