Is it Time for a Chain(ge)? Part I


You have trained your heart out every third day, if you’re lucky, for months to get to this point.  The crowd is screaming your name, or maybe that’s just the voices in your head.  You are sprinting down the final straightaway, like a rabbit being chased by a fox, about to claim your first yellow jersey; within a millisecond your dreams evaporate.  The rest of your group pass you by as you slow to a crawl and make the agonizing 50 foot walk to the finish line.

A million questions come to mind as you realize your chain has broken:

  • Did Bryan sabotage my bike?  No, I don’t think so.
  • Am I really strong enough to break my chain?  Definitely not.
  • Should I fire my mechanic?  Oh wait, that’s me!
  • What if only……?

How could this have been avoided?

How do you determine if you need a new chain and how do you go about replacing it if you do?

I have the answers!

What follows is a patented, step-by-step, process for evaluating and replacing your chain.  It has been passed down from generation to generation and today I have chosen to reveal it to the world.  Bicycle maintenance, as we know it, may never be the same.

These steps must be followed in the exact order presented.  Any deviation will result in your bike being deemed completely unusable.  Not really…

I.  Check the chain for wear – The first step is figure out if you really need a new chain.  There are all kinds of fancy tools, like the one here, that can be used to determine if your chain has carried you up its last hill.  My approach, though a bit unorthodox, has served me well:

  1. If you have not changed your chain in the last 12-18 months you can skip steps #3-5 because you will need a new chain.
  2. Before I put a new chain on my bike, I first, very precisely, measure and record the length of the new chain for future reference.  The simplest way is to lie it on you workbench and use a tape measure.  I am sure there is also some magic formula that could be used if you decide to calculate its length while it is still coiled up, but that is a for a future column.  It is crucial you do not lose this measurement!  I actually keep mine in a safe-deposit box.
  3. While the chain is still on the bike, using a piece of piano wire, or a guitar string, trace very carefully the chain path until the ends of the wire meet up.  Mark the wire where they meet up and measure that distance using the same tape measure you used in step #2.  This measurement will be referred to as your used chain length.
  4. Compare the length of the new chain with that of the used chain.  If the length of the used chain is shorten than the new chain, with the same number of links, repeat step #2 until you get it right.
  5. If the difference in the measurements is greater than 1/1,000,000 of an inch your chain needs replacement and you can proceed to step II.

II.  Remove the old chain – Now that you have determined your chain is worn out it is time to remove it.  Again, there are all kinds of fancy tools, like this, that can be used to remove a chain but I prefer my own tried and true methods:

  1. Clear your workbench and gather the following tools: Bike stand (I have this one), hammer, bigger hammer, small punch, smaller punch, vice, and band aids (just in case).  If you are missing any of these tools it’s time to make a trip to the local bike shop and/or hardware store.  I’ll wait…
  2. Place your bike in the bike stand with the chain stay at bench height and position it near the vice on your workbench. 
  3. Shift the bike to the biggest gear, meaning smallest cog on rear cassette.
  4. Disengage the rear brakes.
  5. Take a break and get a soda or lunch or something.  This has been a lot of work so far!!
  6. Welcome back!  Disengage the rear wheel skewer and loosen it.
  7. Now remove the rear wheel. You may need to jiggle it a bit to remove it from the bike.
  8. Now take ahold of the chain and clamp on to one of the links with the vice.  Make sure it is nice and tight as we do not want it to slip out when we get to the next step.
  9. Now, carefully, with hammer and punch in hand try to drive out one of the pins.  Didn’t work?  Pick up the bigger hammer and try that.  Still didn’t work?  Use the bigger hammer with the smaller punch.  Hopefully that worked and you didn’t need the band aids.  Once completed it should look like this:    
  10. Pull the pin all of the way out and you should now be able to remove the chain with ease.
Well, this has been quite a challenging day thus far and I am a bit tired.  I say we pick this up again tomorrow.
One last thing before we go.  If you have not purchased a new chain go out and get one today or we’ll have to take another break tomorrow.
Love, ride, and live.

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