How to Break/Resize/Install a Master Link on a Motorcycle Chain

A 2007 Ninja 650R with its pants down (chain and front sprocket cover removed)

If you’ve never done chains and sprockets on a motorcycle before, there is more to them than what you’ve done with a bicycle chain.  Being an open part of the drive system, they offer a relatively easy way to modify your bike’s performance.  With smaller (faster) sprockets you can produce a revvier, shorter geared engine.  With a shorter chain you can close up your wheel-base creating a bike more willing to change direction.  Chains and sprockets are a bike fettler’s delight.

On top of sprockets, you also have a pile of chain choices.  O-ring chains are the cheaper, lower efficiency alternative, while X-ring chains offer more efficiency and less maintenance at a higher cost.  They also come in a rainbow of colours and a variety of sizes from little dirt bikes all the way up to thousand plus cc super-bikes.  


Chain sizes and dimensions
From little dirt bikes to bike motors.

Chain sizing is based on the width of the chain and the length between the pins in the chain.  You’ve got match all these up with the right sprockets or it won’t all fit together.  With so many factors in play, it pays to get a handle on chain mechanics before you take a run at changing the chain on your motorbike.

Here’s a primer on how to break a chain.  Some people say cutting a chain but you aren’t cutting it, you’re breaking it by popping the rivet out and dismantling the chain links.


How to Break a Chain:

  • If you’re removing your old bike chain, find the master link (it should be the one that’s different from all the rest)
  • Put a chain breaking tool on the chain and push the rivets out – do a bit on each side at a time until the chain ‘breaks’ open.  I did this with a bicycle chain breaker (see bottom) and it worked fine.
  • Once you’ve ‘broken’ apart the master link the chain will come apart and you can pull it through and free of the bike.

To reduce chain size on a motorcycle:

  • if you have a 520 or smaller chain and a good motorcycle specific chain link breaking tool you can simply push the rivet through (see the video at the bottom)
  • if you don’t have specific tools, grind or file down the rivet and then tap it out with a hammer and punch pin.  If you grind down the rivet you can also use a bicycle weight chain breaker (see a pic at the bottom) to push out the worn down rivet.
  • triple check which link you want to pull and use something like Gearing Commander to make sure you’ve got the right number of links in your chain.  (This is what I’m kicking myself for not doing).
  • Using the bicycle chain puller on filed down pins, I pushed on side and then the other and then repeated the process and the rivet popped loose along with the outer chain links.  Since you’re only filing down the outer link (which you’ll chuck after) it doesn’t matter if you file into it a bit.
  • With the chain dismantled you should now have two inner links ready for a new master link.
Installing a New Master Link:

  • Install the little rubber washers on the master link rivets and slide it onto the chain – do this on the sprockets as it’s easier to do with some tension on the chain.
  • put the last two rubber washers on and the end plate and then use the chain tool or some other kind of clamp to press the side plate on.
  • if you’ve got a rivet type master link you need a light hand and some patience to press in the rivet ends.  If you’re too heavy handed you’ll bind the chain and swear a lot.
  • The more traditional type of master link is the kind I was familiar with from bicycles.  It comes with a slid on clip.
Don’t freak out if you’ve got the rivet type master link, just make sure you have the right tool handy.  The rivet type link is very strong and performs pretty much like all the other links if installed properly, which is why you’ll find it exclusively on high performance chains.  Check out the youtube video at the bottom for a good primer on how to do this.
 
If you take your time and work through it slowly, you’ll have a new chain on in no time.  If you want to get into sprockets the rears are remarkably easy to do.  When you remove the rear wheel bolt the wheel drops down and the floating rear caliper on the Ninja 650r simply disengaged and I hung it on the frame.  You can then remove the wheel.  The rear sprocket is held on with your typical nuts and was easy to swap out.
 
