Motorcycle Maintenance: Routine Chain and Sprocket Replacement

MotoADVRchain1While out sampling the fine Camden cuisine a couple weeks back, parked in front of The Depot, I noticed a piece of rubber O-ring seal protruding from my chain. With just shy of 26,000 miles, that chain’s days were numbered, so I ordered replacement parts from my good friends over at Joe’s Cycle Shop; after which, I scheduled a garage appointment with my buddy  Chuck. I had already read some threads on the web about chain replacement, including several Triumph Bonneville threads. Unfortunately, those threads were for “soft link” chains, not “endless” chains like the ones that come in the OEM replacement kit from Triumph. Thus, the good news was that I didn’t have to cut a chain and rivet on a new one; the bad news was that I had to remove the swing arm.

MotoADVRchain2Standing in my buddy’s garage, replacement parts and Haynes manual in hand, I felt prepared to tackle the task of replacing the chain. With the bike still on the ground, we started by removing the drive sprocket cover and the exhaust slip-ons. With additional time or additional help, I would recommend cleaning the grime off the back of the drive sprocket cover, in this case I took care of most of that during my 24k service back in December, so there wasn’t much to do there. With the exhaust out of the way, I began loosening the high priority nuts and bolts, namely the drive sprocket retaining nut, and the rear axle nut. MotoADVRchain3To remove the drive sprocket nut you first need to flatten out the retaining washer, then your helper can hold down the rear brake; with a little down pressure on the seat it’s easy to crack the drive sprocket nut loose by keeping the rear wheel planted. This can probably be done solo if you have a long enough wrench to stand on the brake and pull the wench at the same time. The rear axle nut is pretty easy, having adjusted the chain a few times, a 15/16” socket on one side, and a 7/8” socket on the other, this is an easy task, even for one guy.

MotoADVRchain4On the other side of the bike I began removing covers in order to get access to the swing arm bolts. In this case, the battery needs to come out, which also means removing the false carburetor “effects”. The battery box also has to move in order to get access to the swing arm pinch bolts, which is a real drag. MotoADVRchain7I really hate taking the battery out now that I have heated grips and a battery tender both pigtailed directly to the battery terminals (I know there are more elegant solutions for this, my buddy Chuck may square me away at some point). After fussing with the battery box for several minutes I realized that there’s an additional bolt near the bottom of the frame that holds the “tongue” of the battery box in place. Once that was loose I still realized there’s a wiring nightmare preventing easy removal of the battery box from the frame. Ultimately I shifted the box sufficiently to access the swing arm pinch bolt without removing the box entirely. As an engineer this aggravates the hell out of me. Why are so many bolts required to hold a box in place; a box that truly doesn’t want to escape its cozy cavity to begin with? MotoADVRchain6After being sufficiently exasperated with the battery and battery box, I removed the clamp holding the brake line to the rear caliper, then went back over to the drive side of the bike to remove the chain guard, and finally break loose the swing arm bolts.

MotoADVRchain8With all the high torque bolts loosened, the bike finally went up on the jack. This job could probably be done on a lift for convenience, but as with all things, it’s a matter of what tools you have available. In this case the floor jack doesn’t fit on the lift so well, so we proceeded to use a combination of jacks to keep the bike firmly planted while we removed the rear wheel, and finally the swing arm. With my trusty 8 mm socket back in hand (there’s 8 mm all over this bike),MotoADVRchain9 I pushed the rear axle all the way forward with the chain adjusters so we could get the chain out of the  way to remove the wheel. With the retaining nut off and a light tap from a mallet, the axle slides through the left side of the wheel. Take your time at this point and watch carefully; the right side of the wheel has a small bushing between the swing arm and the wheel hub, while the left side has almost a 2 inch long bushing (with flange), MotoADVRchain10combined with the brake caliper. If you drop the wheel too fast the brake caliper with fall, and your bushings will go who knows where. You’ll want to know which way the bushings fit into the wheel, the brake side bushing is not symmetrical, the flange side goes against the caliper. Also be careful when setting the rear wheel down, you don’t want to warp the brake rotor;MotoADVRchain11 while at the same time be mindful that the sprocket side isn’t securely fastened to the wheel hub, it will fall off, more on that in a minute. With the rear wheel off, we zip-tied the caliper to the rear fender mounts to keep it from twisting up the brake hose.

