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BMW Develops Maintenance-Free Chain – Claims Equivalence to Shaft Drive

Somewhat timely, given the nature of some reader debates concerning the chain-driven Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX we recently completed reviewing, BMW has announced a chain it claims is ideal for touring. The M Endurance chain has a highly effective coating for the rollers and, in addition to requiring no periodic lubrication, the chain never stretches!

Currently available on just two BMW models (specified in the press release below), the chain is manufactured by Regina so there is hope that the technology may eventually be offered to owners of other chain-driven motorcycles. Here is the press release from BMW, together with an illustration:

Munich. For more than 90 years, the maintenance-free, environmentally friendly and comfortable shaft drive has been one of BMW Motorrad’s immovable technical cornerstones. With the M Endurance chain, BMW Motorrad now offers a maintenance-free chain with comparable characteristics for the first time.

Like previous X-ring chains, the M Endurance chain has a resident permanent lubricant filling between the rollers and pins, enclosed by X-rings. What is completely new, however, is that the previously necessary additional lubricant addition for the rollers and thus the familiar “chain lubrication” is no longer necessary, nor is any re-tensioning required from time to time due to the usual wear.

This enormous gain in comfort was made possible by using a new coating material for the rollers: tetrahedrally amorphous carbon (ta-C), also known as industrial diamond. This coating is characterized by extreme hardness and resistance and in this respect it is placed between the well-known DLC coating (Diamond Like Carbon) and pure diamond. In contrast to the metal surfaces used so far, the coating with the ta-C industrial diamond does not wear off. At the same time, this type of coating also offers a drastically reduced friction coefficient.

Thanks to excellent dry lubrication properties and the elimination of wear, the tetrahedral amorphous carbon coated rollers of the M Endurance chain offer maintenance comfort equivalent to that of a shaft drive motorcycle. This includes all the cleaning work that is unavoidable with a conventional chain due to splashed lubricant. Accordingly, the M Endurance chain also offers maximum environmental friendliness.

The M Endurance chain in 525 pitch is now available initially for the two 4-cylinder models BMW S 1000 RR and S 1000 XR. The M Endurance chain is available as accessory or directly from the factory as an option. Further BMW Motorrad models are being prepared for this feature.

79 Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    “Elimination of wear”?

    Boo sheet!

  2. gsbeliever says:

    Maintenance free huh?

    Didn’t BMW say the same thing about the sealed final drives when they came out?

  3. Tom R says:

    If a car/truck manufacturer introduced a model with a chain-and-sprockets drive system, would any one rush out and buy one?

    • Motoman says:

      Really? I think your analogy detector is malfunctioning.

    • Mick says:

      They would if it weighed under a thousand pounds and was really fast.

      But would they trust a belt drive?

      • Bubba Blue says:

        Just for the record, a belt drive – take Harley-Davidson’s belt drive for example – is practicably indestructible. It is far stronger than a chain and less likely to self destruct, grind it’s gears, etc. than a (e.g. BMW) shaft. At least that’s what I gather. I haven’t run any tests.

        • Mick says:

          I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But most people would.

          Chains are a known thing. People might think that they are crude. People doing a motorcycle engine swaps into a car are using chains. Sprockets are well developed and available. Chain is easy to make in the right amount of links. Correct pullies and custom belts sizes are a much more challenging thing to source.

          That and you can know about how long a chain is going to last the day that you install it, provided it is reasonably shrouded.

        • dino says:

          HD belt drives are pretty solid, and really reliable.
          But they are not so good off road or gravel.. that kind of debris can wreck the belts.

        • Jeremy says:

          The belts seem to work well on long, short-travel bikes that don’t make much power like cruisers. I’m not sold on them for stuff with more aggressive geometries and power output.

          I enjoyed the lack of noise, zero maintenance, and the very connected feeling I had with the rear wheel on my Buell, but you just never knew when that belt was going to let go. That was an uncertainty I never could really come to accept.

    • Kermit T Frog says:

      Well written. The same holds true of tubed wheels. I seriously doubt any here would be inclined to buy a modern new car that “featured” (at extra cost!) tubed spoke wheels and worse yet had no spare included (like so many cars now do).

      For the record, I am also a fan of hydraulic valve lash adjusters. Who wouldn’t be save perhaps genuine racers? But then they do like hydraulic disc brakes instead of those manually adjustable drum items we used to get, double leading shoes included! 😉 🙂

      I look forward to reading/hearing more of this impotant BMW creation! I have hopes, albeit not very high ones, that it will prove more than vaporware. 😉

      • Mick says:

        That all depends on the way you look at a motorcycle.

