Step-by-Step: How to Tighten Your Bike Chain

Have you started hearing a weird rattling sound coming from your bike while riding? Does your bike suddenly lose grip when you pedal? If so, your bike chain might be lost. And you need to tighten it immediately!

Here’s how you can tighten your bike chain:

  • Place the bike in the upside-down position
  • Find the derailleur screw and turn it clockwise
  • Access the rear tire to increase the tension
  • Adjust the wheel axle accessed through the rear tire to increase the tension
  • Put everything else back together to test the bike chain tension

Ride along with me as I tell you all you need to know about tightening your bike chain!

What Happens If Your Bike Chain is Too Loose?

A loose bike chain can result in poor gear shifting and chain skipping. It can also cause the chains to drop and the drivetrain to wear down quite quickly, causing them to jump and slip around as you ride.

Though there are many reasons for a bike chain to get loose, one of the most common is a new chain on an older bike.

Since an old bike has already worn-down components, they are not able to keep up with the strength and tension that the new chain requires. 

Can You Ride With a Loose Chain?

Yes, you can ride with a loose chain as long as it doesn’t drop and skips over a tooth in the sprocket. If the chain has slackened enough to skip over a tooth in the sprocket, it will result in an unequal power transmission causing the pedals and wheels to move around without any control from the rider. 

An even more dangerous situation is if the loose chain somehow binds around the rear tire. This could severely damage the chain and cause injury to you as well.

Thus, it is a better idea always to tighten the chain, even when it is a little loose, to prevent any drastic effects from occurring.

» Read my blog post: How To Remove Rust from Bike Chain

How Much Does it Cost to Tighten a Bike Chain?

It will cost you around $10 to $30 to tighten a bike chain if you are doing it yourself. However, if you are interested in letting a professional handle this, then it would cost you somewhere around $40 to $50. 

These costs also vary depending on the type, brand, and quality of the chain that you are buying. Thus, you should keep your budget a little higher than estimated above.

Since it is much more convenient and cost-effective, you should tighten your bike chain by yourself.

With the help of this guide, you will learn more about bike chains and how you can tighten them yourself.

How to Tighten a Bike Chain With a Derailleur

Derailleur chains are different from single-gear bike chains since they move from sprocket to sprocket. The derailleur chains come in various designs depending on the number of sprockets that a bike has. 

The derailleur chains are quite common, and it is highly likely that your bike has this type of chain.

I’ve compiled these five simple steps you can follow to tighten your bike chain with a derailleur:

#1 Position the Bike

Before you begin with the procedure, the most important part is to position your bike correctly. The ideal position is to flip the bike upside down. You can also mount your bike on a stand or press it against a high surface that allows you room to work below. 

You should use some newspaper or cushion under the saddle of your bike if you are flipping it upside down. Some extra support would prevent the saddle from any damage. 

Now you need to clean any dust and debris from the surface of the bike and the chain. You can use a specific high-quality chain cleaner or grease to lower the friction and ease the movement of the chain.

#2 Find the Derailleur Screw

The derailleur is a complicated structure consisting mainly of screws and bolts. The main function of the derailleur is to shift the chain from one sprocket to the other. Thus, it is the component directly responsible for changing gears. 

First, you need to locate the derailleur, which should be easy if your bike is in the upside-down position.

You need to find the derailleur screw present behind the derailleur and locate a ‘B’ written adjacent to the screw. This screw is very important as it allows you to tighten the derailleur. 

All you need to do is turn it clockwise in order to increase the tension in the derailleur and, consequently, in the chain. 

#3 Access the Rear Tire

Now you need to access the rear tire to adjust the tension directly from the derailleur. For that, you would first have to dismantle the braking system. 

First, you will have to disconnect the braking cables (which can be done with the help of a screwdriver), and then you can lift the brake lever. This would allow you to access the rear tire of your bike. 

Accessing the rear wheel is important because it directly allows you to adjust the tension in the derailleur and will help you tighten your bike chain. 

#4 Adjust the Rear Tire Appropriately

You have finally gained access to the rear tire, now it is time to adjust it. To adjust the tension, you would basically have to adjust the wheel and axle system. 

When you tighten the wheel and axle system, it automatically tightens the derailleur, which has the direct effect of tightening the chain. 

When you pull the rear tire back, the tension on the chain increases. When the chain is fixed right, it should be only able to move about an inch or a half in either direction. 

You should know when to stop with this because if you overdo this step, the chain will get too tight and cause interruptions while you ride the bike. 

#5 Place Everything Back Together

Remember that you disconnected your braking system earlier. It is time to put that back together. First, start by reattaching the braking cables to the levers and ensuring that the system is working properly.

Make sure that you attach the screws in their right places.

Now finally, check if the chain has tightened correctly or not. To do that, spin the wheels to see if they are touching the chain or frame. If they are not touching either, then you have successfully completed the task.

As a final inspection, you should take your bike out for a ride and see if everything is working smoothly with it. 

How to Tighten a Bike Chain On a Single Gear?

Single-gear bike chains are different from derailleur bikes since they only have one sprocket on the crankset. The roller present on this bike is one-eighth of an inch in width. This is why these chains are also known as ‘one-eighth inch’ chains. 

Since the single-gear bikes only have one sprocket, they don’t really shift speeds. However, that results in a wider chain that moves easily around the single sprocket.

Moreover, single-gear bike chains have a longer life and make downhill movements easier for the bike.

