I’ve known Vic Krause (of Sidewinder Chains) for years. He’s the type of guy who’s always is the center of attention in any room, whether he’s telling stories about flying his World War II airplane or talking about chain-lube viscosity. Not too long ago I talked with him so long that my cell phone went dead. The subject? Everything. That’s how conversations with Vic are. But buried between the jokes, anecdotes and lies, there were 10 golden tidbits of truth regarding chains. Here they are.

      So what’s the truth? Do O-ring chains rob horsepower or not? When you push your ATV, it’s easy to believe that O-ring chains cost power. In fact, Pro Circuit has performed dyno tests that show some horsepower loss on motorcycles. But it’s not that simple. Even among O-ring chains there are many different designs. A full O-ring chain has more contact area than an X-ring or choose-your-letter-of-the-alphabet chain, so it will have some drag and some horsepower loss when cold. But as wheel turns, the chain gains as much as 50 degrees (f), and the drag decreases dramatically. How much simply depends on the chain. Vic points out that his Smartchain II has O-rings that are impregnated with a polymer that “weeps” as it gets hot, so drag decreases dramatically.
      Do you need to lube O-ring chains? Some riders say that it only attracts dirt, creating a coarse grinding compound. This is certainly true of most lubes, but the alternative is worse. Beyond the lubrication of the pins, O-rings need lube to keep from drying out and cracking. Also, a thin film of lube between the teeth of the sprocket and the rollers will prevent wear dramatically. A lubed chain also is less susceptible to wear caused by chain guides and chain blocks. The secret is to avoid over-use. It’s a good idea to use a rag to wipe up any excess oil. 

      Some people maintain that WD-40 is all they need on their chain. WD 40 does some things really well. It disperses water and prevents rust. Also, your chain looks really clean and neat. But that’s WD-40 is mostly kerosene, and is a good solvent. You can actually use it to remove lube. It also dries up O-rings worse than leaving your chain dry. There are a number to good lubes out there and despite the possibility of giving Vic a fat head, we think his is one of the best. It was developed by the Army for use in Desert Storm, specifically to deal with the problem of stickiness in a sandy environment.

      If you look closely at the master link keeper, you’ll see that one side has sharp edges and the other side is rounded, just like a flat washer. When the die stamps out the part, the process creates that rounded edge on impact. We always assumed that the rounded side should face up when you install the keeper. Not so. That slight rounding makes it easier for the keeper to come out  of the slot that is supposed to hold it in place. Also, make absolutely certain that the top plate is pushed down as far as it will go to expose the slot. Otherwise the keeper will never be securely mounted.

      While we’re talking about master links, remember that the keeper is not a reusable part. It is made of spring steel and is usually distorted by the removal process. It can also be damaged by sloppy installation. Never lift one side of the keeper over the pin. Instead, push it on evenly. We know we don’t have to remind you that the closed side faces forward. If, for some strange reason, you have more than one master link, it would be very easy to install the chain with one of the master links facing the wrong direction and never notice.

      Believe it or not, a chain can be easily damaged by heat. If a chain rubs on the chain guide it can be heated to the point that the metal is crystallized and the temper is destroyed. Many riders will install a wider chain and then expect it to cut its own grooves in the chain guide. This creates enough heat to wreck a chain in one ride. A chain that has been heated to the point of damage can be discolored. If your wheel doesn’t spin freely after you ride, then check for alignment and clearance issues.
      Eastern riders and western riders wear out their chains in different ways. In climates with moisture, it’s common to have kinked links. This causes way more drag than an O-ring chain could ever create. Even if you get the kinks out temporarily, they will come back, so it’s time for replacement. In dry areas, chain stretch is a good indicator of wear. Once the chain can be lifted out of the teeth at the three o’clock position, it’s done. The chain will rapidly destroy a brand-new sprocket at that point. You can also measure it against a new chain of the same number of links. It should be no more than four percent longer.
      If your rear sprocket is larger than stock, the chain guide might not be capable of accommodating it. The chain can drag on the guide and that can wear through the master link keeper and even the plates. Likewise, chain guides that are housed in aluminum frames can bend and stay bent. That can derail a chain immediately or simply wear it out in a single ride.

      Obviously, a chain that is too tight can cause much more damage than a chain that is too loose. The sprocket or the cases can even break. Suzukis in particular have to run their chains fairly loose. Each bike is different so you should use the guidelines in your owner’s manual. The  time-honored way to check is to compress the rear suspension until the countershaft, the swingarm pivot and the rear axle form a straight line, then check the chain, which should still have minimal play. It might take two people.

      Alignment is important. But you need to understand what to align. It’s critical that the sprocket be aligned with the chain guide. In the perfect world, that will also mean that the two sprockets are aligned. But not always. The bottom line is make sure  that guide is straight.


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