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Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by grant_macneill at March 03. 2017

In my youth I occasionally oiled my chain and replaced it when it broke. Live was simple then.

These days my other 50s bikes are shaft-drive so I remain ignorant of proper chain etiquette.  My local buddies give me conflicting advice.

I’ve just rebuilt my laydown-gearbox and added new sprockets. Now I am told that my worn sprockets have ruined my new-ish chain.

My lovely old bikes are daily riders; I’ll put several thousand miles on my ES2 this summer. (provided I get it assembled without too many parts left over)

So now that I have invested in shiny new sprockets, I want to maximize the lifespan of both the chain and sprockets. Ideally I want maximum chain life with minimum effort as I’m kept plenty busy doing oil changes and replacing bolts that vibrate off (grin).

Questions:

Should I go o-ring or conventional chain?  Are the O-rings compromised by certain lubricants?

Lubricate daily ?  Weekly ?

With a modern chain must I routinely take the chain off like the good-old-days to clean and soak in kerosene ?

What lubricant do I use that will be the least messy?

With the oil-mist from the breather pipe directed onto the gearbox sprocket, do I even need to lubricate?

And last question: when I order my chain…what do I ask for ?  What is the correct lingo for the link size and overall length of the chain for a plunger frame ES2?

Any input and advice would be gratefully received

Grant MacNeill,  Toronto

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by Gordon Johnston at March 03. 2017

O ring chains are wider than normal chains so you do have to check your clearances. I would just stick to a reputable 1/4" x 5/8" (a 520 being the new-fangled equivalent). Being a boring stick-in-the-mud, I use Renolds chains and lubricate them with semi-fluid grease. Having your engine breather pointed at the gearbox sprocket is a very good idea but remember it only breathes oil vapour onto the chain when your bike is good and hot. If you are doing frequent 200+ miles trips your chain will be perfectly lubricated that way.

The days of taking the chain off and boiling it in Lynklife are long over for me.

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by Martyn Watson at March 03. 2017

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by Martyn Watson at March 03. 2017

In the old days when a chain cost 13 guineas, 14 florins and 27d people used to look after their chains better as they cost more than the average terraced house in Emmerdale street.

If your bike is an all weather bike and is used daily in driving rain and standing water, probably an o ring chain would be good, however, they suck a considerable amount of power which may be noticed on a low power machine.

A good quality maintained non o ring chain is perfectly adequate for the application.

Fitting a new chain on buggered sprockets, or the other way around, will shorten the life of the new components dramatically as they try to bed into the old bits, it's unlikely the old worn out components will be restored by the addition of fresh new bedfellows, although i know i would be restored by the addition of a brand new 24 year old russian sweetheart in my bed.

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by robert_tuck at March 03. 2017

A 24 year old Russian would be more dangerous than worn out transmission,quite likely to turn you in for scrap value.  Because our sprockets are often combined with drums and box sprocket hard to access they cannot be viewed as "regular replacement" and so need regular maintenance instead. A good quality (chinese Reynold??) non O ring kept clean and well lubed with "period style" lubricants will last well.  Engine breather, drip feed, graphite bath, brushed on EP 140/90 ,sprayed on old style foamy grease (not wax which won't get in enough) . All messy time consuming stuff,An "o" ring chain can work(but don't usually fit the space) but you still need to clean/ lube regularly to protect those expensive sprockets. (which may not be still made)  .Orriginal Norton sprockets were made of very good stuff, 35k later my 1960 99 sprockets still look new.Been through a few "pattern " rear sprockets on the Atlas which needed work to fit. Try "Andy chain man"

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by john_holmes at March 03. 2017

You want to preserve your sprockets, the chain is a consumable so 2 potential strategies.

 

1. Buy cheap chain, ignore it cleaning wise but change it often before it wears enough to damage the sprockets.

 

2. Go to Andy the Chainman and get his Iwis chain and look after it.

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by robert_tuck at March 03. 2017

Not really what you wanted to hear!!, The alternative is to ride a cheap modern with easily replaceable "putty" sprockets which are designed to last the same time as the chain.

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by christopher_winsby at March 03. 2017

Starting with new sprocket's and chain:- keep them clean and lubricated. Back in the 70's when I did 100 miles a day on a Trident I had two chains which I changed around each week end. These were cleaned in paraffin and lubricated . One on one off, I used a split link attached clean chain to the dirty and pulled the clean one into place.  I then had a week to soak the dirty and re-lubricate ready for the next week.

On modern bikes with  "o" ring chains I used spray chain lube to wash the grit off and lubricate the outside so it would not rust. This method gives good chain and sprocket life and ease of maintenance. Cost is a greasy rear wheel, nothing a wipe with a cloth will not cure.

If you keep on top of cleaning and maintenance it is easier than If you let it get a major job.

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by richard_payne at March 03. 2017

I've not been impressed with the quality of the chain that Renolds sell for motorcycles these days.

There is very little space between gearbox and rear chaincase on the Norton and modern metric-equivalent chains often have thicker side plates which reduce this further.

There is no great advantage in having thicker side plates. It increases weight and a decent old-fashioned 5/8" x 1/4" chain is plenty strong enough.

The best commonly available imperial standard chain seems to be Regina.

There are two well-known suppliers of 'classic' chain in the UK who do the shows and are helpful with advice. I use both happily.

Google 'The Chain Man' and 'Sprockets Unlimited'.

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by grant_macneill at March 04. 2017

Thanks Guys

very helpful.

So ...I need a conventional 5/8" x 1/4" "520" chain ...correct ?

What about length ?  Do I need to specify a length when I order or will chain suppliers know this already?

Do I somehow calculate the length...count the links in the old chain... or is this already specified somewhere in my Norton literature?

Thanks

Grant

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by Paul Knapp at March 04. 2017

Yes,... you need 5/8"X 1/4" 520 motorcycle chain, mainly due to limited space alongside the inner chain case and to the fact your sprockets are made for that width. As far as length goes, first make sure your primary is in good nick and is correctly adjusted (3/8" minimum up and down movement at the tightest spot) then buy a main chain several links longer than what the link count was on your old chain and custom fit it to your bike. Don't rely on your book as being correct.  

Cheers,

Paul 

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by robert_tuck at March 04. 2017

If you find where Andy is going to the next bike show/jumble he will make you up a chain on the spot and give you a tutorial on how to shorten the chain  ,he can also supply half links and spare spring link.

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by grant_macneill at March 06. 2017

Previously Paul Knapp wrote:

Yes,... you need 5/8"X 1/4" 520 motorcycle chain, mainly due to limited space alongside the inner chain case and to the fact your sprockets are made for that width. As far as length goes, first make sure your primary is in good nick and is correctly adjusted (3/8" minimum up and down movement at the tightest spot) then buy a main chain several links longer than what the link count was on your old chain and custom fit it to your bike. Don't rely on your book as being correct.

Cheers,

Paul

Thanks Paul.   Do people sometimes just buy say 30 feet of the correct chain along with the appropriate tools and just run off what they need every three or four months ?

I gather I need a chain-breaker-riveting tool.   Any recommendations on what is good but simple to use ?

Thanks

Grant

Re: Chain-illiterate; best chain for my '51 ES2 ??

Posted by Gordon Johnston at March 06. 2017

Most modern chain breakers are pretty much hopeless when you use them on non O ring chains. Try and pick up a proper Renolds breaker. They turn up on auction sites and at autojumbles.

Be sure to check the spec of chain you can buy in long lengths. Some industrial chain is low spec and you could end up replacing your chain rather frequently.

I generally get about 6,000 miles out of a rear chain.

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