Having a bike chain come loose can be quite unnerving, particularly if you are quite new to cycling. Once your chain has come undone a couple of times, you’ll get used to the abrupt motions of the bicycle failing - but it doesn’t make it any less stressful.
Once you’ve taken a few breaths and gotten over your near-death experience, you’ll need to replace the chain and take your bike back home. Sometimes this is enough to fix the issue, but more often than not the chain will need to be tightened.
The chain coming off of your bike doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your bike. A loose chain is a very common problem that can be fixed with minimal time and some simple tools. Below we’ll take a look at the easiest way to tighten a bike chain.
What is a bike chain and do I need it?
The chain on your bike is a vital part of any bicycle, so yes you do need a bike chain attached at all times.
The chain is responsible for transferring power from the pedals to the wheels, allowing you to keep moving forward. Without a chain, you’ll be pedaling without gaining any distance - rendering your bike useless.
There are different degrees to how badly your chain is secured to your bike. If the chain is so loose that it falls off completely, you will have to push your bike for the rest of your journey. However, if the chain is not too loose, you might be able to cycle back to wherever you can tighten it.
How to tighten a bike chain
The process of tightening your bike chain is relatively simple and easy to do.
You’ll need some tools that might be hanging around the house already, so make sure to root around your toolbox before buying a fresh set.
We’ll be going through the process step by step so that you can follow along at your own pace.
Step One: It will be much easier to tighten your bike chain with the bike upside down, so either uses a bike stand or a flat surface to turn the bike over so that the chain is easily accessible.
If you’re laying it on a flat surface, make sure to put a piece of cardboard or cloth down so you don’t scratch the handles or saddle.
Step Two: Now that the wheels are in the air, you need to undo the nuts that are holding the rear axle in place.
To do this you’ll need to use your socket wrench. Find the right size that fits onto the nuts and turn them anti-clockwise until they’re all loose.
Step Three: The tension in the chain needs to be taut now, so slowly turn the rear wheel back to tighten the tension. If you move the wheel too quickly, the chain could snap so take your time with this step.
Move the wheel slightly, check the chain. Move it again before stopping to check. Continue with this slow process until the chain has less than half an inch of slack.
Step Four: Now that the chain is tightened you can replace the rear axle nuts and redo them with the socket wrench. If the chain isn’t tight enough you should repeat step three until you reach the right tension.
If the chain is too tight you won’t be able to move the pedals and the chain will be much more likely to snap.
Step Five: Test the chain again and make sure that it can only move one way or another for half an inch. Let the tire spin to ensure that it’s working properly and that the chain doesn’t get caught.
The wheel should not be hitting the chain or the frame, so if you see this you will have to reposition the rear wheel properly.
Step Six: Lubricate the chain quickly now. Follow your lubricant instructions so that you don’t use too much or too little. Your bike chain should be successfully tightened, so take your bike off of the stand or floor and position it upright.
Take it for a test drive! How much better does that feel?
Why does a bike chain become loose?
Bike chains coming loose is a normal issue that happens to every bike. You could look after your bike perfectly and the chain will still come loose sooner or later, so it’s always beneficial to know what to do when it happens. There are a number of reasons why a chain could come loose.
The first is that the bike is too old to support a new chain. When a metal chain grinds on metal components of the bike for many years, the bike is going to wear down after a while. This will prevent the chain from latching onto the bike properly.
Instead of the chain seamlessly moving around the bike, it will jump and catch easily which will compromise the chain. If it doesn’t snap, it will come loose. To prevent this, follow our guide and it will slowly get used to your bike.
Another potential issue is that your chain is too old for your bike. To fix this problem you’ll need to purchase a new bike chain. Luckily, they’re not too expensive and easily accessible. Finally, loose rear axle nuts could be causing a loose chain. Make sure they’re tightened properly frequently.
We hope that you’ve found some valuable insight into our guide on how to tighten your bike chain.
It shouldn’t take you too long to complete, but make sure that you don’t rush the steps. Careless work could cause the chain to snap and need to be replaced, so take your time to tighten the chain.
Remember that you can always re-tighten the chain if you don’t put enough tension on it the first time around. However, putting too much tension on the chain too quickly can cause irreversible damage.