It is no secret that motorcycle chains are a vital part of a motorcycle’s drivetrain. In fact, to watch this series of linkages in action, transferring monstrous amounts of power from the engine to the rear wheel, enabling the machine to achieve manic acceleration and top speeds, is a sight to behold. Incredibly durable and is built to take abuse, motorcycle chains are some of the most stressed components on any two-wheeler. While the older chains require a lot of maintenance and care in the form of constant cleaning and lubrication, modern O and X-ring chains come pre-lubricated on the inside and are sealed to stay well-oiled on the inside. Having said that, the exterior of these chains still has to weather the elements. Motorcycle users often wonder whether they need to clean or lube these modern chains at all. While essentially maintenance-free, the O and X-ring chains need their share of care to keep serving you in a trouble-free manner. Before we discuss the maintenance of O and X-ring chains, let’s first try and understand what makes them unique, and how these two varieties of motorcycle chains are different.
O-ring chains were derived from the older and standard non-O-ring chains. The non-O-ring chains had an issue wherein there was a lot of metal-on-metal contact between the link plates, and the chain could not easily retain lubricant. It also tends to trap dirt and debris around the pin. This meant that the non-O-ring chains required regular maintenance in cleaning and lubing. They didn’t last too long either and had to be replaced frequently. The O-ring chain solved all these issues by adding an O-ring rubber inserted between the inner and outer link plates to act as seals. When you look at its cross-section, it gets the name O-ring from its cylindrical shape. O-ring chains are self-lubricating and help seal the lubricant inside the links of the chain to keep the pins moving freely. This helps avoid the metal-on-metal friction that the non-O-ring chains are plagued by. The seals ensure that dust and debris are kept away from the inner parts of the chain. O-rings are definitely superior to the non-O-ring chains in every way, except that the transmission loss on a well-cleaned and lubed O-ring chain is significantly less owing to the additional drag created by the rubber rings. Though they are much more expensive, they are worth every penny due to the peace of mind they offer and the low amount of maintenance they require. Here are some advantages of O-ring chains over their non-O-ring counterparts:
● O-ring chains keep dust and debris away from the pin. The non-O-ring chains were notorious for trapping dust between the linkages, which, when ignored, resulted in the loss of power and efficiency. The rubber inserts that act as seals help the O-ring chains keep the external elements. While theoretically, a clean, well-lubed non-O-ring performs better in terms of transmission efficiency, in real-world conditions, it generally doesn’t, as dirt and muck stuck between the linkages causes friction, making it less efficient in practice. O-ring chains, therefore, offer an overall better solution.
● O-ring chains require much less maintenance due to their self-lubricating properties. They are also much easier to clean since all the dust and muck is collected on the outside and not trapped inside, unlike the non-O-ring chains, which are tedious to clean
● O-ring chains last much longer than the non-O-ring chains, saving motorcycle owners money and minimising their hassles over the longer term
Just like O-ring chains are a derivative of non-O-ring chains, X-ring chains are a derivative of the O-ring chains. The X-ring further improves upon the strengths of the O-rings. Like the O-rings, the X-ring fits between the plates and over the pin that connects them. However, instead of an ‘O’ cross-section, the X-ring has an ‘X’ shaped cross-section. This addresses a flaw with the O-ring chains, i.e. friction and loss of power, which is caused as the O ring deforms under pressure from the inner and outer chain plates, consequently causing drag. The X-ring has a much less surface area, and therefore much less friction than an O-ring chain. An X-ring chain, thus, offers all the qualities of an O-ring chain with a lot less friction, and often, even better durability.
Here are some advantages of an X-ring chain over an O-ring chain:
● When subjected to pressure, the X-ring holds its shape much better since it essentially twists when tension is applied. On the other hand, O-rings would deform over time when tension is applied between the plates for too long due to their tendency to flatten
● Unlike O-rings which squish down when subjected to tension, X-ring chains retain their lubrication better and for longer
● X-ring chains last longer than O-ring chains, thanks to the benefits it carries over the O-rings. While O-ring chains last long, X-ring chains are even better when it comes to longevity
● These advantages, along with lesser friction, results in higher performance output. If performance and durability is your priority, X-rings are the way to go despite their higher cost compared to O-rings
Do X and O-ring chains need cleaning and lubing?
Both O-ring and X-ring chains can offer extended service life requiring very little maintenance thanks to their design, which seals the lubrication and protects their free movement against dirt. They are a far cry from the non-O-ring chains, which require a lot of attention, frequent cleaning and lubrication. However, to perform optimally, both O and X-ring chains still need cleaning and lubrication on the outside at regular intervals. Even though the seals keep the inner components of the chain lubricated and safe from dirt and debris, the external components such as the plates often get covered in muck and dirt, which restricts the chain’s free movement. Therefore, it is advisable to have these chains cleaned from the outside every once in a while and have them sprayed with good chain lube.
To clean these chains, all you need to do is rinse them with soapy water, remove any hard, stubborn dirt with the help of a used toothbrush and use a soft cloth to dry them. For lubrication, spray the chain evenly with lube spray. Always go for a reputable brand of motorcycle chain lube, as using substandard lubricating agents may cause damage to the rings, making them lose their sealing properties. You can follow this simple process of cleaning and lubing the chains every 1,000 kilometres if you are very particular about the health of your motorcycle chain. If you are not riding in too dirty, dry or mucky conditions, keep an eye on the chain and have it cleaned and lubricated as it starts appearing visibly dry or dirty. You might not need to clean or lube your motorcycle for up to 3,000 kilometres in clean conditions. The key is to keep an eye out for the physical state of your motorcycle’s chain and care for it as soon as you notice dirt or dryness on its surface.
Your O and X-ring chains are designed to serve you for very long intervals, requiring minimal maintenance and care on your part. Depending on usage and weather conditions, a well-made O-ring chain would easily last you for 20,000 to 30,000 kilometres. An X-ring chain would last even longer. Just clean and lube them when they appear too dirty or dry, and they’ll serve you faithfully for years.