        For me even my street bikes need to try to emulate, as much as practical, a two stroke dirt bike. By the time you have a four stroke with hydraulic valves. Well, sell it to someone else.

    • Marcus says:

      Old dump trucks did in fact have chain drive.

    • mickey says:

      Honda used to produce a chain drive sports car

  4. Grover says:

    I can wipe out a chain in 10,000 miles whether I lube it or not. I’ll bet this new chain from BMW will be only marginally better than the best chains out there. No chain stretching? Right…

  5. EZMark says:

    Chains on my street bikes last about 20,000 miles whether I lube them or not.
    Only difference I’ve seen is a lubed chain runs quieter.
    Either way I replace the sprockets with the chain.
    My current bike has a belt drive and it’s quiet with zero maintenance.
    I’ll have to wait and see how long it lasts.
    I hope this new chain works as good as they claim.

  6. JR says:

    Hey Bubba… you are not alone at all.. it’s “belt drive” for me also, along with hydraulic valve adjusters.

  7. Mick says:

    I guess I have to chime in as the resident bicycle guy and say that if you replace a bike chain every time it stretches just a little bit, your sprockets and chain rings last a very long time.

    Ergo, if your motorcycle chain never stretches, it doesn’t destroy your sprockets. Providing they are high quality sprockets.

    That said, I’m sure when BMW talks about “lifetime” and then puts the chain on a sport bike. Well, what is the lifetime on a sport bike?

    On 520 chains. My 1992 900SS had a 520 chain. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a chain that would last very long on what wasn’t really a very powerful motorcycle. It got to the point were I just slapped one new chain and sprockets every 7000 miles. The 525 chain on the 916 that I replaced the 900SS with lasted many times longer on a much more powerful bike. I don’t know if the industry just assumed 520 chains are for race bikes and refused to make durable ones. But spend all you want on a high quality 520 chain and it will still stretch after a few thousand miles.

    • Gary says:

      “Ergo, if your motorcycle chain never stretches, it doesn’t destroy your sprockets. Providing they are high quality sprockets.” Not true. I am also a bicycle guy and I can tell you fo sho that motorcycle sprockets wear out no matter what.

      • Mick says:

        That’s funny. I bought a set of sprockets on the nineties for a YZ250. They had some Russian sounding name and came with some Ti bolts for the rear sprocket. Nice!

        The rear was aluminium that had what turned out to be some insanely tough coating. The only reason those sprockets went bad is because I let the second chain stretch too much. They easily lasted more than twice, and probably more like 3 or 4X as long as anything that I have used before or since.

        When I went back to the shop to buy new ones. they said that they stopped carrying them “Because nobody buys them.”

        I told them that nobody is buying them because they don’t wear out. They looked at me kind of funny. But they knew that I had ridden a ton since I bought the sprockets that I was replacing.

        • Dave says:

          Unless you can keep a chain and sprockets completely clean, all of the time, parts will wear out no matter if the chain isn’t allowed to stretch. The contaminants will eventually wear through coatings.

  8. Bubba Blue says:

    I know I’m alone in this, I prefer a belt. No comparison. Easy choice.

    • My2cents says:

      Although belt drive requires much less maintenance actual replacement cost is pretty high. The first issue of the Harley-Davidson Sturgis was the reintroduction of belt drive for the motor company and came with a lifetime warranty on the belt. Sprockets can require replacement due to contamination wear but in theory should last the lifecycle. Regardless the avoidance of chain lube duty or shaft drive “jacking” the belt drive wins the day.

      • Motoman says:

        Chain wins the day for me due to ease of gearing changes.

        • Kermit T. Frog says:

          So then…You do this often for the street? 😉 🙂

          In my case I have never done it because I have no real reason nor desire to alter gearing. I’ve had shaft, chain and belt drive motorcycles. I think on my chain drive bike I had to adjust the chain once in 20,000+ miles and I always kept it clean and lubed.

          Chains are simple and I certainly don’t begrudge you using one. They’re fine. But for me, belt seems the best “compromise” but having said that shaft drive is sweeeeeeet!

          • fred says:

            I’ve changed the gearing on 3 of my chain-drive bikes, and have been quite happy with the results.
            Never owned a belt drive.
            Of the 4 shaft-drive bikes, my Concours 14 was terrific, the Nighthawk S was good, the SilverWing 650 was fair, and the GL1100 had very noticeable shaft jacking.
            Kawasaki did a great job with the Tetra-Lever design, but it was, as best as I can tell, the first shaft drive that really worked great. I suppose there are other good ones out there now as well.

            I like that we have choices, and almost all of the time I prefer chains.

