How To Tighten A Bike Chain: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Your bike chain can be said as the most important component of a bike. But have you ever experienced something like when you are pedaling your bike then your chain just popped out of the ring? Or maybe you heard some funny noises coming from the chain?

The most possible cause is your chain is loose.

But don’t worry. Provided with the right tools, you can fix this problem yourself. And that’s what we’re going to discuss in this article.

The Tools You’ll Need To Do This

In order to help you accomplish this task, some tools are necessary and I’ve got your back with this list of tools:

  • A socket wrench. You will need this to loosen and tighten some nuts.
  • Socket wrench adaptor. Use the one that matches with the size of the nuts that hold your wheel to your bike frame.
  • A bike repair stand. I would recommend this to make your job easy or you can use a flat surface you can stand your bike on upside down.
  • Bike lubricant. You’ll need this to lubricate your chain after tightening it.
  • A rag. A handy companion to keep things clean.
  • A Screwdriver. Use the one that matched with the size of the one in the derailleur.
  • A pair of gloves. Keep things clean and protects your hand

How To Tighten A Bike Chain On Single-Speed Bikes

Now we can start with the steps to tighten the bike chain. As we all know, there are two common types of bike that would dictate how the chain goes for the bike: single-speed and multi-speeds.

Let’s start with how to do it on single-speed bikes

Single-speed bikes are the bikes that only go with one sprocket on the rear wheel, making the chain go directly between the chain ring and the sprocket. The example for this type of bike are fixed gear bikes, BMX, and track bikes.

The tools you will need for this type of bike are:

  • A socket wrench 
  • Socket wrench adaptor 
  • A bike repair stand (optional)
  • Bike lubricant
  • A rag
  • A pair of gloves

Position Your Bike Correctly

If you have a bike repair stand with you, you can attach your bike there in an upside-down position.

But for my personal preference, that would be putting the bike upside-down on its saddle. This way, I’ll have more access to the parts that I want.

Make sure that the surface is flat and soft, or you can cover it with cardboard or layers of newspapers you won’t scratch the saddle and handlebar.

Loosen The Rear Axle

Because the chain goes directly on the sprocket that is attached to the rear wheel, you will need to loosen the axle.

The axle is the shaft that goes in the middle of the wheel that holds it to the bike.

In order to do this, you will need help from a tool in our list: a socket wrench. Attach a matching adaptor and carefully turn the nuts in a counter-clockwise motion until they become loose.

Pull Back The Rear Wheel

Now that the wheel is loose, you can adjust the tension of the chain. With the single-speed bikes, it’s actually pretty simple. You just need to pull back the wheel so the tension will be increased.

You need to remember that you don’t need to pull it so hard, because it will break the chain. Just pull it carefully until you get the right tension.

One other thing you should remember is to keep maintaining the position of the wheel straight while you are pulling it.

Identify The Correct Tension of The Chain

To check if the tension of the chain is already correct, you can do it by ensuring that the chain can move half an inch to either direction.

If it moves further than that, it means it’s not tight enough and you will need to pull it a little more. If it’s tighter than that, you won’t be able to turn the pedal, and forcing it will only lead to breaking the chain.

Tighten The Axle to Make The Wheel Stick to The Right Position

Once you got the chain on the right tension, time to seal it back in place. Put the axle nuts back and use your socket wrench to tighten them.

Do it one at a time to ensure that the wheel will stick in place. Make sure that the nuts are tight enough so you won’t have to worry that the chain will get loose again.

Time to Test It

After you get all the steps done, you need to test it if it works properly now. Make sure that the chain can move easily in both directions. 

Spin your wheel and make sure ‌it’s not touching the bike frame or chain while spinning.

Don’t forget to clean the chain with your rag and put on some lubricants to keep it working well and lessen the friction between the chain and the cogs on chainring and sprocket.

Tightening A Bike Chain On Multi-Speed Bikes

One down, one more to go. Now we will discuss how to tighten and increase the tension of your bike chain on multi-speed bikes.

What differentiate this type of bikes with the single-speed bikes is the existence of a derailleur, to be more specific, rear derailleur. This specific component makes the chain doesn’t go directly on the sprockets, but go through it first.

There are a lot of bikes that are multi-speed like road bikes, mountain bikes, folding bikes, and city bikes.

