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O-Ring Free Zone

Blog Date - Friday, February 15, 2019

I've been afraid to write this because I feel like I'm sailing (or peeing) into the wind, going against the wisdom of the masses (to which I have subscribed for a long time) and I'm worried that I may still be proven terribly wrong. Oh well, here goes.

I am not using an o-ring chain on the 500. There, I've said it.

A DID 520 NZ non o-ring chain fitted to a CB500X
No... O... Rings...

Big bikes use o-ring (or x-ring which is a fancy o-ring) chains. They come from the manufacturer like that. Do a search for chains for your big bike and the shops will all list o-ring chains. Non o-ring chains are too weak and feeble for big bikes. Non o-ring chains will wear out too fast. Non o-ring chains will simply break under the strain. 

And so on and so on.  

This is even becoming the case for smaller bikes. Sharon's Z250SL is o-ring. The 'Zuma is o-ring. Heck there's a plethora of 125s with o-ring chains too. Golly gee, if modern 125s can rip a non o-ring chain apart then my 500 must surely need an o-ring! Don't call me Shirley.

The o-ring chain close up as fitted to a Kawasaki Z250SL
Z250SL comes with o-rings so it must need them!

But I've started to hate o-rings. 

My little 125 runs a regular chain. It wears out yes. It also gets the odd stiff link. Stiff links aren't a problem with regular chains though. Best case - douse it in used engine oil and give it a wiggle. Worst case - take is off, douse it in used engine oil, give it a wiggle, repeat until the grit within is washed out. Sorted.

That, well that doesn't work so well with an o-ringed chain. The o-rings are there to keep the dirt out and I dare say for many riders they do a good job. But for those of us whom ride through the wind and the rain and the dirt and the grit it seems somehow the muck will get in to a few of the links.

The rubbery rings, being designed to keep the dirt out and the lube in, make it nigh-on impossible to lube the link so much it washes any grit out. The ring just keeps the oil out and the dirt... in. 

But I can't use a standard chain on my 500!! Standard chains are weak, they would disintegrate under the huge torrent of power coming from the throbbing pistons of my - ahem - 47bhp motor. The internet is not without its issues but it is a resource of information. Please see the link below from DID, noting the "Tensile Strength" column in particular.


Taking the Professional O-Ring V 520 offering we see a tensile strength of 35.6 KiloNewtons. I have no idea what a KiloNewton actually is but I can understand its how much force the chain can take before it breaks. The Super Non O-ring NZ has a tensile strength of 35.8 KiloNewtons.

Please bear in mind I am massaging the figures. The o-ring above is the basic o-ring offering, the non o-ring above is the best quality option. My point is standard chains are not necessarily weaker than their be-rubber-ringed options. Note the racing chains at the top. Racing chains are non o-ring because, well, friction and weight.

Looking at the 520 billy bog basic option at the bottom, that has a tensile strength of 29.8KN. That is, near as I can be arsed to work out, 6/7ths the strength of the basic o-ring. 
Hmmmmm. Rather than skimp out on the billy bog basic option I invested in a "NZ" range non o-ring chain. Once again the given wisdom is to ALWAYS fit new sprockets with a new chain. Once again I have ignored this wisdom because the teeth look fine. Once again the given wisdom is big bikes MUST have the chains riveted. Once again I have ignored this and used a split link. 

That was something like 13 to 14 thousand miles ago. 

Chain wear is as I'd expect. Riding the bike is the same as before. I've had a few dirty grubby rides leading to a few tight spots that were soon sorted with a deluge of old engine oil. My experience this far has been "as expected" which I consider to be good.

So far.

Are you going against the grain? Share your spannering experience at Bikes And Travels. Contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

Reader's Comments

Pocketpete said :-
So let's get this right. You let me buy an expensive o ring DID chain and a expensive chain cutter/chain riveter. When I could gave bought any old rubbish and popped a split link on job done in 5 minutes.

Life just not worth living now I could have saved a fortune.. hmm

At least I didnt buy the sprockets. Oh crap hold on I did.....

We have a pattern emerging here. Basically anything goes where bikes are concerned.

So let's go back to this coolant issue could I have put any old coolant in. Would it actually have made any difference or is it just scare tactics by Honda....lol
19/2/2019 11:19:08 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
HAHA!! I do all this just to upset you Pocketpete obviously. Believe me there are PLENTY of people who will shortly tell you that you did the right thing and I'm just talking out of my ass.

Just wait until my next post.
19/2/2019 11:31:49 AM UTC
Rod said :-
The chain maintenance obsessives among us will probably be OK with non 0-ring chains. But if the chain is neglected the o-ring will last longer.
Before o-ring chains became the norm it was usual to boil the chain in grease before each winter to get the grease into them, and then maintain them two or three times a week.
13 to 14 thousand miles is about right for a chain if it is used over winter and in all weather, but chains are a pain!!
Please hurry with your water turbine drive system, we are all waiting for a drive train solution.

