Road Dirt’s Ted Dishes On What NOT To Do When Changing Your Chain & Sprockets

As the kinked links on my chain ran through my countershaft sprocket with a whack, whack, whack like a drivetrain on a self-destruct timer, I thought, “I bet I can put this off a bit more. It can wait. How bad could it get anyways?”

I was headed to Colorado in a few days and didn’t want to do potentially disabling maintenance right before a big trip purchased with a sizable (and non-refundable) fee. So I put it off and rode monster miles. Then put it off some more. Then did a second trip. Eventually the mechanical whacking increased to an unbearable volume and intensity and the driveline surge was so bad that it felt like someone was tapping my rear brake at regular intervals making the bike feel like an unbalanced washing machine.

This is how to ruin your chain and sprocket changeover. Sometimes, I do things that make me go “hmmm…”

Begin by doing what all good mechanics do: ignore it. Take a 2 week, 4,000 mile moto-camping trip to Colorado where along the way, the speeds of remote western highways amplify the surging to bizarre levels as you push your high mileage VFR800 and outrace rain clouds to campsites doing speeds that the Idaho State Patrol highly frown upon. And the Colorado State Patrol. Both are actually super nice when you talk to them. In a coffee shop of course.

Arrive home from Colorado, put off the changeover further and turn north to Canada with your riding group, the Wild Rose Squad. In Canada, the WRS will be so appalled by the metallic clacking coming from your drivetrain that they will stop you mid-trip and insist that “Good God man, for the love of all things mechanically holy in the motorcycle universe, would you please at least tighten your chain slack because we are all sick of hearing it and it is so loud we hear it through our helmets and think it is coming from our bikes.”

Refuse. Confess that you have no tools to do so because you are such a good mechanic that nothing ever goes wrong with your bike mid-trip and you never carry tools with you, unless the bottle opener on the bottom of your flip-flops count as a tool.

The entire Wild Rose Squad will then force tools into your hands just so they don’t have to listen to that racket coming from your drivetrain. The chain is so bad now that the driveline lash rhythmically lurches the bike when passing cars, making it feel and sound like wooden roller coaster cars clacking up an incline. Keep this neat little fact to yourself.

Congratulations! After completing these two trips you just got an extra 5,000 miles out of your chain and sprockets with no apparent damage to the clutch, transmission, countershaft seal or your reputation. Well done. Time to shop.

Drop over $200 for the best chain and sprocket set you can afford and hide it from the wife because she complains you spend way too much money on your bikes, mentioning that bike parts arrive with such regularity that the UPS driver knows your chocolate lab puppy by name.

“Cody is getting bigger every week,” says the UPS driver.  “He even looks bigger than just three days ago.  What are you feeding him?”

UPS drivers. I’m feeding him UPS drivers that linger at the house too long making it hard to hide purchases from my wife so you can leave now because my wife is coming home soon. Remind yourself to also hide the receipt for the new TIG setup that just set you back four figures and save revealing both of these surprises for later when she is in a good mood or can’t react quickly. Like when she is sleeping. Or having dental surgery. Or in another country.

Now it’s time to get to work which means borrowing tools from unsuspecting friends. In my case it’s my step-brother and professional bike mechanic Todd “The Carb Whisperer” Shiflett. Borrow his Motion Pro PBR Chain Tool then set the project aside for two months before starting because you have a backup bike you can ride. This is how you justify owning more than one bike to your grudgingly supportive spouse.

By now, it’s November and freezing temperatures have invaded the Pacific Northwest making all of the metal in the garage so cold that it leaches the warmth from your hands upon contact and snot drips from your nose at regular intervals like an oil leak from an AMF era Harley-Davidson. To add pressure, the editor you work for has sent more than one text through clenched teeth wondering how the chain and sprocket how-to video that you promised months ago is coming along. Ignore his video request and just type an article because you have a face built for writing and are not nearly as camera friendly as Ari Henning. What is Ari’s workout routine anyways?

Conditions are perfect. Time to get started.

