As I became more comfortable cycling, I noticed that sometimes it was harder to pedal, and the gears didn’t shift as fast as they used to.
I then discovered that removing and repairing the chain was the solution.
You see, bike chains stretch over time, and worn-out chains can cause damage to the sprockets. This means you’ll need to replace your bike chains periodically.
You can do it at home with only a tool or two, depending on the type of chain your bike has.
Knowing how to remove a bike chain is an important and handy skill for any cyclist, and it’s surprisingly easy and quick to do.
Here’s a quick overview of how to remove a bike chain:
- Identify whether you have a regular or quick link chain.
- Find a chain tool or master link pliers.
- With a regular link chain, push the pin out of the link.
- On a master link, squeeze the pliers on both sides to release it.
- Carefully take out the chain from the bike.
Stick with us as we go through this in greater detail, though…
How to Remove Any Bike Chains Step by Step
The first thing to do is figure out what type of chain you have. This will impact the tools you’ll need and how you need to go about replacing it.
Regular Link Chain
A regular link chain has the same type of links all around. If your bike has a derailleur—the arm that moves the chain from one chainring to another to shift gears—it likely has a regular link chain. Many road and mountain bikes fall into this category.
For these, you’ll need a chain tool to remove the chain. You can buy it as its own tool or as part of many bike multi-tools, but it’s a handy option to keep with you in your bike tool kit.
Here’s how you remove a regular bike link chain:
- Choose one of your chain links to take the chain apart.
- Locate the metal pin in the middle, where two links connect.
- Place the chain-link tool’s prongs on both sides of the pin. They should fit in the gaps around the pin, and the pin of your chain tool should be against the pin on the link.
- Turn the tool clockwise to push the pin inside the link and the other one outwards. Ensure the tool is perfectly aligned with the pin so that you’re only pushing against it and not damaging the link.
- Follow the position of the pin and stop when it’s far enough to take the chain apart.
- If you don’t want to replace the chain with a new one, be careful not to push the pin out. It can be near impossible to get it back in, so you should stop when it’s just far enough and wiggle the chain to make it come apart.
- Carefully lift the chain from the cogs to not damage them.
- Repair, shorten or find a new chain and place it over the cogs.
- To connect the chain, attach the ends with a new pin.
- Push the new pin into place with your chain tool, and cut out the excess.
- Spin the wheel to check everything flows correctly.
Master Link Chain
You’ll easily recognize a master link chain, or “quick link chain,” when you inspect your bike.
It has one link that’s not identical to others, which might be a different color, have different types of pins or an arrow on one side. A master link chain is most common on normal multi-speed bikes.
For this type of a bike chain, you’ll need a pair of master link pliers. You could use another type of pliers for it, but they’ll need to fit inside the master link. Most normal pliers won’t be thin enough for this, so the specialized tool is likely the best option.
This is how to remove a master link bike chain:
- Find the master link, and fit your pliers inside the gaps on both sides.
- Push the link’s sides together by squeezing the handles.
- Release the pliers, and the chain should come apart on its own.
- Lift it out, and repair or replace it with a new one.
- To connect a master link chain, attach the chain ends and place the chain back on the bike.
- Rotate the chain until the master link is on top, hold the brakes and push on the pedal with your foot until it snaps into place.
Split Link Chain
Split link chains are common in children’s bikes and other single-speed bikes, like beach cruisers.
To remove a split link chain, you’ll need a pair of normal needle-nose pliers:
- Find the right link. There should be one that’s different from others and has a split link on top. This link works as a clip to keep the link’s inner and outer plates together.
- Grab your pliers and place one of the jaws on the pin and the other one on the open side of the clip.
- Gently squeeze the handles, and the clip should pop open.
- Remove the clip, and disconnect the rest of the link.
- To reattach the clip, put the link together, place the link on top and the jaws of your pliers on both sides. One size of your pliers should be pressing on the closed side of the clip, and the other on the needle of the opposite size.
- Squeeze the pliers gently, and the link should snap into place.
How Do You Tighten a Chain on a Bike?
You can tighten your bike chain without removing the chain, but you’ll still need some basic tools to move your wheel or adjust the derailleur.
- With a derailleur: With a screwdriver or an Allen wrench, depending on the model.
- Without a derailleur: A wrench for the bolts on the tire.
This trick can come in handy to get you back home when you’re on the road, but remember that your bike chain becoming loose is often a sign of wear.
If the links are too long, it will affect their positioning on the cogs and eventually wear them out, too. Look to replace it before it damages the rest of your bike.
Bike With a Derailleur
For a multi-speed bike with a derailleur, the chain can be loose because you need to adjust its position.
Here, tweak the B-tension screw on your rear derailleur to lower it and tighten your chain.
Bike Without a Derailleur
If your bike doesn’t have a derailleur, tighten the chain by removing the rear tire and pulling it back to a position where it’s tight.
You normally need a wrench for the bolts, but sometimes an Allen wrench is also useful.
Sometimes this doesn’t work, and your chain being loose is a sign that it’s worn, and you’ll need to replace it.
If the chain is new, you may have the wrong length. Take out the chain, shorten it using a chain tool, and try again.
How Often Should You Change a Bike Chain?
The general opinion among cyclists and mechanics is that you should change your bike chain every 2,000 to 3,000 miles. Many people do use their bike chains for longer but remember that a worn-out chain will cause more wear and tear on your bike.
Do All Bike Chains Have a Master Link?
Not all bike chains have a master link, no. Look through your bike chain to spot a link that’s different from others, but the distinction between them may be subtle. It can be a variation in the color, there may be an arrow on the side, or the link will have a long hole to allow the pins to move.
How Do I Know If My Bike Chain Needs Replacing?
You’ll know your bike chain needs replacing when it gets longer. It will start skipping or slipping when you’re pedaling, you’ll lose efficiency, and you might have trouble shifting gears. If you don’t replace your chain on time, you’ll cause more wear on your bike and even risk the chain snapping.
What Happens If Your Bike Chain Is Too Loose?
If the chain is loose, the mechanism that moves the bike forward isn’t working properly. Remember that the chain transfers the force you exert to the wheel, so tension is important for efficiency. If it’s not tight, you’ll waste more of your strength, but the chain will also end up eating through the sprockets.
Are you ready to get to work?
Inspect your chain and find the tools for the job. A master link will require specific pliers, and a regular link chain demands a chain link tool. For a split link chain, a pair of normal needle nose pliers will work.
You’ll get your hands a bit dirty, but knowing how to remove a bike chain is a highly useful skill if you cycle a lot.
Changing your bike chains periodically will help you keep the rest of your bike in good condition. Plus, you’ll get out of a tough situation and not be left on the side of the road if your chain ends up breaking.