          • Motoman says:

            I have been riding since 1970 and have only had chain drive bikes. The long life and ease of maintenance of modern chains plus the type of riding I do tick all the boxes for me in favor of chains. Every bike I have owned in the last 25 years or so I have optimized the gearing to suit my needs. Once I learned of the “free (or really cheap) horsepower” due to mechanical advantage of lowering the final drive I have taken advantage. Seems obvious for a track bike but I even changed the final drive on my 2002 FZ1 slightly to reduce the use of first gear in the tight stuff. As with any bike I’ve ever owned I’m sure I could be perfectly happy with a completely stock bike. Never works out that way though.

          • Jeremy says:

            I think I’ve changed gearing on all of my motorcycles. I’ve had one bike with a belt drive, a Buell XB12X, and also changed gearing on that one as well (which required changing the primary.)

            Granted gearing changes are unnecessary, but it has always resulted in a more enjoyable ride for me.

    • todd says:

      The shaft drives on all my old BMWs and Yamahas have lasted hundreds of thousands of miles with practically zero maintenance.

  9. guu says:

    I wonder why they use 525 chain if it doesn’t wear at the rollers and pins. That is the only advantage of 525 versus 520 as the pins and rollers are wider and offer larger wear surface. 520 just as strong in tension and is used in MotoGP bikes for example due to it’s much lighter weight.

  10. OldJudge says:

    According to the youtube video I saw the price, as an extra on a new bike is 94 Euro.

  11. JC says:

    It’s no surprise Chains have become really good over the last few years. Industrial chains have had maintenance free applications for years, but not subject to the stretch/corrosion factor. I hope they work as advertised.

  12. TimC says:

    I just want to remind everyone (as an incurable idiot apparently – my current car is a GTI, despite other previous errors of judgement), Ze Germans excel at Brilliant Engineering Solutions That Actually End Up Flawed.

  13. Jan Janowski says:

    Now you bring it out!!! Coulda used that in the 1960’s on…… Just Sayin…..

  14. Jim says:

    I had a GSA with their “maintenance-free shaft drive”, I’ll pass.

  15. jcott says:

    Note: Chain tensioners.

    Confidence in the tech does not appear to be high on the engineering team: The bike shown still features tension adjusters, with a fair amount of travel no less.

    just sayin.

    • guu says:

      On sport bikes you need that adjustment to enable gearing changes and also to fine-tune the wheelbase with shorter or longer chain.

      Normal x-ring chain doesn’t need tension adjusters for wear. If the chain starts to “stretch” (pins start to wear) its an indication that the lubrication between the rings has failed and to chain should be replaced.

  16. Gary says:

    If you don’t lube the chain, what’s to stop the outer plates from rusting? “Lifetime” is a long time. I’m just sayin …

    • Gary says:

      Oops … just noticed the nickel/brass plating. Never mind. I’m still skeptical, though.

      • Snake says:

        Indeed, you probably *should* be skeptical. Even a thick plating, 100nm or even somewhat more, still wears off over time. That time is just extended versus the more typical <100nm coating often used in plating applications.

  17. Tom R says:

    Comments here have convinced me to adjust my investment portfolio. I’m selling off my chain lube stocks, and buying into sprocket futures.

  18. Skybullet says:

    If it will keep me off my knees doing chain maintenance, I would cheerfully replace sprockets more frequently. My guess is the sprockets will last even longer without the lube/dirt/grunge grinding compound we have now.

  19. Mike Simmons says:

    No maintenance, no adjustment, lasts a lifetime? Not a word about sprocket life. Hmmmmm…. I’m from Missouri….

  20. Provologna says:

    because…..German BMW, that’s why!

    I’m one of the few persons who loved BMW’s K75 motor infinitely more than any of the full liter so-called “flying bricks.”

    I wish they’d release a fully updated version of that bike (basically just the same engine layout, a longitudinal flat triple) with this chain. Maybe between 750-900cc…

    • st1100boy says:

      I’m not sure chain drive w/ a longitudinal engine makes a ton more sense from an efficiency standpoint since it still would require a 90 degree turn in the powertrain. It would be lighter than a shaft though, I’ll give you that.

      • fred says:

        You are correct. Motus did that, and while it was a terrific engine, the overall execution was lacking, due in great part to that decision.

    • My2cents says:

      I too am a fan of the K75 and luckily test rode a S back in the day. You’re absolutely correct a 850-900 cc version would be astonishing as long as it had a 4 valve head and 6 speed transmission.

    • todd says:

      I still use my K75S regularly with over 96,000 miles. I don’t think it needs anything and is perfect as-is.

