How to counteract alignment issues

Many factors can cause a motorcycle's chain alignment to become weakened or unsettled, such as: lack of chain maintenance, worn out or rusted chain, or the chain is tensioned incorrectly.

This article will focus on alignment as a failure mode and the implications this may have on the overall performance of your motorcycle. If you feel your issue is not about motorbike chain alignment, you might be interested in downloading our full troubleshooting guide.

Understanding what 'Alignment' means

As a motorcycle enthusiast and owner, you will have heard the term 'chain alignment' frequently. Unpicking it can be difficult, as alignment can become a point of failure in many different ways, caused by various factors. By its very definition, alignment simply means an arrangement in a straight line, or in correct relative positions. Another similar interpretation is 'a position of agreement or alliance'. Understandably from its nature, alignment is key in providing a long-lasting performance and lifespan of your motorcycle and its components (wheels, chain, etc).

The main two areas where alignment can cause failure are within the front and rear wheels and of course, within the chain. Chain alignment is sometimes the lesser considered out of the two components, but they are intrinsically linked and both need to be maintained and serviced frequently.

Types of motorcycle chain alignment issues

Each issue in isolation can affect your motorcycle's power, efficiency and speed, which here at Renold are intrinsic considerations we account for when designing any of our motorcycle chains.

As your motorbike is such a complex piece of technology, there are unavoidable issues that can arise. These include:

  • Simple transition chain drive failure
  • Severe rubbing of parts, due to wear
  • Weakened sprocket teeth
  • Too much load over time, resulting in complete weakening

Although there are various potential alignment issues, they tend to have one overwhelming factor in common: wear or rubbing has occurred, more than likely over time. It is therefore crucial to prevent this from happening, wherever possible.

Alignment issues can occur within a simple transmission chain drive. As the name implies, this type of motorcycle uses a chain mounted on sprockets to link its rear wheel and transmission. As the output shaft spins, so does the chain, and thus the wheel.

The failure happens when rubbing occurs and creates wear on the face of the side plates, the end of the side plates and the pin end itself. This is diagnosed by identifying that the chain has been rubbing against some fixed point on the circuit. This may have caused damage to parts of the guide system or fixtures. Upon knowing this, the solution is then to realign the chain drive before the damage to the chain becomes too serious and the chain has to be scrapped.

When the side plates show severe rubbing marks along one edge, this is also a sign of potential failure. In order to diagnose this correctly, the cause needs to be fully established, i.e., the side plate edges have been rubbing against some fixed point on the structure, probably the edge of the guide tracks. The effect of this would be to wear away the side plate and to increase the drive power and chain tension. The solution is then to determine the point of contact and realign the chain to prevent rubbing. It may be necessary to check and adjust the track to ensure levels are correct across the two strands.

Sprocket teeth can also be the origin of failure. They can endure and suffer severe wear, typically over a six month period. This causes several teeth to become so weakened that they fracture across the thinnest section.

The teeth were machined to a thinner section to accommodate flanged rollers on the chain and the chain was allowed to run out of line, which resulted in only part contact on the sprockets. The resulting high pressure then caused the rapid wear.

Failure can also occur when there is wear on the chain side plate and it fails under the load. When the chain runs out of line the sprocket teeth wear away one side plate to the point where the side plate becomes so thin it fails. The chain is then damaged beyond repair and must be replaced. Chain tracks must be checked and sprocket alignment corrected before operating with the new chain.

Identifying alignment issues and where they occur

There are many symptoms that can occur when your motorcycle is experiencing alignment issues. For example, it may pull to one side while on the road because of a misalignment between the handlebars and the front tyre, which is usually caused by misaligned front forks.

A pull to one side can also be caused by wear on one side of the front tire as well as an unbalanced front tire. Because there can be more than one likely cause, it is crucial to ensure you have reached the correct conclusion.If there is misalignment within your motorcycle, you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Shakes or vibrates on the road
  • Bumpy, uncomfortable ride
  • A sense of heaviness or pulling
  • Crooked handles whilst riding
  • Noisy steering or squeaking tyres
  • A worn tyre (a disparity of wear on both sides)

Understanding how and when to take preventative actions

It is very unlikely that a misalignment issue can be totally prevented throughout the life cycle of your motorcycle. However, knowing when to take preventative action will minimise any large-scale disruption or long-lasting issues. Ensuring your motorcycle's routine maintenance (especially after 2,500-4,000 miles on the roads), or every six months is therefore hugely important. Here at Renold, we recommend that you service and maintain your bike at least once a year for optimum performance.

Fixing the issue

There are a few key checks you can undertake, in order to fix any issues you may be encountering -

  • Visually check your chain alignment
  • Check for fork misalignment
  • Check both front and rear wheel alignment separately

If you continue to experience a persistent issue or find yourself having more questions about any motorcycle chain topic, please consult our contact page -