How to Replace a Bike Chain
Bike chain replacement is a key step in the maintenance of your bike. It is important to do it at the right time and correctly to ensure the best conditions for the use of this consumable component.
At the shop, changing the chain of a customer is an operation that frequently occurs. I admit that it is convenient for me because it is not very complicated, but I would prefer to explain to them how to do it so that they can do it themselves in the future. It's part of the basic maintenance of a bike and it's essential to know how to do it to practice peacefully.
I decided to write this article to simplify the life of those who are looking to learn more about replacing a chain, by sharing with you everything I have learned on my journey as a bike mechanic.
From dismantling the old chain to choosing the new one, and cleaning the key components of the drivetrain, you'll know everything.
When should you change your bike chain?
It's good to know when to replace your bike chain, and to do it before it's too late.
In theory, manufacturers generally recommend a change every 2000 miles for road bikes and 1000 miles for mountain bikes which are subject to more stress.
In practice, it will depend on your pedaling style, the way you shift gears, and the weather conditions.
You will understand that the more your chain is exposed to important constraints such as pedaling force or bad weather, the shorter its lifespan will be.
To determine when to replace the chain on your bike, you need to determine its level of wear.
To do this, a chain checker tool is essential, and wear should be checked regularly. If you can see with your eyes that the chain is dead, it is already too late.
Replace your bike chain - Step by step
You have decided that today is the right day to change your chain? Great.
Set aside some time, because changing your bike chain involves:
- Taking apart the old chain;
- Choosing the new one;
- Cleaning the transmission;
- Reassemble the chain
Let's start point by point.
Removing the chain from your bike
To remove the chain from your bike there are several main methods depending on the type of attachment you have.
Chain with quick release
the use of a quick-release clip will be useful to open the chain. If you do not have this tool, there is a technique to open it successfully.
If the chain has a Quicklink, often used by Shimano or on fixie chains, then no tools are needed.
Chain without a quick link
Removing a chain without a quick link requires the use of a chain breaker. This opens the chain by removing one of the rivets from the links. You can, however, cut it with pliers, but it better cut well.
For those of you who thought you could use a disc cutter, bad idea. The sparks attack the paint and damage the tires.
Cleaning the transmission
Once the chain is removed, it is easier to clean the transmission. Why not take the chance to do it?
This small cleaning is actually very important before reassembling a clean or new chain. This will ensure the smoothness and lifetime of the transmission. Mounting a clean part on dirty parts, we agree that it makes little sense.
Cleaning applies to sprockets and chainrings and ideally extends to derailleurs.
Cleaning the cassette
Cleaning the sprockets must be done with the wheel separated from the bike, with a degreaser or water and dishwashing liquid.
The best way is to disassemble the cassette and scrub the sprockets one by one. This requires a few tools, but don't worry you can't put them back together upside down, there are oriented slots in order to ensure correct positioning.
If you are not equipped or if your transmission is not very dirty, then you can clean the cassette directly on the wheel with a "cassette brush" or other. Be careful not to contaminate the brake band or the discs with dirt residues.
Cleaning the chainrings
Slightly more accessible than the sprockets, the chainrings will always be better cleaned once disassembled. This will allow you to grease the chimney screws (which fix the chainrings to the crankset) often responsible for cracking. In most cases, only an Allen wrench will be enough. On the other hand, in some cases, a chimney screw wrench will make the task easier.
Then classic cleaning: rub with degreaser or water and dishwashing liquid. Remember to rinse and dry well.
Cleaning the derailleurs
Cleaning the derailleurs by disassembling them involves replacing the cables, but will be more comfortable and efficient than leaving them on the bike. That said, a quick wipe with a toothbrush or rag will always do them good, especially the rear derailleur rollers which tend to accumulate dirt and get your clean chain dirty.
Choosing your new chain
Choose your new chain, it's not that complicated, but there are a few criteria to consider.
The number of gears
Depending on the number of gears, the chains do not have the same widths.
But there are some compatibilities:
- Chains from 1 to 5 speeds: Compatible
- Chains from 6 to 8 speeds: Compatible
- Then from 9 to 13 speeds: a specific chain for each additional speed.
Chains for Sram and Shimano transmissions are compatible except for the 12-speed. Campagnolo has its own chain design. This does not prevent chain manufacturers like KMC for example to produce "Sram/Shimano type" or "Campagnolo type" chains.
To ensure the correct tension of the chain, it is necessary to determine the correct length of the chain during its installation. There are several methods:
- Measure the old chain
- Use the sprocket and chainring technique
- Use an online calculator
Choose the one that seems best to you. Personally, I use the second method (sprockets and chainrings), it is the most reliable and quickest in my opinion. You never know if the old chain was the right length. Going to an online calculator and entering the data seems a bit long. If I do it for every bike in the shop, I won't be a mechanic anymore but a nerd.
Reassemble the chain
Reassembling your bike chain is done in several steps.
Follow the right chain path
In order to limit the tension and facilitate the installation of your chain, I advise you to place the derailleurs on the small sprocket and the small chainring. Once you have determined the length of the chain, make sure to respect the direction of rotation of the chain and its correct path.
Then to close it, there are several fixing systems (remember the disassembly?):
With quick release
Closing a chain with a quick-release fastener is a simple and reusable system. It aims to join the ends of the chain by clipping a link into two parts. Depending on the model of the quick release, the techniques for reassembling a bicycle chain are different.
Without quick release
Reassembling a chain without a quick release requires the use of a chain rivet to insert a new rivet. It is important to respect the type of link that will be used as a joint and to make sure that it is properly crimped.
Any questions? Check my method in this article.
Lubricate your bicycle chain
After installing your new or clean chain, it is important to lubricate it. Be sure to use products dedicated to bicycles and adapted to your use. There are many types of bike chain lubes. Remember that beyond the bike products, only petroleum jelly or gun oil is authorized and that the use of grease is prohibited.
Once the lubricant is chosen, it must be applied correctly to the transmission so that it is the most effective and least messy.
Lubricating at the right time is vital.
If you have any doubts, check our article to learn exactly how to lube your bike chain.
Clean your chain regularly for a better lifespan
Maintaining your chain ensures smoothness, efficiency, and durability. Generally speaking, the more regularly you clean your bike, the less time it takes. I really believe that a clean bike goes faster than a dirty bike!
Dirt increases friction, wears out components, and contributes to their malfunction. So the loss of efficiency.
I intend to wipe the bike every 2-3 rides and clean it more thoroughly every 5-7 rides, depending on the weather conditions.
To properly clean your bike chain, you can either keep it on the frame or take it off to clean it more thoroughly. In any case, make sure you use the right tools and methods to clean a chain.
There you have it, you know all the steps that concern a chain change. Don't hesitate to read our articles dedicated to each of them for more details.
Next time I promise you, you will be able to change your chain at home, choose a new one, and do it like a pro!