    • Sleeping Dog says:

      Owned a K75RT for 18 years and 120K miles, wonderful bike, wish I still had it. In truth the K75 wasn’t successful, too heavy, too expensive and not powerful enough. BMW approached their dealers world wide with a proposed updated model in the early 90’s. About 100 hp, 4v per cylinder, a tad lighter, but the cost was out of line and the bike never happened. Eventually BMW moved on to the F700/800.

  21. My2cents says:

    I get 50-55,000 miles out of each set of chain and sprockets. BMW claims its shaft drive units are lifetime too, but alas they are not. I believe that my method is probably more sound than these claims. The possibility of a true absolutely maintenance free chain is appealing but I don’t think it is viable.

  22. mickey says:

    If all the claims are true, this could be a game changer. Won’t be cheap though, you can count on that.

  23. RICK says:

    I’M GUESSING THAT THE TECHNICIANS/ENGINEERS AT BMW TESTED THESE CHAIN PRETTY THOROUGHLY …SO IT SHOULD INTERESTING TO SEE THE LONG TERM RESULTS. WHEN I WAS A KID WE DIDN’T HAVE SEALED O RING CHAINS EITHER…SO IS THIS THE NEXT BIG STEP AHEAD IN CHAIN TECHNOLOGY…IT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN SOONER OR LATER.

  24. Randy says:

    “That’ll be $125 for the sprockets and $1250 for the chain.” “No sir, It’s not warrantied for life” “Yes, sir, we finance.”

  25. Fred N says:

    What’s the effect on the sprockets life ? Bit quiet on that point, BMW.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      I wondered the same thing. Also, would this necessitate any difference in sprocket design. On the last point, I doubt it does … traditional sprockets should be compatible.

    • Tom R says:

      Fred, if you won the lottery, you’d probably gripe about the taxes.

      • Fred N says:

        Never a worry on taxes here in Australia, Old Mate.
        All Lottery winnings are tax free.
        That’s so much better than the USA, heh Tom ?

    • VLJ says:

      Also, what’s the weight?

      Moreover, will this be like normal household light bulbs vs LEDs, which seem to be all that are available these days. Used to be able to buy a pack of three for a few bucks, now it’s twenty bucks for a single bulb. Will the same apply here, with this new “forever” chain? Instead of $150 or whatever, will it cost a fortune?

    • Dave says:

      Contaminants between the chain and sprocket teeth will eventually wear the sprockets no matter what happens to the chain. The cleaner you keep them, the longer they’ll last.

    • VFRMarc says:

      If they coat the sprockets with ta-C it will be a win/win.

      • Dave says:

        You know what they say about things that are too good to be true..

        I’ve used DLC bicycle chains. They last a little longer than normal hardened chains, but only a little. They claim ta-C doesn’t wear off but alas, that’s impossible. There’s no free lunch.

      • Dave says:

        You know what they say about things that are too good to be true..

        I’ve used DLC bicycle chains. They las a little longer than normal hardened chains, but only a little. They claim it doesn’t wear off but alas, that’s impossible. I wonder how an internal combustion engine with all components coated in this stuff and no oil would last? There’s no free lunch.

        • TimC says:

          Considering that that black gunk on a bicycle chain is aluminum oxide, yup there’ snot much that’s going to stand up to an industrial abrasive!

  26. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    Never happen GI. I will always lube a chain with hypoy gear oil .

  27. Nick says:

    Interesting! The best chain-oiler I know, Pro Oiler, states that lubricant on the X-rings is vital to stop friction causing heat that reduces the life of the internal lubricant. It would appear that BMW’s Regina chain will have the X-rings running dry against the side links. Let’s hope those side links also have a very low-friction coating!

    • Snake says:

      They also don’t mention dry rot / age deterioration of the rubber/neoprene/silcone x-rings, which does happen to whatever material they choose.

      As Dave said above, there is no free lunch. This will extend life and lower lubrication requirements, but eliminate both completely? Entropy would love to hear of this.

    • guu says:

      I wonder how the Pro Oiler people lubricate the outside of the driveshaft seal? Or the wheel bearing seals. These rotate at much higher speeds than the X-rings on the chain.

      • Bart says:

        Not the first-term problem for chain seals, which actually do”rotate” countershaft-fast, if only for 30 or 40 degrees entering/leaving the sprocket. The problem is G-force going around the countershaft at speed. That can reach into the thousands G force. I have seen chain seals herniated/thrown out of O-ring chains at the racetrack due to G force loading and heat.

  28. Warner says:

    Man, I want one of these chains for my Yamaha so bad.

    • todd says:

      It’s a 525 so you could put it on almost whatever you want.

      • Grover says:

        I call BS on this new “technology “. I can wipe out a chain in 10,000 miles wether I lube it or not. I’ll bet this new chain from BMW will be only marginally better than the best chains out there. No chain stretching? Right…