By the end of this article you’ll know exactly how to fit a bike chain to your mountain bike, including a couple of little tips and tricks that make the job so much easier.
First, if you haven’t already, use a bicycle chain breaker tool to remove your old mountain bike chain (or click this link for chain removal steps). Once you’ve done that, go to step 1 below to learn how to fit a new chain to a bike…
Step 1 – Line your old and new bike chains up side by side
Line your old and new bike chains up side by side on clean ground with the same end of both chains lining up exactly beside each other. (or hang from one end in the air out of the dirt)
Ensure the bike chains are pulled neat and straight and parallel to each other.
Step 2 – Include any previously removed links in your count
If you’ve previously removed some links out of your old chain because of chain damage, grab those links now and sit them in place at the end of your old bike chain. Your old chain plus the removed links equal the true number of links long your new chain needs to be. If you tossed the links you removed, try to remember how many links it was and add that number when determining the length of your new mountain bike chain.
Step 3 – Determine which is the last link in the new chain
Looking along both chains you will see that the old chain is a little stretched, meaning that for the same number of links as the new chain, the old chain is slightly longer. Keep this in mind when you determine which link should be the last on the new chain. Remember – you want the new chain to have the same number of links, not the same length.
(taking into account one missing inner link from the end of the old chain, the new chain is the correct length)
Step 4 – If required shorten your new chain with a bike chain tool
Double check you are removing the correct pin that will allow the chain ends to link together. One end of your new chain should end in an outer link, the other end an inner link.
Super Tip – If you prefer the convenience of a SRAM Powerlink in your new chain, remove the first outer link from the outer link end of the new chain, then join the chain with the Powerlink instead of using the Shimano locking pin (how to fit a SRAM Powerlink here)
Click here to see which chains and removable chain links Chris recommends.
Step 5 – Fit the new chain to the bike
5 a. Shift your derailleurs to the smallest front chainring and smallest sized rear cog
5 b. Holding the bike chain with two hands and starting from the front end of the chainrings, thread the chain over the chainrings then between the front derailleur guide arms
5 c. Pass the chain behind the seat stay / swing arm on the way to the rear gear set
5 d. Thread the bike chain around the smallest rear gear and onto the rear derailleur’s top pulley wheel
5 e. Pass the chain around the rear derailleur’s bottom pulley wheel
5 f. Double check your chain goes in a straight line from the top pulley to the bottom pulley, and that it is not caught around the middle post or plate of the derailleur leg
5 g. Hold your rear derailleur leg forward by hand, stick or seatpost. Doing so will make joining the chain alot easier because you won’t have to fight against the derailleur spring.
5 h. Bring the other end of the chain around and under the front of the small chainring
5 i. Link the two ends of your new bike chain together
Step 6 – Fit the Shimano locking pin
Insert the locking pin that came with your Shimano bicycle chain. If you don’t have one you can buy new pins from your local bike shop for cheap. The pointed first half of the pin is a guide for the second half. The second half is the actual locking link pin. The small ribs and shoulders on the locking pin are designed to lock the pin into place securely when fitted correctly.
Step 7 – Line your chain tool up
Fit your chain tool to the chain from the bottom and line the plunger tip up to the centre of the head of the locking pin.
Step 8 – Wind the locking pin into place
Wind the pin through slowly. Don’t rush it if it’s your first time.
You should feel the pin almost click into place as the last rib finds its place between the outer and inner link plates. You should also feel more pressure on the chain tool as the end shoulder of the locking pin comes up against the outer plate.
Visually inspect that the pin is fitted neatly and fully into the link. Both ends of the actual locking pin section might stick out slightly further both sides of the chain than the factory fitted pins. That’s fine.
Step 9 – Remove tool and check
Remove the chain tool and pivot the link you just connected. It should pivot easily, but not be sloppy.
Step 10 – Remove the guide pin
Hold the bike chain close to the join link. Using pliers held perpendicular to the chain with your other hand, grip the protruding guide pin section. To snap the guide pin from the locking pin twist the pliers like you’re revving a motorbike. Snappo!
Step 11 – Bike chain lubrication
Lubricate your new chain with some quality mountain bike chain lube. And don’t forget to clean and lube your chain regularly to keep it in good condition. A bike chain cleaning device makes the cleaning job easy, then a simple squirt of lube and you’re ready for your next ride. A light squirt of lube on the chain before each ride is a good habit to get into also.
Step 12 – Make it easy for yourself
A quality chain tool will make the job of fitting a new bike chain that much easier. Don’t go for the cheap chain tools! They will most likely bend and snap at the worst possible moment. And that moment might be when you’re fixing a chain in the bush with the sun beating down on you. Buy a good quality bicycle chain tool and it will work properly for you every time.
And remember to replace your chain regularly with the best mountain bike chain you can afford. Combined with other good mountain bike maintenance habits a new chain on a regular basis will ensure smooth gear shifting and a longer lasting drivetrain.