Changing the Gearing on the RC51

The RC51 has some extremely tall gearing, according to calculations & actual tests it is capable of speeds close to 75mph in 1st gear. A quick & easy mod used to be just replacing the OEM 40 tooth rear steel sprocket with an aluminum 42 tooth sprocket. 20 years later pretty much every RC51 has already had multiple chain kits replaced on it and likely already has a 520 conversion kit installed...

By lowering the overall gearing with the taller rear sprocket you theoretically lose some topend speed in favor of quicker acceleration which is perfect for the RC51 as no one needs a 172mph top speed on a street bike anyway, but the real truth is you don't lose any topspeed on the RC51 because the stock engine is not capable of pulling redline in top gear with the OEM sprockets. You actually get more topspeed when you can actually rev out a slightly lower gearing plus it's much more beneficial to have the quicker acceleration while at the same time easier on the clutch when taking off from a standing start as the now lower gearing requires less clutch slippage & lower engine revs to get the bike rolling.

For those of you that are curious here is an Excel Spreadsheet RC51 Gearing Calculator that can be used to calculate gearing changes on the RC51

The gearing can be lowered even further by going down 1 tooth on the front sprocket which is roughly equivalent to going up 3 teeth on the rear sprocket and the most popular gearing selection by far is the 15/41 set. I literally sell 20 of the 15/41 Kits compared to 1 of ANY other gearing combination. You may end up short shifting in the lower gears to keep the front end planted instead of using the motor to it fullest potential to keep you going forward, but this is a small price to pay for the overall benefit of the lower gearing. You also have to contend with increased compression braking from the motor which is a bit of a problem on any large displacement V-twin without a slipper clutch. Too much compression braking combined with an aggressive clutch release will have the rear wheel locking up as you are trying to enter 1st & 2nd gear corners at optimum speed & trust me when I say it's no fun to have your rear wheel hopping all over the asphalt when you are trying to set up for the corner on the other hand do it right & you will start to learn the technique of "backing it in". Of course there is always the option of installing a slipper clutch and while many of my track bikes have them, I just have never seen fit to put one on any of my RC51's, personal preference of course...

Another issue that the 15/41 kit helps with is rear wheel clearance. It allows you to keep the axle further back in the swingarm which allows modern 180/60 or 190/55 tires to fit in the swingarm without rubbing when the tire expands at high speeds. The longer the axle is back in the swingarm the better the overall drive grip is and the more time you have to react if the bike does start to lose traction driving out of a turn. Steel rear 520 pitch sprockets have pretty much replaced Alloy sprockets completely as of this revision in 2023. Apparently most owners are looking for longevity rather than outright performance and they get that with the Steel Rear Sprockets and at a cheaper price as well. That being said some of the hardcore trackday guys and/or racers are still buying Aluminum sprockets and with that here is what you need to know:

Aluminum Sprockets: Never buy an aluminum sprocket that is not Hard Anodized. The Hard Anodizing process greatly extends the life of the sprocket & is easily worth the extra $10 or so it costs for them.

I have tried just about every single brand of sprocket known to man, even used to pay big bucks (about $90 each & waited forever to get them) for the Renthal's cause I figured if the HONDA team used them they must be good (WRONG!) I have had issues with them being out of round and the hard anodized Renthals wear very quickly compared to other brands. The hard truth is those companies GIVE those sprockets away to race teams by the bucketfulls so they can say that a Pro Race team uses their products and gain market exposure. In all the years I have been testing & selling sprockets I will rest my reputation every single time on the AFAM brand even now, but they have gotten really difficult to find and it appears they changed their manufacturing process. They used to do a hard anodized finish with Teflon Impregnation, but seems now it is just hard anodizing only which is obviously cheaper, but also does not last as long as they used to.

That being said there are some newer steel sprockets that have made it to the market in the last decade like the Superlight Steel sprockets from Drive Systems which are sold in the 520 size. This is the perfect way to still shave some rotational mass off the bike and get excellent longevity out of your sprockets too. Being blunt with it all these new liter bikes like the ZX-10R, S1000RR and V4 Panigale's etc are coming with around 200hp at the wheel so it's not like we really have to fight over ounces of saved weight anymore.

I have sold thousands of these Superlight Steels at this point in time and they are what I have been using on my own personal bikes. Best value for the money I can offer anyone and some of my customers are getting 25,000+ miles out of a chain kit with them... Yes, they do weigh more than aluminum sprockets, but they are still significantly lighter than the OEM steel sprockets and with proper chain maintenance will last a very long time when compared to aluminum sprockets.

