Although chain-driven motorcycles may not be as smooth, quiet, clean, or easy to maintain as belt-driven or chain-driven motorcycles, they transfer power the most efficiently and that is a tradeoff many riders are willing to make. With that being said, when it comes down to motorcycle chains, what are the different types? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each type of chain?
Motorcycle chains can be broken down into two categories: sealed and unsealed. Since unsealed chains came out long before sealed chains, I’ll give you the breakdown on them first.
Unsealed chains, commonly referred to as standard chains, are solid and do not have internal lubrication held in by a seal. Subsequently they are lighter, less expensive to make and produce less friction, which allows more power transfer than sealed chains. With this design, they require more maintenance because they need lubrication and cleaning every 100 to 200 miles and they don’t last as long.
Sealed chains have small rings between the plates enabling them to keep lubrication inside and the dirt outside. Although they require less maintenance (they need to be lubricated and cleaned every 300 to 500 miles) and have a longer life, they are heavier, more expensive to manufacture and produce more friction thereby reducing some of the power transfer.
The two most popular sealed chains are O-chains and X-chains, named for the shape of the small rings. Of these two types, the X-ring chains do not need as frequent of maintenance as they hold lubrication better and are usually stronger, but they attract more debris and are more expensive.
You will usually find the unsealed chains used on lighter bikes and in racing applications due to their lighter weight and less friction as well as on older bikes that sealed chains do not fit. Sealed chains tend to be more commonly found on heavier bikes. When it comes time to replace your motorcycle chain if you aren’t sure which type suits your needs, it is best to stick with what the manufacturer or your wrench recommends.