This front sprocket is a f&#*er.
The front sprocket was in good shape, so I gave up on it.  Others online have said that they are pretty straightforward if you have an air gun, but even with a breaker bar I couldn’t budge the damn thing and I can pick up a car by the fender.  You remove the front sprocket by bending back the holding washer, putting the bike in gear, stepping on the rear break to hold everything still and removing the nut (it’s a good fit on a big 27mm bit).  If there’s a trick to this (other than getting a compressor, air tank and air tools), I’d love to hear it.

Follow up with Chain And No Agony for how easily the new chain went on with the right tools.

 

 

 

 

If you’ve only got a bicycle chain
breaker, file or grind down the rivets
first before you push them out.

If you’ve broken bicycle chains before you know the basics.  Motorcycle chains are much heavier duty so the process requires stronger tools capable of dealing with stronger rivets.  If you have a bicycle chain breaker you just have to take your time and file down the rivet you’re going to push through first.  It took me a couple of minutes of filing to do this.  Lazy people on the internet say buy a Dremel.  If you’re lazy, that’s what you should do.

VIDEOS

A video on how to break a motorcycle chain (skip to 35sec when the mechanic comes in) in order to re-size it using a motorbike specific tool

A good primer on how to install a master link (and how the pressed, rivet type master links work)

How to measure a motorcycle chain

Hillbilly mechanics: how to do a master link without special tools.

LINKS

Gearing Commander – a handy webpage that lets you compare different sprocket and chain combinations

www.gearingcommander.com/

DID company chain guide:

www.didchain.com/chainSpecs.html

Motorcycle Chain primer on about.com

motorcycles.about.com/od/motorcyclemaintenanc1/ss/Chain_Maint.htm

Wikipedia‘s history and technically detailed chain description

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roller_chain

Layout of a roller chain: 1. Outer plate, 2. Inner plate, 3. Pin, 4. Bushing, 5. Roller

An exhaustive history of chains!

How Motorcycles Work‘s awesome chain diagram:

 

A Quick Motorcycle Chain Switch

After previous experiences breaking and installing motorcycle chains I figured this time it would be fairly straightforward thanks to a good tool and knowing what I’m doing.  The Tiger’s chain had a pretty severe tight spot in it. When I set the tight spot to spec (40mm of slack), the loose part was wobbling around with twice that.  If I set the loose part to spec the tight part would rumble on the sprockets.  You could actually feel the difference in chain tension under acceleration as a surge.

The tool I got last time was quick to set up.  The blue 500 size chain pin pusher slotted right in out of the handle where it had been sitting since my last chain change on the Ninja over two years ago.

The Tiger chain is a 535 sized chain (wider than the Ninja’s, but the same pitch length between the links – the Ninja was a 520 chain).  
With the pin pusher piece in place I tightened the outer bolt with a 10mm ratchet and it easily pushed the pins out of the old master link with only mild force on a small ratchet.


With the old chain removed I spent some time cleaning up the sprockets, which were in great condition.  The front sprocket was packed with years of gum from chain lube and it took a while to get it all out, first with a screwdriver and afterwards wiping it up with some WD40.  With it all cleaned off it looked like a bit of rust had found its way onto the front sprocket.


The rear sprocket was only covered in chain oil remnants and cleaning it up was easily done.


If you’re not yahooing around and yanking on your chain like a madman all the time sprockets tend to last, especially big, beefy 535 wide ones; this bike has only been owned by gentlemen.  I might swap out the rear 46 tooth sprocket for a 47 tooth one to lower the revs slightly on the next chain, but that’s years down the road, and with the sprockets in good shape, it seemed silly to do a full switch now.

A master link came with the chain which is a bit off-putting because Fortnine immediately filled the screen with master links after I purchased the chain, which I took to mean I needed one.  I guess I’ll hang on to it, but if the chain I’m buying comes with it letting me know seems like the polite thing to do rather than encouraging an upsell.

The master link that came with the chain had an interesting process for installation.  I’m told this is quite common on bicycles now.  The master link pins have a threaded piece on the end of them.  You thread the long pins on the chain and then alternate tighten the bolts until they won’t go any further.