Because of how it is in this type of bike, we will need the following tools for this:

  • A bike repair stand (optional)
  • Bike lubricant
  • A rag
  • A Screwdriver
  • A pair of gloves

Get Your Bike into The Correct Position

It’s the same process with the single-speed one. If you have a bike stand with you, you can attach your bike in an upside-down position on the stand to get easier access to the components.

If you don’t have the bike stand, you can always find a flat and soft surface to lay your bike on its saddle. Be sure you don’t scratch the saddle and handlebar in this position, so cover the surface with something soft.

Find The Derailleur Screw and Tighten It

To increase the tension of the chain on your multi-speed bike, you need to find the derailleur screw first. This screw is located at the back of the derailleur and you can spot it next to a letter B.

To tighten the chain, you will need to tighten this screw. To do that, pick up your screwdriver and turn it in a clockwise motion.

Access The Rear Wheel

Just like in single-speed bikes, you will also need to move the wheel a bit in this process. So the first thing you need to do for that is to release the rear brake by unlocking it or by lifting the lever so that you will have enough room to move around.

The next step is to raise the quick-release lever on your wheel, this will make you able to move your wheel.

Adjust The Rear Wheel

Now that you can access the rear wheel, you can adjust the tension of the chain on the derailleur. Slide down the axle towards the rear dropouts.

Adjust the tightness carefully by only making small adjustments and don’t make it too tight because it would make the chain prone to break.

Place Them Back Together

Once you got everything done and you got the desired tension of your bike chain, you need to put everything back together.

Start with lowering the quick-release lever to lock the wheel in place. Then make sure the brake is back to its proper position and clamping properly to the rim or to the disc.

Before you get your bike standing on the ground properly, give the wheel a spin. Check if it’s not going straight. If that’s the case, you will need to repeat the process and place them all back carefully.

While you are at it, why not give the chain a little treatment. Clean it with your rag and use degreaser if necessary. Get help from brushes too. Then if it’s already clean and dried, apply a little lubricant to it to make it go smoothly during your rides.

Why Is Bike Chain Tightening Needed?

As I said in the beginning, a chain is the most important component of your bike to function properly. I mean, it’s practically what makes your bike move. And as you ride your bike frequently, it will lose the tension at some points. 

If you’ve already experienced getting your bike jumped off of the chainring or even it getting stuck, entangled on the crank, you don’t need to remind you of how frustrating it would be.

So, let’s talk more about it, shall we?

  • What Causes The Bike Chain To Loosen?

There are several reasons why your chain comes loose and it mostly is not caused by the chain itself.

It can be caused by your bike isn’t really being a match for your chain. It can be that your bike (and its component) is too old for your chain, or the other way around. For the former one you can get it fix using the steps you found here, but if it’s the latter the only fix you can do is replacing the chain with a new one. It would be too worn out to be used at this point.

The other cause is the nuts on your rear axle are getting loose. This will make the gap between the rear wheel and the chainring closing and reduce the tension of the chain. You might want to replace the nuts if it’s damaged because of the frictions.

On multi-speed bikes, the derailleur might be at fault in this case. Check if there is any bend or dents on the derailleur.

  • The Ideal Bike Chain Tension: How Tight Should It Be?

If you are following our guide up to this point, you should’ve been aware that the general recommended tension of the bike chain should be around half an inch.

By that, I mean when you press the chain from the bottom and from the top, they should be able to move to either direction as much as half an inch.

  • Can Lubricating The Chain Affect Its Tightness?

To be frank with you, the answer is yes. If you are lubricating your chain regularly, you will help to retain the tightness and prolong its age. A non-lubricated chain would easily cause frictions, thus wearing the chain faster and then making it lose its tightness.

  • Tightening The Chain Vs Buying A Brand New One

If you are wondering which is the best solution for your dropping chain problem: tightening it or just replacing it?

Unless your chain is old, has dents, and you can find cracks on it, you can always follow our guide and tighten your chain. But if it’s the other way around, then you have no other option than replacing it with a new one.

Using an old and broken chain would only put you in danger during your ride, so getting them replaced would not only save you time, but also save your life. 

It’s Not That Hard, Is It?

Now that you have tried it yourself, repairing the loosen chain isn’t that hard as you imagined, right? If anything, it’s quite simple!

Learning some simple bike maintenance and quick repairs like this would surely be an investment on itself for you.

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Hello, my names Perry and I've been a freelance writer for the past 5 years and a cycling enthusiastic since I can remember. I love the road, but my main passion is mountain biking.

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