19/2/2019 1:31:17 PM UTC
Borsuk said :-
O rings are there to keep the grease pre-installed by the manufacturer inside the roller to reduce friction and wear from the inside, and to slow down the ingress of crap from the outside. I say slow down as the o-rings wear and eventually they pass and the crap gets in so over the life of the chain it just extends the inevitable.The difference in lubrication and non lubrication has very little impact on the side plates. As the roller pin wear is probably the main cause of failure due to it being the part that has the load most concentrated on it then reducing the internal friction with pre-packed grease is a good idea as this will reduce internal wear on the pin. This is especially true if you assume that your customers do not properly lubricate the chains on a regular basis, which a lot of people are guilty of. They stand at the back and spray lubricants at the chain and hope some of it goes inside the roller, but all they are really doing is lubricating the outside cover between the roller pins and sprockets and where the inner and outer side plates meet.
Looking at Rens supplied chart and comparing a 420V chain against a 420HD chain where the pins and sides are the same thicknesses the non o-ring chain actually has the greater tensile strength so the power of your engine is not really a factor if you have the correct size of chain. Where the difference lies is the wear factor where the V chain is better by a factor of 7.
The question now is what are wear factors based on. If I was doing this as a risk assessment I would base it on the worst case scenario where the owner fits a chain and ignores it until it snaps which is all the manufacturer can do as he has no idea what type of lubrication regime the chain will be subjected to or what environmental conditions it will encounter either.
So based on that a chain with the pins pre-lubricated with grease will last longer than one that is never lubricated. But this tells you nothing about the relative wear rates of a well lubricated chain against an o-ring chain.
Everything else is conjecture as no-one has ever proven the life of a standard chain under laboratory conditions because it is just about impossible, and every rider subjects his chain to unique conditions as no 2 persons ride in exactly the same manner and the bikes are not exactly carrying the same load. You could probably programme BMW`s new self driving prototype to do the testing with a set procedure for manually lubricating a chain to be followed but in real life the majority of people wouldn`t follow is as it would be too involved and take too long, (for some people that means more than 60 seconds to do).

On a plus side, I think I have found a purpose for a self driving motor bike.
19/2/2019 1:31:34 PM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Of course I don't use O ring chains on the Norton (and in any case the clearances are such that one wouldn't fit - in fact I have to fit the spring link from the outside to clear the primary chaincase). But it's strictly for shorter runs and then only when the weather is set fair.

But on a bike that I use for any distance I would always use O- (or preferably X-) ring, especially if it's used in bad weather. The last thing I want to be doing when I'm cold, wet and hungry is cleaning and lubricating a chain. And as for Scottoilers and the like - well, fine for those folk that like the back end of their bikes covered with sticky muck.

I think I've mentioned here before that the X ring chain on my Tiger 955i needed adjusting precisely once in the 20,000 miles or so I owned it. To tell the truth it probably didn't even need that. And I did ride in some very foul weather although admittedly not through the winter. All I ever did was give it a squirt with Wurth chain wax every now and then. The inbuilt grease took care of everything else.

As Borsuk says, the major wear is between the pins and rollers and I'm not convinced that any of the externally applied lubricants can penetrate properly given the tight tolerances. You'll all have to go back to boiling them in Linklyfe.

19/2/2019 2:09:27 PM UTC
Steve said :-
Interesting experiment Ren, interested in how you get on. It reminds me of a guy on the NC700 forum who ran 2 bog standard non o ring chains on his commuting bike. He ran one for a month with a spring clip and then at the weekend he put the bike on the centre stand spun the link round and unclipped the link. He then went over to a basin on old oil where he extracted chain number two hung it up for a minute to let it drain while he submerged chain number 1 in the basin of oil. When he had put the basin away in its place in the garage his number two chain was ready to fit. the whole operation took about twenty minutes every month and he had already over 30k on the two chains when i read the post.
I think its called multiple chain rotation but this was the first example i had read about
If i was doing daily commuting and never too far away from home I would give it a go.
19/2/2019 10:36:00 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
So basically Steve while one chain is in use the other is in a basin full of old engine oil. Yeah that would do it! The chain would in my opinion still need lubing after a few days or a good downpour. I noticed last summer with the dry weather we enjoyed the chains needed little adjustment. This winter hasn't been too bad so far and again the chains are doing ok. I am of the opinion the real thing that ruins chains is the weather.

