How to Tighten a Bike Chain: Step-by-Step Instructions

In this article, we'll tell hoe to toghten bike chain - from choosing the way by gear type of your vehicle to learning specific tricks for each bike type
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Riding your bike regularly can be fun but – take this from us as experienced bikers – it’s no bed of roses. As a regular biker, you’re bound to experience a detached or loose chain from time to time. Of course, that doesn’t mean your bike is in trouble; a loose bike chain only says that something is wrong with the bike chain tension and you need to tighten it.

So, you’ll do yourself a huge favor by learning how to tighten a bike chain. Trust us, this is not a big deal provided that you set your mind on knowing how it works. Bike chain adjustment requires using the right tools and following the right steps as you’ll soon find out in this article.

Moreover, we’re here to help. Hence, we’ll provide you step-by-step instructions on how to tighten cycle chain. Read on and learn everything you’ve always wanted to know.

Tools for bike chain tightening

How to Tighten a Bike Chain: Step-by-Step Instructions

As mentioned earlier, you need the right tools to tighten bicycle chain properly and correctly. But what are those right tools? We’ll mention every important tool you need below:

  • A bike stand
  • A socket wrench
  • A pair of gloves
  • High-quality bike lubricant
  • A dry cloth or old rag

We recommend buying a toolset because you get access to different, helpful tools. The EPAuto Drive Socket Set is one great example of high-quality toolsets. The set contains a whopping 40 pieces of tools, mostly made from hardened chrome vanadium steel alloy (Cr-V) that is corrosion-resistant. Apart from helping with your bike, it can help with the maintenance of your cars, motorcycles, and trucks too.

Bike chain tightening by gear type

The importance of a chain in a bicycle cannot be overemphasized since it transfers power to the wheels, thus allowing your bike to move forward according to Wikipedia. Hence, if the bike chain gets loose, the next action is to tighten it so that you can keep on cycling.

Below, we’ll provide you a simple and detailed guide on how to fix a loose bike chain on single gear and multi-gear bikes.

Single

In case you don’t know, a single gear bike, as its name suggests, is a type of bike with only one gear. Let’s get to learning how to tighten its chain.

How to Tighten a Bike Chain: Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Place your bike in a proper position

Before you start to tighten your bike chain, the first thing to do is to get it in the correct position. Turn the bike upside-down in a way that the wheels are in the air and the saddle is on the stand. Don’t have a bike stand? Create a soft surface by either laying a layer of newspapers or a piece of a cardboard box on a flat surface to avoid scratching the saddle.

Or better still, find a bike repair stand on the market. According to most reviews, the sturdiest model must be the Park Tool PCS-9.2 bicycle repair stand thanks to its durable all-steel structure with textured powder coat finish for optimal stiffness. Once you get your bike in the right position, you’ll get easy access to the parts.

Step 2: Loosen the rear axle 

You must remove the nuts holding the tire to the bike to be able to get the chain adjusted. Here, you’ll need a socket wrench to turn the axle nuts in an anticlockwise direction until they get loose.

Step 3: Retract the rear tire

It’s now time to retract the rear tire so that you can get the right tension in the chain. You should do this carefully and slowly to avoid snapping the chain. As you retract the tire, continue to check the tension until you achieve the right tightness.

Once you can move the chain either way at least half an inch, you’re good. (Sorry, we might have left out this important bit but know that your endgame is to ensure that the chain can move half an inch in both directions).

Step 4: Check the bike chain for the right tension

Pull the tire back and you’ll feel the chain tension change. Should it move too far in a direction, it means the tightness is not good. You’ll then need to push the chain a little more on the tire. But if it’s too tight, your pedals won’t turn so you’ll need to get this right.

According to a study by John Hopkins engineers, chain tension greatly contributes to bike energy efficiency. Specifically, the higher the chain tension, the higher the efficiency score. Hence, you must get the chain tension right.

Step 5: Tighten the rear tire back into place

Once you feel good about the chain tension, tighten the rear tire back into place. Use the socket wrench to tighten the loose axle nuts in a clockwise motion. If the tire is not touching the bike chain or frame, your job here is done.

Step 6: Test the tire and the chain

To be sure you’ve done a good job, you’ll need to test the tire and the chain. If you spin the tire and it doesn’t touch the frame or the chain, you’ve fitted it right. However, if it does touch any of the two, you’ll need to fit it again.

Once all these conditions are done, it’s time to get your bike back on the road.

Multi

How to Tighten a Bike Chain: Step-by-Step Instructions

Since a multi-gear bike features a Derailleur, tightening its chain is a bit more challenging. Don’t be worried, we will simplify the process to help you learn how to tighten a bike chain with a derailleur.

Step 1: Place your bike in a proper position

Turn your multi-gear bike upside down so that you have easy access to the derailleur and the tire. If you couldn’t get a bike stand, create a soft surface to protect the saddle and the handlebars.

Step 2: Locate the derailleur screw

The next thing to do is to locate the screw at the back of the derailleur. Most multi-gear bikes have the screw next to a letter B so you’ll do well to check for that. Turn the screw in a clockwise direction to increase the bike chain tension.

Step 3: Check the rear tire

Disconnect the brakes from the cable and lift the brake lever to gain access to the rear tire.

Step 4: Adjust the rear tire

Your mission here is to increase the tension on the chain. So, you’ll have to slide the rear axle toward the rear dropouts. Here, you should make only small adjustments to prevent the chain from becoming too tight.

Step 5: Couple everything back in place

Once you have the right chain tension, couple everything back together and make sure to properly tighten the derailleur screw. Also, ensure that the tire is spinning freely without having contact with the bike chain or the frame.