I can also throw my opinion out for 3 more things with great certainty:

1. DID chains are the best period.

2. RK chains used to be great, but suck ever since they got bought out back in about 2000

3. Vortex sprockets wear out way way way too fast...

SuperSprox: Everytime I turn around on a message forum someone brings up the issue of SuperSprox sprockets. This is where they take an aluminum hub and rivet a steel out ring of teeth to it to give the user the best of both worlds etc... As far as I am concerne nothing could be further from the truth. The cost of the Supersprox sprockets is much higher than the cost of a quality aftermarket hard anodized aluminum sprocket and WAY higher than a steel rear sprocket. Here is the real kicker for me though as I had to order one of these for a very insistent customer not too long ago and when I weighed the 530 Supersprox sprocket it actually weighed MORE than the OEM steel sprocket it was replacing. Seems ridiculous to me to spend more money for less performance...

Naturally if you are racing the RC51 then your gearing may need to be much lower than discussed above and many of us are running 15/43 on track only RC51's, but for the average street rider the 15/41 combination is without a doubt be the most popular. As the RC hasn't been in production for over a decade most owners have already switched to a 520 chain conversion as well.  Personally I am of the opinion that if your bike is brand new, save the money & simply swap out your sprockets & use your stock chain (530 or 525) & when it finally comes time to replace the chain then swap to the 520 conversion.

530 vs 520 conversion

Ok this question comes up a lot. The difference between a 530 & a 520 is that the 520 chain is slightly smaller in width & of course with that it weighs less. Less weight means you can spin up the rotating mass faster (better acceleration). People incorrectly get the idea that the 520 chain being lighter & smaller is inferior to all 530 or even 525 chains and that is simply not the case when the quality of the chain is taken into consideration. A high quality 520 Chain like the DID ERV-II stuff is just as strong as the OEM 530 chains they are replacing or at least close enough that the issue of accelerated wear is just not an issue. Now if you are buying cheap 520 chains from lesser brands then yea you may very well have longevity problems, but stick to the DID brand and you need not worry about the quality. I have personally used DID ERV3 chains for almost 2 decades now on everythign from RC51's to GSXR1000's to my new ZX-10R and we recently used the same DID ERV3 520 chain with Alloy sprockets for an entire race season on our 209rwhp BMW S1000RR race bike and had zero problems so I know damn good and well they work and the newer DID ZVM-X chain is rated even higher than the ERV3 or the ERV7 that superseded it.

With proper chain maintenance and slack the high end DID 520 X-ring chains will last as long as any OEM 530 chain which are traditionally lower quality used to meet a price point.

With a 520 conversion you typically save about 4lbs of rotational mass which reduces gyroscopic precession and makes a big difference in the handling of the bike. It's proven hp on the dyno as well...

If you are switching to a 520 chain you must buy 520 sprockets to go with it! You cannot use the OEM 530 sprockets with your new 520 chain nor can you use 520 sprockets with a 530 chain (yes people have asked this)

Typically if you are racing the bike & need every ounce of help you can get go ahead & switch to the 520 conversion now (new chain & sprockets).

If your bike is new (chain & sprockets are in good condition) & primarily a streetbike or just an occasional trackday machine then I suggest just swapping out the sprockets in the same 530 pitch & leaving the OEM 530 chain on the bike. When the time comes that you do finally wear out the OEM 530 chain then you can decide at that time if you want to do the 520 conversion (I would) since you generally have to replace both the chain & sprockets together anyway.

Let's talk chain life
This subject comes up so frequently on the web forums I figured it was time to give it some attention here

First & foremost always use an O-Ring style chain. Those o-rings hold in lubricant, keep out moisture and extend the life of the chain. After that "improper slack" is the number one reason for poor chain/sprocket life. It is also dependent on several things not the least of which is knowing how to measure the slack which quite frankly many riders simply do not. Many riders also do not realize that if they add ride height to the rear of the bike via an adjustable shock or a longer shock or a different linkage etc that they have to add more chain slack to compensate for that additional ride height.

