Knowing how to remove bike chain and replace it is a vital part of good bike maintenance.
As any cyclist who rides enough miles will discover, bike parts eventually get worn out with heavy usage. Taking good care of your bike will extend the lifetime of its parts, but as the mileage ticks up even the most lovingly looked-after bike will start to show signs of wear.
Your bike’s chain plays a key role in this process. It’s the fastest part to wear, and a worn chain will gradually cause damage to the other components of your bike.
Worn chains also cause problems shifting gears and can slow you down. If left in place long enough to damage the cassette, a worn chain can even create a dangerous risk of the chain slipping on the cogs when you power hard through the pedals.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The chain is also one of the cheapest and easiest parts of a bike to replace – with the right skills and equipment!
Not only will replacing your bike chain leave a much smaller dent in your wallet than forking out for a new cassette or chainrings, a chain in good condition will also help extend the lifetime of the rest of your bike’s mechanisms.
In this guide, we’ll be walking you through:
- How Do I Tell Whether My Bike Chain Needs Replacing?
- What Tools Will I Need To Remove My Bike Chain?
- How Can I Tell What Type Of Chain I Have?
- How To Remove Bike Chain In 3 Steps
- How To Install A New Bike Chain In 3 Steps
Ready to get your bike running smoothly again?
How Do I Tell Whether My Bike Chain Needs Replacing?
If you’ve taken care to protect your chain from dirt and rust, the main sign of wear you’ll notice is ‘stretching’.
Bike chains ‘stretch’ when the pins which fasten together their links are ground down by heavy mileage. This allows each link to sit fractionally further apart, giving the impression that the chain has stretched as it becomes marginally longer.
As a result, the chain’s links are no longer a perfect fit for the teeth of the cassette, so it grinds them down at a faster rate – up to five times more quickly than a new chain would!
Some cyclists advise replacing your chain every 1000 miles or so. This isn’t a bad rule of thumb, but it ignores all the variables that affect how fast a chain will wear, such as weather, maintenance, and how you store your bike.
Instead, you’re better off using a chain wear indicator. This is a cheap and simple tool that accurately shows you when your bike chain has reached a particular level of wear – normally 0.5% on one side of the tool and 0.75% on the other.
When your bike chain reaches 0.75% of wear, it’s time to replace it. If you have a particularly pricey cassette or chainring, you may want to lower this threshold to 0.5% for an added layer of protection.
How Can I Tell What Type Of Chain I Have?
There are two main types of bike chains, which require slightly different processes and tools to remove.
These chains are distinguished by one link which looks different to all the rest: the master link. Most modern bike chains have a master link.
Unlike the other links, the master link will have gaps next to the chain pins. If you inspect the chain while slowly turning the pedals backward, it should be easy to spot.
Master links are also sometimes referred to as ‘quick links’.
Regular-link chains are held together by a connecting rivet. If you inspect your chain and can’t find a master link, that means it’s a regular-link chain.
What Tools Will I Need To Replace My Bike Chain?
#1: Master-Link Pliers
Master-link pliers are specifically designed to fit between the links of a bike chain. Though master links can sometimes be disconnected by hand, a pair of pliers will make the job a lot easier!
If you have a regular-link chain, you won’t need master-link pliers – unless you want to swap out your old chain for a master-link replacement.
#2: Chain Tool
Chain tools are an essential bit of kit for any serious cyclist. You won’t be able to remove a regular-link chain without one.
Even if you’re using a master-link chain, you’ll still need a chain tool to break a new chain down to the right size for your bike!
#3: Replacement Bike Chain
When buying a replacement chain, bear in mind that bike chains are speed-specific as they need to be the right width for your cassette. For example, a 9-speed cassette will only work with a 9-speed chain, a 10-speed cassette will need a 10-speed chain, and so on.
How To Remove Bike Chain In 3 Steps
Step 1: Check Your Old Chain Was The Right Length
Making sure the bike chain that you’re replacing was the right length means you can use it as a reference to break the new chain down to size.
First, shift into the biggest chainring (the front set of gears) and the biggest rear sprocket. The chain should be long enough to hold this gear combination with a slight reverse S-shape across the two pulleys of the rear derailleur.
Now, shift to the smallest chainring and smallest rear sprocket. In these gears, there should be a small gap between the arm of the derailleur and the cassette, and there shouldn’t be any slack in the chain.
Remember to make a note if the new chain needs to be a couple of links longer or shorter!
Step 2: Disconnect The Chain
If the chain has a master link, slot the master-link pliers in on either side. Squeeze the pliers, and the link should simply pop open.
If you have a regular-link chain, insert one of the links into the chain tool. The chain tool should have two prongs that fit either side of the link to hold it in place.
Once the link is lined up correctly, turn the handle of the chain tool to push the rivet out of the link.
Step 3: Pull The Chain Off The Bike
Before you remove the bike chain, take a photo of the route it takes through the rear derailleur. This will help guide you when installing the new chain later.
With the chain disconnected, you should now be able to pull it through from one end to remove it from the bike.
That’s the first half of the job done!
How To Install Your New Bike Chain In 3 Steps
Step 1: Break The New Chain Down To Size (H3)
Your new bike chain will probably be too long when it comes out of the packaging.
Lay your new chain alongside the old one, ensuring they are lined up link-by-link to account for any stretching of the old chain. If you’re using a master link, you’ll need to factor in this additional link when comparing the two chains.
Before cutting the new chain, check that the two ends will be able to connect to one another. If you’re going to be using a master link, the two ends will both need to be inner links so that the master link can act as the outer link.
If you’ve got a regular-link chain, one end needs to be an inner link, and the other needs to be an outer link. If this isn’t the case at the exact length of chain you want, it’s always better to add an extra link than take one away.
Once you’ve found the link you want to break, insert the chain tool and push out the rivet to remove the excess chain.
Your new bike chain is now ready to be installed!
Step 2: Fit The New Chain Onto The Bike
Before you fit the new bike chain, shift the rear derailleur into position for the smallest sprocket, and the front derailleur over the largest chainring.
Now, wrap the chain over the smallest sprocket at the rear, but don’t try to run it through the rear derailleur just yet.
With one end of the chain hanging over the cassette, insert the other end through the front derailleur onto the largest chainring. Once hooked onto the teeth of the chainring, turn the pedals to pull some more of the chain through.
Next, take the rear end of the chain and thread it through the rear derailleur. If you’re unsure of the route, use the picture you took before removing the old chain as a reference.
Step 3: Reconnect The Bike Chain
Holding the end of the chain which is threaded through the rear derailleur, turn the pedals to remove the slack from the top of the chain.
Pull the two ends of the chain together. You might find it helpful to use a piece of wire to hold them together while you connect the links. Some bike tools come with a wire specifically for this purpose, but you can also bend an old coat hanger to do the same job.
If you’re using one, attach one half of the master link to each end of the new bike chain on opposing sides. Clip the two sides together and pull the link outwards, locking it in place.
If you don’t have a master link, hold the two ends together and position them into the chain tool. Take the connecting rivet which came with the new chain and slot it into place, then push it through by turning the handle of the chain tool. Snap off the protruding end of the rivet with a pair of pliers.
Ready To Ride!
It’s always a good idea to oil your new chain to keep it lubricated and protect it from the elements, keeping it in great condition for as long as possible.
With that out the way, it’s time to get riding!