This snugs the outer piece of the master link onto the pins.  When you’re done you back off the nuts a few turns and then break them off with a pair of pliers.  It worked well.

A chain so new it’s still covered in the wax it was packaged in to stop rust.

With the new chain set to 35mm of sag top and bottom and lubricated with chain wax (preferred because it doesn’t make a gooey mess of things, sticks to the chain well and is also a lovely honey colour), it was time for a test ride.  A twenty minute ride in the setting sun up to 100kms per hour demonstrated all sorts of improvement.  The surging feeling was gone making the bike much smoother under acceleration.  In corners that surging could destabalize the bike, it doesn’t any more.  The new chain is also noticably quieter.

This time round I think the actual chain removal and installation took about 40 minutes moving slowly and deliberately.  The cleanup of the front sprocket was what took the most time, though it probably did a lot to quiet the new chain (not running through a tunnel of goop on each revolution has to be better).

While I had the tools out I finished the counteract balancing beads install I started earlier in the week by doing the back tire as well.  With beads now in the front and rear tires vibrations through the handlebars are gone and the whole bike is rattle free at speed.  I never really got to try them out on the Concours, but what little I did seemed to work, and seeing as the beads are cheaper than taking in tires to get balanced anyway, why not?  I’m glad I did.

The Tiger is now as arrow straight and smooth as it can be.  It was a joy to ride it home as the sun set on Sunday evening.

Changing Motorcycle Fork Oil

A three legged Tiger.

Changing fork oil turned out to be pretty straightforward.  The most time consuming part is removing any niggly body panels so you can get at the forks themselves.   Make sure you loosen the top fork plug before you remove the forks as you need the forks firmly held while you do that and the clamps on the bike are designed to do just that.  Once you’re there, undoing the clamps that hold the forks means they’ll slide right out, so be ready for that.

The spring on the Tiger is a
progressive rate unit – it is
sprung tighter the lower it
goes.

Once on the work bench it was a matter of taking off the rubber fork protectors and cleaning up the unit.  I then slowly removed the top of the fork using a 22mm ratchet while keeping pressure on.  The book said the cap is under ‘considerable’ pressure from the spring, but with the fork fully extended it released quite gently.  With the cap off I removed a spacer, a washer and the spring slowly as the fork is full of oil.  Pulling the spring out quickly means you’re pulling oil out and making a mess.  With the parts out I inverted the shock assembly and poured the old oil out into a measured container to see how much was in there and what condition is was in.


The oil came out looking pretty dark – the new stuff was completely transparent.  Since the previous owner didn’t appear to change the oil in the engine, I doubt fork oil ever got looked at; this stuff has probably been in there a while.  There was no corrosion in or on the forks themselves or on the internal components, so after a cleanup I poured 710ml of new fork oil into the fully compressed fork.  I had to raise the fork to install the spring, washer and spacer and then put the cap back on snug.  I later tightened it to torque specs when it was reinstalled on the bike.

Spring number two gave me about 660ml of oil after a good emptying.  The first one was at about 650ml.  It got refilled to 710mm of heavier 15 weight fork oil to reduce the floatiness of the front fork and deal with my weight better.  I’m looking forward to feeling the difference when the snows clear.

If you’ve got a bike with fairings I’d guess a fork oil change would take you an easy afternoon of work.  If you’ve got a naked bike then this is a matter of removing the front wheel and brake calipers, loosening the top cap, loosening two clamp bolts on the triple tree and handlebar clamps and sliding the fork out.  Removing the cap and internal components and emptying the old oil would only take about ten minutes per fork.  Refilling a compressed, empty fork with the required amount of fork oil and putting it all back together another ten minutes.  Once you were familiar with the process on your naked bike it wouldn’t take more than an hour to do a fork oil change – longer if you have a lot of finicky fairings to remove.

