Written By
Published Jan. 8, 2019

The chain on your motorcycle goes through a lot. In many ways, it is the real powerhouse of the bike and a simple issue with the chain can prevent communication between the engine and the rear wheel. No communication means no power and no power means you are going nowhere. Replacing the chain on your motorcycle is an inevitable event, what is not inevitable is choosing the right chain for your motorbike and for your needs. However, our team of motorcycle experts is here to help. They have compiled a list of the seven best motorcycle chains to point you in the right direction and even enable you to improve your motorbike’s performance.

The Best Motorcycle Chain

The RK Racing Chain 520-SO-120 is created from heat treated high carbon steel components and includes solid rollers and bushings. It is the most used chain of AMA World Superbike and Super-Sport teams and is the chain of choice of most World Championship teams. The 520 chain is pre-stressed to provide maximum performance and pre-stretched to improve longevity. The chain includes O-ring design and clip-type master link; it has a maximum 400 CC for both street and off-road riding and a tensile strength of 7,700 lbs/ft.

Key Features
  • High carbon steel components
  • Solid rollers and bushings
  • Pre-stressed and pre-stretched
  • O-ring design
  • Clip-type master link
  • Max CC 400 (street and off-road)
  • 7.700 lbs/ft tensile strength
Specification
  • Brand RK Racing Chain
  • Model 520-SO-120
  • Weight 2.9 pounds
PROS

Chain of choice for world champion sports teams

Pre-stressed for performance

Pre-stretched for longevity

Designed for high horsepower

Improves performance

CONS

Some reported issues with the master clip being difficult to secure

The JT Sprockets JTC420HDR134SL bike chain is a heavy-duty motorcycle chain that is specifically designed for off-road racing. It offers top performance at minimum weight. The chain is created using high-grade steel alloys combines with leading-edge technology. The JT advanced power transfer chain specifications meet and, in most cases, exceed those of all modern motorbikes, including off-road, endurance, ATV, MX, and street bikes.

Key Features
  • Created from high-grade steel alloys
  • Roller diameter 7.77 mm
  • Pin length 15.05 mm
  • Inner plate thickness 1.6 mm
  • Outer plate thickness 1.6 mm
  • Weight per 100 links 1.63 lbs
  • Tensile strength 4189 lbs/ft
  • Clip style master link
Specification
  • Brand JT Sprockets
  • Model JTC420HDR134SL
  • Weight 2.25 pounds
PROS

Heavy-duty chain specifically designed for off-road racing

Top performance at minimum weight

Uses high-grade steel alloys

Meets the specification for all modern motorbikes

CONS

Only suitable for certain bike makes, models, and years

Some reported issues with the master clip

The DID 520ERV3-120 Gold Chain with Connection Link is an X-ring construction that offers greater strength and lower friction drag than traditional O-ring constructions. The x-ring keeps dust, dirt, and mud out while retaining lubrication. The DID chain provides greater wear resistance and lowers friction by twisting between the chain side plates unlike on an O-ring chain where the links are squashed.

Key Features
  • X-ring construction
  • Maximum engine displacement 750cc
  • Tensile strength 8660 lbs
  • Includes master link
Specification
  • Brand D.I.D.
  • Model 520ERV3-120
  • Weight 4 pounds
PROS

Greater strength than O-ring constructions

Half the friction and a longer lifespan than O-ring construction

Greater wear resistance

CONS

Only suitable for certain bike makes, models, and years

Higher price than many other bike chains

The 120 link 530 Motorcycle O-Ring Chain by Unibear comes complete with connecting master link. The chain is made from alloy steel and is pre-greased so requires no maintenance. It includes solid brushings and 4-side riveting that ensure minimum maintenance and a longer lifespan. The 530 chain is pre-stretched to further increase its longevity.

Key Features
  • Pre-greased
  • Pre-stretched
  • High-tech heat-treated alloy steel construction
  • 4-side riveting
  • Solid brushings
  • Tensile strength 10,000 lbs
  • Clip style master link
Specification
  • Brand Unibear
  • Model 530UO-130L
  • Weight 5.45 pounds
PROS

Pre-greasing reduces maintenance

Strong impact resistance

Good wear resistance

CONS

Will only fit specific bike makes, models, and years

Some reported issues with the master link

The RK Racing Chain GB520XSO-120 is a 120 X-ring chain that comes complete with a master connecting link. It has two lubrication pools and seal points, giving it twice the amount of a regular O-ring chain. The chain also offers a tensile strength of 8,500 lbs/ft.