MotoADVRchain12To get the chain off, the next step was to remove the rear suspenders, then the swing arm itself. Off the floor, removing the rear shocks is a pretty easy task, just don’t accidentally interchange the two when you put them back on. It’s also wise to have something holding the swing arm up now that the shocks have been removed (i.e. zip ties or bungee cords). MotoADVRchain13Letting the swing arm fall will put undue pressure on the rectifier and other assemblies hidden under the seat. MotoADVRchain14Lastly, we tapped the swing arm pivot bolt from the left side and eased the swing arm back out of the bike. Similar to the rear wheel, watch the bushings closely. There are actually 4 bushings, but only 2 of them are loose. MotoADVRchain15The bushings inside the frame stay in place during this process, so you’re only fighting to re-position 2 when re-installing the swing arm. With the swing arm out, you can look over the plastic “wear strip” fixed to the swing arm to prevent the chain from scratching it. Other folks occasionallyMotoADVRchain16 replace these, but in this case there’s hardly any wear on mine; I assume as a result of keeping the chain in proper tension, but you tell me. With the swing arm off, the chain slid right out, and with a few twists the drive sprocket was off.

From what I can tell there are differing views on changing the chain and sprockets in tandem versus replacing parts as needed. For the Speedmaster the OEM chain and sprocket kit were $206 after tax. From what I can tell, that’s a good deal compared to buying all three components independently. At the same time, I have a fair amount of riding to do this season; for a guy who prefers to ride the bike versus clean and work on it, it seemed like the logical choice to replace it all at one time.

MotoADVRchain17From here I put the new front sprocket in place, lock washer, and just hand “snugged” the nut. Next I tackled the job of removing the worn rear sprocket. Because it’s chain drive, the rear sprocket has rubber dampers inside the wheel hub. As I said earlier, watch closely as this part will fall right out of the wheel hub if you set the wheel down wrong. Fortunately, someone warned me about that when I read another thread on, otherwise there’s no doubt that I would have dumped it right on the ground. The dampers should also be inspected for wear and replaced as needed. MotoADVRchain18With the sprocket housing inside the wheel hub I stood the wheel up on its rubber in order to avoid damaging the rotor. With the wheel upright, I worked against gravity to crack the sprocket bolts loose, turning the wheel and loosening the forward bolts as I went. This could potentially been done prior to removal, I just didn’t think about it. With the worn sprocket off, it’s a quick on-off switch with the new one (just like replacing rotors on a car). Using the same process as removal in reverse, I torqued down the sprocket nuts to spec.

MotoADVRchain19Rear wheel ready to go, we were ready for the new chain. I was extremely pleased with my first factory chain, therefore I trust that the replacement chain was adequately lubed prior to installation; in fact, I wiped off a considerable amount of grease prior to installing the new chain. Some folks are adamant about adding additional lube, but I have no idea who they’re buying chains from. Considering I neglected the first chain, significantly for the first 5,000 miles, I trust that the replacement chain will be just fine. Some folks are in the “it’s an O-ring chain on a street bike, just keep it dry” crowd; I figure I’m somewhere in between. I typically spray a little break cleaner on a rag and wipe down the chain. After that I spray each link with chain wax to keep it from rusting, but that’s just me.

At any rate, with the new chain threaded into place on the drive sprocket, the next task was getting the swing arm back in place. I assume better mechanics than myself have successfully re-installed a swing arm on their own, but I will tell you that I was glad to have experienced help showing me how. Trying to hold a swing arm while fishing two bushings into place is a tall order for just one person; be warned if you’re tackling this job solo. After greasing up the pivot bolt, and with a lot of patience and finesse the two of us got the mating bushings in place and the swing arm pivot bolt through. We put a bungee cord back in place to hold up the swing arm, at the same time holding the chain off the floor (doesn’t make much sense to get garage floor grime on a shiny new chain does it?). The rear shocks were the same bolt-on affair they were during removal; after which it was time for the rear wheel.

Cutting lose the rear brake caliper and chain, we positioned the rear wheel inside the swing arm, threading the chain, loosely attempting to position the rear caliper, and somehow trying to hold the bushings in place on either side (a VERY tight fit). The components of the rear wheel are easier to see and manipulate than the swing arm bushings, but for whatever reason I found it to be more difficult to position. In this case we actually set the wheel on another floor jack to get things “close” to final position while we finagled the bushings, brake caliper, and rear axle into place. Be extremely careful during this phase depending on how you have the bike off the floor. In this case, the bike was strapped to a jack and on an additional jack. By itself, our setup was pretty sturdy, but two guys wrestling over a rear wheel could quickly kick a bike off a stand depending on how obstinate a rear wheel chooses to be. With a bit more aggravation, we finally got the wheel in place; a little more axle grease, and the rear axle installed. I tightened the chain adjusters just a bit to take some of the slack out of the chain prior to setting the bike on the floor. Also before setting the bike down we spun the wheel back and forth a few times to make sure there weren’t any issues with the chain.

