Your motorcycle’s drive chain is an essential component responsible for moving the rear wheel of your bike.
Therefore, a chain failure can render an otherwise healthy bike unusable, making chain inspection and upkeep a critical part of motorcycle ownership.
If a chain develops a tight spot, its momentum and fundamental operation are impaired, meaning there are likely loose spots elsewhere in your chain to compensate for the tension increase.
Below we’ve listed the most common reasons why a motorcycle chain develops tight spots and what to do about it!
Table of Contents
1. Motorcycle Chain Needs to Break In
Brand-new motorcycle chains need to stretch or break in.
The engineers who design them know this, instructing their technicians to set them at a specific tension to compensate for the stretching.
That said, once the chain breaks in, it typically requires an inspection and lubrication, at the very least, if not an adjustment.
- It’s not the metal the chain is constructed from that needs to break in, but the tiny space between the chain links.
- As the links rotate, they wear into one another, causing friction that breaks in the metal.
After a few hundred miles of use, the combined wear on the metal between the hundred or so links that make up a motorcycle chain adds up to a significant difference in slack, which can cause tight spots to develop on your bike’s chain.
When riding on a new motorcycle chain, inspect the chain after the first 50 miles, lubricating and adjusting as needed. Inspect a new chain every 100 miles after that for the first 300 miles of riding on the new chain.
After that, you inspect, lubricate, and adjust your motorcycle’s chain as part of the routine service outlined in your owner’s manual. Preventative maintenance should keep your new chain from developing tight spots if you or your mechanic are keeping up with your bike’s service schedule.
2. Chain Is Adjusted Improperly
Whether you just bought your bike from a new or used dealership, bought it from a private seller, had it tuned up by a mechanic, or adjusted the chain yourself, changing the chain improperly can cause tight spots to develop.
Sometimes chain adjustments are done in a rush and aren’t appropriately tightened by the mechanic, resulting in tight spots.
- If you or your service technician adjusted the chain after checking the tension in just one or two spots, they might not have accurately measured your chain tension.
- Proper etiquette is to inspect the chain’s tension in multiple spots. Otherwise, they may be measuring a loose place.
If the chain is tighter than initially thought, tightening the chain will result in proper tension in the loose spot they measure, but tight spots elsewhere on the chain.
Also, just plain adjusting your bike chain too tightly or with too much slack could cause a tight spot.
Motorcycle chains require a specific amount of slack to compensate for the expansion of the metal once the chain heats up from the friction of everyday use.
If you or your mechanic didn’t leave enough slack, the chain could overheat, causing some of the links to fuse, causing a tight spot in your bike’s chain.
3. Rear Wheel Axle Came Loose
One of the most common reasons a motorcycle chain has a tight spot is because the motorcycle’s rear wheel somehow came loose, tightening the chain unevenly as it rattles and rolls along.
This is especially common on older bikes with worn hardware that hasn’t been inspected or tuned up in a while.
- The rear wheel’s axle slips between the back of your bike’s swingarm, riding between two fork-like components.
- On either side of the rear wheel are bolts you can turn to pull the rear tire back on the frame.
- Suppose the axle or the tightening bolts on either side of the wheel loosen from corrosion, wear-and-tear, rapid temperature changes, or engine vibration. In that case, the tire can move back without you realizing it.
If your rear wheel comes loose and moves backward from its position, it will yank on your motorcycle chain, causing tight spots and uneven tension.
If your motorcycle chain has a tight spot, check your axle adjuster and the axle nut and make sure they aren’t loose. Adjusting your chain won’t remove the tight chain links if any wheel hardware is open.
Your bike’s tire will need to rest, and the ineffective hardware will need to be replaced.
4. Stiff or Corroded Chain Links
Over time, the grease used to lubricate motorcycle chains collects dirt and road grime, which can jam up your motorcycle’s chain links and cause inconsistent tight spots.
Rust can make a tight spot in a bike chain permanently stiff. If the chain isn’t lubricated as regularly as it should be, moisture can get between chain links and cause sticking. Over time, the humidity can cause corrosion and rust.
- If the chains are only kinked from moisture or road grime, loosening the chain, cleaning the jammed links, working them loose, and applying chain lubrication grease may be enough to get the tight spot out.
- You’ll have to readjust the chain once the tight spot has been loosened, ensuring your chain is set to the spec outlined in our bike’s manual.
If your chain has a tight spot because the chain links are rusted shut, or if you cannot lean out the stiff links and work them loose, replacing the chain is the only fix.
All chains wear out eventually, and it’s a cheap and simple process for any decent tech. If it looks like you’re going to spend a lot of time and energy working the stiff chain links lose, we suggest you go ahead and replace the damaged chain.
5. Single Cylinder Motorcycle—Uneven Engine Pulse
Single-cylinder motorcycle chains often tend to wear and therefore go out of adjustment unevenly due to the uneven vibrations of a single-cylinder engine. The irregular pulse wears out part of the chain.
The wear causes the chain to loosen and pull on the parts of the chain that arne’t worn.
Over time, the less worn side stiffens to compensate for the compression caused by the pulling of the chain’s looser side. Over time, this tension can cause a tight spot in your motorcycle chain.
- If the uneven engine pulse of a single-cylinder engine has caused a tight spot on your motorcycle chain, replace your chain with a high-grade chain and sprocket set designed to endure harsher engine vibrations.
- Inspect and lubricate your single-cylinder motorcycle’s chain often, using high-quality chain grease suggested by the chain manufacturer.
6. Chain Lubrication Washed Out Unevenly
Some motorcycle riders wash their motorcycles with pressurized water.
In addition to a slew of other problems it can cause, the pressure washer-sprayed water can blow the lubrication between the roller and the pins off the exposed part of the chain.
Or, perhaps, your road through a puddle or a low water crossing soaked the lower part of your chain but not its upper links.
Regardless of how it happens, if your motorcycle chain grease is partially removed, the chain links without lubrication will heat up from the friction of standard operation.
- In some cases, the links in the hotter parts of the chain seize up into tight spots.
- In others, the heat causes the unlubricated chain links to expand and pull on the lubricated links, causing them to tighten up.
- Inspect the condition and lubrication of your chain after riding through water or washing your motorcycle to prevent a tight spot from forming on your motorcycle chain.
If the links on your chain are seized, they also wear out your sprocket teeth. Therefore, we suggest replacing your chain and sprocket to solve the tight spot problem.
7. Worn Sprocket Teeth
Worn teeth in your rear and front sprocket mean less of the tooth’s surface area penetrating your chain links and spreading them out.
Most mechanics suggest replacing the front and rear sprockets when you return the chain so your new chain doesn’t stretch out from the tug caused by the varying tooth size.
Some riders wait for the sprocket teeth to wear out before they replace the sprockets, replacing them one at a time.
If the teeth on one sprocket are worn more than the other, the uneven tension may cause uneven friction and wear, forming a tight spot on your motorcycle chain.
8. Wrong Size Motorcycle Chain
Motorcycle chains come in various sizes to fit multiple makes, models, and styles of bikes.
- If you’re using the wrong size motorcycle chain, the chain won’t fit properly onto the sprocket teeth.
- If the teeth are too big, the chain will rest on top of the sprocket instead of seating correctly.
- If the sprocket teeth are too small, your motorcycle chain isn’t stable and can shake loose.
If you’re using the wrong size motorcycle chain on your motorcycle, any unseated parts will pull against the rest of the chain. The apex of tension on the part of the chain that’s the counterpoint to the compression can become a tight spot.