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New VSTROM owner (used, purchased in 2012) since November ‘13. Bike had 14k + on the clock and was in beautiful shape, and included new tires and some after-market farkles. Could not resist the price, bought same. Previous owner had taken sick and had friends sell the bike for him.

Bike had apparently been sitting for awhile, and the chain apparently had been neglected: was starting to “bump” after riding it for a week…that’s not a scientific term, but the symptoms were indicative of a neglected chain, a distinct possibility since it had not been ridden in awhile, I think.

Blogs say you can get 20k out of a chain, but after cleaning and lubing the chain several times it was clear to me that the time had come to change.

The hardest part of this is to just get up the gumption to do it. I consider myself an average shade tree mechanic, and found that this was pretty well within my comfort band. If you don’t like the idea of doing it yourself, don’t, and pay your local shop to do it.

Before getting started I got Harbor Freight chain breaker—about 14 bucks now-a-days—and a 1 ¼ inch socket for the front sprocket, which I got at a pawn shop and by rummaging through their box ‘o’ sockets that they all seem to have: ten bucks. 32mm also works, but could not find one of those. I already had a 24mm socket for the rear axle, plus the various ratchet handles and a torque wrench. BTW, I was able to “break” the front sprocket loose with the xmission in neutral and a shovel handle across the swing arm in the rear spoke with no heroic efforts, heating it or using a impact driver; just used a ½ inch drive ratchet handle and my strong right arm. Maybe the 2012 VSTROM doesn’t use the red locktite, or something. This may be atypical, and results may vary.

Got a 525 chain, two sprockets plus a master link from Blair Layton at SVRacing parts. No brainer to me, and I don’t know how you can go wrong here: no BS and he speaks fluent VSTROM. Total, with the master link: $213.95 in early 2014. Cheaper somewhere else? Don’t know, don’t care; peace of mind was worth whatever it cost.

For chain installation, I found this very interesting article from a Triumph forum—which is the best how-to I was able to find regarding chain replacement:

Replacing the drive chain (long, with pictures) - Triumph Forum: Triumph Rat Motorcycle Forums

The choice of master links was something I devoted a lot of time to. I eventually decided on a “screw on type” vice riveted master link. I found this link from the VFR blog regarding a screw type master link, which I ended up using—

Screw-type Master Link Install and Test - Maintenance Guides - VFR Discussion

To quote the author:

“This is a good product. It's been around for 12 years, but nobody trusts it, and thus won't use it. Instead, they take a chance with a dicey chain tool that has little control over pin staking depth and the resulting o-ring compression, or they take the clip-on risk, or they have to go to a dealer or shop and hope they get it right. And as we know, they often don't. Of course, if you have a quality tool and you're experienced in master link staking, you'd have no issues with it. But if you do a chain every 15-20K miles, well, your results may vary. The Screw-Link gives proper, accurate results, every time.”

This proved to be a sailor-proof solution for me. I also have an ulterior motive: I’m hopin’ this will trigger one of those oil/color/windscreen-like Stromtroopers blog wars that will bring all the chain crazies out to do battle, and tell me what a knot head I am to do this.. (o:

That said, following are my step by step procedures—bike had 16,308 miles on it. I don’t have a camera, and even if I did, I don’t know how to post on this link. That’s why there are no pictures.

1. Remove the clutch/front sprocket cover (3 bolts)

2. Remove the clutch mechanism cover…first removed the little black box—which I assume is the gear indicator—by removing the hex head bolt which holds it on—(the cover would not come off otherwise) and put it aside, out of the way.

3. Removed the 6mm hex head bolt which screws into the center of the countershaft (that is, the shaft that the front sprocket goes on). Didn’t know this was there, it appears to be another safety feature to keep the front sprocket from coming off. No issues removing this, and once the bolt is removed the cover to the countershaft comes right off.

4. Removed the big 32mm/1 ¼ inch front sprocket nut. The blogs indicate a lot of people are afraid of this step, I had no problems with it on my 2012 model. You’ve also got to lift up the bent over washer that goes over one of the faces on the big nut—I (gently) used a hammer and an old screw driver—had no problem . See above for details on how to block the rear wheel, because you’re going to put the xmission into neutral….you don’t want to leave the xmission in gear and work the nut off that way---might break something in there. Better to use an old shovel handle, which is also in keeping with the ethos of the shade tree mechanic to “make do” where possible. Make certain you work your shovel handle (or whatever) under the brake hose on the right side of the swing arm—don’t know for certain but can’t be a good idea to pinch that or the companion ABS wire. I see this as a safety of flight item.

5. I cut the Suzuki original chain using my Dremel and a grinding stone. Original Suzuki chain is an endless chain, and doesn’t use a master link, so just pick one. I then pressed out the pins using the afore-mentioned HF chain breaker: worked like a charm. This is not rocket surgery.

