How To Tighten A Bike Chain: Complete Guide

To tighten the bike chain is the most common thing you will do maintenance on for your bike. After riding for a while, it will inevitably happen for various reasons, which is just the mechanical reality of bikes. 

You should thus be able to tighten a bike chain on your own. It’s an easy and useful skill because it ensures that your bike will last a long time and you get consistent pedaling performance. 

In this guide, we get into the topic of tightening a bike chain, covering everything practical that you need to know. Do yourself a favor and follow through!

Tools you will need

How to tighten the bike chain on a single-speed bike?

If you aren’t familiar with bike jargon, you might not know what a single-speed, AKA fixie bike is. Basically, these bikes have only one gear on the back wheel. Where the freewheel mechanism would be, there will be a cog. The wheels turn when you pedal because the gear spins.

Step 1. Secure the bike 

You can adjust a bike chain when the bike is upright if you have previous experience doing so. If you’re inexperienced, your best option is to either flip the bike upside down or use a bike stand. 

To avoid scratching the seat, we highly recommend placing a soft surface such as a piece of cardboard, a layer of newspapers, or a mat if you don’t have a bike stand.

Pro Tip: Use your phone to take a few pictures of the bike parts before disassembling any of them. This will make it easier for you to identify where each part goes in the future.

Step 2. Loosen the Rear Wheel/ Axle

You must take off the axle nuts securing the bike’s tire to finish the task. A socket wrench will probably be required for this, but if you have a full bik maintenance kit, you will already have it. 

Remember to keep telling yourself the old instruction “righty tighty, lefty loosey” and use the socket wrench to crank the nuts counterclockwise to make them loosen.

Step 3. Pull Back On The Rear Wheel

The bike chain should start to tighten if you gently pull the rear tire rearward. Pull gradually until you reach the ideal chain tension. The bike chain should be able to move 1-1/2 inches in each direction when it is correctly adjusted up or down. To make reassembly simple, make sure the bicycle wheel stays centered.

Step 4. Make Sure your Chain Tension is Appropriate

You’ll notice that the tension on the bike chain will fluctuate when the tire is drawn back. You can tell there isn’t enough tightness if you move it too far in one way. More pressure has to be applied to the tire.

You will know whether you have gone too far if the chain is too tight. It’s crucial to do this step correctly the first time, or else the pedals won’t be able to turn.

Step 5. Tighten the Rear Tire Back into Place

The rear tire should be repositioned after you are confident that the chain tension on the bike is exactly right. Put together the missing bolts on the wheel axle. Refer to the pictures you took earlier to know where everything is supposed to be at.

To ensure that you have the right tension, turn the socket wrench, this time counterclockwise. Make sure the rear tire is positioned correctly against the bicycle frame. It won’t come into touch with the bike frame or chain when it’s in the proper position.

Step 6. Give it a Spin

Before going on the road, you should give everything a spin to make sure that everything is in place. You should see that the bike chain moves around half an inch in either direction when you move it in both directions. 

To make sure the back tire is moving as it should because if it touches the frame or the chain, then you didn’t do a good job.

How to tighten a chain bike on a single-speed bike video?

If you struggle with the written instructions, don’t sweat it. We totally understand. To aid you in the process of tightening a chain on a fixie bike, we have included this tremendously helpful video from Park Tool. 

Thanks to the timestamps in the description, it has a decent pace, and you can skip to parts that you are struggling with. 

How to Replace a Chain on a Single Speed Bike – Sizing, Installation & Tensioning

How to tighten a bike chain with a derailleur?

Chains for derailleurs differ greatly from chains for single-gear bicycles. The chains go from one sprocket to the next. Depending on the quantity of sprockets, derailleur chains come in various designs.

A rear cog may contain five to twelve sprockets. The distance between gears decreases as there are more sprockets. The number of rear cogs has an impact on the chain’s narrowness as well.

Step 1. Secure the bike 

You can adjust a bike chain when the bike is upright if you have previous experience doing so. If you’re inexperienced, your best option is to either flip the bike upside down or use a bike stand. 

To avoid scratching the seat, we highly recommend placing a soft surface such as a piece of cardboard, a layer of newspapers, or a mat if you don’t have a bike stand.

