Skip to main content

How to fit a bike chain

How to fit a bike chain
(Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

While fitting a bike chain might be considered a menial task by seasoned cyclists, learning to do it yourself as opposed to dashing off to your local bike shop will save you money and time in the long run.

There are many reasons why you should replace your chain - the most fundamental of which hinges around slipping gears caused by worn and stretched chain linkages. If neglected, a worn chain will almost certainly culminate in poor shifting, excessive drivetrain wear on your groupset and even loss of efficiency. It may even result in a broken chain.

How to fit a bike chain tools

The tools required for removing and replacing your bike's chain (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

But why the grave concern over an item as elementary as a chain? Well, considering a chain is a fair whack cheaper to replace than a cassette or chainrings entirely, regularly checking and replacing your chain will save you money over time and keep your drivetrain in fine fettle.

You'll need several tools to carry out the job such as a chain checker, a chain breaker, master link pliers, latex gloves, chain lube and, of course, a new chain.

Image 1 of 2

Chain checker

The chain checker will indicate how worn your chain is, and how soon it's going to need replacing (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
Image 2 of 2

Chain checker 0.5

The three steps indicate whether the chain is OK, wearing, or worn (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

1. Check for wear

There are several methods of monitoring wear and tear but a chain checker is the most accurate way of ensuring all is well with your chain. In principle, if the 0.5in side of the chain checker drops in between the links (0.5 is the industry standard) your chain is 0.5 per cent longer than when it was new and is nearing the limit of what is deemed acceptable. If the 0.75in side of the checker drops in, it's highly recommended that you install a new chain.

Multi link pliers

The master link pliers are designed to split the split pin open for simple chain removal (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

2. Remove the worn chain 

The most common way to remove your worn chain is by using a chain breaker tool. It's a relatively straightforward exercise that requires a little force to push one of the pins out from the chain. To do this, position the links between the teeth of the breaker tool so that a chain pin lines up with the opposing pin tool bit and incrementally twist the grip until the pin pops out.

For chains that utilise a quick link, the easiest way to remove the chain is by using a pair of master link pliers. Simply position the pliers on each side of the quick link with the chain in the smallest rings and squeeze the grips. Once you hear a click simply unclip the link and gently remove the chain by winding the cranks backwards and gently pulling the chain from the rear derailleur end.

Clean drivetrain

Regular drivetrain cleaning will prolong your drivetrain's lifespan (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

3. Clean your drivetrain

In general, it's considered best practice to keep your drivetrain clean. Not only does this ensure everything is running efficiently, but it's also easier to inspect the teeth for wear and tear after every ride. If you don't regularly wash your bike it's wise to give the cassette a thorough clean before fitting the new chain, paying careful attention to areas such as cassette sprocket teeth and examining the chainrings for wear.

Quick link

With the new chain in the smallest sprocket and chainring, a small amount of rear derailleur tension will ensure you've got a suitable length (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

4. Fit the chain

We've heard some horror stories of cyclists fitting their chains incorrectly around the jockey wheels, as well as witnessed the way-too-long chain hovering just millimetres off the road. The best way to ensure you correctly install your chain is by taking a photo and then referring to it upon fitment. 

As a guide always make sure you're in the smallest rings - both front and rear - and start by threading it around the right side of the top jockey wheel and left side of the bottom keeping it within the cage and divider plate. 

Tip: If you're using a Shimano chain ensure the engraved side of the chain is facing outwards (away from the frame) as these are directional chains and installing them incorrectly will affect shifting and chain life.

Chain breaker

In the absence of a split link, a chain breaker will push a chain pin out to 'break' the chain for removal (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

5. Trim to size and attach

Once you've threaded the chain through correctly pull the two ends towards each other - preferably under the chainstay - so that there's some tension on the rear derailleur. This will eradicate unnecessary slack and ensure the chain doesn't hang once it's installed.

You can use the chain breaker tool to trim the chain to size and re-attach it using a pin or quick link - we recommend the latter for convenience and ease of use.

To ensure the link is tightly locked move the chain onto the big ring and largest sprocket on the cassette and rotate the cranks until the quick link is positioned somewhere above the chainstay. Apply some force by hitting the crank downwards - this will drive tension through the chain and lock the link in place.

Tip: To ensure your new chain is the exact same length as the one you're replacing lay them flat on the ground and match them up before trimming accordingly. If you're using a quick link ensure that both ends of the chain are open inner links.

Chain lube

Don't forget to lube the new chain once it's fitted (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

6. Inspect and lubricate

It's always wise to go through your gears and check that the chain is cycling through the cassette smoothly and predictably. Any clicking or jumping is usually indicative of a poorly fitted quick link or pin, in which case we suggest you inspect the chain and re-fit.

Once you're happy with everything, lubricate your chain. Keeping the chain and drivetrain contact points clean and lubricated will prolong component life and lower mechanical friction.

Individuals carrying out the instructions in this guide do so at their own risk and must exercise their independent judgement. There is a risk to safety if the operation described in the instructions is not carried out with the appropriate equipment, skill and diligence and therefore you may wish to consult a bike mechanic. Future Publishing Limited provides the information for this project in good faith and makes no representations as to its completeness or accuracy. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Future Publishing Limited, its supplier or any of their employees, agents or subcontractors shall have any liability in connection with the use of this information, provided that nothing shall exclude or limit the liability of any party for personal injury or death caused by negligence or for anything else which cannot be excluded or limited by law.