Why Does My Motorcycle Chain Keep Rusting?

Does your motorcycle chain show rust spots after standing for a while? It’s annoying, right?

If you’re a motorcycle owner, chances are you’ve wrestled with a rusty chain more times than you’d like to admit. It seems like no matter how often you clean it or how well you store your bike, rust just keeps coming back. It’s frustrating, to say the least. But why does this happen?

Motorcycle chains rust due to lack of proper maintenance, moisture exposure, poor quality materials, age, or exposure to salt.

While these might all seem obvious, and they are, your chain will only stay rust free if you take good care of it.

There’s no excuse for a chain to be dirty and rusty like this

Lack of Maintenance

The dirt and grime your chain picks up during your rides can trap moisture against the metal. When left uncleaned, this increases the risk of rust. This applies to any steel parts on your bike: the frame, fork tubes, nuts and bolts.

How to Prevent This

The key to prevent rust from lack of maintenance is regular cleaning. Make sure to use a chain cleaning tool or a brush (like this one) to scrub off grime. After cleaning, always dry your chain before applying lubricant. This routine not only helps prevent rust but also increases the chain’s efficiency.

Cleaning a bike chain
Regular cleaning and lubrication is key if you want to prevent rust on your chain

If you don’t have proper chain lube in the garage, at least cover the newly cleaned chain in WD-40 or similar. If you clean your chain without lubricating it, you’re asking begging it to rust.

Exposure to Moisture

When your motorcycle chain is exposed to water, whether it’s from riding on wet roads or just high humidity, it can lead to rust. Moisture reacts with the metal in your chain and forms rust.

Don’t ride in the rain? A bike that sleeps outside in the elements, even under a bike cover, may be exposed to enough moisture to cause rust. The only safe place for an exposed chain is inside the living room or a dry garage that can be closed up.

How to Prevent This

Try to limit your bike’s exposure to moisture. If you’ve been riding in the rain, dry off your chain as soon as possible. And when you’re not using your bike, store it in a dry, controlled environment.

It is actually better for your motorcycle to be ridden daily than standing for still under a cover for weeks. A chain that moves will not get hard and rusty (if you clean and lube it regularly).

Inferior Quality Materials

Some chains are more likely to rust because they are made from cheaper metals or have sub-par anti-corrosion coatings. Some common examples might include low-grade steel chains or those without any protective zinc or nickel plating.

The first thing we changed on our Chinese delivery bikes before riding them 9 600 miles through Africa, were fitting good quality Japanese chains. Our chains and sprockets ended up lasting the whole trip (only just!).

I cleaned and adjusted our chains every two days for 90 days straight. Maintenance is key!

How to Prevent This

Invest in a high-quality chain. A good brand name chain like this DID Gold chain will withstand harsh conditions much better than some no-name brand cheapie.

Look for chains made from stainless steel or those that have an anti-corrosion coating. This might cost more upfront, but it will save you time and money in the long run by resisting rust and lasting longer.

Age and Wear

As a chain gets older, it starts to stretch. This may result in tiny gaps between the pins and the holes in the chain links where moisture can get in.

How to Prevent This

It’s crucial to keep an eye on your chain’s condition. If it’s starting to show signs of stretching or wear it might be time to replace it. Regular maintenance will also help extend the life of the chain.

Chain lube creates a protective coating on the chain surface which will prevent moisture from getting in between the links. This oily film will also prevent rust to form on the metal surface of the chain links.

Salt Exposure

Riding in winter conditions or near the sea exposes your chain to salt. Salt accelerates the rusting process because it’s a good conductor and enhances corrosion. Salt roads are even worse, so if you live in an area with salt roads, beware!

How to Prevent This

After riding in salty conditions, clean your chain as soon as possible to remove any salt residue. Using a motorcycle chain cleaner will help, and make sure to reapply lubricant after cleaning.

If you ride on a salt road daily, you’ll have to clean your chain more often.


Rust is the nemesis of any motorcycle chain, but it doesn’t have to be a constant companion. By understanding why rust happens and taking steps to prevent it – like regular maintenance, protecting against moisture and salt, investing in quality materials, and staying vigilant about the chain’s age and wear – you can keep your chain rust-free and your rides smooth.

Remember, a little time invested in caring for your chain can save you a lot of headaches down the line. r do what I did and buy a BMW R1200 GS Adventure with a shaft drive 😉


Francois Steyn

I've been riding motorcycles since I was in school and have traveled thousands of miles on various bikes through more than 10 countries. For more info, check out my about page: https://www.adventurebiketroop.com/about-us/

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