The left photo is of the fork assembly off the bike prior to removing the rubber fork gaiter (which cleaned up nicely with warm soap water and then some Armourall).  On the right:  all back together again.  The front wheel got regreased and cleaned up.  The speedo housing was especially mucky.


LINK to the specs research I did on fork oil changes on this particular Triumph Tiger.

The other fork had about 650ml in it – pretty black considering it was clear when it went in.

 

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Perseverance & Patience

Steady on, it’s not that bad.  I shall persevere!

The never ending tale of Concours carburetors continues.  My most recent attempt was to check the fuel amounts in each bowl and then reinstall and test (I’m getting very quick at this).

Once again the old Connie coughs and backfires and dies on throttle application.  The removals and re-installations have upset the old connectors between the carbs, which have developed a gas leak, so the whole thing came off (again) and is now apart on the work bench (again).


I contacted the local Kawasaki dealer for parts last weekend, but they’ve been radio silent.  The parts I need were easy enough to find, but maybe 22 year old carb bits aren’t sexy enough to warrant a timely reply.  Maybe I should have ordered them online, in spite of a number of magazines lamenting people’s lack of support for local motorcycle dealers.  Had I ordered them online they’d probably have been here by now.  Instead I’m left wondering if I can even get these parts.

The goal now is to take each carb apart, double check float depths and ensure all the internal jets and such are properly installed, then it’ll all go back together again with new connecting pieces and go back on the bike (again).  With any luck I’ll get some sort of clue that I’m moving in the right direction.  That’s been the most frustrating part of this process.  I make changes and there is no change when I fire it up.  Whatever the problem is, I haven’t come close to touching it yet.  At least a fuel leak is an obvious and easy fix.





Any day now…




Sourcing Parts and Kawasaki Master Brake Cylinders

The rear brake light I ordered on Amazon in December decided to show up today.   I’m going to pass it on to Jeff’s BMW cafe racer project and I think I’m done with four month delivery times from Amazon.  Time to source my parts elsewhere I think.  I’m curious to see how soon the rear brake light I got instead from eBay takes.  I have a feeling it’s going to make the Amazon Marketplace delivery times look sketchy.


Meanwhile, a coolant overflow tank and master brake cylinder kit arrived for the Concours in a timely fashion from Fortnine.  I wish they’d start stocking customization pieces like those all in one LED lighting systems.


The tank looks like it’ll fit nicely on the battery case.  It isn’t as big as the stock one, but the stock one isn’t that big anyway.  I’ve routed the coolant overflow tube and it fits nicely down the spine of the bike.  Where it’s placed means the overflow pipe can stick out the side and not dump in the path of the rear tire.


The master brake cylinder kit took a bit of work to get into.  Getting it off the bike was easy enough, but getting the compression ring out took some fiddling.  I’ve replaced the rubbers on the cylinder and I’m ready to put it back together again, but the kit came with 2 copper rings that don’t seem to be on the original, so I’m going to figure out where they go before I reassemble.

Brake handle and electronic switch removal was straightforward.  The only tricky bit was the snap ring that holds in the master cylinder.  Compressing the cylinder while getting a pair of compression pliers in there
to squeeze the ring into the groove on the cylinder is swear worthy.

The old outer gasket was in pieces before I even started pulling it out.  Rubbers don’t typically last 24 years.
Fancy people pay for that kinda patina – mine comes virtue of the bike being 23 years old and Canadian.

The old gaskets and spring on the cylinder

New gaskets and springs ready to install – as soon as I figure out where the copper rings go.

I don’t see copper rings on there anywhere.  I’m still not sure why the
All Balls Racing master cylinder kit has them, but have them it does.

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Replacing Triumph Tiger fuel tank couplings

According to Haynes, the Tiger’s gas
lines will automatically close when you
unplug them, except when they don’t
and make a mess.

I’ve owned the Triumph Tiger for a season now and intend to do some maintenance on it while the snow if flying.  Pretty much everything you need to get to is under the gas tank, which is a pain in the ass to remove.  More so in my case because the lower fuel line doesn’t self seal like it’s supposed to.


