Does Your Chain Hang Low? Follow These 6 Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Tighten a Bike Chain

Bike chain

Not only will a loose bike chain cause a lot of frustration, but it can also pose a serious threat. For those who ride fast, hard or long, being able to repair a loose chain is a skill that's sure to come in handy. For parents or even casual riders, knowing how to tighten a bike chain is crucial to making sure every ride is as safe as possible.

Luckily, most riders can quickly tighten and repair their chains at home to avoid potentially costly and frequent trips to the shop while ensuring a safer ride for them and their family. So, if your chain is hanging low, don't fret! Follow these step-by-step instructions on how to tighten a bike chain and get back on the road ASAP!

Causes of a Loose Chain

Before we learn how to tighten a bike chain, we need to determine why your chain fell off in the first place. Since mechanics vary from bike to bike, there are a few culprits that might be to blame.

Fixed Gear

On a fixed-gear bike that you don't use a gear shifter on, it's likely that your loose chain is caused by the nuts holding the rear axle. The wheel can slide forward when the nuts are loose and shorten the distance between your pedals and the wheel, resulting in a loose chain.

Gearing System

unadjusted derailleur

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

If your bike has a gearing system, your loose chain might be because of an unadjusted derailleur. A derailleur is a mechanism that moves the chain out and up allowing it to shift cogs. The two screws that limit how far your derailleur moves from left-to-right need to be in alignment.

Damage

The most exposed and fragile part of your bike is the rear derailleur which might become bent inward toward your spokes if struck. Inspect your derailleur from the rear and make sure it's two pulleys line up perfectly underneath each other with no sideways slant.

Chain Length

Bike Chain

Photo by Chepe Nicoli on Unsplash

Some newer bikes come with longer chains that aren't necessary. If your chain is too long, it will slack with your gear-shifts.

Age of the Chain

Chains can “stretch” over time and may need to be replaced every 750 to 1000 miles. As the pins that connect the links wear down, it can make your chain length “grow” and become looser. A stretched chain can eventually wear down your bike's cassette and chainrings, so it's smart to replace if you notice significant damage.

Operator Error

 bicycle derailleur and sprocket

Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

Pushing your gears past their limits can lead to a loose chain. Pedaling at full speed while shifting your front derailleur is often a cause for chain damage. It's always best to read your operator manual to get the most out of your bicycle.

Now that we've learned what may be causing your loose chain, it time to learn how to tighten a bike chain.

How to Tighten a Bike Chain: What You'll Need

You need not have a mechanics license or a garage stocked full of tools to tighten a loose bike chain, but there are some basics (and a few recommended items) to help you get the job done fast and effectively.

Knowledge

cassette rear gear

Image by Eak K. from Pixabay

To make it easier when reading instructions, the first thing you'll need is a working knowledge of the parts of your bike. Here are a few key definitions to get familiar with:

  • Axle: the rod that attaches a wheel to the bicycle and provides support for the bearings on which the wheel rotates
  • Cassette: stacked sprockets on the rear wheel of a bicycle with a rear derailleur
  • Chainring: a front gear or gears attached to a crank
  • Chainstay: a pair of tubes on a bike from that runs from the bottom bracket to the rear fork ends
  • Derailleur: the levers that move the chain between sprockets on a cassette or chainring assembly
  • Locknut: a nut specifically designed to not loosen due to vibration
  • Peg: a short metal tube attached to one or both ends of the wheel axles, allowing the rider to perform tricks or create a space for extra riders to stand 
  • Sprocket (or cog): a wheel with teeth that meshes with the chain together

Tools

bike chain

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Learning how to tighten a bike chain won't do any good if you don't have the right tools.  After you've familiarized yourself with some parts of your bicycle, here are a few tools you'll need to tighten a loose bike chain:

Bike Stand

Socket Wrench

Socket

Socket Wrench Adapter

Lubricant

Clean Rag(s)

Degreaser

Dirty Clothes, Smock or Coveralls

How to Tighten a Bike Chain in 6 Easy Steps

After you've learned the basics and assembled your tools, it's time to put those new skills to the test and tighten your loose bike chain!

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Step 6

Hit the Road!

Cyclist riding bike on road

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Now that you've followed our easy steps and know how to tighten a bike chain, you can flip your bicycle over and inspect your work. Check to ensure everything is secure and that the tension of your chain feels tight before going for a test spin. Remember that maintenance and knowledge are two of the most important factors in bike safety. Keep an eye on your chain to prevent further damage and always make sure it's well-oiled and clean. A routine inspection before every ride can help you catch issues before they become more serious problems.

If you have a newer bike and the chain frequently falls off despite multiple attempts at fixing it or checking the chain length, it may be best to bring your bike back to where you purchased it to have them evaluate the problem or replace your bike or its parts.

Whether you're an experienced cyclist, newcomer, or just looking out for your children, understanding how to tighten a bike chain is important for anyone who uses a bicycle. Once you've mastered the art of fixing a chain, hit the road with assurance and confidence, and ride with pride!

Featured Photo by Wayne Bishop on Unsplash

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