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As bike owners, we all have to face the inevitable reality that our bikes will need maintenance.
And if you just haven’t had much time on two wheels in recent years, chances are you’ll find yourself needing some help with bike chain maintenance- which can seem daunting at first glance.
This is particularly true if you’re just a beginner who hasn’t yet learned how to tighten a bike chain yourself. Luckily, this blog post covers everything you need to know about adjusting the chain’s tension and more!
Bike Chains Explained
Bike chains are this little contraption that links the pedal of your bike to one of its gears. This is what allows you to change gear without having to use your shifter- and it’s this system that makes bicycles so efficient!
If you’re still unsure how a bicycle chain works, think about where chains are used on other things like chainsaws.
The same principle can be applied to bikes. With the chain being connected from your pedal, it rotates a gear that in turn makes the wheel go round and round!
Bike Chain Tension
Bike chain tension refers to how tight or loose your bike’s chains are on any given ride. This will affect the way your bike shifts gears and feels as you ride, so it’s important to keep an eye on it.
An adequately tightened chain should be tight enough that there is no side-to-side play in the links when shifting into a higher gear.
However, it should not be too tight that they’re difficult to move or put wear and tear on your components.
How to Fix a Loose Bike Chain
Here’s what you need to do to fix a loose chain on your bike.
How to Adjust the Bike Chain on a Single-Speed Bicycle
Adjusting the chain on a single-speed bike should be easier as there’s only one gear to worry about.
First, place the bike upside down on a bike stand. Next, shift your chain into the small ring at the front and the largest sprocket in the back.
Then use whatever tool comes with your single gear bike (or a socket wrench if necessary) to tighten up or loosen the bolt under the chain.
Turn the screw counterclockwise or in a clockwise motion as needed to decrease or increase tension in the chain.
How to Tighten a Bike Chain With Gears
For a multi-gear bike, check that the tension is correct in every gear after placing the bike in the correct position. Push and pull on a section of the chain. You should be able to move it up and down about half an inch without too much effort.
If you’re finding there is excess slack between each cog, continue reading if you want to learn how to fix bike a chain with gears.
Shift the chain of your multi-gear bike to the smallest cog and largest sprocket in the back. Use a chain breaker or master link remover (if needed) to separate your bicycle chain from its current gear, then reattach it after removing one section of links as necessary.
Now do the same for each successive cog until you reach where you started. Ensure that you have achieved the correct length. If you have the correct chain length, there should be no slack or too much tightness at the cogs anymore.
How to Fix MTB Chain Tension
The sagging chain on a mountain bike is usually due to excess slack in the drivetrain. This can be fixed by tightening up all of your bike’s loose nuts, bolts, and screws.
It is important to check the following:
- Derailleur: This part isn’t too loose or tight since it will cause significant problems with shifting if either one happens.
- Chain: Make sure this is also not too loose or tight with no kinks.
- Pedals: If your pedals are worn out, then they may need to be fixed since the wear can cause them to become wobbly over time.
- Brake callipers: These should be tight enough to keep the rear wheel from moving but not so much that it damages your brake pads.
- Other screws, nuts, and bolts: Don’t forget about anything else you may have overlooked.
Small issues like loose screws and axle nuts can add up and cause big problems, so double-check the parts listed above!
How to Tighten a Bike Chain With a Derailleur
There are several ways to achieve the right bike chain tightness, but the most common is using your rear derailleur.
This works best if you have an adjustable derailleur screw for maintaining the right tension or via the barrel adjuster at the shifter (on some mountain bikes).
Tightening a bike chain will be slightly different- as the tension in each gear will depend on many factors like how far your shifter is from the wheel or what kind of cassette you’re using.
This means that there’s no set method to tighten the bike chain with a derailleur screw. It might take some experimentation to find the perfect balance between each gear.
First, shift your bike to whatever cog you’re planning on adjusting- and then experiment with reattaching the chain at different points along that gear’s path until it feels just right.
Next, If there is excessive slack in other gears, simply repeat this process for each successive one!
If you find the tension is too tight- just remove one section of links and start over until it’s perfect.
However, the issue with this method is that it may not allow you to tighten the chain all of the way.
If you have a bike with an e-type rear derailleur, this may not work either because it is designed to move if there isn’t enough tension on the chain so that it doesn’t grind against your wheel.
Easy Bike Maintenance Tips for Beginners
Now that we’ve covered how to achieve ideal tension, here are some proper maintenance tips for single speed bikes and multi-gear bikes:
Tightening a Bike Chain After Every Ride
Once you’ve adjusted tension, go for a short ride and check again. This will ensure that the same problem doesn’t come up immediately after each time you use it!
