How to Use a Chain Breaker: The Quick and Easy Guide

Professional grade motorcycle chains should last upwards of 20,000 miles or more, but if you ride often, you could find that you reach this point in very quickly. The trouble is, replacing your chains all the time can get downright expensive. The more cost-effective chains often aren’t the correct length, requiring you to make some adjustments to achieve the perfect fit.

That’s where knowing how to use a chain breaker becomes an invaluable skill for any biker. With a motorcycle chain cutter, you can adjust your new chains to the precise length you need in no time.

Ready to learn what a chain breaker is, what to use it for, and how to use it in a few simple steps? 

What Exactly Is a Chain Breaker?

Traditional chains feature links connected in an alternating pattern. However, motorcycle chains are a bit different, featuring links connected by rivets. To operate your bike, the chain hooks over sprockets, which is why the normal 90-degree angle that traditional chains have don’t work for bikes, whether they are used motorcycles or new bikes.

If you want to disengage the chain or take out any links, you have to punch out the rivets. In the days before chain breakers, you had to hammer the rivets out with a metal punch. With a chain breaker, your job is considerably more straightforward because it runs on mechanical power. A chain breaker usually operates around a screw, which not only saves you time but reduces the impact on your hands. 

Should You Invest in a Chain Breaker?

Whether you have a 2 wheel bike or a 3 wheel motorcycle, the day will come when you will need to replace the chain on your bike and adjust it to ensure the proper fit. Just like you wouldn’t hit rubber to the road without insurance for your motorcycle, you don’t want to go for a ride with a faulty chain in place.

While you don’t necessarily have to have a chain breaker to get the job done, but the tool will make your life quite a bit easier, particularly if you’re a frequent rider and find that you need to replace your chain often. A quality chain breaker could cost anywhere from $40 to $60 or more for a brand new tool.

Chain breakers are specialized tools designed for a specific purpose. If you go riding often and your chains wear out regularly, it might save you time and expense in the long run to invest in one. Plus, if you’re concerned with motorcycle values and want to keep your Harley or another bike in premium condition, you’ll want a reliable tool you can rely on to adjust your chains when quickly and efficiently when you need to.

However, if you need to take out a damaged or worn chain, you could use a pair of bolt cutters or a grinder featuring a cutting wheel to accomplish that task. You could also do it the old-fashioned way, which case you’d need a:

  • Punch
  • Hammer
  • Pliers

With that said, considering the effort you’d expend doing things old school, you could save yourself a lot of wasted energy by just using a chain breaker tool. 

Before You Get Started

Once you have your chain breaker in hand and are ready to get started on the job, there are a few things you should do first. First, deconstruct the chain breaker and make sure you clean out any debris, metal flakes, or anything else that could impede the tool’s operation. It’s a good idea to grease the chain breaker as well to avoid the pin breaking and make it easier for you to remove the chain rivets.

The size pin on your chain breaker should correlate directly with the size of your motorcycle chain. The usual sizes are 520 and 530, which both have the same pin size. 

Start By Measuring the Chains

Before you cut the new chain and fit it to your new bike, you want to make sure you match the chain length as close as is possible to your hold chain. You could also measure the chain against the bike if you’re unable to measure each chain side by side.

Start by moving the axle forward and extending the new chain all the way across until it is completely taut. Leave a little bit of room for the master link and bear swing arm motion in mind.

You can always shorten the chain later if you end up making it a tad too long, rather than make it too short and have to insert two master links. The more master links you have on your chain, the higher the likelihood of it snapping while you’re out on the open road.

Motorcycle chains feature a design made up of thin outer links and delicate inner links. When you align the old chain with the new, each end needs to be an internal link. The master link connects the inner links.

Before you break the chain, make sure you mark the area you intend to cut. You never want to find yourself in a position where you can’t find the right link or you end up picking the wrong link and mess up the whole procedure.

The chain rivets come with heads that secure them in place. While you don’t have to grind them down and off before you use your chain breaker, it could make the next step a bit easier. 

How to Use a Chain Breaker

Now you’re ready to learn the fun part — how to use a chain breaker! Once you have the chain taut and you’ve aligned the pin, breaking the chain itself isn’t all that difficult. Make sure you have selected the correct size pin before you get started.

The alignment bolt holds up the pin, so the bolt and pin need to be level. Hold the alignment bolt and turn the push bolt counterclockwise to push the bin back. Next, insert the chain link that you previously marked inside your chain breaker and turn the alignment bolt. Keep turning until the rivet and pin meet.

The pin needs to be situated right on the rivet rather than putting pressure anywhere else on the body of the link. If you push on the link plate, this could bend the pin. The bottom of your chain breaker will have sufficient room so that the rivet can fall from the bottom of it. Make sure the rivet is out of the way and won’t press the chain breaker, or this could cause the pin to break.

Take a screwdriver or wrench and turn the chain breaker, so it punches each rivet out. You will need to use some elbow grease to get the rivet going, which is why checking, double-checking, and triple-checking the alignment is so important. Continue to turn until the rivet drops through

the bottom of the chain breaker. At that point, you should have a length of chain that is close to your desired measurements.

If the chain isn’t the right length the first time and you end up having to use two master links, you can do so, but you will increase the chances that the chain will break with frequent riding. It’s better to check your measurements and alignments a few times to make sure everything is correct before you break the chain.