Key Features
  • X-ring design
  • Includes master connecting ring
  • Two lubrication and seal points
  • Tensile strength 8,500 lbs/ft
Specification
  • Brand RK Racing Chain
  • Model GB520XSO-120
  • Weight 4.4 pounds
PROS

Requires less maintenance than an O-ring chain

Improved lubrication

X-ring design offers better longevity

CONS

Need to check fit carefully

The DID 520VX2-120 X-Ring Chain comes complete with connecting master link and offers the greater rigidity of the entire VX2 series. The DID X-ring chain offers quicker response times, smoother handling, and reduces power loss; giving a much better riding experience overall. It has a projected lifespan that is 35 times longer than a standard chain used under similar conditions.

Key Features
  • X-ring chain design
  • Includes connecting master link
  • Tensile strength 8,210 lbs/ft
  • Maximum engine displacement 750cc
Specification
  • Brand D.I.D.
  • Model 520VX2-120
  • Weight 4.25 pounds
PROS

Improves handling and response times

Reduces power loss

Increased lifespan compared to standard chains

CONS

Some reported issues with the clip style master link

Best Motorcycle Chain Buying Guide & FAQ

A broken motorbike chain is no small thing, particularly if it breaks while you are riding. Regular maintenance plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of this happening; as does purchasing a high-quality motorcycle drive chain that is suitable for your motorcycle and its main purpose. If you race or off-road, then your needs are different to someone who only rides to and from work or who takes extended road trips on the highways. However, that being said there are some crucial elements that need to be considered regardless of how you ride your bike. In this section of the buying guide, we explore these considerations, along with the different types of chain that are available, and how to replace the drive chain on your motorcycle. We also answer some of the most commonly asked questions about motorcycle chains.

motorcycle chains detail

What to Consider When Buying a Motorcycle Chain

As your motorcycle chain starts to wear it will begin to stretch. Eventually, this leads to it being out of alignment and starting to skip over teeth on the sprockets when it is under load. Failing to replace your chain at this point can lead to further damage to the chain and even begin to damage the teeth on the sprockets. However, it is vital that you purchase a replacement chain that is suitable for your motorcycle. The main considerations for buying a new chain are:

O-ring or X-ring – this refers to the type of seal that is used on the chain to keep the grease or other lubricants in place. X-ring chains are believed to have greater durability, less power loss, and greater longevity than O-ring designs. This is due to it having less friction, which also increases reliability. However, both O-ring and X-ring designs have benefits over standard rollers that do not have lubricant seals. Standard chains require external lubrication, more frequent maintenance, and have much lower durability.

Pitch – this is the distance between the pins in the chain. There are is a wide variety of chain pitches available, but the most popular are 520, 525, and 530. If you get the pitch wrong, then it will not fit over the teeth of your sprocket correctly.

Size – the size of the chain is not just about the pitch. You also need to consider the length of the chain, which is usually determined by the number of links.

Master link – this is the link that one end of the chain to the other. There are several types of master link, including clip and rivet styles. Clip master links are easier to install but do come with a greater reported failure rate. The best motorcycle drive chains come with the master link included. If it does not, then you will need to buy this separately.

Tensile strength – This is the load weight that the chain can take before it stretches. The higher the strength rating the more force the motorcycle drive chain can tolerate.

Pre-stretched – a pre-stretched chain has been rigorously tested under tension to simulate proper riding conditions. The idea behind this is to increase the longevity of the chain.

Types of Motorcycle Chains

There are three main types of motorcycle chain, non-sealed, O-ring, and X-ring. Heavy-duty motorcycle chains and those designed specifically for different types of racing and off-road riding fall into one of these three categories.

  • Non-sealed

Non-sealed motorbike chains are the most basic type of chain. This type of chain is most commonly found on older motorcycles. Non-sealed chains are cheaper than other types of chains and are dependable. However, they do require a greater amount of maintenance and care than their sealed counterparts. If you have a non-sealed chain, you will need to clean, lubricate and adjust it periodically; failing to do this will result in you needing to buy a new chain at least once a year, if not more often.

  • O-Ring

As the name suggests, these are chains that have O-rings in every link of the chain. The addition of the O-rings ensures that the pins between each plate are properly lubricated with grease. Additionally, this protects the chain links from grit, dirt, and other debris. The grease is pre-applied to the chain at the factory, so the chain requires little maintenance. However, it will still require regular cleaning and checking. One of the downsides of the O-ring construction is that it creates a lot of drag at high speeds, meaning it is not the best chain construction for racing.

  • X-Ring

X-ring chains offer the same benefits as O-ring constructions, without the drag and speed reduction issues. X-rings have less surface area, which reduces drag. This type of construction is generally more expensive but has a longer lifespan than both O-ring and non-sealed chains.

motorcycle wheel and drive-chain

How To Replace A Motorcycle Chain

All motorcycle chains wear out eventually. Regular cleaning, checking, and adjusting can increase the lifespan of your chain, but eventually, even the best motorcycle chains will still need to be replaced. Being aware of the signs that a chain is nearing its end can save you from a potentially catastrophic failure. Needing more frequent adjustments or lubrication are two signs that your chain is wearing out. Stuck links is another sign to look for, as is a lack of smoothness when changing gear.

