Wednesday 12 December 2012

Royal Enfield Maintenance - Replacing the Chain

This post is to celebrate another not-so-big-but-it-does-matter-to-me kind of WIN, in my mission to maintain my own motorcycle. Trust me the pain and grease in the fingernails were worth the satisfaction and boost in confidence that I got from this task.


My mech (whom I have not visited since I started doing the minor check-ups of my bullet myself) last told me that the chain and sprockets need replacement as they making unbearable noise while climbing up a slope. Which I too checked and was true. The interesting part is, even in that stage it rides perfectly well (i.e. without much noise) on usual/level roads, like the one I go to the office through. That's why I never realized that the chain/sprocket has been worn out. So after noticing the effects (loud unhealthy noise from a chain) I decided to replace it myself.

Pre-replacement Thoughts:

As a standard procedure, I was considering the replacement of both Chain and Sprockets, as a mismatch may cause more wear in the new component(whichever is new) and its life will reduce. Hence it's always advisable to replace both together. But after having a discussion with Nandan I decided to check the wear pattern first, which will be a great aid to understanding how chain/sprockets wear out and why they make noise.


Sprocket seemed to be in rather a good condition. But the chain seems to have a play even when held tight against the rear sprocket. If you hold the chain snugly wrapped around the sprocket and try to pull one link (which is resting tightly on the sprocket teeth) away from the sprocket, it ideally shouldn't pull up. If it does, it shows that the chain has lost its form. Tightening the chain won't make any difference to such deformation of the chain.


Based on the above checks I concluded that the chain needs a replacement and the sprocket will roll for some more time to come. Now there are two types of chains for bullet:

1. O-ring type (OEM)
2. Normal Chain

The first one is a new O-ring type (now comes standard with every new Bullet) chain which has tiny rubber rings on both sides of the links and there is some grease stuffed in each link during manufacturing, hence doesn't require lubrication. On the contrary, the normal chain doesn't have such rings on links and needs minor lubrication as part of usual maintenance. Now the O-ring type isn't that great if you consider the few niggles that this concept of O-rings introduced. What I heard from Nandan is, these tiny rings sometimes cause the links to get temporarily stuck and hence not rotate freely.
 Again the rings don't really make that much of a difference and may give a slight increase in life, which really doesn't matter to me. As I don't (not yet!) maintain a journal for the spares I replace on my bike. So I decided to go for the normal chain (Simply Old School!!!), which costs a few bucks less than the O-ring type.

Spares / Tools Required:

  • Standard Spanner - 24 (for the Castle nut which holds the rear wheel axle), 30(Nut which supports the toothed chain Adjuster on the left side of Electra)
  • Ring Spanner - 18 (to open the nut which connects the rear hub with the left swing arm)
  • Water Pump Plier (Really handy for any type of work. This will be used for removing and fixing the chain link)
  • A new chain (Duh!)

Spanner, Ring Spanner and Plier

A cloth to wipe the grease off hands (trust me, this you will remember for long)
A small stool to sit on while you work on the bike

O-ring type chain link, Water Pump Plier, which can easily remove or connect the link lock (3rd from left)

*** Steps ***

A) Remove the link from the bike chain using the plier (you may use any other tool if not a plier) [AFTER THIS YOUR BIKE CAN'T BE USED UNTIL YOU ARE DONE!]
B) Remove the link from the new chain (after unpacking)
C) Connect one end of the old chain (still on the bike) to one end of the new chain using the old link.
D) Turn the rear wheel to pull the new chain through the front sprocket area until one end is completely through
E) Remove the link and the old chain completely (i.e. disconnect from the new chain which is now through and resting on the rear sprocket)
F) Relax the rear hub and connect the link to the new chain
G) Align the wheel and adjust the chain tension maintaining recommended slackness [LAST CHECK POINT]

I won't spend time explaining how to do steps A, B, C, D, and E, as it's not on my agenda at the moment. This page is just to give you an idea of the process and to act as a future reference for me.

Step F can be done as follows: (RELAXING THE ADJUSTER)
1. Release the size 24 nut holding the rear wheel axle (This will also loosen the adjuster on the right side)
2. Release the size 18 (using ring spanner!) nut so that the rear wheel hub can be adjusted for the new chain
3. Loosen the size 30 not enough, so that the adjuster can be rotated

Left side view of rear wheel

Right-side view of the rear wheel

Note: You may release the rear brake rod if it makes the nuts more accessible. I released the brake rod as I found working on the rear hub easy when the brake rod was out of the way. If you happen to do the same, there could be two open ends expected as marked by the blue circles in the picture above.

Connecting the chain link:

The only thing to remember is, that connecting the link ensures there is no dirt/sand on the link or any part of the chain, as it may get inside the links, which is not a good thing in my opinion. Especially when the chain is brand new:) 

NOTE: Also the chain link lock should be on the OUTER side of the chain (i.e. facing towards you) and the connected side (not the disjoint side) should face the direction of rotation of the chain.

Step G can be done as follows: (ALIGNMENT)

This is a trial and error process as per my knowledge. Size 18 nut is used to adjust the rear hub back or forth and the 'Adjuster' on both sides is used to ensure both sides of the hub/wheel are pushed back/forth equally. So you need to make use of these 3 (Size 18 nut and 2 adjusters on both sides) to achieve the following end result:

1. Chain MUST have at least 3 inches (thumb rule) of vertical (obvious:P) play
2. The gap between the tire and swingarms is the same (almost) on both sides (Use fingers to measure)

WARNING: Keeping the chain loose is ok and the only side effect would be a minor noise and the chain might slightly rub on the left swingarm. But if the chain is too tight, (when the bike is on the main stand) while the bike is running and the rear suspension is in play, the chain might snap.

Once you are happy with the alignment and all the nuts are tightened up, connect the brake rod and adjust the free play of the rear brake as per your needs.

THATS IT! You're done! Now slowly take the bike out of the garage and take a spin around the neighborhood to check how the rear wheel feels. Ride SLOW and observe for any unusual noise from a chain uphill (don't hit a mountain for this, the nearest road connecting to a high ground would suffice). Check for any weird feel while cornering. Which means the new setup may need a bit of adjustment.

Phew!! That was fun! And ya don't forget to wash your hands thoroughly as grease gonna take its own sweet time to come off the skin, especially the fingernails :D But being someone who loves motorcycles so much, I thoroughly enjoyed the work and looking forward to getting my hands dirty again.

Hope this helps you take care of your motorcycle well. Keep visiting for newer experiences;)

Ride Safe, Ride Long,


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