Bicycles are one of the most popular modes of transports now, and they have been the same for countless years. The chain of a bicycle is probably one of the most important parts of a bike.
And you might need to shorten it at times. It would help if you shortened the chains when you bought it new, and it didn’t fit your bike. Most newer chains would tend to be longer than the actual length of your bike, giving you room to play with.
We’re going to teach you how to shorten a bike chain in this article so that you don’t have to run to a mechanic for such a simple trick. So, buckle up if you haven’t already.
Why Do You Need To Shorten Chains?
Before we move on, let’s speak a bit about why you actually need to shorten things to your bike’s measurements. If you’ve been riding for a considerable time, this might not come as a surprise to you.
But not all bikes have the same recommended chain length. So, it’s crucial that you do not mess around with the chain length.
If you’re riding a mountain bike, you should have a rear derailleur. It’s crucial for the chain length to be perfect so that the life of the derailleur is extended.
That’s right, you can actually drastically affect the life of the derailleur if you’re not careful. A non-recommended chain length would also harm your bicycle riding experience.
There are mainly two cases in which you need to shorten a bicycle chain, let’s see what they are:
- If you have an older chain, it’s probably seen better days, and the chain links got stretched.
- The other reason is that if you bought a new replacement chain, it wouldn’t always fit your bike.
Now, if you’re not too familiar with changing chains or shortening them in this case, that’s probably why you’re reading this. And you’re also probably wondering that you might not be able to do this yourself.
Think again! Because shortening a bicycle chain is pretty simple. And doing it yourself is definitely going to inject you with a whole lot of confidence. So, if you were willing to find a professional to do it for you, think again and try yourself.
You can actually do the necessary steps with all the tools you have lying around. So, it’s time to teach you how you can shorten your bike chain length.
The Chain Tool
Something you might have come across while searching for results on this is the use of a chain tool. So, what is this mysterious chain tool? It’s just a neat-looking device that makes the job easier.
We’ll be going through the process of how you can shorten your bike chain in two different ways. Firstly, we’ll show you how to do it with a bike chain tool. This should be quite simple as the chain tool does make the whole process a lot easier.
And for those who don’t have a chain tool, which is perfectly normal, we’ll also demonstrate how you can shorten the chain without the tool. So, you definitely won’t feel left out either way!
Determining Whether You Need A Replacement
This part is important since you might feel like you need a new chain or a shorter chain, but in reality, the one you have is perfect for your bike. You wouldn’t want to shorten it more than the required length now, would you?
That’s why we’re going to help you decide whether you actually need the replacement or not. If you have the new chain with you, bring out a 12″ ruler and gather twelve chain links.
Measure all the pins from first to last. The total distance between these twelve pins should be around 12 inches. This length is usually quite accurate for the newer chains.
But if you’re working with an older chain and you’re trying to decide whether you need a new one or not, you might see a few discrepancies. If the length is more than the said length, you can assume that the chain is longer than the recommended length and that it’s gradually wearing out.
How To Shorten A Bike Chain with A Chain Tool?
Once you’ve confirmed that the bike chain really needs to be shortened, you can either do it easily with the magical chain tool or do it in any other way.
But we’ll go through the process of working with a chain tool at first. Once you’ve set the bike at a comfortable place and brought out the trusty old chain tool, you should be set. Now, you have to trust the process. So, let’s get on with it!
Place your bike on a stand. Now, if you don’t have a dedicated stand for a bike, you can do the same by flipping the bike over and resting it on the saddle and the handlebar. Just make sure you’re not damaging the components if you’re choosing the latter option.
Clear out the area so that you can move the wheels around freely. You have to make sure that the chain is spinning freely once you’ve set the bike down.
It’s cleaning time! Sorry, it wasn’t supposed to be exciting. Nevertheless, this is a crucial step in the process. Clean the chain before attempting to shorten it so that you can be ready to apply the necessary lubes when you’re done with the shortening process.
Find the master link on the chain when you’re done with the cleaning. Usually, the master link has a darker shade of the same color asthe rest of the chain. So, it’s pretty easy to spot. Some master links are actually covered with a separate plate too.
If your chain didn’t come with a master link, don’t worry because this is also perfectly fine. You can use the chain tool to break off a chain link. But before you start the demolition, make sure that you don’t have the master link.
Make the master link lose and store it somewhere safe for now. You need to place the link in front of the back and front gear to gain ease of access.
If you’re confused with the type of your master link, it’s normal since they can come in different shapes. You might need a pair of pliers to remove the link, while on others, all you’ve got to do is push the pin out.
Wait around a bit, this is where it starts to get fun. It’s now time to shorten things up. Now is also the time to decide how many links you need to remove from the chain itself. We recommend that you go one link at a time.
Take off one link at a time till you reach the recommended chain length. Pick out the chain tool. Most of the chain tools will come with detailed instructions on how to remove chain links. Yours should have them too.
However, if you don’t have instructions, we’ll be glad to help you out. This tool pushes pins out so that you can remove the chain links. You have to start at the specific link that isn’t attached to the master link.
Hold it in place and use the clamping mechanism of your chain tool.
You need to line things up now. The pin should line up with the punch of the chain tool. Turn the handle clockwise and observe carefully.