Next on the list would be mismatching new & old parts. When you install a chain & sprocket kit all 3 items (the chain, the countershaft sprocket and the rear sprocket) should be new. Those items bed in together with wear and conform to each other. If you replace any one of those 3 items with a new piece then it is no longer matched to the wear of the other two items and overall wear is accelerated as the parts start to bed in again, but at different rates now. Not such a big deal for a track only or race bike that we swap the rear sprockets on to match every track we ride with no concern with longevity of the parts involved, but it will drastically reduce the life of a streetbike chain kit.

After that I will simply cite lack of maintenance. In addition to proper chain slack you also have to keep the chain clean and lubricated. Overhyped chain wax that just puts a coating over the chain might keep it clean under that protective coating, but provides very little lubrication. Sticky, gunky lubes like PJ1 are slightly better for lubrication initially, but attract tons of dirt & debris which eventually works its way in between the o-rings and starts destroying the chain. Water is the chains worst enemy as rust particles form and work their way past the o-rings then start destroying the chain from the inside out and once it starts there is really no stopping it. Rain moisture can do it, but you would be amazed at how many times I have seen guys use a pressure washer on their chain or scrub the chain with a stiff bristle brush and water which allows the bristles to gap the o-rings and allow moisture to start causing rust behind the scenes were you cannot stop it.

The last killer is nothing more than inferior materials. People buy cheap shitty sprockets like Vortex or expensive shitty sprockets like Renthal and then complain that they don't hold up... Those cheap chain kits usually contain low end sprockets and poor quality chains and you get what you pay for in terms of usable service life.


This just recently came up in conversation on another message forum where a couple riders had complained about their fairly new X-Ring high end chain had the x-rings literally falling apart. Many years ago I had personally experienced a similar issue with an OEM o-ring chain and what had happened is I had used a very stiff plastic bristle brush to clean the chain and the bristles actually started to tear at the rubber o-rings and cause them to fall apart. the o-rings are under pressure between the side plates so the slightest nick in them will cause the abrasion to tear further under tension. In these recently reported incidents though the owners were stating that they did not use stiff bristle brushes etc, but there was a common denominator in that they were all using Motul Chain Cleaner. Now while the ingredients in the chain cleaner might not be caustic to the rubber o-rings or x-rings that does not mean that the propellant inside the can to get that detergent to the chain isn't. When I pulled the MSDS sheet on the chain cleaner it showed Butane & Propane as ingredients and both of those are deemed unsatisfactory for use with EPDM rubber. It was also stated in the Motul literature that the product was supposed to be applied in short bursts whereas the users were simply spraying it out of the can in long durations and rotating the wheel slowly by hand to coat the chain with the cleaner. This prolonged spraying allows the propellant in the can to saturate the rubber o-rings and start to deteorate them instead of evaporating quickly. Don't misconstrue I am not opposed to using Motul Chain Cleaner I am simply saying that if you do not use it correctly you may be subjecting your o-ring chain to premature failure. Additionally it is highly likely that it is not just Motul Chain Cleaner that this would be an issue with. I am reasonably sure other cleaners and even other brands of aerosol chain lubrication also contain propellants that are harmful to the rubber o-rings so too much of a good thing can easily become a bad problem.

Recently I was asked about my own chain maintenance and what I recommend. The short answer is I use WD-40 for cleaning and light lube at all times.    When I take the time to actually lube the chain properly it is usually Repsol Chain Lube.  for the sake of clarification I am not a fan of Repsol products as I find their engine oils to be very inferior, but their chain lube product is excellent. It sprays out of the can in a very fine, atomized and controlled mist and is easy to clean up if you get any overspray.

I never use any type of chain wax which is absoutely worthless or any of the lubricants that are sticky/tacky.   Anything that attracts dirt and debris is the exact opposite of what you want on your chain and can lead to some of that debris making contact with the rubber o-rings (x-rings) and damaging them.

Speedometer Error

With OEM gearing most Japanese bike speedometers are designed to indicate about 7-8% faster than you are actually traveling at freeway speeds (around 70mph).That error is non-linear in that as you increase speed the error grows so by the time you are at an indicated 130mph the speedo error may be as high as 13-14%. At the same time if you are traveling at an indicated 35mph the speedo is almost perfectly accurate. it is designed that way by the engineers.

If you change your gearing ratio then you alter that error. By lowering the overall gearing to say 15/41 sprockets you have increased what was originally a 7-8% error at freeway speeds to about a 12-13% error. That is why there are several versions of speedo recalibrators on the market.


After all of that if you still have questions please feel free to contact me and I will answer you promptly