Last summer I had the tank off for the first time and it poured gas everywhere.  I ended up sticking a pencil in it to slow down the flow.  A gas leak isn’t a big deal on a warm summer day, but it’s -20°C outside at the moment and heating the garage with a gas leak is problematic (I use a propane heater).


By the time I found that I couldn’t get the valve to seal there was a lot of gas about.  I ended up washing the bike and floor clean with the water hose, but doing that in a cold snap is pretty miserable.  It’s turned the driveway into a skating rink.


With the gas line back on I decided to have a look online and see what people say about early two thousand Triumph gas lines.  It turns out they don’t say nice things about them.  Rather than using more durable metal fittings for the gas line releases, Triumph saved some money and put on problematic plastic ones.  They evidently did a recall but they only ever replaced the leaking ones so some bikes have half metal half plastic.  In my case they’re all original plastic ones.  I eventually came across this video which led me to a site with a detailed fix.

If you join tigertriple.com (free) you get a detailed how-to on fixing the under-engineered fuel fittings on a Triumph thanks to Evilbetty.

I bounced over to quickcouplings.net and ordered the needed bits:



They’ve got a good reputation so I should have the parts next week.  Some people had issues with the smaller sized end so I got a couple of the larger ones.  It was $18 extra but it means I’ll be able to do this once and be done.  I’ve probably already lost ten bucks in gas on this.  
Next up will be draining the gas tank which I topped up for winter storage.  With the tank empty I’ll be ready to go with the fitting change.  I’ll post on that when it happens.

Front wheel up and ready for
some fork attention – eventually

I was removing the tank to start the fork oil change.  That’s been a pain in the neck as well.  I went down to Two Wheel on January 2nd only to discover that they were closed.  I figured I was already half way to Guelph so went over to Royal Distributing to get the fork oil.  With two bottles of the stuff in hand (not on sale) I headed over to the register to discover a forty minute line up to get out the door.  It’s this kind of thing that prompts me to buy things online.  I ended up walking out the door without the oil.


At my local Canadian Tire I had a nice chat with a former student now taking welding in college and he rainchecked me some quality synthetic fork oil that was on sale for much less than Royal Distributing was charging anyway.  No line up, no shipping costs and the oil will be here in two days.  Because of the gas tank fittings it all ended up being not time sensitive anyway, so a two day wait and some money saved is all good.


Anyway, onwards and upwards.  The drained tank first and then install the upgraded fittings, then on to fork oil and a coolant flush (that also requires gas tank removal).  Considering the majority of maintenance on the Tiger (even changing the air filter) requires gas tank removal, using dodgy plastic fittings (replaced in later models) wasn’t a great idea.  Failing to get them all replaced in a recall was another dropped ball.  I knew that running a thirteen year old European bike as my daily rider would be a challenge.  If I can get these oversights sorted, hopefully I can get another good season out of it.

Washed clean and with a minus twenty windchill blowing in under the garage door.  Not the best time of year to mess around with a gas leak, but I’ve found a fix.


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Mechanical Satisfaction

The Concours carburetors weren’t snapping back when I released the throttle. Everything worked, but they wouldn’t close on their own as they should. I removed the carbs, reset the butterflies so they all closed properly and replaced a bent spring. With everything lubed up and working freely, I reinstalled the carbs and ran the throttle cables over and along the top of the frame rather than around the side, trying to have the throttle cables address the carbs as perpendicularly as possible.  With the cables properly tightened, the carbs snap shut when the throttle is released as they should.

My to-do list on the Concours is down to a rebuild of the master break cylinder.  The part isn’t expensive.  I’d purchased a set and did it on the Yamaha XS1100 I had before, so the Concours should be pretty straightforward.
I also have to sort out a rear light and body panels for the back end.  I’d asked if they could be done at school in the metal shop, but asking for work to get done there seems to result in it disappearing down a hole.  I’d rather do the work myself anyway.  The plan is to form the panels for the back end and find a rear brake light with indicators built in and wire it in to the back end.