MotoADVRchain20With the bike finally off the jack, I began methodically going around the bike tightening the big ticket fasteners to the prescribed torque setting according to the manual. Once the swing arm pivot bolt, pivot bolt pinch bolts, rear axle nut, and suspension bolts were tight to spec, I began reassembling all the miscellaneous items to put the bike back together.

MotoADVRchain21All things said and done, two guys had about two and a half hours invested in a job. After packing up the odds and ends, the ride home was a pleasant one. I can’t claim that I’ve noticed any significant differences in the 20 or so miles I’ve ridden since the replacement, but with the sunny weather that day, I swear I felt just a bit more throttle response; but that could just be wishful thinking.


A couple things to keep in mind before attempting this job:

  • You’re going to need sockets from 1” down to 8 mm; unfortunately I don’t recall the socket/wrench size for the front sprocket retaining nut, but it’s almost 2”, so keep that in mind.
  • I have a habit of breaking bolts off inside the bike; thus I bought a torque wrench. Probably a good idea to have one on hand, and whatever step up or step down drive adapters necessary to torque all the random bolt sizes on the bike.
  • There are a lot of pros and cons to jacks vs. lift, so plan ahead, take your time, and don’t wrestle the bike on a jack, there are other tools that are safe, like impact wrenches if necessary.
  • Make sure you have zip ties, bungee cords, and the like handy, sometime you just need something out of the way for a moment.
  • This is obviously a greasy dirty job with brakes and axles; I’m a big fan of thick latex gloves, it helps keep the chrome clean if you’re concerned about that kind of thing.
  • If time is not a factor, which it typically is for me, this is a great opportunity to do some deep cleaning in the depths of the swing arm and rear wheel, you probably want to get those cleaning tools out.
  • Even after wiping down the new chain prior to installation, grease was still slung onto the pipes and rear wheel. If you’re a stickler for clean chrome, better wipe it down twice.

Now that the worn parts are sitting on my desk at home, I’m planning some sort of creative use for old motorcycle parts. If things work out, I’m hoping this old chain becomes a heavy duty hanger for my motorcycle gear.

Do you typically do your own maintenance or do you take your bike to a shop?

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6 Responses to Motorcycle Maintenance: Routine Chain and Sprocket Replacement

  1. witttom says:

    I add gasoline to my bike occasionally, by myself. That’s maintenance, right?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Motorcycle Maintenance: 30,000 mile service (abridged) | Moto Adventurer

  3. Ezequiel Quintana Morales says:

    Hi Drew,
    I own a ’06 Speedmaster and I occasionally do some repairs by myself. Now, I’m in trouble because after a big rain with the bike on the street, ‘she’ refuses to start. I’ve trying several stuff: battery, fuses, starter solenoid relay …. without luck (everything is ok but I still get no lights, no contact, no nothing …) and now I would like to remove and test the key switch. To do that I should remove the battery box and it’s being a nightmare. You wrote: “After fussing with the battery box for several minutes I realized that there’s an additional bolt near the bottom of the frame that holds the “tongue” of the battery box in place.” I didn’t find any additional bolt this morning and after reading you I’m going to look for it this evening but please, could you be more explicit on where that bot is? Is it accesible from the bottom of the bike? I also have the service manual but nothing is written about that bolt.
    Thank you so much

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      Hey Ezequiel, sorry to hear you’re struggling with electrical Gremlins, that’s never fun. I went back through my photos in attempt to jog my memory, I went ahead and uploaded a few more photos (see links below). I apologize that I don’t remember the exact detail, but I have circled the bolt(s) that caught me off guard, it’s way below the battery box in the frame. I don’t know if the carbureted models have the same battery box or not. It’s been a really long time since I’ve had my battery out, and I never actually removed the battery box completely so my memory is failing me at the moment. If I recall correctly, I found all the bolts I needed to remove the box, however I would need to have taken out the key switch in order to pull the box out, so I left is in place and worked around it. I believe that the key switch is actually screwed in from the backside, which meant taking off the seat and moving all my heated gear electrical crap and whatnot so I decided not to mess with it because it would be such a hassle. I hope these photos help. If not, I would recommend posting your question on, there’s lots of information there, even the Bonneville guys can typically help you out.


      • Ezequiel Quintana says:

        Hi Drew,
        I was out of town because Eastern. Thank you very much for your answer. I already removed the battery box and I managed to remove also the key switch to repair it. Now that switch is working ok but I still got the problem. I’ll try to post the problem to Triumphrat forum and see if I get any help. Thank you very much for your help.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Larry Villa says:

    Great postt thank you


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