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How Tight Should A Go Kart Chain Be?

The chain on your go kart is a crucial performance element. It’s the connection between your engine and the wheels. Without it, your go kart won’t even move, and if it’s installed incorrectly it can cause damage and performance loss. It is thus vital to know how tight your go kart chain should be.

Your go kart chain should be tight enough so that it doesn’t dislodge while the engine is running. However, there still needs to be a little bit of ‘play’ (flex) on the chain. Usually about an inch of play is a good amount of tension.

The chain requires consistent maintenance which, although not very time consuming, is absolutely crucial to the performance and reliability of your go kart.

How The Chain Affects Your Kart

A Vital Component

The chain on your go kart is a crucial element. It basically acts as the connection point between the engine and the wheels. Essentially, the wheels only turn because of the chain. As such, it is very important that you take good care of the chain and ensure that it is fitted correctly.

Think about the chain on a bicycle. If it hops off the gears you can pedal as much as you want, but there will be no drive on the rear wheel, and you won’t go anywhere. A karting chain takes a bit more of a beating since it’s working at higher speeds and experiences more bumps and knocks, but like a bicycle it needs to be connected to the gears to allow you to move.

The Right Amount Of Tension

Your chain also needs to have the correct level of tension. If it is too loose, it will jump off the sprocket too easily. For example, if you take a curb too aggressively or if you get a bump from the side or the rear from another kart, your chain is prone to popping off.

If the chain is too tight, there will be too much tension, which can not only cause damage and extreme wear on the chain and the gears, but it will also slow your kart down. If your chain has too much tension, the rear axle will have difficulty rotating due to the friction between the chain and the sprocket.

Correct Chain Tension

Finding the correct chain tension can be tricky, especially if you are new to karting. There are a few different ways you can shorten or lengthen your go kart’s chain to find exactly the right length and tension you need for your kart.

Adjusting The Rear Axle

The first step you should try is to adjust the rear axle. It is important to remember that this will have performance side effects in terms of your specific set up. You can adjust the rear axle further backwards or forwards. This will either add or release tension on the chain.

Moving the rear axle forwards decreases the tension on the chain

Moving the rear axle backwards increases the tension on the chain

If you need a very small adjustment, you could also loosen the engine and move it forwards or backwards slightly on the chassis. However, you don’t have as much space to play around with when using this method.

Moving your axle changes the wheelbase of your kart, meaning it can make your chassis more stiff or more flexible. Keep this in mind because it will affect how your kart handles in the corners. But if you need a quick and easy adjustment, this is the way to go.

The next two methods do require some tools, so you’ll want to make sure that you have access to the right equipment.

2 Ways To Adjust Your Go Kart’s Chain

1. Removing Chain Links

This is the easiest way to adjust the actual length of the chain. The chain link removal tool is extremely handy, and it can make the process much easier and less time consuming. You can find them for around $10.

Before you start, make sure you measure how many links you need to take out of the chain. You can do this by folding some of the links together until you find the right level of tension. The other option is to use trial and error and remove links until you find the correct level of tension.

The Master Link

The first stepis to take the chain off the kart. In order to do so you will need to loosen and remove the clutch. Once the clutch is off you can simply take the chain off the sprocket. Next you will need to find the master link which will look distinctly differently from the rest (it should have a clip on it, and in some cases it’s a different color).

The master link on the chain will have a small clip that you can undo with a pair of pliers, and then you can carefully push the two pins out of the link. Make sure to keep the clip in a safe place because you will need to put it back on later.

Keep Your Pins Safe

When you are adding or removing links you want to do so right next to the master link. Place the chain onto your link removal tool ensuring that the pins are against the screw. Then, adjust the screw until the pin releases the link, but do not remove the pin from the link. It’s easy to lose pins when they’re detached from the links. You can reattach links in the same way using the chain link removal tool.

2. Without A Chain Link Removal Tool

The second method is unconventional and not the easiest to do. It takes more effort, more time, and can cause damage to the chain. But if you do not have access to a chain link removal tool it might be your only option to remove some links.

You will need the following equipment:

  • Hammer
  • 2 x nuts
  • 1 x Nail or pin

You need to place the chain down sideways with the pins facing upwards. Then,place a nut underneath the chain (or two if the pin is too long to detach). Use the hammer and the nail to gently dislodge the pin from the link. The pin will fall into the middle of the nut placed underneath the chain.

This can damage the chain if you are too heavy handed with the hammer, so make sure that you are careful and have some patience if you are going to make use of this method.

Chain Maintenance

The chain on a go kart is positioned in such a way that it can be exposed to a lot of dirt. Therefore, it is really important that you regularly maintain your kart’s chain and clean it properly. This is especially important if you do not have a chain protector on your kart.

Oil & Dirt

The chain is exposed to oil coming off the engine as well as dirt being kicked up from the tires (especially if you take a trip through the grass). Both of these types of dirt can become stuck within the links of the chain and can cause a performance drop-off in your kart.

Oil is arguably the worst of the two. This is because when oil is warm it becomes thinner and acts like a runnier liquid. This means it can splatter onto the chain very easily. Once you have stopped your kart and it begins to cool down, the oil can become more viscous, or it may even harden and become solid.

Of course, these solid blocks of sticky oil will cause your chain to struggle more to rotate around the sprocket. Dirt can also cause the same problem, even more so if you get dirt stuck in the oil.

Clean It Regularly

Cleaning your chain once a week should be enough to prevent these issues. Of course, it also depends on how much time you spend on the track, but you can keep an eye on the condition of your chain before and after running when you do your general cleaning and maintenance.

The best way to clean the chain is to take it off the kart and submerge it in either petrol or brake cleaner. High-proof alcohol can also do the trick. Leave your chain in your liquid of choice for about half an hour. The liquid will loosen all the dirt and oil from the chain. The remaining bits can be taken off by hand after you take the chain out, but the majority of it should be gone.

Lubrication

Make sure you use chain lube regularly. This should definitely be used daily, usually before going out on track. This will reduce the friction between the chain and the sprocket. If you are not using chain lube enough you will see the wear on the sprocket teeth (these are hit the hardest with chain wear and tear). You will see paint chipping off the teeth exposing more of a silver metallic color.

Final Thoughts

Chain tension is an important factor that influences the performance and reliability of your kart. The chain generally needs to have about an inch of flex on it. If it is too loose it can jump off the sprocket, and if it is too tight it will cause too much friction and damage to the chain and sprocket.