It is an experience that almost every bike rider has endured at least one or two times – the chain coming loose while riding. It may happen randomly or during a moment of heavy load.
Sometimes you may get lucky, where the chain only feels loose instead of coming off entirely. It means you can continue to ride until you reach your destination, but it may be time to tighten that bike chain the next time you get a chance.
But what is the proper method for tightening a bike chain? To help you better understand the process, here is a guide on how to safely tighten your bike chain.
Tightening a Bike Chain on a Single-Gear Bike
1. Orient the Bike Correctly
Flip your bike upside down so that it is resting on its saddle and handlebars. The wheels should be up in the air, as this is an essential part of tightening the bike chain on a single-gear bike.
2. Loosen the Rear Tire
Carefully loosen the axle nuts that are holding your rear tire onto the bike. This will loosen the rear tire, allowing you to adjust the tension on your chain.
3. Pull Back on the Rear Tire
By pulling back on the rear tire, you will increase the tension in your bike chain. You do not have to pull back a great deal, as you may cause your chain to break. Perform this process very slowly, as you can always check your chain to assess its tension.
4. Identify the Correct Tension
A good way of identifying the correct chain tension is to see if you are able to move it around half an inch in either direction. If you can move it more, push back a bit more on the rear tire.
5. Tighten the Rear Tire
When your ideal chain tension is established, simply tighten the axle nuts one by one, ensuring your rear tire is properly fitted onto the bike frame. While you are tightening the nuts, always look out for the rear tire position. You do not want your rear tire making contact with your chain or the bike frame.
6. Check Operations
With the process complete, it is time for a last check. Assess your chain again, ensuring you can only move it about half an inch in either direction. Spin the rear tire, ensuring that it does not have the chain or bike frame in its way.
Tightening a Bike Chain on a Multi-Gear Bike
If you own a multi-gear bike, such as a mountain bike, you will need to follow a slightly different process to tighten your bike chain. When the bike chain is too loose on a bike that has a derailleur, it is very easy for the chain to get caught in your foot while you are riding.
Happen to notice that your bike chain is loose on a multi-gear bike. It is advisable that you get off your bike, as the risk of your foot getting caught in the chain is high. It is best to walk your bike home the rest of the way, where you will be able to tighten the chain by following these steps:
1. Access the Rear Tire
You have two options to start this process. If you have a bike stand, place the bike on the stand in a way that allows you to easily access the back tire and derailleur. Those who do not own a bike stand may flip around their bike so that it is resting on the handlebars.
2. Find the Derailleur Screw
There is a small screw on the back of the derailleur in every multi-gear bike, which should have the letter B printed right near it. If you are hoping to increase the tension on your bike chain, rotate the screw clockwise.
3. Access the Real Wheel
To properly access the rear wheel in your multi-gear bike, you will need to go through a couple of steps. The first step is to lift the release lever on your bike brakes so that you can disconnect the correlating cable. Raise up the quick-release lever, which will give you access to adjust the rear wheel.
4. Adjust the Rear Wheel
If you are hoping to increase the tension on your bike chain, slide the wheel axle backwards in the rear dropouts. Perform small adjustments, as you do not want to tighten your chain too much. Make a small adjustment and lower the quick-release lever. Check your bike chain to see if you got to the ideal tension. Repeat the process with the level and rear wheel until you are happy with the chain tension.
5. Ensure Everything is Back in Place
Before attempting to ride your bike, ensure everything is in the proper place. Make sure your quick release lever is down, reattach the correlating cable and ensure your rear tire is spinning correctly. It should not be rubbing against the chain or the bike frame while it spins. Double check your chain tension to ensure that you are happy with it.
What is a Bike Chain?
The purpose of a bicycle chain is to transfer power from the pedals to the drive wheel. Without a bike chain, it is impossible to ride a bike. You could be using all the force in the world to move the pedals, but the bike would not go anywhere if the chain is broken or too loose.
Bike chains are typically made using carbon or alloy steel. Many high end bikes have nickel-plated bike chains, because those are less likely to develop rust over time.
They also look nicer, which allows bike manufacturers to justify a higher price or their bike. But for functionality, most bike chains function in the same way.
Bike Chain Efficiency and Maintenance
Despite more advanced methods of transportation emerging since the bike chain was first introduced, it is still known for its efficiency. Bike chains can be as efficient as 98.5 percent, which is very impressive. To maintain this efficiency, it is important to properly lubricate the bike chain.
Some bike enthusiasts prefer to use liquid lubricants, as they believe it delivers the best performance. But these lubricants are also known to attract more dirt, which means the bike chain requires regular cleaning. There is also the option of using dry lubricant, which stays cleaner and evaporates almost immediately.
Any bike enthusiast will tell you that if your bike chain is dirty, you must not lubricate it before cleaning. Lubricating a dirty chain is only going to result in abrasive particles getting into the rollers of the chain, which will cause serious problems in the long run. Clean the chain, wipe it dry and then use the lubricant.
Why Bike Chains Loosen Over Time
Even when keeping up with proper bicycle and chain maintenance, it is possible for the chain to become loose over time. It can happen in a variety of situations.
For instance, when a new chain is installed on an older bike, it can develop some issues right away. The newer chain is moving through older cogs, which may cause it to jump around and not move smoothly. The result is the chain loosening while you are riding, especially during moments of load.
There are other instances where the chain may come loose because it is simply too old. It is not functioning correctly anymore and may need replacing. But if your chain is new or relatively new, there is no cause to replace the chain or any other parts. Some tightening and you will be back to normal operations!
Chain tightening is a more common occurrence on single-speed bikes, which do not have a derailleur at the back. The derailleur is the mechanism that is used to change gears on mountain bikes and other multi-speed bikes.
When someone is attempting to go uphill on such a bike, they will typically switch gears and move to a lower gear. It will allow them to pedal faster and get up the hill. If they are riding on on a flat road, they may want a higher gear so they can go at a faster speed without needing to pedal furiously.
Those who own a single-speed bike will experience chain loosening over time. It is a natural consequence of the bike mechanism, which is why it is important to learn about the process of tightening a bike chain.
Our Final Take
Adjusting chain tension on a single or multi-speed bike is a right of passage for any bike owner. Bike chains come loose over time on single-speed bikes. But it can also happen on a multi-speed bike. It is best to check the tension of your bike chain before you go out, especially on a long ride.
By following the above steps, you will effortlessly adjust the bike chain on your single or multi-gear bicycle. It may take you a little longer to complete the process on the first try. Do not be disheartened if you have to repeat some steps or go back, because you tightened the chain too much. By your second or third time, you will be a pro at tightening a bike chain!