Pro Tip: Use your phone to take a few pictures of the bike parts before disassembling any of them. This will make it easier for you to identify where each part goes in the future.

Step 2. Loosen the Derailleur Screw

Finding the derailleur screw will be a simple next step. A component with the appearance of complexity, the derailleur is made up of cogs and screws. Usually, a “B” is etched next to the screw behind the derailleur. 

This screw will make it simple to tighten a bike chain swiftly. All you have to do to tighten the chain is turn it clockwise.

Step 3. Asses The Rear Wheel & Brakes

Next, you must access the rear tire to increase the derailleur chain tension. This step will require some dismantling, so you must stay vigilant. First, you have to disconnect the brakes from the cable. Then, you can lift the brake lever, which will help you access the rear tire. 

You may tighten the chain with a derailleur by sliding the wheel axle toward the rear dropouts. Be careful not to tighten the chain too much by making large changes at once. Lower the brake lever after each adjustment to ensure enough chain tension. If not, raise the lever and make more adjustments until you are satisfied with the outcome.

Step 4. Put everything Together 

Use the videos or pictures you recorded on your phone to help you remember anything you might have forgotten. Brakes should be connected to the cable, and the brake lever should be securely lowered. Ensure that the tires are not in contact with the chain or bike frame.

Step 5. Give it a Spin

Rotate the pedals and tires while keeping an eye on the chains. Congratulations if everything is functioning as it should. Your bike’s chain has been tightened. Retest after making any necessary adjustments and retracing your steps.

How to tighten a bike chain with a derailleur video

Bikes with derailleurs are understandably more complex since there are significantly more moving parts that you will deal with. To aid you in the process of tightening a chain on a derailleur bike, we have included this tremendously helpful video from Park Tool. They include highlighted examples, helpful graphics, and timestamps for tricky steps.

How to Size a Bicycle Chain

Frequently Asked Questions on Bike Chains

Q: Why does my bike chain become loose?

A: There are a lot of reasons why a bike chain becomes loose. One of the most common reasons why bike chains become loose is use and abuse. Bike chains will deteriorate with time, based on the bike, maintenance, and intensity of riding. Your bike chain will get lengthier and eventually become looser as the chain as the sprocket degrades. Your chain will be loose if the back axle is positioned too far forward, alongside with a weak rear derailleur spring. The distance between the derailleur’s top sprocket and the freewheel or cassette is stretched by a weak derailleur spring, becoming loose.

Q: Is a loose chain dangerous?

A: A loose bike chain is not dangerous per se but it significantly hinders your cycling performance. As you pedal, the chain transfers energy into the bike, therefore, when the chain becomes slack, the power decreases. Basically, you will need to have more pedaling effort, spending more energy trying to achieve the same speed as you would normally get.

Q: How tight should a bike chain be?

A: The chain should be able to move 1-1/2 inches in each direction, according to the basic rule of the thumb for bike chains. If you notice that the chain tightness remains too loose, the chain might just have grown longer. The links may stretch with time, which is a possible result. By reducing certain links, the issue should be resolved and the tension would be just right.

Q: What is the easiest way to tighten a bike chain?

A: The easiest way to tighten a bike chain is not to do it yourself, obviously. Going to a decent bike repair shop, and asking them for regular maintenance work, they will take your bike, tighten your chain, make necessary adjustments, lubricate, and just make sure everything runs smooth. Nothing like having the convenience of professionals for a small fee.

Q: When should I replace it completely?

A: The answer to this has a bit more nuance to it, because if you have a relatively new chain, then at the most all you need to do is tighten or maybe shorten the chain. Purchase a new chain if your current one is worn out and becoming loose. Most bike types can use replacement chains, which are reasonably priced and can help the bike last longer.

The Finish Line

Tightening your bike chain is something inevitable, and you will do that as long as you have a bike. It’s normal to feel a bit intimidated by the mechanical parts that are involved but take our word for it, it’s simpler than you think. 

We included steps on how to tighten the bike chain on fixie bikes (simple), and derailleur (more complex), as they have some key differences. If you have a tough time picturing the steps, we have included some very helpful videos showing you how to do everything step by step. Visual aid and mechanical instructions are great, but actually getting your hands involved is the best possible way of learning

Do be part of the pack and check out some more articles if you liked this one and found it helpful!

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