Aaaaahhh, imagine living in a dry country... Chains would last a lot lot longer. Frames and bolts would hardly rust. Waterproofs would last a lifetime. Right, that's it. I'm off to Arizona. I'm gonna start one of them plane boneyards in the desert and ride me a big phat hawg. Oh... Harley's don't have chains now do they.
20/2/2019 8:07:44 AM UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
I always use split link chains. On MZ's and Jawa's with their wonderful fully enclosed chains, they last almost indefinitely and need very little adjustment. On lesser motorcycles, I fit a cheap Loobman chain oiler which greatly extends chain life and limits adjustment.

A lot of people who drag race turbo charged 1000cc monsters use split link chains. QED.
20/2/2019 1:17:04 PM UTC
Bob said :-
I've changed to a non O-ring on my KLX250 fleet. My seat of the pants dyno indicates a very slight increase in performance (could be imagining it), but the main reason for the change was as Ren says - stiff links. I ride all year round and even with a Scottoiler fitted the damn O Ring chains keep coming up with stiff links. This generates horrible graunching and knocking noises from the front sprocket, which in turn I guess will accelerate wear on the output bearing.
The non O Ring chains are so smooth in comparison, no graunching or creaking. I expect the life to be reduced of course, but since non O Ring chains are less than half the price I'm not bothered.
Not needing a riveting tool is another big bonus, it makes getting the wheel out much easier when I can just pop off a split link.
I think O ring chains are a bit like camchain tensioners - manual camchain tensioners are better than automatic ones, but most people can't be trusted to operate one properly. Non O ring chains weigh less and absorb less power than O ring chains, but most people can't be trusted to properly maintain or adjust their chain so O rings become the norm.
6/3/2019 10:17:08 AM UTC
Ren said :-
It's an interesting perspective - o-ring chains are for the non chain friendly users. I suspect there may be a nugget of truth in that idea. I'll... erm I'll just back off quietly.
6/3/2019 4:53:11 PM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Bob's back.....

No doubt there will be floods of posts telling us that split links are the spawn of the devil and will wreck your engine. Never had any trouble with them myself.

As mentioned before I never had trouble with X rings on the Tiger. Maybe it's the scottoiler causing the problem Bob?
7/3/2019 10:13:42 AM UTC
Bob said :-
Hello again, Scottoilers are the best invention ever (excepting heated grips which are also the best invention ever) - I'm sure it's not that.
I suspect that on a big powerful bike we just don't notice the chain but the KLX is so light and relatively low powered that these things make a difference.
I've been on the 250s for 6 months now and I'm still loving the KLX - so light it's like riding a mountain bike.
I'm off for a long weekend in Wales next week - might do a write up for Ren to post....
7/3/2019 5:58:26 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I'd welcome your contribution Bob. I know you're a bigger chap than me. I still find 125 trailies heavy :-)
7/3/2019 8:45:50 PM UTC
Pocketpete said :-
Come on Bob...

Everyone knows rens handguards are the world best invention. It a close one but on a par with the internal combustion engine.
7/3/2019 10:04:18 PM UTC
Bob said :-
Those handguards are legendary!
I may be a bigger chap Ren, but my back is ruined - hence my ditching the big heavy bikes for the featherweight KLX.
8/3/2019 7:31:08 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Ah yes, one of the pitfalls of being tall is the old bad back. Sharon should be just fine in that department then even if everything else about her is broken.

I can offer a handguard fitting service. You'll need to supply the metal bar, the old chemical barrel, the rawl bolts and the handlebar mounts though. My charges are extortionate too. But as they are, it seems, the best thing since sliced bread they are worth the investment.
8/3/2019 7:45:46 AM UTC
Bob said :-
I've run several tanks of fuel through since I changed from O ring to non O ring - the bike is doing between 5 to 10 miles more to the tank!
I am absolutely sure about the power increase too, bearing in mind the bike makes 22HP stock (I don't know how much more with the cam timing mod), so any small increase in power will be noticeable.
13/3/2019 6:59:45 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Interesting. I wonder if there's any actual scientific research into the efficiency of a standard versus o-ring chains. It seems racers use non o-ring to squeeze out that last morsel of power but for a regular rider I wouldn't have thought it would be noticeable. As you say though it'll be more noticeable on a lower powered machine. Hmmmm...
13/3/2019 8:46:52 AM UTC
Chris Bell said :-
1979, I bought a new CB 650 Honda supplied with a none O ring chain, Honda later changed them to O ring due to them only lasting 3000 miles. I used fork lift chain oil brushed on with love super regularly and got 13,000 in one year as I remember, maybe I did smoother wheelies lol, then I flogged it.
20/3/2019 11:15:50 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I've got some spray on folk lift chain oil, kinda like spray on grease. I didn't think O-Ring chains were a thing back in '79 either, but then I was only 8.
21/3/2019 8:53:26 AM UTC

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