As you keep turning, you should see that the pin is starting to exit the encasement. Once the pin is out convincingly (but not completely), move on to the second pin.
Repeat the step for the second pin on the other link too. Just push the pins out as much so that you can lift away the link from the rest of the chain.
Once you’re done removing all the additional chain links that you don’t need, you should be done with the removal part of the process.
This is where you put things together again. And the chain tool makes it super easy too. You need to bring the two ends together and push the pin, this time from the other side. If you’re done, you will hear a click. Then, put your master link back, and you should be good to go.
Finally, run the chain through the chainring and check if the length is okay. If it’s perfectly alright, you should be done. And if you think it needs to be shortened even more, you have to repeat the processes.
How to Shorten a Bike Chain without a Chain Tool?
Here’s the second part of the puzzle. You can skip this if you’re done reassembling your chain with the chain tool. But if you don’t have the chain tool, this process will help you out quite a lot.
So what would you use if you don’t have that magical chain tool? Let’s find out! You will need a pair of pliers, a medium-sized hammer, and a nail. You might also need a clamp. So you can probably guess that this might get a little messy.
Here are the steps that you need to follow if you want to shorten your chain without a chain tool:
- Step 1:
Put the bike on a stand if you have one. Otherwise, flip it over and keep it upside down. Just make sure that the wheels can move freely without touching anything.
- Step 2:
Map out how small a chain you need. You have to decide how many links you need to cut off or remove. Reattaching them could be annoying. So, decide carefully.
- Step 3:
Clean the bike chain and remove all the grime, grease, and lube. Then, wipe off the excess water with a towel and make sure to wipe it dry.
- Step 4:
Detach your bike chain from the infamous master link. Now, use a clamp to hold onto the two ends in place.
- Step 5:
Ensure that you can fiddle with the pin and reach it with your fingers to remove it.
- Step 6:
Now, you need to be a bit precise. Hold the pointy end of the nail on the pin and hold a hammer with your other hand. Now, you have to tap the nail head gently with the hammer.
- Step 7:
Tap gently so that the pin starts to pop out. Just make sure that the pin doesn’t come out completely. Once you’re sure that the pin is out enough, move onto the next pin.
- Step 8:
Remove the links you want, and you will gradually reach the recommended length.
- Step 9:
Once you’re done removing the links, it’s time to reattach. Just place the master link back in place and place the chain back into the bicycle.
- Step 10:
If the length is perfect, you should be done. But if you need to shorten it even more, repeat the process, and you should be good to go.
Tips That Might Come in Handy
You should be done by now. But there is still a thing or two you might need to learn. Always use high-quality lubricants with your chain. The cheaper ones will eventually damage your chain. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
If you keep your chain lubed regularly, you will undoubtedly see improvement in performance. This will keep your chain healthy and increase its runtime too.
Finally, if you have a bike that costs you thousands of bucks, we don’t really recommend that you try to do this without the chain tool. That’s because if something goes wrong, you’re going to have to pay a premium to get replacement parts.
This usually occurs if you aren’t too savvy with DIY solutions. So, if you think that you aren’t quite confident about shortening a chain without a chain tool, leave it to the professionals.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can a longer chain damage my bike?
Inconsistent shifting of gears is a major problem with longer chains. There’s a reason why there are recommended chain lengths for your bike; using a longer chain than the required length certainly wouldn’t do you any good.
- Where can I locate the master link?
Most newer chains come with the master link, which is used to connect to different ends of a bike chain together. There’s only one master link on each bike chain, so you can rotate the pedal and find the master link quite easily.
- How do I use lube for my bike chain?
It’s crucial to use lube for your bike chain since it needs to stay smooth so that it can offer you maximum performance. Don’t worry; you’ll only need one drop for each chain link, it can feel like a lot of lube, but it isn’t.
Just drop a lube on each chain link and roll the chain forward to move on to the next one. Make sure you get each and every chain link.
- Can I use alternatives like Vaseline for my chain?
I would specifically advise you against using Vaseline on your bike chain. Treat your bike like a family member; always use the finest products for it so that you can achieve maximum performance.
- My chain is damaging the frame. How do I stop it?
There’s a thin piece of fabric with Velcro available everywhere called a chainstay. You have to wrap it around the part of the frame that’s closest to the chain. You will immediately put a layer of protection on your frame.
- Will there be any problems if my chain is too short?
A chain needs to be of the recommended length. So, it basically means that it can’t be too long or too short. It has to be in the recommended chain length. If your chain is shortened too much, you can’t really shift to the larger cogs.
Bicycle chains come in different finishes and levels of durability. You have to pick the right type according to your budget. But if you’re buying a new chain, there’s always the chance that your chain will be longer than the recommended length.
This is where the chain-shortening process begins. Way too many people think that this is a job for the professionals and you can’t do it at home. This doesn’t seem right, as we’ve already proven in the article.
All you’ve got to do is be a little patient while working with the chain. Don’t apply too much pressure where you know it’s going to be bad. This article should give you a proper idea ofhow to shorten a bike chain.
If you’re still confused, you can still go through this again and check out the details and match these up with your bike. So, what are you waiting for? Get to work on that long boy now!
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