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Robin DeanAug 9, 2016 (Updated Nov 29, 2021)CommentShare

Cleaning Your Chain And Final Drive

Alright. I’m going to give it to you straight. This post is about more than just cleaning a chain. It’s about facing the mess that eventually builds up underneath your front sprocket cover until things cease to operate, well … smoothly. If you don’t get to it eventually, you might find yourself documenting a much more efficient method for replacing your hydraulic clutch/brake fluid when really the problem sits elsewhere. Not that I’m naming names or anything (er, um).

Yes, I’m going to provide an easy and effective how-to on the topic of cleaning your motorcycle chain and yes, I’m going to provide images and video but your interest in what is quite the simple process is my opportunity to warn you about something that, over time, can run amuck. Get it? See what I did there? I took the word “muck” (because dirty chain) and used it with … ah never mind.

Chains fling lubricant. Sure, the better chain lubes on the market (PJ1 Blue, Maxima, Lucas) aim to suppress this but none completely deter it. In fact, the eventual loss of your preferred lubricant helps to ensure harmful grit doesn’t over collect and eventually harm the links.

This fling is caused by centrifugal force at both the front and rear sprockets. Chain goes ’round, takes a curve, fluid goes flying, repeat. At the rear of your motorbike, this isn’t much of a concern but the front sprocket is (usually) housed underneath a cover, often in the company of electronic sensors and my own reason for writing this article, a clutch actuator rod.

These parts aren’t all that hard to get to. Access on my own Bandit 1200 is merely a matter of disconnecting the shift linkage, loosening a few allen heads and keeping track of their reassembly pattern. Any flat surface proves capable of keeping things organized but consult your motorcycle service manual before you go diving in.

Cover OnCover Off

It’s best that we clean everything under this cover before we attend to the chain because the task calls for a bit of degreaser being misted onto a shop rag. Lubricating a chain and then using a cleaner/degreaser such as Super Clean nearby is sort of self-defeating. Let’s rid ourselves of the entire mess first, coating the chain respectively afterwards.

I should probably mention that this sort of cleaning isn’t needed every time you go to lubricate your chain. I’m of the belief that chain cleaning is a 500-600 mile chore. Everything I’m stuffing into this suggestive tutorial gets done to our bikes every few efforts, meaning 2000+ miles.

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Anyhow, we’re going through the motions and I’ve pulled off the front sprocket cover to find a greasy mess. Originally thinking my engine was shifting rough due to old fluid in the clutch reservoir, it’s most certainly due to the caked up nastiness that’s increased the thickness of my clutch actuator rod. Where did this build up come from, you ask? Take a guess.

Chains need lubricant. Chains fling lubricant. Bits under the cover will eventually need cleaning.

Cover OffDirty Actuator

So, again … applying degreaser to a shop rag enables control over its end destination. We don’t want to drench everything in cleaner/degreaser. While it is surprisingly “non-hateful” toward all things motorcycle, it might damage gaskets, seals and o-rings if applied at random and unwittingly. Plentiful amounts on a shop rag, however aren’t a problem. Jacket the effected areas using your chemical rag before wiping up after it with another (dry) rag.

As for your clutch actuator rod, there’s no harm in pulling it for a bit of individual attention …

Dirty Clutch Actuator RodClean Clutch Actuator Rod

After reassembling the inner-workings of your motorcycle’s final drive, double check everything …

Clean Underneath

Now, let’s get the cover back on and clean/lubricate your chain! As a two-part process, cleaning is a greater source of debate. Employing chemical solvents has been known to raise eyebrows.

If you’re comfortable with the idea of using WD-40 for cleaning purposes on an O/X-ring chain, let me just mention that I do the same. If you find this matter suspect but are open to supportive argumentation, I highly recommend this video. If you’re absolutely against it and “ain’t nobody convincin’ you otherwise”, our initial use of hot/soapy water with organic dish soap is a safe bet.

Get organized, grab your grunge brush and put your motorcycle in neutral with the engine shut off. While it is possible to do everything you’re about to see with the bike on its center stand idling in first, that’s not the safest approach. Onto the video …

What’s Your Preferred Chain Cleaning Technique?

Some use chemicals and a chain brush. Others use soapy water and a sponge. What methods do you prefer? How are the effective and why? Your input is invited. Post an article!

This is the end!
Robin Dean

About Robin Dean

Motorcycle advocate, enthusiast and traveler. Founder, The Riding Obsession (2014). MSF RiderCoach credentials: BRCu, BRC2u, MSRCu, ARCu, 3WBRCu ~ Spotify Playlist

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