If you own a bike, the time will come that you need to remove its chain. Thankfully, this task is simple when you know what to do and are equipped with the proper tools. Even if you don’t have the specific tool made for the job, it is possible to improvise a solution with a variety of likely objects in your home.
There are a lot many people who simply don’t know your bike chain needs to be periodically replaced. It’s like other consumables that need periodic maintenance and care.
For most, we knew its time to replace our bike chain when we start to experience chain slip or it simply stops to shift smoothly when peddling or you start to hear lots of noise from your bike chain.
Knowing how to fix your bike chain is an essential skill that is easy to learn. There are different methods available to replace or remove a bike chain; so the correct procedure depends on the method you choose.
This article will provide you with step by step instructions on removing a chain properly, using a variety of tools and methods. Let’s begin with a brief overview of the two chain types and their component parts.
The Anatomy of a Bike Chain
Bike chains are nearly identical at first glance, yet they can vary in material construction, dimension, and even superficial ways such as color. These variations are mostly irrelevant to the removal process, because they don’t alter the design of the links or their component parts. The exception to this is the chain width, which is a necessary consideration when choosing the correct type of chain for your bike.
The Two Types of Chains
Bicycle chains come in two main varieties: “one speed” and derailleur.
As the name suggests, “one-speed” chains are for single speed and fixed gear bicycles. Also known as “1/8th inch chains” for their standard width, you will want to replace them with the same style.
If only a link needs to be replaced (or you are swapping in a master link, which we will talk more about), make certain it matches the correct dimensions.
Derailleur chains are designed for multi-gear bikes. Whereas single speeds only have two sprockets for the chain to sit on, multi-speed bikes have several sprockets of differing size, and the derailleur mechanism is what moves the chain back and forth between them when you switch speeds.
Because of how close the sprockets are to one another, derailleur chains have different widths, all narrower than one-speeds.
It is vital that you know the correct width if you are replacing your chain on a derailleur bike. You can get away with some variance on a one-speed, because the chain doesn’t need to move off the sprocket.
On a multi-speed bike, if the chain is too wide, it will jam when shifting, grind against the sprocket and the derailleur mechanism, and render your bike useless.
The Components of a Chain Link
Regardless of which type of chain you have, the links are made up of the same 5 types of parts.
- Outer Plates. Essentially a flat piece of metal shaped like an 8, the outer plate is what connects one set of inner plates to the next. The chain articulates at the end of each outer plate.
- Inner Plates. These are shaped similarly to the outer plates, but there is a rim around their holes on the inward facing side that helps to secure the rollers. They may or may not contain bushings.
- Bushings. These thin metal cylinders fit within the holes of the inner plates and serve as a buffer between the metal of the plate, the roller, and the pin to allow for smooth rotation. Not all chains have bushings.
- Rollers. These metal circles are sandwiched between the inner plates, and rotate around the pin. As the chain moves, the roller rotates like a wheel over the teeth of the sprocket.
- Pins. The piece that brings it all together, this metal rod fits tightly into the overlapping holes of the inner and outer plates, connecting them, while serving as an axle for the roller to spin around. It is the pin that must be taken out in order to remove a chain.
The Master Link
Some chains have a special link made specifically to ease the process of removal. Known as the master link, it is essentially a set of outer plates with built-in pins.
The opening holes are instead elongated slots, narrow enough to hold the pin tightly towards the ends of the plate, but wider towards the middle.
The pins are held in place both by the grip of the slot and the tension pulling them in either direction when the chain is taut. I will explain exactly how the process of removal differs from a master link, but let’s approach this step by step.
How To Remove A Bike Chain
Now that you understand exactly how the chain is constructed, you know that removing a chain is really all about removing the pin. However, the pin is tightly secured.
A specialty tool exists, called a “chain breaker,” made specifically to perform this task. If you don’t have a chain breaker handy, however, don’t worry.
It’s still possible to remove the pin with other tools. First, I’ll detail how to do this with the tool.
Using a Chain Breaker
Chain breakers come in different forms, from the large stand-up variety to portable hand-held types, but they function the same way.
The tool has a slot to hold a segment of the chain, a punch rod that will push the pinout, and a screw that controls the rod.
Recommended: Oumers Bike Link Plier+Chain Breaker Splitter Tool Set ( Amazon Link )
The rest of the tool is either designed with a handle for you to hold it in your hand, or set up to stand alone on the ground. To remove a chain with this tool simply follow these steps:
- Screw the punch rod clear of the holding slot.
- Choose where you want to break the chain.
- Place the chosen portion into the slot. It should snugly hold the roller portion between the inner plates, lining the pin up with the punch.
- Screw the punch until it is snug against the pin.
- Check to make sure that the chain is set straight in the slot, and that the pin has clearance to come out the other side.
- Screw the punch until it forces the pin mostly, but not completely, out of the chain.
- Retract the punch and remove the chain.
- Wiggle the link apart by hand, allowing the pin to remain protruding from the outer plate. This makes it less likely that you will lose the pin, and also makes it easier to align the holes when you reconnect the chain.
Using Other Tools
If you don’t have a chain breaker, you simply need to imitate one. They key requirements for this are a way to secure the chain segment, something slender and strong to serve as a punch, and a way to apply force to punch so that the pin is removed.
It can be a bit more complicated, but one way to do this would involve a hammer, a narrow screwdriver, and two wooden blocks.
- Position the bike on its side, so that the chain rests on the two blocks.
- Arrange the blocks so that there is a gap between them about the width of a roller.
- Center the pin you want to remove over the gap.
- Set the screwdriver or other punch tool against the pin.
- Tap down on the improvised punch with the hammer, forcing the pin out of the chain.
From there, follow the same steps as you otherwise would. When using this method, be very careful to align your punch straight with the pin and hole. Be careful not to hit so hard that you risk warping the link plates.
Using the Master Link
The master link is designed to make this process much simpler. There are master link pliers made for the job, but regular pliers will work just as well. The steps are as follows:
- Find the master link on your chain. It will look different from every other link, so it will be easy to locate.
- Insert the ends of your pliers into the slots on either side of the link.
- Squeeze the pliers together until the pins slide to the wide ends of their slots.
- Slide the link apart, and you can remove the chain.
A well greased and clean chain really last long but they too need to be removed and replaced with a new one. Removing your bike chain with a chain removal tool is easy and straightforward. You do not need to check for whether your chain have the open or master link or not.
Otherwise you need to identify and then compress the two end of the master pin with a chain puller to break the link and remove the chain. When replacing your bike chain you need to wait further as you measure and adjust the length of new chain in comparison with the old one.