Bike chains can be tricky to maintain, especially if they’re highly stressed on a regular basis. They stretch out over time and need to be tightened periodically.
But how do you know how tight the chain should be in order for it to work properly?
The answer depends on the type of bike you have – and there are many. In this blog post, we’ll go over different techniques that will help you tighten the chain of both single and multi gear bikes.
Before you know how to tighten a bike chain, it’s good to learn some basic things about bike chain tensioning.
Table of Contents
Why is Your Bike Chain Loose?
There are a number of reasons your bike chain might be loose. Here are the most common ones:
- The derailleur is set too low and is not properly shifting, so it’s pulling against the same portion of the chain every time you pedal – which can cause stretching over time.
- You’re riding up hills or rough terrain frequently the chain suffers from “shock loading” and will be loose.
- You used the wrong size chain; a too-short or too-long one is just as bad for your bike.
- The bolt that holds the derailleur in place has come undone, causing it to slip off of where it should sit – which can also cause stretching over time.
How Much Tension Should Be in Your Bike Chain?
This is probably the most common question new bikers ask and most of the time they don’t get a straightforward answer to this question. Let us make it clear for you.
The chain shouldn’t be so tight. You should be able to stretch the chain out with your hands and it shouldn’t make a clinking sound.
As a rule of thumb, the chain should be able to move half an inch in both upward and downward directions.
Cleaning and Lubricating the Bike Chain Before Tightening
This is a mandatory task; however, many riders forget to do it and this can cause the derailleur to slip.
If you tighten a dirty chain, that may lose again quickly, and if you don’t clean it all off before lubing up the chain then your drivetrain will be full of grit.
When tightening a dirty chain, make sure to stop every few rotations to wipe off any excess dirt or grime that came from loosening the chain – that’ll help prevent damaging your components!
Tools You Will Need for Tightening the Chain
Before you start tightening a bike chain you will need these tools:
- Cloth, brush, or rag for removing grit and dirt from your hands before touching the dirty derailleur
- Allen wrench to tighten it up. You may also want some additional handkerchiefs or bandanas if you don’t have anything else at home that’ll work well with wiping.
- A good lubricant to apply to the chain and derailleur.
- A pair of gloves to keep your hands clean and to protect your skin from any sharp edges on the chain.
How to Tighten A Bike Chain?
Tightening the Chain in A Single Gear Bike
Step 1: Make Sure Your Bike is in The Right Position
If you have some bike maintenance experience, this one is easy. Just turn the bike over and start tightening away.
But if your chain has been making more noise than usual for some time now, we highly recommend that you stand it up so that you can get to all those tight spots from whichever side of the bicycle needs work.
Step 2: Loosen Your Bike’s Back Axle
It’s just as simple to remove the nuts on your bike if you happen to have a socket wrench.
Use a socket wrench and turn the nuts in anticlockwise motion to loosen them.
Step 3: Pull the Rare Tire Back
Carefully pull back on the rear tire until you get the desired tension in your chain. Do this as slowly as you can to prevent chain snap.
To tighten it, make sure that the tire is in the wishbone center so that it won’t hinder the tightening process.
Step 4: Make Sure the Tension is Right
You should be able to move the chain half an inch in both directions. Make sure it is not so tight.
If the tension changes as you pull back on the tire, adjust accordingly. You can feel this happening if you work carefully and pay attention.
Step 5: Put the Rare Tire Back in Place and Check the Chain
If you think the chain tension is just right, then it’s time to lift that rear tire back into place and replace those axle nuts.
Put each nut in their position tight enough using your socket wrench and make sure they all turned properly.
Tightening the Chain in Multi Gear Bike
Tensioning the chain in a multi-gear bike is different than for one that doesn’t have gears.
You should be able to see how much slack you need by looking at your cogs and using them as a gauge. You can then tighten accordingly, so the cog on which it’s tightening will not snag with others. This could cause the chain to skip teeth, which could be dangerous.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Bike is in The Right Position
Make sure the bike is in the right position and has enough slack so that you can tighten without it snagging with other cogs.
Gather your tools and flip the bike upside down onto a stand. You may need to find a soft surface without scratches if you don’t have a stand.
Step 2: Find the Derailleur Screw
The derailleur screw is in the back of your bike, below the cog.
Using this screw, you’ll need to tighten your chain. To tighten the chain, turn this screw in the clockwise direction.
Step 3: Adjust the Rear Tire
Disconnect the brakes from the rare tire. Do this by lifting the brake levers and rising them to get access to the rear.
Increase the tension in the chain by sliding the axle towards rare dropouts slowly. Make sure the chain isn’t too tight.
Step 4: Put It All Back Again
Once you are satisfied with the tension in the chain, put everything in its position.
Start by reconnecting the rear brakes, and then replace the chain on both sides of your bike. Finally, return the derailleur screw to its original position.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bike Chain Tensioning
Should You Tighten the Chain or Replace It?
Before you attempt to replace your old saggy chain, you should give it a try to see if that works for some time.
If it loose again, then you can assume that it has lost its elasticity. In that case, get a new chain to avoid repetitive tensioning.
What is the Easiest Way to Tighten the Chain on A Bike?
The easiest way to tighten the chain is by using a special device called a “chain tool.” You can find it in any bike shop.
The chain tool determines whether the chain is too loose, or if it needs to be tightened. If it is loose, then you should pull back the rear axle using a suitable method depending on the type of gear system your bike has.
Does Lubricating the Chain Effects the Tension?
Lubricating the chain will not have much effect on how tight it is.
Lubrication just makes the movement of the pieces of the chain smooth. It doesn’t increase the length of the chain.
How to Tighten a Chain Without A Chain Tool?
If you don’t have a chain tool, then the only way to tighten your bike’s chain is by using an improvised device. This can be as simple as two pieces of wood, plastic, or metal that will fit either end of the axle and give you leverage on tightening up the chain.