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How To Shorten A Bike Chain In 3 Easy Steps!

Amy L
April 16, 2021

Bike chains of the incorrect length can cause serious shifting performance and take out the enjoyment of cycling. Removing a few links from the chain is the answer and it's quick to do!

I've been that rider. That rider who ignores maintenance. About to cycle up a hill, change gear and the bicycle takes a while to respond. After a few times, I began to learn bike chains and the importance of shortening them when needed!

So I'm here to share that knowledge with you!

In this article guide we'll be looking at:

  • How to shorten bike chains with a chain tool
  • How to shorten them without a chain link tool
  • FAQs
  • Final Thoughts

Excited? Me too! 🙂

How To Shorten A Bike Chain Using A Chain Tool

Step One - Measure Your Bike Chain

Before you go off and start cutting your chain, the first thing you need to establish is whether you need to change the bike chain.

To do this, you will need to measure 12 links of the chain.

12 links should measure 12 inches. Anything longer and that suggests you either need a replacement chain or to shorten it.

Since we're discussing shortening a bike chain, I'll assume that's you're preferred option so let's look at how to do that.

Firstly I'll talk you through the process when using a chain tool and afterward, I'll look at it without. Covering off how to loosen the master link.

Step Two - Prep Your Bike And Locate Master Link

If you have a bike stand, this process will be easier. Either way, make sure your bike is stable and you can access the chain.

Spending some time and clean the chain. You will be able to see the condition the chain is in if it's clean. It will also help you to keep it in good condition and minimize any future problems.

Now that the bike chain is clean, you should be able to spot the master link with relative ease.

Got it?

Loosen up the master links and remove them - there will be different ways to do this, depending on the type of chain.

If you have a Shimano chain, you might find it useful to look here.

SRAM? Find it here.

Once it's removed, keep it safe!

Step Three - Remove The Chain Links & Reassemble

When you measured the chain, you should have got a good idea about the number of links that will need to be removed.

My best advice for this is to do it slowly. Actually, my better tidbit is not to throw a link away when you remove them, just in case you shorten the chain too much.

When you have got the chain to a length you are happy with, it's time to put it all together again!

Return the chain to the chainrings and start reassembling. Then attach the ends of the mater link together. You should get that nice satisfying click to know it's securely in place.

How to Shorten a Bike Chain WITHOUT a Chain Tool In 3 Simple Steps

The steps whether you use a chain tool or not, are pretty similar. However, without a tool, you will need a few different tools.

To shorten a bike chain without the use a chain tool, you'll need:

  • A small nail
  • Pliers
  • Hammer
  • A small clamping mechanism

So once you've gathered your tools, you can get to work on it!

Step One - Measure Your Bike Chain

The process is much the same.

Establish whether the chain is too long by measuring it.

A chain is too long if 12 links measures more than 12 inches. This is a good indication that you need to shorten the chain (or purchase a replacement chain).

Step Two - Prep Your Bike And Locate Master Link

Ideally, you will want to pop your bike in a holder. This keeps things stable and allows you to access the chain easily.

However, if you don't have a holder, it's not essential, just make sure you have a way to keep the bike steady and you can get access to the chain.

Some degree of maintaining the bike is a good idea, clean up the chain and mechanisms, removing any dirt that may get into the cassette, gears, etc.

Cleaning bike chains also provide a means to finding the all-important master link - which hopefully you can find?

When you've got it, you can loosen up the two ends and start to remove the links. I'd suggest a link at a time.

Once you have the master link removed, be sure to keep it safe.

Step Three - Remove The Pins And Reassemble

When removing the master link from the chain, keep the loose connection in place with the clamp and reach for the pin.

To remove the pin completely, you may need to place the nail over the hook and hit it with the pliers - gently.

The link may not come out straight away but keep going with this until it does.

Follow this process for every link you wish to remove.

When you were first measuring the links, you should have been able to get a good idea as to how many links will need to be removed in order to get the correct length.

Now to pin the ends of the chain back together.

The master link will need to be reconnected. At this point, you may need a screwdriver. When the master link is in place, you will hear a click.

Before you pack all of your tools away, I'd suggest having a go on your bike to ensure it's all in order and how you want it.

stainless steel bike chain

Frequently Asked Questions

What Happens If My Bike Chain Is Too Long?

When a bike chain is longer than it should be, you can suffer from dropped links or inconsistent shifting whilst cycling- this can be on both the front and the back chainrings.

You will often find that if you purchase a new bike, after around 6 weeks (depending on how much cycling you've done) the bike shop will advise that a mechanic takes a look at it for a service.

Everything stretches in that period and gears become laggy, the brakes can stretch too. If you purchased your bike from a bike shop, they usually include this type of upkeep as part of the sale as it is something that needs to be done.

It's perfectly normal and nothing to worry about with bicycles.

A few tweaks and a perfect cycling experience can resume!

Personally, I enjoy this type of check-up. It's getting your bike back to how it was when it left the showroom and that's a nice feeling!

Can You Remove Links From A Bike Chain?

Every link on a chain is held in place with a chain pin.

In some cases, you have to remove a link or two. To remove the link, you need to remove the pin.

This can be done with either a chain link gadget or a hammer. This will allow you to push out a pin if you want to remove a link or push in a link if you are wanting to add a link to your chain.

Trust me, this ought to make sense when you're looking at pins and a link!

What Happens If My Bike Chain Is Too Short?

When a chain is too short, shifting will be difficult. The derailleur will be stretched out and, depending on how short the chain is, it could even be parallel to the chainstay - though in that case, it would be quite obvious!

If your bike chain is seriously short, then you may find you have trouble getting into maximum chainrings, it may not even be possible.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, now you have a good idea of when a chain needs to be shortened and the method of how to do it!

It doesn't take a lot of skill or a professional mechanic to undertake such repairs - you've got this!

With general cycling wear, a chain will stretch. Of course, some cyclists choose to opt for a replacement chain but in the end, you can get the same amount of performance out of your current one - no need to replace it!

Amy L
About the Author
I'm Amy, A writer and when I'm not writing, I'm usually found on two wheels! I own several bikes; my favourite has to be my faithful Bianchi Infinito CV. We've been through a lot together - we've even been to Paris together...twice!. My first carbon bike. My first love. Cycling is my passion and climbing is my thing, so if there's a climb out there you think I should know about - let me know!
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