Here’s how I tighten my bike chain on a single gear:

#1 Position the Bike

Positioning the bike is perhaps the most important task because that would decide your subsequent actions. There are two ways you can go about it. 

You can either mount it on a higher surface so that you are able to access the tires and the entire biking system. The other option is to flip it upside down directly. If you are new at this, I would recommend you shift the position of the bike upside down.

You should, however, lay a piece of cardboard right underneath the saddle. It provides extra support and prevents it from getting damaged. 

#2 Loosen the Rear Axle

The next step is to first find the rear and axle and then loosen it. You would be able to find the rear axle between the differential and driving wheels. 

You would now have to loosen it. For that, simply fix a wrench on the head of the bolt surrounding the axle and start twisting it. 

You would have to twist it clockwise to loosen it. Continue with this motion until you find all the threads to be somewhat loosened. Now that the threads are loosened, it would become easier to access and pull back on the rear tire. 

#3 Pull Back On the Rear Tire

After that, access the rear tire and start pulling it back. The next step is to loosen the nuts and bolts that connect the rear tire to the bike with the help of a socket wrench. 

You can now slowly rotate the nuts in a counterclockwise direction. This would loosen these nuts and allow you to pull back on the rear tire more conveniently.

Continue loosening the nuts until you find that the chain tension has increased according to your requirements.

#4 Ensure the Right Tension In the Chain

Before you begin with the final inspection, you will have to first perform a preliminary exam. The first step is to examine whether the bike chain moves 1.25 or 1.5 inches whenever your spin the wheels. 

If the chain moves more than 1.5 inches, then you weren’t able to tighten it successfully, and it is still loose.

However, if the chain moves less than 1.25 inches, then that increases friction and interrupts your pedaling and motion.

#5 Tighten the Rear Tire and Perform the Final Inspection

Now you would have to tighten the rear tire. You can tighten the rear tire by putting the rear tire back in place and tightening all the nuts and bolts associated with it. 

You can tighten the axle nuts once the rear wheel is back in place. Once done, you can now figure out what you want to do with the bike.

The ideal way is to go out on your bike and experience the tight chain. You should press and leave your brakes many times to ensure that you have fixed everything properly and are back in place. 

Why Do Bike Chains Get Loose?

Good job on successfully tightening your bike chain. To prevent this from happening in the future it is important to know why bike chains get loose in the first place.

There are mainly three reasons for bike chains to loosen. Let’s discuss them.

#1 Worn/Stretched Chain

As you continue using your bike for longer periods, your bike chain will wear down, and the components directly related to the bike chain, such as the sprocket, will also wear down. This would eventually cause the bike chain to loosen too.

When you are continuously using your bike for intense periods of time, your bike chain stretches to cope with your requirements. As a result, it gets longer and loosens. 

Thus, to prevent your bike chain from loosening in the future and causing you trouble, you should ensure that you replace it after some time.

#2 Weak Rear Derailleur Spring

A rear derailleur spring controls and connects the top pulley with the freewheel or the cassette.

If these derailleur springs get weakened due to any reason, it will increase the distance between the top pulley and the freewheel. As a result, it would cause the bike chain to loosen. 

#3 Rear Axle Position In Rear Dropout

The position of the rear axles is also an important controlling factor of the tension of the chain. Though it is uncommon, an unbalanced rear axle can cause the bike chain to loosen up too. 

Usually, the bikes have an allowance in the rear dropouts to position the axle, however, if the rear axles go too far forward, the bike chain loosens.

How to Know If My Bike Chain Is Loose?

Level your eyes with the chain and take a look at it from the sides to find out whether the chain is too long. A loose chain would slacken and sag below the chainstays as it hangs between the rear cogs and the chainring. 

Another way to know if your bike chain is loose is just simply to pedal. A loose bike chain would cause you to skip a pedal or directly drop off the gears.

How Do You Tighten a Bike Chain Without the Tool?

Sometimes you may not have the bike chain tool to help you with tightening your bike chain.

Don’t worry, there is still a way for your to tighten your bike chain. 

#1 Removing the Bike Chain

If your bike chain is too long, you would simply have to remove the links. For that, you would first have to remove the bike chain. You can start by positioning your bike on a stand. 

Then, you should locate the master link. After that, rotate the pedals in such a way that causes the master link to get directly in front of you. Now remove the master link and open the chain.

#2 Shortening the Chain

Next, count and measure how many links you want to remove to tighten the chain according to your requirements.

Now you can clamp the next link and push the pin to remove the chain link. You may repeat this process to remove as many links as you want. 

» I have also written this post about: How To Shorten Bicycle Chains?

#3 Reassembling the Chain

Now that you have adjusted the chain length, you can now reconnect it. To reconnect, simply bring the two ends with the master link together and rejoin them. 

Now adjust this chain on the sprockets and the chain ring. Follow it up with a high-quality lubricant application for smooth movement of the chain. 

Take your bike out for a ride and thoroughly inspect it. Check if you are feeling any resistance in the chain while riding the bike. You can readjust the links if you find the chain to be still too long or too short.

» Read more about this in my post: How To Put a Bicycle Chain Back On?

The Final Verdict

A loose bike chain is an unnecessary hurdle in your pathway to achieving an elevated riding experience. It is not only problematic but also dangerous because it can lead to accidents.

Even though it is problematic, a loose bike chain is pretty common and any avid biker should know how to tighten it. 

In this article, I talked about tightening the bike chain on bikes with derailleurs as well as single-gear mechanisms. Now you are well equipped with the information about tightening your bike chain, and hopefully, you can do it all by yourself!

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