Lighter, more efficient, and cheaper than belts and shafts, chains drive the majority of motorcycles on sale today. But these advantages come with a noticeable downside: maintenance. Your bike’s chain requires attention significantly more frequently than, say, its valves or suspension. So, if a company like BMW released a chain that supposedly required little to no maintenance, many riders would undoubtedly want it. However, while the BMW M Endurance motorcycle chain talked a big game, it can’t quite live up to its initial hype.
The 2021 BMW M 1000 RR claimed to have a ‘maintenance-free’ motorcycle chain
Last year, BMW released its first M-branded motorcycle: the M 1000 RR, a sharper, lighter, and more powerful S 1000 RR. But while the M 1000 RR has several upgrades over the ‘regular’ S 1000 RR, both superbikes benefitted from something else BMW revealed at roughly the same time. That something is the BMW M Endurance motorcycle chain.
Optional on the S 1000 RR and standard on the M version, the BMW M Endurance chain looks fairly conventional at first glance. And while it uses X-rings instead of O-rings to seal its permanently lubricated links, other high-performance bike chains do, too. However, that’s not the M Endurance chain’s killer app.
What truly separates the BMW M Endurance from other motorcycle chains is its rollers. Or rather, its rollers’ coating. Like other chains, the M Endurance’s rollers are made of steel. But instead of anodizing them, BMW bonded a layer tetrahedrally-amorphous carbon (ta-C) to them. Ta-C is also known as ‘industrial diamond,’ and it’s reportedly even harder and tougher than the more commonly seen diamond-like carbon (DLC).
Theoretically, ta-C’s material toughness and hardness reduce wear and tear on the motorcycle chain, MCN explains. And, unlike chain lube, it doesn’t wear down or get flung off during riding. Plus, like DLC, ta-C reduces static friction, aka ‘stiction,’ reducing power loss and wear. The Yamaha MT-09 SP’s forks have DLC for similar reasons. Indeed, BMW said the ta-C’s wear-reducing properties meant the M Endurance chain would never need adjustment.
With the M Endurance, BMW claimed that it had made a motorcycle chain that was “maintenance-free like the shaft drive.” At least one rider, though, thought that statement required some independent testing.
One rider challenged the BMW M Endurance chain’s claims—and it couldn’t meet them
“Long Haul Paul” Pelland regularly rides 1,000 miles a day as he raises money and awareness for multiple sclerosis, RevZilla says. On my chain-drive Triumph Street Triple R, that many miles would require five lubrication stops and two cleaning stops. So, for the sake of expediency, Pelland usually rides shaft- or belt-drive bikes.
Still, the thought of a maintenance-free chain “enticed” him, RevZilla reports. But he wanted to test BMW’s claims before fully committing. So, he bought a new M Endurance chain that fit his Yamaha Ténéré 700, along with two new OEM sprockets. And then he started riding. No cleaning, no lubrication, just regularly checking the chain slack.
It turns out that even diamond-like coatings can’t make a motorcycle chain maintenance-free. After 12,000 miles, Pelland’s chain was drooping so much that it became a safety hazard. When RevZilla dissected the chain, “barely any of the factory grease was present and there was visible wear to all the pins.” And roughly 10% of the links had severely rusted due to failed sealing rings.
No bike chain is truly ‘maintenance-free’
Following Pelland’s ride, BMW has revised its claims for the M Endurance chain, RevZilla reports. Rather than ‘maintenance-free,’ the chain is now advertised as ‘low-maintenance.’ And credit where it’s due, the ta-C coating did keep the sprocket teeth in great condition, and the bushings showed little-to-no wear. So, BMW’s new claims have some merit.
Nevertheless, no fancy coating can replace proper motorcycle chain maintenance. That means regularly applying a suitable chain lube and cleaning the chain according to the bike’s recommended schedule. And it also means monitoring the chain slack/tension and adjusting it as needed. You’ll still eventually have to replace the chain and the sprockets. But with proper care, that day will come after you’ve ridden for more than 12,000 miles.
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