With some 800 million bicycles outnumbering cars by two to one, bicycles are one of the world’s most popular modes of transportation. Bicycles are also the most energy-efficient machines —a cyclist burns about 35 calories per mile while an automobile burns 1,860 calories per mile. Bike chains, pound for pound, probably do more work than any single component on your bike. Removing a bike chain is going to be necessary at some point for cleaning or replacement.
Lots of Parts
The chain on your bike could possibly be the most important component on your bike, except for your heart and lungs of course. A standard chain is just about 56 inches in length. A typical chain has about 114 inner links and 114 external ones.
Why Remove It
The reasons to remove a chain include a bad link, broken link or simply to give the chain a bath. But in order to remove the chain, it’s nice to know a bit about how it’s made, and what to expect when you’re cleaning it, or replacing it.
How Chains are Made
Chains are made by a machine, or a bunch of different machines. The process starts with a punch press, cutting and pressing about 10,000 links steel inner links per hour, which look like a figure eight. Each of the links have been engineered accurately to interconnect, with smooth contours to travel easily across gears and through derailleurs.
Tested and Measured
Inner links are measured to confirm the space between the holes is precisely 12.7-mm. The test also gauges the diameter of the holes which must be accurate to within a fraction of a millimeter.
Baked and Hardened
Links are baked in an oven at more than 1500 degrees fahrenheit. They harden as they cool. Ceramic and silica powders are added with water to form an abrasive paste, and the links are shaken up to polish them smooth.
After a nickel-teflon bath, the inner links are ready to form into a chain, with the addition of outer links, which receive only a nickel finish, since they don’t travel over sprockets like the inner rings, and don’t require that smooth finish. The parts, including retainer rings and pins, spacers and bushings are then fed into an assembly machine.
The chain then takes a dip in hot oil to lubricate the links preventing squeakiness and wear down the road — that’s the tacky, somewhat oily feel on a new chain. Bearing all this in mind, it’s no wonder, with all these parts, assembled by a machine, that chains need removed and replaced from time to time.
Chain maintenance is a controversial topic of bicycle mechanics. Is it really necessary to replace a chain every 1,000 or 2,000 miles? Chain durability is in direct proportion to riding style, gear, rain or snow, soil and sand, type of lubricant, lubrication method, and the condition of the gears it travels over. Everybody’s advice about chain maintenance and even cleaning is based on their own experience. Even professionals disagree when to remove or replace a chain. But when you’re ready, it’s a simple matter of the right tool for the job.
Removing a Bike Chain When it’s Wedged
If you’ve got a broken chain, just pull it from the derailleur — if it hasn’t already fallen off on the ground like a dead snake. It might be stuck, bunched up and wedged between gears or even the chainstay. If this is the case, don’t force it. Gently pull it loose, focusing on where it’s really stuck. Don’t resort to prying it out with tools unless you absolutely have to, and then be very careful not to bend anything. If you can’t pull it out, take the wheel off the bike which will relieve some of the pressure on the gears. If this still doesn’t work, you can remove the cassette with a cassette tool and then you should be able to remove the chain easily.
Use a Retainer
It’s a good idea to place a chain retainer on your chain before removing it from your bike. A chain retainer is nothing more than a small — about 2-inches long — piece of wire with two 90-degree bends on both ends — you can make one out of an old spoke. Slip the bent ends on the chain, over the link that you plan on removing. That way, when you break the chain, the retainer won’t allow the derailleur to snap back when the pressure is released. Use the retainer the same way when re-installing the chain. You also can just simply knock the chain off the front chain rings so it rests on the frame on the inside of the crankset. This will also take the tension off the chain.
Removing Chain Links
You’ll need a chain breaker tool to remove the chain for cleaning or replacement. It sounds complicated, but it’s really simple. The chain breaker tool is a small press. Look at it closely and you’ll see a small cradle, centered over a small hole. There’s a handle, or a bolt above the cradle that turns and pushes a pusher-pin against the pin on the chain to push out.
Employ the Chain Breaker
Fit the desired link into the small cradle, with the pin centered over the hole. It should fit snug, and the chain breaker is designed to help you get it centered. Twist the handle on the chain breaker to lower the drive cylinder directly onto the pin. Continue twisting — it typically takes five or six turns, to drive the pin out the bottom of the link. You should feel a slight bump when the pin releases from the link.
Re-use Versus Master Link
If you’re going to re-use the same pin when removing a bike chain and re-installing the same one, don’t push it completely out of the bottom link. Twist slowly until the link becomes loose and the chain is separated, but the pin is still stuck in the outer link at the bottom. It is not recommended to do this as that pin creates a week point in the chain. It is advised to use a new connector pin that easily installs into the link and breaks off on the other side to line up flush with the outer plate of the chain. If you plan on using a master link — recommended — then push the pin completely out of both outer links.
Remove the Chain
Finish removing a bike chain by unscrewing the drive pin and removing the chain tool from the chain. Hold both ends of the chain with your hands, and remove the retainer, releasing the tension from the derailleur. Snake the chain back through the derailleur and off the gears, it should come off easy from here.
Replace the Chain
If you’re re-installing the same chain, using the original pin or connector pin, it’s a bit tricky, but doable, just reverse the procedure with the chain tool pushing the pin back through the outer and inner link. If you’re using a master link, you’re done with the chain tool. Thread it back through the derailleur, use the retainer, or have someone hold both ends for you, and snap the master link back on to join the two ends.
Notes and Variations
Only some brands of chain can be serviced by pressing out a rivet partially, then re-pressing the same rivet to reinstall. Reusing any old pin can result in failure of the chain, because it shears the mushroom head off the rivet, and that’s what keeps the pin from coming out in the first place. Additionally, some chains include a master link that is removable by hand, without using a chain tool at all. Check with the manufacturer’s literature when in doubt, or consult with your local bike shop mechanics. Removing a bike chain is easy once you know the steps and what tool you need.