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Sportbike Chains
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Sportbike Chains

This article will answer some common question about what to look for when buying a new chain for your sportbike. Some of the information is generic and can be carried over to motorcycle chains in general. Always get recommendations from experts in type of motorcycle you ride.

We aren't going into the details of performing chain maintenance here. Here are the essentials:

  1. The chain needs to be cleaned and lubed at least every 350 miles or once a month. Wipe the chain down with kerosene or chain lube thoroughly to clean the chain. If the chain is really dirty, use a grunge brush. Then wipe it clean and dry with a shop towel.
  2. Apply your favorite chain lube product. Read the instructions on the can. This maybe a chain wax or one of the thinner racing lubes. Try some different chain lubes. The important part is to take an interest in maintaining your drive-line.
  3. Check the chain slack. Look in your owner's manual or service manual. Usually there should be about 1 1/4 inch slack required when you push down in the middle of the chain span. A little too loose is better than too tight.

Ok. You keep your chain maintained. Fantastic. Now you noticed that the chain has stretched so far that you can't adjust the chain slack anymore. What now?

Well, it's time to go chain shopping my friend. Experts will tell you that when the chain needs to be replaced, the sprockets should be replaced at the same time. If you don't do this, your new chain will have a very short life. Many of us buy a kit that contains a front sprocket, a rear sprocket and a chain pre-cut to the correct length. There is a rivet type master link included too. Buying a kit with pre-matched sprockets and a chain cut to the correct length is a real time saver.

You can see a Ducati Superbike with a DID 525 chain in the photo. The sprocket is a Supersprox Stealth model. The Ducati single sided swing arm requires a special (expensive) rear sprocket.

What kind of Chain Should I Buy?

Please buy a kit. Plan on spending anywhere from $165.00 to $225.00. You can find kits on ebay for $75.00. You get what you pay for. If it's an emergency and you just don't have the cash for a reputable kit, then go ahead and buy an ebay kit.

Riveted Master Link or Master Link Clip?

You are riding a high horsepower motorcycle here. Using a clip type master link is NOT Recommended. The loads are too great on the chain. The clip connection may fail. The chain could come apart and you will probably crash.You should use a rivet master link. If you are going to change out the change and sprocket yourself, you will need the proper tool.

This tool is a chain breaker combination rivet tool. This little piece of steel is going to cost you $90 to $140. If you are serious about your sport, you will buy one. Buy a good one. It will last you forever. Don't count on your riding buddies having one. Only long term riders will spend the dough on this. I have the DID tool. It cost me $130.

So remember if you are having the dealer replace your chain for you, make sure they are installing a rivet master link or the special EK screw type master link. I've seen photos of this EK special master link, but I don't have any personal experience with it. I haven't heard anything bad about it which is good in my opinion.

Should I get a 520 Kit?

The number 520 refers to the chain pitch. It's the space between the chain rollers and the width of the chain. In general 600cc bikes use a 520 chain. Some may use a 525. 750cc bikes may use a 525 chain. 1000cc sportbikes may use a 525 or 530 chain. You won't find many of the newer sportbikes using a chain much larger than a 525. I'm into literbikes or the big sportbike v-twins like ducs. I'll pick a 525 chain now. I used to use 520s exclusively. Do your research and make your choice. You really don't need anything larger than a 525 IMO.

Some of the older sportbikes and sport touring models used a 630 pitch chain. This is a heavy chain. some 250cc sportbikes may use a 400 series chain. The highest quality 520 chains can be used on a 220HP racing literbike. Many experts feel the 520 or 525 is adequate for the street.

With modern manufacturing processes and metals engineering, a quality 520 pitch chain from EK, RK or DID can be used for just about all modern sportbikes. If you feel better with the 525 on your literbike or 1,200 cc V-Twin, then get the 525 kit. If you are buying a real inexpensive kit from a no name manufacturer of ebay, then definitely go with the 525 pitch kit or even larger like a 530.

What should I look for in this chain kit I'm buying?

  1. A chromoly front sprocket preferably drilled for lightness.
  2. Either a superlite brand steel rear sprocket, a Supersprox stealth rear sprocket, an Afam brand or Driven brand Hardened Aluminum rear sprocket.
  3. Look for a DID, RK or EK superstreet chain here. You are looking for high tensile strength. A chain in the neighborhood of 9,000 PSI burst strength would be ideal. This high tensile strength is going to keep your chain from stretching for a long time.
  4. Note: The better kits will allow you to pick a new gear ratio if you want. Here's a quick recommendation for you. Keep the same number of teeth for your front sprocket.
  5. If you own a 600cc sportbike or supersport, go up 3 or 4 teeth on the rear sprocket.
  6. If you own a literbike or 1000cc sportbike, only go up 2 teeth on the rear sprocket. The literbike has a lot more engine torque.
  7. for your 1,200cc V-Twin, go up 1 tooth or keep the same number of rear sprocket teeth.

What about my new Chain Color?

EK makes excellent chains in many colors. You may not be able to get every color in a kit form with sprockets already pre-matched, though. These drive line kits are sometime called 520, 525, or power-up kits. A kit option will almost always let you select a gold chain. Some will have a silver nickle option too. You really can't go wrong with gold, though. DID gold is very shiny. I like it. I like to clean and polish the chain before every ride.

RK has some real cool looking black chains. Some of these require extra attention as they don't quite have the excellent rust prevention qualities as the gold or nickle silver chains. some Kawawsaki supersport chains came from the factory in green. Very cool if you ask me. I'm a Kawi guy.

Race chains for the Street?

I don't advocate this practice anymore. I used to. I have owned 2 DID ERV3 chains in the past. This is a very popular high quality race chain available for sportbikes. It's often one of the chain options in a quality chain and sprocket kit. I installed these DIDs on a couple ZX10R literbikes. I practice meticulous chain maintenance.

After about 8 or 9,000 miles, the chain O-Rings would start to degrade. I mean they would start to shred. Little rubber flakes would come off. This is a great chain for for racers or track-day riders, but not street riders who are looking for some longevity. My aluminum sprockets were always in perfect shape at 9,000 miles.

Now I recommend a super street chain from DID or the ZZZ series chain from EK. These chains are not cheap. I need my chain to hold together at high speed and high shock loads. I'm willing to pay a little extra for piece of mind. RK makes top quality chains also. RK makes many of the OEM chains on modern sportbikes. They can last up to 20,000 miles when the rider practices excellent chain maintenance.


I hope you learned a little about sportbike chains. If you keep your present bike for more than a year, you will be changing out your chain. Learn how to do it yourself and save some money. If you do all your maintenance yourself except for warranty work, you will know it's always Done Right. You can help your friends with theirs too. I really enjoy working on my bike. Maybe you will too.

Street Talk

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