Start by removing the pricey Tupperware on the bike and make note of all the incorrect fasteners you used from when you rebuilt the bike after totaling it in a crash (a story for another time) and mix them together in one bag like a fastener tossed salad, creating an exciting game of “Where does this fastener go?” for later.

Next remove the hydraulic clutch slave cylinder and speedometer drive covering the countershaft sprocket. Do all of this without taking reassembly reference photos because you are a good mechanic.

After removing them, throw the hodgepodge of bolts together in one magnetic parts dish so they can fraternize because bolts of random lengths like to mingle before being replaced in incorrect homes.

About now you should notice a small metal bushing just fell onto the garage floor. It’s okay that you don’t know where it came from. Just throw that in the parts dish. Or leave it on the garage floor. It’s not important.

Then, use your air grinder to grind the head off one of the chain’s drive pins and push it out using your borrowed Motion Pro PBR Chain Tool and remove the chain.  Hit yourself in the forehead as you realize that you should have loosened the countershaft sprocket bolt before removing the chain. Oops.

Any tool from Motion Pro is high quality. Here is their PRB Chain Tool after years of use, still looking good. It makes a great purchase so jerks like me can borrow it from you and not return it for months at a time.

That’s okay, grab your air tool and break the stubborn countershaft bolt loose and remind yourself that it pays to spend money on tools. Like the new TIG welder. Remember again to hide that from the wife.

The VFR800’s single sided swingarm means no need to remove the rear wheel, just remove the six bolts holding on the rear sprocket and swap it out for the new one, which is when you notice that the old sprocket’s teeth are thin, sharp and angled like shark’s teeth. Ninjas could use this thing as a deadly weapon, but I call it getting my money’s worth. Or recklessly flirting with disaster.

Examine the old chain and you will see a group of tight links in the chain that explain the surging as they passed through the drivetrain for thousands of miles. You got two year’s and 25,000 miles out of this set of chain and sprockets and time near the Pacific Ocean spray and Bonneville salt in no way accelerated the wear. Maybe you could have gotten more miles if you would wash your bike more. Maybe you should wash your bike in the first place.

Why do such a silly thing? Having your bike covered in bugs like a triple digit flyswatter with salt caked under the fender wells makes you feel like a badass, even if bees swarm to feast off the bugs on your fairing at every gas stop making bystanders run away instead of coming up to start a conversation. You are keeping the bee population well fed. Isn’t that a good thing? Yes it is.

After installing the new sprockets and threading on the new chain, lube the o-rings on the new master link and install it with the Motion Pro PBR chain tool (why did they name this tool after cheap beer?) flattening the heads of the master link rivets until they are exactly 5.85 mm wide, just like the shop manual says. Because you are a good mechanic who pays attention to details.

There are only so many places those bolts can go, right?

Reassembly time. This is when you look at the parts dish and realize that lazily spreading this job out over the course of two weeks (you are a good mechanic, just not a fast mechanic) may not have been a good thing because you have no idea of the locations of all those different bolts in the magnetic parts dish. But there are only so many places those bolts can go, right? How hard could it be?

Exactly four hours and fifteen minutes of bolting, unbolting, re-bolting, unbolting again and re-re-bolting the speedometer drive, clutch slave cylinder and countershaft cover are back on. Look down and realize that tiny metal bushing is still on the garage floor beneath the bike. It’s a miracle you didn’t lose it.

But, by not putting it back on you have just saved one-tenth of an ounce off the bike, making it 0.0001 seconds faster and mechanically simpler than before.  After all, what do all of those highly trained engineers at Honda who perfected gear driven cam V-four motors know anyways? You are smarter than them. 

And a better mechanic.

Ted

The finished job, no extra unaccounted for parts, to my knowledge. Oh, and Cody says hi.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This is why I ride beemers with shafts…

    Reply
    • Avatar

      I’ve got a Yamaha Royal Star with a shaft drive, much easier to service obviously, but as you know with your Beemer, adds considerable weight to the bike. Chain/sprocket setups are so much lighter, but certainly require regular attention, no doubt.
      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply

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