While reviewing all the bike parts (from tires to whatnot), one important part that we often miss is the chain link; specifically, the master chain link which plays a significant role in your bike’s performance.
You can easily find a master chain link by putting your bike on a bike stand or putting it upside down on a floor, making it rest on the saddle and handlebars. Now stand close to the drivetrain and slowly move the pedals to see the chains pass by. Notice a chain link is wider than all others — that is your master link.
The master link actually propels the bike’s gears to move forward by transferring the power generated by pedaling into kinetic energy.
In addition to being the most important and also easily distinguishable part, it’s also the most neglected one. All the grime, mud, and other pollutants stuck between them can slow its pace. In times like this, a master rivet can make cleaning easy.
Bicycle chain master links have a lot to them. In this article, I’ll be covering all pertinent aspects of the master chain link.
What Is a Master Link in a Bicycle Chain?
Commonly known as the fast link, quick link, or link rivet, a master link is a pair of two outer plates where each plate resembles the outer plate of the chain. Releasing the master link allows you to join or detach a chain without having to use a tool.
It also connects two inner links by upholding the overall chain structure.
A downside of master links is that they are not reusable.
This means that once you detach the link, you’ll have to replace it with a new master link.
Master links can be of two different types. The first type of link is straight, which works with chainlines and is typically found on single-speed and hub-geared bicycles. The second type is a link that works with external derailleurs.
How you should remove your bike’s master link before changing the chain depends on the type of master link it has.
How Do I Know My Bike Has a Master Link?
Ideally, every bike chain has a master chain link. However, if you’re having trouble finding it or simply think your chain doesn’t have one, there is an easy way to find the master rivet. You need to check your chain connection first. If it’s got two pins that are connected by a pin in the center, then it’s most likely got a master link.
Another way to determine this is by looking at the chain connection near the cog set in the rear area. If there’s a removable link, your chain has a master link.
Alternatively, if neither of these work, you can also try shifting gears. If the chain easily comes off, then you have a master chain hiding in there somewhere.
» You can also read my post: How-To: Put a Bicycle Chain Back On
Finding the Link
Finding the master link is a piece of cake. To find the link, all you have to do is:
- Mount your bike in a bike work stand. If you don’t have a stand just flip the bike over making sure it rests on its handlebars and saddle.
- Next, stand on the drivetrain side of the bike, making sure you can look straight down into the chain. Now slowly turn the pedals to rotate the chains and carefully watch each link pass by.
- As you’re doing so, you’ll come across a link that’s wider than the rest.
- This is your master chain link. It does stand out but only when you pay attention to it.
All it takes is a little bit of concentration and patience, and you’ll easily find the master link.
Unlocking the Link
The main purpose of the master chain link is to unlock the chain without the use of a tool. It’s an easier way to get the job done. The rivet has either a spring clip which resembles a horseshoe on the side of the link, or easy-release pins.
I personally feel the release pins are more effective and easier to work with.
For the spring clip, however, take a pair of nose pliers and pull off the piece, which resembles a horseshoe. Then pull apart the chain and slip it away in two.
For a pin master rivet, just bend the chain at the rivet to form the link into a U shape. This will loosen the slide plate, and you can then loosen the chain and take it apart.
Are All Chain Master Links the Same?
All master chain links are not the same, and they have specific features that make them stand apart. This means one bike might have a master rivet different as compared to the other. There are many different kinds of sizes and types of master links available. The most common of them all is the clip-style link.
A clip-style link is common since it’s relatively easier to work with.
Apart from this, there are also rivet-style links that are permanent and cannot be removed. If you do try to remove it, then you may ruin the chain overall.
Lastly, there are also lock-type chains. These typically use Allen keys and a few other handy tools to screw loose and shorten the chain.
» Maybe this also could be of interest to you: Step-by-Step: How to Remove Bike Chain w/o Master Link!
Finding the Master Link: A Guide
Getting in the depth of finding a master chain link, there are a few tools you may need to find your link. These can include chain pliers, bike stands, and other tools depending on the course of finding your link and shortening your chain.
When finding your master link, here’s what you need to do.
- First, place your bike in the correct position. In this case, use a bike stand and place it so you can easily access the lower components of the bike. A bike stand also helps in keeping your posture so you’re not constricted when working.
- In case you don’t have a bike stand, simply turn your bike over to let it rest on its handlebars and saddle. Then, the next step is positioning yourself. To find the chain link, you must stand at the drivetrain area of the bike. This way, you’ll be able to look straight down on the chain.
- Now that you have a good view of the chain, it’s still not easy to find the link itself. So, this is where you begin slowly moving the pedals, rotating the chain, and keeping a close eye on the master link. By moving slowly, you can look at each link one by one and observe it.
- Keep pedaling slowly until you can spot a fairly thicker and darker chain link. Master links stand out by being wider, longer, or even fatter than other links in many cases.
This step requires the best lightning, so make sure to do this in the area with the perfect light.
Removing and Adding Chains
Many times bike chains can either be too long or too short. To change this, you must first open the chain. But first, have a good look at it. You can now get on to removing the chain from the bike. Removing the chain requires breaking.
» I have covered more on this subject in this blog post: Step-By-Step: (How to Remove a Link From a Bike Chain)
The easiest way to do it is by shifting your chain to the smallest chainring and cog. Apart from that, you could also remove the rear wheel off the bike to relieve tension and make it easy to work with.
Next, find the master link and break the chain from the master link point. The chain looks different when viewed from the side, which is how you’ll locate it. After locating it, simply cut it off that point, and you have an opening.
The master link has a pin on one side inserted into the notch of the other side.
Use pliers to squeeze the link toward each other, popping the link open. Then, it’s a matter of either adding or subtracting chain links from your bike to get the perfect length.
And that’s all you need to know about master chain links! These tiny details in a bike are what make its functionality so top scale. Even though a master link is minuscule, its effects directly correlate to how fast you can bike.
Cleaning your chains is important, too, as it can lead to dirt and grime getting in between the links and thus slowing its working pace.
When working with a master link, just be sure to be in an area with good lighting so that you can see each detail easily and make adjustments accordingly.