The last job is going to be reworking the radiator reservoir to somewhere around the battery box.  With that done, in theory, the Connie will be ready to begin test riding the kinks out.





Follow-up:  rear brake lights were found on ebay – let’s hope they arrive this time.


If they do then ebay is a more dependable shipper than the Amazon Marketplace, which seems pretty bizarre, but there you are.

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Victory!

After a long wait the o-rings finally came in to the dealer.  I then ended up getting the wrong o-rings (it turns out Kawasaki has like half a dozen different o-rings in this carburetor).  Don’t expect to show detailed pictures and get any help from the parts experts either.


 

With the o-rings and t-fittings in I was able to put the carb back together again (again).  But before doing that I checked the floats one more time (they were all good), and reset the pilot screws to factory specs.  As I was doing that I noticed that the needles were moving when I flipped the carbs.  A quick check of the diagram showed that the spring seat goes above the pin, not below it, which I’d done (quite embarrassing really – I was tempted not to mention it, but my mistake might prevent someone else’s in the future, so humility – and humiliation – first).

With the pins and seats the right way around I put the carbs back together yet again.  Installing it is as big a pain in the ass as it ever was, with the fitting of airbox boots being a dark art.

With everything reconnected and double checked, the carburetors were ready to go.  I set the petcock to prime to put a lot of fuel in the empty bowls, hit the choke and turned it over…. and it started and idled properly!

As I used to do, I eased off the idle as the bike ran higher and higher as it warmed up.  After a minute I turned the choke off and it was idling at about 1800rpm.  I dialed back the idle speed to 1000rpm and it was running steady.

So far so good, but the issue was applying throttle – the carbs kept flooding, backfiring rich and then killing the motor, would that happen this time?  No!  It’s alive, ALIVE!!!


This video below may be the most satisfying thing I’ve ever filmed.

I now have two working bikes in the garage.  This has been a long and frustrating process, but I’ve gotten the rust off some long unused skills.  I’m taking better organization, attention to detail and theoretical understanding with me as I move onto other mechanical projects.

tkmotorcyclediaries.blogspot.ca/search?q=concours+carburetor

If it hasn’t been replaced, it’s been thoroughly gone over.  One carb is complicated,
four carbs is a universe of complications!



Hibernating a Motorcycle: Oil Changes

That ain’t a cheap oil change, but as expensive as it is,
it’s way cheaper than rebuilding a motor.

In a previous life I was an automotive technician and then service manager at a Quaker State shop.  For a few years there I was right up on my lubricants.  That background makes me very conscious of my motorbike fluid habits.   One of my standing rules when I put away a motorcycle for the winter is to change the oil before I do it.

You watch someone like Nick Sanders ride up and down the Americas for tens of thousands of kilometres and you wonder how his Yamaha looked like it had barely been used at the end of it:



Engines are designed to be running.  The very worst thing you could do is start and stop an engine over and over again (like we all do every day).  In the case of Sander’s epic rides from Alaska to Argentina and back, while what the Yamaha did was astonishing, the fact that the engine was in good shape shouldn’t have been a surprise.  It was barely ever allowed to cool down. 

Oils become acidic and moisture seeps in as things continually heat up and cool down.  Leaving old oil in your engine over the winter isn’t doing it any favours.  Swapping out contaminated oil for clean oil before you put it away is a great idea, so your engine isn’t soaking in the bad stuff.


Swapping it again in the spring is just a waste of money.  Oil doesn’t go bad sitting, but once you’re into the heat up cool down cycle again keep an eye on your mileage, and keep up on your oil changes, your engine will appreciate it.

Chemistry is where the big advances are happening nowadays.  Today’s oils have astonishing temperature ranges and abilities.  Here are some links on what’s going on with lubricants:

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