Bike chain tightening by type

After learning how to adjust bike chain by gear, you also want to know about bike chain tightening by type.

Dirt

How to Tighten a Bike Chain: Step-by-Step Instructions

Do you have no idea how to tighten a dirt bike chain? Don’t fret because help is here.

Step 1: Position your bike properly

Place your dirt bike on a bike stand upside down. If there’s no bike stand, find a soft surface to put the bicycle on.

Step 2: Loosen the axle nut

Use your wrench to loosen the nut on the axel. You can find this nut on either the right or the left side depending on the brand of the bike. Loosening it will make the axel turn without any tension.

Step 3: Loosen the lock nuts

After loosening the axle nut, your focus should turn to the lock nuts against the swingarm. You should loosen both sides.

Step 4: Turn the tension bolts out

Use the wrench to turn the tension bolts out until you can feel that the chain is tight enough. You should adjust the left side before moving to the right side.

Step 5: Measure chain slack

Your next move is to measure the chain slack and ensure that it is around 1 – 1.25 inches. To get an accurate measurement, put three fingers between the swingarm and the chain. If the chain is tightened properly, the swingarm and the chain will be pressing on your fingers.

Step 6: Tighten everything down

Once you’re confident the chain is tightened properly, tighten the lock nuts and the axle nut. Lubricate the chain afterward to keep it greased. If you’re having trouble getting a reliable lubricant, the Finish Line Dry Bike Lubricant seems like the perfect fit for your dry bike. This lubricant is perfect for riding off-road in dirty, dry, and dusty environments. Plus, it holds up well in fairly wet conditions.

Mountain

How to Tighten a Bike Chain: Step-by-Step Instructions

The mountain bike’s chain is another you’ll want to learn how to tighten. We’ll tell you all about it below.

Step 1: Position your bike properly

The first thing to do while learning how to tighten mountain bike chain is to put the bike on a stand in an upside-down position. Hence, you’ll be able to easily gain access to the chain.

Step 2: Locate the derailleur screw

The location of the derailleur screw depends on your bike although it’s typically found at the back of the derailleur. Moreover, most bikes have a letter B printed around the screw. Use the wrench to turn the screw in a clockwise direction to increase the chain tension.

Step 3: Access the rear tire

You need to do this because the chain and your rear tire are directly connected. To access the rear tire, gently lift your brake’s quick-release lever to disconnect the hydraulic cable.

Step 4: Adjust the rear tire

Then, raise the brake’s lever slowly. This allows you to adjust the rear tire and ensure that it is tight enough for the bike chain to stretch properly. Keep adjusting the quick-release lever until you get the sense that the chain tension is right.

Step 5: Couple everything back in place

Once you’re satisfied that the bike chain tension is good, couple everything back together correctly.

BMX

You can’t enjoy riding your BMX bike on dirt terrain or even in the park if its chain is loose. You don’t have an idea of how to tighten a BMX bike chain? That’s about to change as we go through the simple steps you must follow to get the job done.

Step 1: Position your bike properly

Turn your BMX bike upside down with the saddle and handles facing down on a stand or another soft surface and the wheels up in the air.

Step 2: Check the chain

Get your index finger on the bottom of the chain and note the slack. You’ll need to tighten the chain if it bends substantially.

Step 3: Loose the rear axle

Get your socket wrench to work. Use the tool to turn the bolt on one side of the rear wheel in an anticlockwise direction a half turn, enough to release the chain tension. Turn the bolt on the other side too.

Step 4: Use a hammer as a lever

Wedge the hammer’s arm between the bike’s rear tire and bottom bracket, using it as a lever.

Step 5: Apply pressure on the head of the hammer

Apply some pressure on the hammer’s head. This move will cause the arm to push against the tire, thus increasing tension on the chain. You should check the tension by using your finger to pull up the chain.

Step 6: Tighten the axle bolt

Use the wrench to turn a side of the axle bolt in a clockwise direction, tightening it until you feel the tension is right. Tighten the other side too and ensure that the tire is spinning without touching the frame and the chain.

FAQs

We understand you might still have some questions you need answers to. We’ll answer the most frequently asked questions below.

Why bike chain becomes loose?

Frankly, you can’t stop your bike chain from becoming loose from time to time. The chain becomes loose due to a few reasons. One of them is having an old chain. If a chain has become worn out by motion, it won’t fit properly anymore.

Also, loose nuts on the rear axle can cause the bike chain to become loose. Apart from that, if a multi-gear bike’s derailleur has dents or is bent, the chain can become loose.

How to maintain bike chain?

How to Tighten a Bike Chain: Step-by-Step Instructions

Find a repair stand for your bike or create a soft surface for it anytime you have to work on it. Also, clean the bike chain properly, and don’t forget to touch the rear cogs. On top of that, you should lubricate the bike chain by drilling oil evenly over it. Then, use the rag to wipe off the excess lubricant after you’ve let it sit for a few minutes.

When it’s time to change bike chain?

The simple answer is when the bike chain is old. But how do you tell if the chain is old? The chain is old once it gets elongated for about 0.5% of its length. Try to change the chain immediately because allowing it to reach 1% elongation may force you to change the rear sprockets untimely.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned before in this article, you can’t stop your bike chain from becoming loose at some point in time, you can only control the frequency. So, what you want is to know how to tighten the chain yourself whenever the need arises because it’s not financially wise to haul off your bike to the repair shop for regular maintenance.

With our simple and comprehensive step-by-step guide, you have everything you need to learn how to tighten a bike chain for different gear types and bike types. Just get the right tools we mentioned and you’re good to go.

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