In general, if a chain is 0.5% to 1% longer than when you bought it, you should consider replacing it. Or, at the very least, shorten it to its ideal length. As a result, an incorrect length of chain can cause a significant drop in shifting performance and take the fun out of cycling.
What if you don't have a tool to shorten a loose chain now? You will learn how to shorten a bike chain without a chain tool in this article. All you'll need is a hammer, a piece of metal, and maybe a plier from your daily life.
You can shorten the chain to your desired length with these simple tools in minutes. It's that simple. Below is a step-by-step demonstration.
Why is Shortening a Bike Chain Important?
All bikes have a recommended chain length. If you want to ride comfortably and prolong the life of your rear derailleur, you should try to stick to this length.
The chain rotates the wheels of your bike when it is in motion. Your bike will be difficult to move if your chain does not fit properly. You may need to resize your bike chain for a few reasons.
New Chain Is Overly Long
When chains are sold by manufacturers, they are usually sold in standard lengths. The chain will always be longer than you need, so you need to buy a chain and cut it to the length you need.
There are typically 116 links in a bike chain. These are the kinds of sizes you'll see on most boxes, though some might have significantly fewer links based on the bike's type.
Link & Size Definitions
Most manufacturers count the distance between chain pins as a link, so this isn't exactly accurate. A bike chain has one inch between each "proper" link and half an inch between pins.
The above should only be remembered if the chain length in links seems too short. A link consists of two half-links. Therefore, two pins are counted instead of one. Typically, it will be pin-to-pin.
Due to a mechanical emergency, you might have to shorten your chain during a ride. A chain tool comes in handy here, otherwise, you will need a lift.
When shifting to the lowest and highest gears, a wonky front mech can damage the chain. If the chain section is damaged, you'd have to remove it and perhaps ride the middle gears until the chain is straight.
You'll also need to carry "master links" or "quick links" for your bicycle chain when you're out on the trail or road. A chain can be repaired without these, but chains that come with them need one in order to be repaired safely.
A chain may also need to be shortened if you switch to a cassette with a smaller sprocket (the largest one). If you moved house and no longer wanted an easy gear for steep hills, you could change your cassette from an 11-34t to an 11-28t or 11-25t.
Since the sprockets are closer, a smaller cassette range results in smoother gear changes. If you change a small cassette, such as 34t to 32t, you may be able to use the same chain. Too long chains do not have the same impact as too short chains.
It is possible to destroy a rear derailleur with a chain that is too short when you try to hit the biggest sprocket on the back while also hitting the chainring on the front. You would only shorten the chain if you were in an emergency situation.
How to Shorten a Bike Chain Without a Chain Tool?
Regardless of whether you use a chain tool or not, the steps are pretty much the same. You will likely need many (but simple and easily found) tools if you do not have a Chain Tool.
To shorten a bike chain without a chain tool, you will need the following tools:
- A small nail
- A small clamping mechanism
Once you have all the tools, you can start!
Step 1 – Measure Your Bike Chain
Measure the chain to determine how long it is and how many links to cut off. Generally, a chain that measures more than 12 inches (across 12 links) is considered too long. At this point, you should shorten the chain (or buy a new one).
With a high-powered ebike, the chain is stretched by high force. Therefore, 750 watt electric bikes use specially treated chains for added mileage.
Step 2 – Prep Your Bike and Locate Master Link
Your bike should be mounted on a holder or laid flat so the chain can be accessed easily. The chain and mechanisms should be cleaned, as well as dirt that may have been caught in the cassette, gears, etc.
While cleaning your bike chain, you can also locate the all-important master link. Once you have it, you can loosen up the ends and start removing the links. Visit each link in turn.
After you have removed the master link, be sure to keep it safe.
Step 3 – Remove the Pins and Reassemble
If you are removing the master link from the chain, use the clamp to hold the loose connection in place. Pins can be removed by gently hitting them with pliers.
You may not see the link right away, but keep working on it until you do. Follow these steps for each link you wish to remove.
When measuring the links for the first time, get a good idea of how many will need to be removed.
The ends of the chain should now be reattached. Connect the master link after completion. A screwdriver may be needed at this point. Once the master link is installed, it will click.
You might want to take one last ride on your bike before you pack up your tools.
Can I Wash My Bike Chain with Water?
A dirty bicycle chain can not only negatively impact a bicycle's performance, but it can also shorten its lifespan. A bicycle chain should be regularly oiled and cleaned to ensure smooth shifting and acceleration. Regular lubrication and cleaning will ensure a longer life for the chain. The bike should be washed with warm water.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, you now understand how to shorten a bike chain without a chain tool. You can see from the picture that the job doesn't require a lot of skill or a professional mechanic. A bicycle chain will stretch as it is used.
There's no need to buy a new chain if you can get the same amount of performance from your current chain! While some cyclists prefer to replace their chains, you can still get the same performance from the one you have by playing smarter.