Race Car Chain Care and Feeding

Last Updated: 2010.05.10

(work in progress…) [Note: This is based from the various information I’ve gathered from reading on the Sports Racer forum over the years. Hopefully it will help get you up to speed ASAP on proper maintenance, choice, and care of your chains and tools on your chain powered car. ]


Sections:
General Information
Tension + Alignment
Lubricants
Chain Brands
Chain Breakers + Tools
Sprockets

Inspection and Replacement Intervals
Chain length is counted in the number of circular links you see, not the number of endplates. Put another way, you can count the number of endplates on an installed chain and multiply by 2.

Service life of your chain is dependent on the power of your engine, the length of the chain, and the size of the sprockets you are running. Obviously, more powerful motors like the big Hayabusa 1300’s put more strain on the chain. Excessively small front sprockets, such as 14T and 13T cause additional heat buildup, which shortens the chain’s life. Additionally, the tighter bend radius required starts to cost a bit of horsepower in the 13 and 14T sprockets.

Longer chains tend to run cooler, and therefore last longer, although this is not really something you’ll be able to do much about in your car. This lower temperature is due to the decreased angularity between the front and rear sprockets, as well as there being more time for each individual link to cool during its travel. As such, longer-chained cars like the Stohr and Speads can run 14T front sprockets with no issues, whereas it (might be ?) more problematic on a shorter-chained car like the Radical.

Keeping the sprocket aligned perfectly is VERY IMPORTANT to maintaining chain life, as is making sure your sprockets are in good condition. Damaged and worn sprockets can chew through chains extremely quickly. Finally, make sure you are adjusting the chain’s tension properly, and you should get long, long life out of your chain.

I posted a thread on the DSR forum a while back in terms of how long a chain should be run, and got these responses. They vary quite a lot!:

  • Every 2-3 full race weekends – Eric Vassian (PVM Racing)
  • “I once ran an RK Gold chain for over a year – Ken Kaplowitz
  • “Our chains last an average of 5 weekends. Sometimes more.” – Ted Arken
  • “I replace mine after 6 races” – Bill Maisey
  • “8 hours” – NASA Racer (Pete Fowler)
  • “On my LeGrande, 4 race weekends.” – David Kaiser
  • “Throw chain away every 4 race weekends” – Tom Robertson

…And so on. You ultimately have to find a replacement rate that works for your budget and sense of peace. My experience has been that I replace it about once a season, or if the chain starts needing very frequent adjustment.

Replace a chain immediately if you find any missing O-rings. As well, if you see any seams on the rollers on the inner portion of the chain, replace it immediately.

Finally, if you break a chain, or one becomes extremely slack, you should replace the sprockets as well, if they show any signs of wear, as they can damage the new chain.

Tension + Alignment
Tensioning and Aligning your chain properly is most important to keeping it alive as long as possible. A chain will always have tight spots and loose spots. A good guideline is to go for 1/2″ to 3/4″ of movement (full up to full down), when moved by hand, in the middle of the bottom run, at its tightest spot. Check several times along the rotation of the chain to make sure no spot is excessively loose or tight. Roughly, one chain thickness up and down is sufficient, but measuring as above is most accurate and repeatable. Also, do this with the rear wheels in the air if you can, that will make sure there is no preload on the chain one direction or the other, that might affect your observation of the chain’s tension.

For aligning, many folks use a straight edge of some sort. I have found that a small tool called the Laser-Cat, available on e-bay and elsewhere, makes checking alignment particularly foolproof. Lay it along the side of your sprocket and rotate it. The red dot will move striaght up and down the side plate of the chain if it is properly aligned.

Chain Lubricants
O and X-ring chains contain lubricant within them. However, lubricant is still required to help keep the outer surfaces of the chain and sprockets cool, and to make sure the chain is not galling on the sprockets. Most brands of commercial lubricants seem to work just fine. What seems to be commonly agreed is that WD-40 should NOT be used as a chain lubricant.

You can use a chain oil or chain wax, and common use seems to be moving towards wax, as the waxes result in less mess, typically. I use Bel-Ray chain wax (in the blue can). For best results, apply it when the chain is warm/hot, and let it “set up” before going out on your next session. So, I just wax the chain as one of my first steps after coming in from a session.

Chain Brands
The most popular brands of chain seem to be DID and RK:

  • DID ZVM
  • DID ZVM2
  • RK GXW

Previously, I had had EK chains recommended to me by Richard at Rilltech, however nowadays, he has returned to recommending DID chain, which matches the chains suggested by the Stohr factory. Kevin at Rennwerks has had good luck with the heavy-duty EK ZZZ, but based on my own experiences, I wouldn’t recommend anything lighter from EK.

I’ve had good luck with the RK GXW “Gold Series” X-Ring chain, and will be running DID chain per Stohr’s recommendation on my Stohr, until I see evidence otherwise. For convenience, Ben Beasley sells RK GXW chain by the link, so you can order precisely the length you need, to reduce wastage.

Chain Breakers + Tools
It is universally accepted that on a DSR, you should use a riveted master link, rather than a clipped master link on your chain. So, you will need a chain rivet tool, and a chain breaker.

A properly riveted master link looks like this, and This, and This. Note that the plate on the new riveted master link should be exactly coplanar with the other plates on the chain – don’t install it too shallow or too deep. As an aside, EK chains come with a nice spacer that you insert while riveting, that helps ensure you get the spacing just right.

Since the 530 chain is the biggest commonly made chain, many of the tools on the market aren’t quite up to the task, so make sure you get a really beefy looking tool.

the DID chain breaker is an excellent selection, recommended by many. I have used the Motion Pro chain cutter and rivet kit for several years with excellent results. It’s about $95, and is available from many outlets, for example, Dennis Kirk, or Solo Moto Parts.

Do not confuse this with the cheaper (silver) Motion Pro “Heavy duty chain breaker” ($35ish) which is garbage.

These can be sourced from a host of different online retailers – let Google be your guide.

[Update 2010.05.10: Having used the above-mentioned Motion-Pro “Heavy Duty” kit for a while now, and having had a few others to try, I’d like to withdraw my recommendation of that tool, and instead endorse the RK chain breaking/riveting tool. I got mine from Solo Moto Parts. It is a bit more pricey at $110, but is made of much higher quality metal than the Motion Pro kit. ]

Sprockets
Sprockets, like chains, are also a wear item. Inspect them for the teeth becoming “curved”. They start to look like a cresting wave, rather than symmetrical teeth.

Front sprockets can be sourced from many sources, such as Sprocket Specialists, for Yamaha, Suzuki, etc engines. Sizes all the way down to 13 front teeth can be easily sourced.

Rear sprockets will be specific to your car, and will come from your maufacturer.

That’s it…hope that helps! Please e-mail me with any updates, corrections, or bits you’d think would be helpful to others!

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