How to Remove a Bike Chain Without a Chain Breaker Tool

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If your chain is rattling and noisy or you experience poor shifting on your bike, it may be time to replace the chain.
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If your bike chain is rattling or you're unable to shift gears smoothly, it may be time to replace it. A specialized bike chain removal tool, most commonly known as a chain breaker tool, is designed to make it easy for you to remove the chain from your bike and do any maintenance necessary.

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But if you don't have one handy, it's still possible to take a chain off a bike with tools you may already have at home, such as needle-nose pliers or a hammer.

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When Should You Replace Your Bike Chain?

After putting serious mileage on your bike, the pins that join the links on your bike chain might start to wear down. Eventually, your bike chain will stretch out or become rusted and you will need to remove it. If your bike chain is noisy or you have trouble shifting gears, that's also a sign you need to replace it. It's generally a good idea to replace your bike chain every 750 to 1,000 miles, according to REI.

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Some bike chains have a master link, which is a removable link that joins the two ends of the chain together; the master link will look different from the other links.

If your bike chain has a master link, remove the link by twisting it off with a pair of needle-nose pliers. Press the nubs through to the other side to fully remove the link. You may need to use a hammer or wrench to tap the link so that it pops out allowing the chain to separate.

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If you own a pair of master link pliers, you can squeeze the master link pins together to pop the link open, according to REI.

If your bike does not have a chain with a master link, the process is slightly more difficult. Position the bike chain so that it is bridged across two solid supports, such as blocks of wood or two wrenches. Take a punch tool and place it over one of the rivets in the chain. Use a hammer to push the rivet out and separate the chain to remove it. This method can also be used to shorten a new chain if necessary.

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Tip

If you are an avid cycler and plan to do your bicycle maintenance yourself, invest in a bike chain removal tool to make this process easier and faster. Consider carrying it with you as part of a simple repair kit along with a basic first aid kit when you ride, advises the State of Maine's Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Common Bike Chain Tools Cyclists Should Consider

To make bike chain maintenance easier, you can keep a number of tools on hand, including a chain wear tool, replacement pin or master link, chain tool and master link pliers, according to REI.

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  1. A ​chain wear tool​ will tell you how worn your chain is so you know when it's time to replace it.
  2. A ​master link​ will join two ends of the chain together. Consider also buying replacement pins to repair a chain.
  3. A ​chain tool ​will help you remove an old pin or insert a new one when you're breaking your chain.
  4. Master link pliers​ allow you to disconnect and reconnect the master link.

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Maintaining Your Bike Chain

If you regularly ride your bike, the chain may be covered with dirt and grime from the roads and trails. Depending on the climate where you live, the chain may even begin to rust or get dry, making shifting speeds challenging.

Keeping your bike chain clean and well-lubricated will help ensure a smoother and safer ride. Cleaning your bike frequently can help you maintain your bike parts, and lubricating your chain can help protect against rust and wear, according to REI. Just make sure to avoid overlubricating your bike chain, as it can lead to damage as well since too much lubricant makes it easier for dirt and rough particles to stick.

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Wet lube is ideal for those who ride frequently in wet conditions because it doesn't easily rinse off, while dry lube is better suited for drier climates, as dirt sticks less to dry lube, per REI.

To clean your bike chain, flip your bike upside down so that it rests on its handlebars. Use a rag to wipe all of the excess grime from your chain. You may need to use a bike-specific degreaser if your chain is especially dirty, according to REI. Select a proper lubricant designed for bike chains and thoroughly apply it to each link of the chain, then wipe off any excess lubricant.

Tip

If you aren't sure what type of lubricant or degreaser to use, consult your local bike shop. They will help you select the best option for your needs.

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