Having your chain come off mid-ride is the most frustrating thing to happen to a cyclist. Luckily to put a bike chain back on is easier than thought. It involves a few simple steps and can be done in a few minutes.
Being a cyclist myself I know, to see slipped, damaged, or worn-out chain is common. Sooner or later every avid cyclist has to experience it at once. One should not take his/her bike to the repair shop each time for such a common issue that can be easily be fixed with bare hands.
Knowing how to fix your bike chain is an essential skill that is easy to learn and inexpensive to maintain. We’ll show you how to put it back on and prevent it from happening again.
In this article I will provide you with step by step instructions on how to fix a slipped bike chain, removing a chain properly, or to replace your bike chain if needed. Let’s begin with a brief overview of chain types and their component parts that will be helpful if you need a new one altogether.
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 Bike 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.
Bike Chain Components
A bicycle chain is made of a continuous pair of steel plates held together by rivets. These are connected together in a manner as to allows it to bend as it travels through the drive mechanism. But there are 4 main parts that make up a chain namely; roller, link pin, outer plates, and Inner 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 are designed 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.
The rollers are like metal circles 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.
The piece that brings it all together is called link pin. 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.
Some chain also features a master link assembly that allows for easy assembly and disassembly of a chain without the need for a chain tool. It is essentially a set of outer plates with built-in pins.
How To Put A Bike Chain Back On
If your chain comes off at the front. Here are the six easy steps on how to put a chain back on a bike. This also works for fixie bike, multi speed ( most common types ) and freewheel bikes.
1. Downshift To Move To Big Ring Position
The first thing you should do is to use your gear lever to move the chain to big ring position – while you are still moving. Many a times its the only solution you need. Down shifting to the lowest gear while pedaling put the chain on largest chain ring and the chain goes back to its position.
2. Secure Your Bike To Stand or Flip Bike Over
Once you are sure you need to carefully look upon the chain, first secure it high on to a bike stand. Alternatively you can flip your bike over so as to make it rest on handlebars and bike seat. This will allow for free movement of the rear wheel and make it easier to access and put the chain back on.
3. Release The Tension
For the most case where the chain is not broke but just slipped, you will need to release the tension of the chain to fix. You can use the rear derailleur to release chain tension by pushing it forward. You can use your left thumb or the hand to push it farthest as possible.
In most cases, you could take advantage of this condition to put the chain back to its position with the right hand. You should lift the top chain and put it on the smaller chainring.
4. Let Go of The Rear Derailleur
Once you have successfully placed the chain back to the chainring let go of the rear derailleur. If you had followed the step correctly so far. You should be able to ride the bike comfortably with no more issues. For those who doubt if they successfully put the chain back on, raise the bike and turn the pedals.
5. Putting Chain Back On
Sometimes it takes more than just a simple few steps to fix your bike chain; especially when it’s not slipped but stuck or broken. If the chain is de-linked or broken simply run the chain to the smallest gear through the bottom and top jockey wheel ends of the derailleur.
Now pass the chain around the small cog by the pedals at front. Use the pedals to put the chain around and connect the ends using a master link. You may need to use your left thumb or the hand to push the rear derailleur to ease the tension to connect the link.
Hopefully by now you should be able to peddle up bike away.
6. Fixing Problems – Don’t Let it Slip in Future!
There is always only a handful of reason why a bicycle chain falls off. It could be either the worn drive train, clogged or dirty chain, misaligned derailleur or elongated chain. Which then lead to loose chain in alack of proper chain tension thus resulting into chain slip.
For single gear bike the solution is pretty simple, loosen the rear axle, pull back the wheel and re-tight the rear axle again. This will help tighten the chain and thus fix the issue. But in multi gear bikes we need to check both the chain and both derailleur for problem.
If the chain is elongated more than 0.5% you will need to replace the chain. But in most cases it is the misalignment of derailleur’s which can be re-tighten using a screwdriver.
Replacing Bike Chain With A New One
Sometimes your chain is so badly broken or worn down its better to replace than to repair. Here is the easy process that needs to be followed when replacing a bike chain.
1. Get New Chain And Tools
Your bike chain is perhaps the most important accessory. Whether you need to beat through trails or ride for fun cruising the city, you need a bike chain of the best grade.
That is why for replacing the bike chain I personally use and recommend only KMC chains of equivalent speed and size. You can pick one for yourself here on amazon.
Further make sure you have the right tools for the job like the chain breaker, a master link ( to connect both ends of the new chain ), a pair of pliers, and a joining pin in case you buy a new Shimano chain.
2. Remove The Old Bike Chain
To remove the bike chain you first need to determine the type of bike chain you have. For a chain with a master link, you would require a pair of pliers while for chains without one you will need a chain breaker.
For a chain with master link ( also known as the quick link ) simply press the two ends of the link with the pliers. Alternatively push the two plates of the link together slightly and slide them apart.
In the case where you don’t find a master link on your chain, you need to use a chain breaker tool. ( You can find one on Amazon ). Put a chain link into the chain tool and then drive the handle turning inwards till the chain pain comes out on the other side. Once the chain link broke carefully pull the chain out.
If you want more detailed instructions on removing your bike chain, check out our old post on How To Remove A Bike Chain With Easy Video Instructions.
3. Preparing The New Chain
Now to replace it with your new bike you first need to prepare the new chain. This basically means you ensure the new chain is of same length and width ( gear size ).
You basically compare the new chain length with that of the old one. Put both chain side by side stretched on a flat surface like a bench or floor. Now mark the length on the new one and break it using a chain breaker tool. You just need to make sure the ends are of different types ( narrow and wide ) while breaking.
In case you be using a master link to connect the two ends of the chain the both ends should be narrow.
4. Threading The Chain Back On
To tread your chain on to the bike simply run the new chain to the smallest gear through the bottom and top jockey wheel ends of the derailleur. Now pass the chain around the small cog by the pedals at front.
Use the pedals to put the chain around and connect the ends using a quick pin or regular pin or the special joining pins in case of the Shimano chains. You may need to use your left thumb or the hand to push the rear derailleur to ease the tension to connect the link.
This will require to insert the end of the pin or thin end of the guide for shimano in closed chain. Then using the chain tool push the link pin inside exposing the guide pin on the opposite side.
Remove the part on the outside and you are ready to go riding. For chains with master or quick links its even more simpler. You first need to place the two ends together, make a connect and then apply a slight pull on both side to lock them down with the master-link.
Its unpleasant for every cyclist when the chain slips when riding. I myself had been into such situation many a times, and get out of it. Thankfully with this helpful guide you will be out too.
When you are riding a bike for a while keep care of your bike chain. Keep it clean and well greased to avoid possible slips. If you find this post helpful give it a shout out on social media!