It can be easy to forget about this if you take long breaks from riding. Thus, make tightening up your bike’s chain part of your routine. Remember, turning the screw clockwise tightens it while an anti-clockwise motion loosens it.
Cleaning Your Chain
Clean your bike chain every few hundred miles. You can purchase a chain cleaner at a bike shop.
However, you can also use more natural ingredients like citrus juice or even vinegar! Just mix some water in with either of these and let the mixture sit on the chain for about 30 minutes before rinsing it off with water.
Keeping Bicycle Chains Lubricated
You can extend the life of an old chain. Just buy some special lubricant and spray down any area that touches other metal parts (including the cogs). Don’t forget to keep a rag handy for wiping any excess lube.
This will make sure everything remains smooth, allowing for less wear on gears, sprockets, and other moving parts. This way, you don’t have to invest in a new chain prematurely.
Investing in the Right Tools
For smaller jobs like adjusting the tension or tightening a loose axle nut, you can use standard hand tools like a socket wrench and screwdrivers- as long as the right size is used! Multi-tools are also suitable for fixing little problems.
For larger jobs like fixing derailleur damage, it’s best to bring this to a professional bike mechanic or have one come to your home. Ask for recommendations at a reliable bike shop.
This way, you don’t risk losing parts or making other mistakes while trying this at home, especially if the problem is too big for an amateur!
Frequently Asked Questions on Bike Chain Maintenance
What Causes a Sagging Bike Chain?
A loose chain can be caused by poor maintenance, which results in rusting and stiff links, particularly in an old bike. A loose axle nut or worn-out brake pads are also potential causes of a saggy bike chain- so check both of these areas if you find your bicycle behaving unusually!
Why Do Bike Chains Need to Be Tightened?
A bike chain needs to be tightened for a few reasons:
The most obvious reason is that it will stop the chain from falling off and getting stuck under your gears or wheel. This can cause serious damage if you try to ride over this area as well.
Secondly, the right chain tension ensures the chain itself isn’t grinding against your gears. This can wear down teeth and other parts of a sprocket very quickly.
Finally, tightening up bicycle chains also ensures that they don’t slip or come loose while riding them. This will make sure that your bike’s chain doesn’t fall off of the sprocket and cause you to lose control or come off ultimately.
What Is a Chain Tensioner?
A chain tensioner is a device that’s attached to the bike frame and has an adjustable screw for tightening or loosening your bicycle chains. You can purchase this at most bike stores, but some bikes come with them pre-attached!
How Often Should I Tighten My Bike Chain?
Every few months, you should check to see if the chain needs tightening up. If it becomes loose or starts making noise while riding, this is a sign that it isn’t in optimal condition.
How Can I Tell if My Bike’s Chain Is Too Loose or Too Tight?
When you check the chain’s tension, it’s how much slack is in the chain. It should be pretty tight, but it shouldn’t pull on itself too hard when under load (like while pedaling).
If there isn’t any visible pedal play or the chain drops to one side of a wheel axle, then that means your bicycle chain tension is too loose. If the chain rubs up against itself when it’s under a load, then that means your bicycle chain’s tension is too tight.
What Happens When a Bike’s Chain Gets Too Loose or Too Tight?
A bike’s chain should be tight enough to keep the gears from slipping but not so tight that it exceeds their capacity.
A loose chain or one that’s too tight will wear out quickly and damage other parts of your bicycle. Too much slack will prevent you from pedaling efficiently while also increasing the strain on your entire drivetrain.
If your bike is difficult to pedal, it’s likely that the chain needs loosening or tightening. If you’ve already checked this and still can’t resolve the issue, there could be a deeper problem with either your derailleur or rear axle assembly—or even something more serious like bent wheels.
It may also mean that one or more of your bike’s drivetrain components needs replacing.
If I’m Not Sure How to Tighten My Bicycle Chain, What Should I Do?
If you’re not sure how to tighten a bicycle chain, take it to a professional who can help assess the problem and get your bicycle back up and running in no time.
When Is It Time to Invest in a New Chain?
A bicycle chain can wear down over time and need to be replaced or fixed.
If you feel like your bike chain has become too loose, overstretched, kinked, bent, hard to shift around the gears/chainrings, etc., then it’s probably time to purchase new chains.
Keeping Bike Chains Tight
If you bike regularly, it is important to know how to tighten your bike chain. The problem with slack chains can be that they can cause damage to other parts of the bike, including the derailleur.
In this post, we covered tips on how to tighten a bike chain and other bike maintenance techniques. Hopefully, making small adjustments will save you a lot of money on costly repairs!
If you need more information on achieving correct tension and other bike frame maintenance tips, leave us feedback below!