Tuesday Tip: Pulling Teeth

Swapping Chains and Sprockets with Team Suzuki’s Dave Feeney

Photos: Donn Maeda
Text: Juan Doorley

When you get the throbbing pain of a toothache you go to the dentist, right? Well, if you love your bike as much as most motoheads do, you might consider doing the same favor for your adoring friend with two wheels. That’s right, we’re talking chain and sprockets here, folks, and if you ride with any regularity these are some of the most important parts to keep an eye on for excessive wear.

So how do you know when your baby needs more than just a checkup? If the shrilling, squeaking noise from your chain can be heard over your blown-out silencer, or your rear sprocket is missing more teeth than cousin Earl, it’s probably time for an overhaul. In all seriousness, riding with worn-out final drive components isn’t a laughing matter. A derailed or snapped chain can lock up your rear wheel and ruin your cases, and in extreme cases can even break you!


Dave Feeney came in from Down Under (yeah, another Aussie on the loose) to give us a briefing on the quickest and most effective way to swap out sprockets. Although it sounds easy enough, there are lots of little tricks that the factory guys use to make their lives easier. Most race teams will replace the chain and sprockets every race, so the factory wrenches get enough practice to do it in their sleep. For the rest of us in the real world that don’t have that luxury, Dave demonstrates the best way to ensure that you get the longest life from your bike’s chain and sprockets.

Go Time

STEP 1) Remove the chain with a large flathead screwdriver. Place the flat edge against the open end of the clip and use the palm of your hand to pop the clip loose.
(Now that the chain has been removed, loosen the rear axle nut and take the rear wheel off. Clean out any sand or dirt that may have gotten caught in the swingarm lugs.)


STEP 2) Break the rear sprocket nuts loose with a 12mm wrench, then place the proper Allen key in the bolt to remove the nut once it starts to spin.


STEP 3) Place the new sprocket on after the hub has been cleared of any debris and excess loctite. Blue loctite the bolts before installing into the hub. Tighten the bolts snug, and then use the wrench to finish tightening. On most bikes it is impossible to use an actual torque wrench, so you have to become the human torque wrench.


STEP 4) Every motorcycle has a different way of attaching the front sprocket. Hondas have a bolt and Yamahas use a nut with a bendable washer, while Suzukis and Kawasakis both use a C-clip. Pick the appropriate method for your ride and replace the front sprocket in the opposite manner in which it came off the bike. The factory Honda mechanics always safety-wire the bolt tight, Yamaha makes sure the bendable tab is in the proper location, and the Kawi and Suzuki techs use case bond around the C-clip to ensure the open end can’t be caught with a boot.
(Look at the chain guide and slider, and if they are worn out replace them. When installing the bolts back into the swing arm, make sure to loctite the threads.)


STEP 5) After replacing the rear wheel, leave the axle loose and install the new chain on the bike. Try to keep the axle in the center of the swingarm adjusters so that different sizes of sprockets can be installed without replacing the chain.


STEP 6) If your new chain is too long, simply cut the proper amount of links off. The big thing here is to be careful, because you don’t get a second chance at this. There are many different chain breakers for sale, and Motion Pro and Regina make two of the best.
(If a chain breaker doesn’t exist in your toolbox, the ends of the link pins can be ground off. Grind the outeer part of the desired link flush and use a small punch to pop the pins loose.)


STEP 7) Install the master link. Use the end of a flathead screwdriver to pop the clip into place. The direction of the clip is extremely important; make sure the closed end faces the direction of the chain’s rotation. If the master link is on top of the swingarm, the open end of the link should be facing the back of the bike. Failure to do this will almost guarantee the clip will fall off the master link and break the chain.


STEP 8) Adjust the chain tension according to OEM specs found in the owner’s manual. Once the proper tension is set, position a rag between the chain and rear sprocket to pull the wheel forward before tightening the rear axle nut. Torque the rear axle to the proper number, and finally tighten the chain adjuster nuts.