Most experts recommend that you change your sprockets at the same time that you change your drive chain. This is certainly good advice if the chain has begun to wear down the teeth on your sprockets. Changing your chain and your sprockets is relatively straightforward but if you are unsure, then it is always best to check with a suitable mechanic or motorcycle expert. The basic steps for replacing your motorcycle chain start with buying the right chain for your motorcycle.

1. Once you have the right chain (and sprockets) the next thing you need to do is create a clear working space and place your motorbike on a stand so that you can access and remove the rear wheel.

2. Next, check whether the gear level needs to be removed before the socket cover is removed. Take note of the splined boss position before you remove it. Once ready, remove the front sprocket cover.

3. Check how the front socket is secured. Most have a self-locking nut; however, some have a tabbed locking washer. If it is the latter, then use a flat screwdriver or punch and hammer to tap back the tabs. You will need a new washer to affix the new front sprocket.

4. Place a block of hardwood (wrapped in a soft cloth) through the back wheel to prevent it from turning when force is applied to the front sprocket nut. Be careful not to trap the valve when doing this.

5. Use a breaker bar to remove the front sprocket nut but leave the sprocket in place.

6. Now remove the rear wheel and place socket side up on the floor. Undo and remove the sprocket nut. Check that you have the right size and fit replacement sprocket and then fit it in place.

 7. Repeat the checks with the front sprocket and replace. Once replaced wrap the old chain around it.

8. Before refitting the back wheel loosen the chain adjustments by a couple of turns to help everything go back together easier. Refit the back wheel but do not tighten the spindle nuts.

9. Use a splitter tool to split the old chain and loosely join the old chain to the new one. Pull the old chain from the front sprocket and keep pulling until the new chain is around both sprockets. Now join the new chain together using the master link. If it is a rivet link, you will need a riveting tool.

10. Now you are ready to fix the tab washer and front sprocket nut. Insert the wood back into the back wheel and tighten the nut correctly. Tap the tab on the washer over the nut. Now all that is left to do is tension the drive chain and tighten the spindle.

If you are not replacing the sprockets, then you can skip stages three to eight. However, again it is highly recommended that you replace the sprockets when you replace the chain.

gear of motorcycle

Best Motorcycle Chain FAQ:

Q: What is a Motorcycle Chain?

A motorcycle chain is a metallic chain that is used to transmit power from the engine to the rear wheel. The chain, like many other parts, wears with age and use. As it wears it becomes loose and no longer fits tightly to the front and rear sprockets. This can affect performance and wear down the sprocket teeth. If the chain becomes too worn it can snap. If this happens while riding it can be extremely dangerous. Good care of your motorcycle drive chain is vital and should include cleaning, adjusting, and where necessary lubricating it.

Q: How Tight Should My Motorcycle Chain Be?

How tight your motorcycle chain should be depends on your bike and what it is primarily used for. The amount of slack needed should be stated in your owner’s manual. To see if the chain needs adjustment, you first need to turn the engine off and put the motorcycle on its stand. Shift the transmission into neutral and find the point midway between the front and rear sprockets. Now push up on the bottom of the chain until there is no slack in it. Take note of the distance between this position and the original position. If this is amount is different to that stated in your owner’s manual, you need to adjust the chain. To do this start by loosening the axle nut just by a few turns. Now use the bolt on the end of the swing arm to adjust the chain slack, remembering to make the same adjustment on each side to keep the rear wheel aligned. Make the adjustments a quarter turn at a time and check the slack each time until it is within the specifications given in your manual. When finished, remember to tighten the axle nut and correct your torque.

Q: How Do I Know When should I Replace My Motorcycle Chain?

If you find that you are needing to make these adjustments more regularly, then that is a sure sign that your chain is due to be changed. If the chain links stick or need more regular lubrication, then again you should consider changing your chain. If your gear shifts are not as smooth as normal, then your chain and sprockets should be one of the first things you check for wear.

Q: Do Motorcycle Chains Stretch?

Technically, no the chain links themselves do not stretch, there is no change in the length of the metal in the links. However, wear and tear on the chain does cause connecting the pins to wear down and the space between the links to increase, causing the chain to extend. Further extension can happen if the O or X rings begin to degrade or become dry.

Our Top Pick

Our top pick is the RK Racing Chain 520-SO-120. The chain is created from heat treated high carbon steel components and includes solid rollers and bushings. It is the most used chain of AMA World Superbike and Super-Sport teams and is the chain of choice of most World Championship teams. The 520 chain is pre-stressed to provide maximum performance and pre-stretched to improve longevity. The chain includes O-ring design and clip-type master link; it has a maximum 400 CC for both street and off-road riding and a tensile strength of 7,700 lbs/ft.

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