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How to Replace a Chain on a Road Bike or Mountain Bike? [How-To]

Tags: chain

Replacing your bicycle chain on your road bike or mountain bike is a job which takes but a few minutes. On top of that, the reward is significant. Nothing quite like the feeling of setting off with a clean, fresh, new bicycle chain. By regularly checking your chain and replacing it when needed, you can prevent a lot of unnecessary wear to your cassette and chainrings. We’re happy to explain how you can do this relatively simple job yourself at home.

In order to replace a Chain, you don’t need that many tools. Firstly you need to check whether your chain needs replacing at all. For the most accurate diagnosis, you’re best off using a chain checking tool.

The start of the video above shows our friends at GCN explaining how to use the chain checker as well as showing you how to check whether your chain needs replacing without such a convenient tool at your disposal. We prefer using the chain checker though, it’s just that little bit more accurate.

A chain tool and an old spoke…

Remove the rear wheel to remove the tension from the chain. Even easier, take an old spoke and cut it down to roughly 10 centimetres. Bend the ends and there you have it: your own homemade chain tool.

Replace a chain - The chain tool in action. Made from an old spoke and very convenient!
The chain tool in action. Made from an old spoke and very convenient!

Shift your front- and rear derailleur to the largest possible ring and sprocket. Insert the bent spoke ends into the links left and right of the link you’re about to remove. This prevents the chain from releasing suddenly and whipping away when you remove the chain pin.

In order to remove the pin you need a chain tool. This pushes one of the connecting pins in the chain out, releasing the links. Your homemade chain hook prevents everything from suddenly whipping away.

After removing the pin, grab each end of the now broken chain. Unhook both ends of the chain and remove it from your bike. Be careful not to scratch your bike when you do by dragging the chain along the frame.

Replace a chain - Another few turns ought to do it.
Another few turns ought to do it.

Note that you can’t just use every chain tool on every chain. It all depends on how many speeds your chain was intended for. First always check whether the chain tool you’re getting is actually compatible with your chain.

Missing link for SRAM and KMC bicycle chains

Do you have a Sram or KMC chain with a missing link? Rather than a chain tool, you need to use the missing link pliers.

Replace a chain - When you look at the highlighted link, you get an idea of how the Missing Link by KMC works.
When you look at the highlighted link, you get an idea of how the Missing Link by KMC works.

It’s a matter of inserting the tips of the pliers into the links left and right of the missing link. Squeeze the pliers closed to release the chain.

Placing your new bicycle chain

Provided you’ve done it right when removing your old chain, your front and rear derailleur are both still set to the largest respective sprockets. Do you own a Sram Type 2 or Shimano Shadow derailleur? Then you first need to release the clutch.

Replacing your bicycle chain - Before you get going, first use a chain checker to see whether your bicycle chain needs replacing.
Before you get going, first use a chain checker to see whether your bicycle chain needs replacing.

Now thread one end of the chain through the front derailleur and place it onto the large chainring. Turn the cranks until around 10 cm of chain is dangling off the large chainring. Place the other end of your chain over the largest cog of your cassette.

Place the chain onto the upper pulley (clockwise). Run the chain behind the guard and place the chain over the lower jockey wheel (counter-clockwise). Again, let around 10 cm of chain hang freely.

How do I know how long my bicycle chain needs to be?

In order to get the best possible shift performance, your chain needs to be long enough. In order to determine the correct length we use the big-big method. That means placing the chain onto the largest chainring at the front and the largest sprocket at the rear.

Do you own a full-suspension mountain bike? Then take the suspension travel into account. A rule of thumb: Big-Big + 2 links. Bring both ends of the chain together. Pull the chain taught until the derailleur points forward almost fully extended.

Replacing your bicycle chain - This chain definitely needs replacing...
This chain definitely needs replacing…

With a Shimano chain, one end needs to be an outer link while the other end is an inner link. Does the chain have an outer link with a breaking pin? Then shorten the other end until you’re left with an inner link. A KMC or Sram bicycle chain needs to end up with two inner links. The easiest method of seeing how long your chain needs to be is to simply place it next to your old one.

Determined the right length for your chain and know how many links need to come out? Then hold the chain together with your homemade connecting tool again. Place the chain tool in front of the correct breaker pin (always double-check) and remove the breaker pin from the chain.

Connect the bicycle chain again

First place both ends of the chain together if you’re using a Shimano bicycle chain. If the outer link isn’t fitted with a breaker pin already, insert one into the opening yourself. Place the chain tool in front of the pin and push it into the chain. This video from our friends at GCN shows you exactly how it’s done.

Check whether the pin is correctly inserted when you start to feel resistance. Break off the rear end of the breaker pin with the back of your chain tool or a pair of pliers.

SRAM Powerlock and KMC Missing Link

You don’t use a breaking pin with a Sram or KMC chain, but instead you fit a Missing Link or Powerlock. Insert half of the missing link in each of the chain ends. Hook the two components of the missing link together. Use a special pair of pliers to lock the missing link by, depending on the type of pliers, pushing or pulling on the handles.

A Missing Link or Powerlock is easily secured.

Another easy method is to turn the chain until the missing link is in the upper segment of the chain over the chainstays. Apply power to the chain by locking the brakes and pushing the right pedal with your foot.

How do you replace a Campagnolo bicycle chain?

Do you run a Campagnolo chain? Then removing the chain is the same as before. You do need a special chain tool, as not all chain tools are compatible with Campagnolo chains.

A new Campagnolo chain has a tie-wrap on one end. It’s imperative that you don’t shorten this end of the chain! Again, we use the big-big method for a Campagnolo chain so shift into the largest gear at the front and back.


The video below is by GCN and shows you how they do it. Only difference is that we always use the big-big rule of thumb.

Place the chain onto your drivetrain like you would with any other brand. Pull the ends together until the rear derailleur is pointing forward almost fully extended. The end you’re going to be shortening needs to be left with a single inner link.

Found the right length and know how many links you’re going to have to remove? Then hold the ends together with your homemade tool.

An important difference from a Shimano, Sram, or KMC chain is that the breaker pin of a Campagnolo chain is pushed from the inside outwards. The video above clearly shows you how.

What tools do I need?

We’ve got most of the tools you need for all major brands. You can find these under chain tools. Naturally we also offer a wide selection of bicycle chains. Below are a few suggestions for those who already know exactly what they want. Did you know it’s often best to replace your chain and your cassette at the same time?

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This post first appeared on Bikes. Parts. Ride., please read the originial post: here

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How to Replace a Chain on a Road Bike or Mountain Bike? [How-To]


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