6. Pulled the chain off, then laid it on a tarp, with the new one right beside it. Oddly, they two chains lined up link to link. I expected to see some stretching on the old one, but if there was stretching it was subtle, and I couldn’t determine where, if any, stretch existed. Maybe it needed to be under torque to show stretch. The old chain was clearly damaged, and would kink in multiple spots. I think the chain sat for weeks and rusted while waiting for the bike to be sold. I believe the “klunk” I was starting to hear was the chain going around the front sprocket and then straightening out with a klunk, or something.

7. Measuring: Blair’s chain was longer out of the box by about 1 ½ links, and frankly, this was the part of the process that scared me: if you goon the measurement when you cut the chain, you get to first feel like an dope (almost wrote “asshole”) and second, get to buy a new chain or a new master link (about 15 bucks). I saw that the new chain was exactly three pins longer than the old one (I counted pins, was easier for me than links…but, for reference, there were one and one half additional links on the new chain). I took a bit of paint and painted the pin I thought I’d have to remove. Didn’t cut anything at this point…

8. Pulled off the rear tire. You use the 24mm nut on a ½ inch ratchet, remove the nut, pull out the axle. Note the location of the various spacers. From right to left, looking from the rear of the bike forward, they are: 24mm nut, flat metal piece (part of the chain adjuster mechanism), swing arm, disc brake calipher mount, steel spacer, tire, inner spacer (which is internal to the sprocket and you can’t see it until you have the tire removed), sprocket, outer spacer, swing arm, flat piece of metal (ditto), and left end of the axle. Don’t mess these up, any doubt, consult your service manual.

9. Pull off the old sprocket…it is held by …five? nuts…they are torqued to 43.5 ft/lb upon installation. Put on the new sprocket. Don’t forget that inner spacer you can’t see until you pull off the wheel: make sure it’s in place. I also cleaned/lubed it, just for luck. I think it’s there to stabilize the axle and rear tire.

10. I put the rear tire back on after cleaning the rim. Make sure you get the spacers in the correct order, which is not hard to do. Get this right: but if you find a spare spacer after the fact you’ll have a major safety issue. I torqued the axle to 73 ft/lb. This is different from the factory spec, which is 105 ft/lb. Your call, but this should do nicely to hold the rear axle in place, and won’t cause spalling on the rear axle, a major problem with earlier VSTROMs.

11. Install the new chain. There are apparently multiple ways to do this. The procedures I used is as follows: I centered the rear wheel on the center mark (that’s the tall one) on both sides of the swing arm…there are five smaller ones in front of the tall mark, and five behind it. The theory is—if you center the wheel on this mark—you’ll have enough play in the chain to allow changing the front sprocket to be larger or smaller and use the same chain.

12. I now installed the new chain. Ran it across the back sprocket, over/under the front sprocket, then under the new rear sprocket, so that the new chain (with the extra length at right angles to the sprocket) was up against the other end. It was about the 2-3 o’clock position on the rear axle. Of course, as I mentioned above, the chain was three pins (one and one half links) too long as compared to the old chain, so it had to be sized by removing the links by grinding and pressing out the pin to fit. You’ll recall I had painted the rivets/pin ends I thought I needed to remove to shorten the new chain to the appropriate length. Using Kentucky windage, best guess, intuition, gut feel, I determined, after threading the new chain across the new sprockets, that this was the correct pin to grind/remove, which I did, using my HF chain breaker. I can only say it was obvious that I was in the right position: chain was loose at this point, but it was apparent that it could be tightened to specs without running out of adjustment. Before I cut, I zip tied the new chain to the bike (chain guard) so it would not rotate with the new chain on the sprocket, which it wanted to do. This held it in place for the grinding/master riveting. After I cut out the extraneous links by removing the pin, I then installed the new, screw type, master link. See the attached link from the VFR forum to see that procedure. I followed that procedure and had no issues: worked like a champ. As an added safety feature, I lock-tited two 10-32 nuts to the master link, as the author of the above link suggested.

13. Now that the chain was installed, I tightened the front sprocket nut, to 83 ft/lb. The threads were in good shape, no spalling. I used no lubricant on installation, but did use blue lock-tite. Don’t forget to bend over the washer on one of the nut faces to hold the nut in place. I then replaced the hex head bolt that goes into the countershaft sprocket—used blue lock-tite on this, too.

14. I adjusted the chain to the owner’s manual’s specs….(.8-1.2 inches) of play in the center of the bottom run of the chain run. Looked like a lot of slack in the chain before I tightened it, but remarkably the wheel/axle went from being on the tall center mark on the swing arm to the rear (tight) direction by only one mark; Mr. Chain is now centered on the mark four from the end. Note the chain is supposed to be adjusted with the bike off the center stand on the side stand.

15. Replaced the clutch mechanism (don’t forget the little black box), and the outer black plastic cover.

This took me about four hours over two days. In my defense, I’ve not done any chain work since the late ‘70s, on my Yamaha XS 500B. All my bikes since then—BMWs, Harley, Yamahas and Hondas in various configurations—have not used a chain. Next would probably take me half that time or less, but since this new chain will probably last two riding seasons, I’ll have plenty of time to forget all that I’ve learned in the meantime.
And the bike? It’s like new: quieter, smoother and well worth the effort.
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