The vast majority of motorcycles use a chain to carry drive from the output of the gearbox to the rear wheel. Sure, there are shaft-driven bikes – notably BMWs – as well as belt-driven examples but the humble chain is by far the easiest and most reliable when it comes to moving torque to the rear wheel.
One disadvantage of a chain though is it requires maintenance; regular cleaning and lubrication to minimise wear on both the chain itself and the two drive sprockets – front and rear as well as checking and adjusting the tension.
Chains also have a finite life, depending on how well they have been looked after and will, eventually, require replacement. Note that it is accepted practice to change both sprockets at the same time, as wear in the chain is usually accompanied by wear in the sprockets as well.
There are several types of chain depending on the design of the links themselves and there are also different types of links that are designed to allow the chain to be replaced.
Some, often known as quick release, will have a spring clip on one side of one link that allows the side plate of the link to be removed and the link with two pins to then be removed, effectively splitting the chain.
Related: Best motorcycle chains and sprockets
Other chains won’t have a single ‘master’ link but use a system where you must push a link pin out to split the chain then effectively remake the link you just removed by ‘riveting’ the link pins back in place, much like a traditional rivet is formed, by rounding over the end of a straight pin.
There are various tools available to help you in this task, ranging from DIY handheld devices to heavier-duty versions aimed more at professionals. But here is a selection of what is available to help look after your chain.
Hand Chain Splitter
Looking like something you might have made in your first metalwork class at secondary school, this basic chain splitter and repair tool has a hardened-steel pin to push out the pin from the existing chain and then, it is reversed to crush the head of the replacement pin once the new link has been fitted to the new chain and reassembled. The handle is relatively short, suggesting you may struggle to get far with larger or chunkier chains.
Weu2019ve tried various tools from British manufacturer Oxford before and have been impressed, so weu2019re confident this will perform too. Itu2019s another handheld chain tool, that is designed to split the chain by pushing the link pins out and then, swapping configuration to press-fit the retaining plate on the opposite side of the link to the links on the new one. There is then a flare pin to flare the heads of the retaining pins to make sure they keep the new link held together.
While itu2019s always possible to release a spring-clip link that tends to be common on off-road and dirt-bike chains with a pair of pliers, mole-grips or even a screwdriver, itu2019s often best to use the right tool u2013 and this is the right tool.
These pliers will locate on the edges of the rearmost link pin and the front of the spring clip and pop it off, allowing the retaining plate to be removed – either by hand or with persuasion from a screwdriver – and the chain split. It can then be used to easily fit the spring clip to the new link once assembled.
Laser Chain Puller
This tool from Laser will be invaluable when it comes to compressing the ends of a new chain together to slot the new link in. It sits inside two links and tightens by hand to bring the links close enough together so that the new link can be inserted into the open ends of each.
This is another process that you may be able to achieve using normal pliers or by hand but again, it’s the right tool for the job and acts as a third hand – always useful in the garage or the workshop.
Draper Expert Kit
This kit from tool expert Draper is a more professional-style version, which while taking on all the functions of the other kits, does so with more flexibility. It comes with four different-sized pins for various chains and once the pin is pushed out, has a plate for compressing the side plate of the master link onto the two pins.
Once that has been achieved, the rivet tip spreaders flatten the head over to ensure the link remains together. The unit uses hex-head fittings so you can choose how long a spanner to use to get the right amount of leverage and force.
A variation on a theme, this chain breaker will remove the u2018softu2019 pin from a chain link by pushing it out with the threaded bar. However, there is no method to replace either the master link side plate or compress the rivet heads to finish off forming the new master link and hence, secure the chain itself.
You would need another tool to be able to do this so you might be better off buying one that includes all three functions to remove and replace a chain link.
X-ring Split-pin Link
New chains should always come with a new master link but some people tend to like to carry a spare with them, particularly if it is a spring-clip master link. This one is for a 525 X-ring chain, with the rubber O-rings sealing lubricant inside the link pins where they run through the sides of the links. The spring-clip is easily removed with the relevant pliers (above) or at a push, with normal pliers or a screwdriver.
Chain Monkey Tensioning Tool
Not strictly a chain-replacement tool but once you have replaced your chain and sprockets, then you will need to check and adjust the chain tension and this handy device makes it easy.
Simply use it to put the required tension in the chain by introducing a ‘kink’ and then adjust the rear wheel position until the chain has no slack in it. Then, when the Chain Monkey is removed, the chain is at the correct tension.
Sealey Chain Aligner
When adjusting chain tension, it is crucial to move the bikeu2019s rear-wheel adjusters u2013 one on each side u2013 by the same amount to ensure the wheel is true and straight. While there are usually markings on the swingarm to gauge this, they can be inaccurate and a better way to ensure the wheel is straight is using a chain gauge.
This fixes to the rear sprocket and in this case, uses a steel rod to highlight if the chain is running straight and the wheel is correctly aligned. There are also devices available that use a laser that runs along the chain.