How to put a chain on a mountain bike step by step

Mountain biking is a satisfying outdoor activity that allows you to explore rugged terrains navigate challenging trails and connect with nature. However, like any mechanical system, your mountain bike requires regular maintenance to perform at its best. One crucial aspect of bike maintenance is making sure that the chain is properly installed and well-maintained.

In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through the step-by-step process of how to put a chain on a mountain bike. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a beginner understanding how to install and maintain your bike’s chain is essential for a smooth and safe riding experience.

Why Proper Chain Installation Matters

Before we dive into the step-by-step process it’s important to understand why proper chain installation is crucial for your mountain bike. 

The chain is an integral part of your bike’s drivetrain transferring power from your pedals to the wheels. 

If the chain is not installed correctly or is in poor condition it can lead to various issues including.

  • Poor shifting performance: A misaligned or improperly installed chain can cause unstable shifting making it difficult to change gears smoothly.
  • Reduced efficiency: A worn or improperly lubricated chain can lead to energy loss making your rides less efficient and more tiring.
  • Chain breakage: An incorrectly installed or excessively worn chain is more prone to breakage which can be dangerous and leave you stranded on the trail.
  • Damage to other drivetrain components: A poorly maintained chain can boost wear and tear on your bike’s cassette chainrings and derailleur pulleys.

Proper chain installation and maintenance can significantly extend the lifespan of your drivetrain components and enhance your overall riding experience.

Tools and Materials You’ll Need

Before you start working on your mountain bike’s chain, gather the necessary tools and materials to ensure a smooth and efficient process. Here’s a list of what you’ll need.

Various tools and materials for mountain bike chain installation, including a chain breaker tool, lubricant, rag, and more.
Tools and Materials You’ll Need
Tools and Materials
– New bicycle chain (matching your bike’s speed, e.g., 10-speed, 11-speed, etc.)
– Chain breaker tool or chain rivet extractor
– Chain wear gauge
– Chainring bolt tool (if necessary)
– Allen wrenches or multi-tool
– Lubricant specifically designed for bicycle chains
– Rag or shop towels for cleaning
– Safety glasses
– Work stand (optional but highly recommended)

Having these tools and materials on hand will make the process of putting a chain on your mountain bike much smoother and more efficient.

Preparing Your Bike

Before you can install a new chain it’s important to prepare your bike and workspace. Here’s what you should do.

  • Safety first: Ensure your bike is securely supported either on a bike repair stand or by hanging it from a ceiling hook. This provides better access and prevents unnecessary strain on your back and neck.
  • Shift to the smallest chainring and smallest rear cog: This will relieve tension on the derailleur and make it easier to remove the old chain.
  • Clean the drivetrain: Use a degreaser and a brush to clean the chain, chainrings, and cassette. A clean surface will make it easier to work on your bike and prolong the life of your new chain.
  • Check for damage: Inspect the chainrings, cassette, and derailleur pulleys for any signs of wear or damage. If you notice any issues, address them before installing the new chain.

Removing the Old Chain

Now that your bike is prepared it’s time to remove the old chain.

 Follow these steps.

Carefully remove the old chain from the rear derailleur.
  • Locate the quick link: Many modern chains come with a quick link also known as a master link which allows for easy removal without a chain breaker tool. If your chain has a quick link find it and take note of its position.
  • If there’s no quick link: If your chain doesn’t have a quick link you’ll need to use a chain breaker tool to break the chain at any link. Position the tool’s pin over the chain’s rivet and turn the handle until the rivet is pushed out. Be careful not to push the pin all the way out as it can be challenging to re-insert later.
  • Remove the chain from the derailleur: Carefully guide the chain off the chainring and the derailleur pulleys making sure not to force it.
  • Remove the old chain from the bike: Once the chain is disconnected from both the front and rear remove it from your bike. Take this opportunity to inspect the old chain for wear using a chain wear gauge. If it’s excessively worn, it’s time for a replacement.

Choosing the Right Chain

Selecting the right chain for your mountain bike is crucial for optimal performance and longevity. 

Chains come in various speeds to match your bike’s drivetrain so be sure to choose the correct one. Additionally, consider the following factors.

A close-up image of a person holding two different bicycle chains, demonstrating the process of Choosing the Right Chain.
Selecting the correct bicycle chain is crucial for optimal performance and durability.
  • Chain brand and model: Stick to reputable bicycle chain brands known for their quality and durability.
  • Chain length: Your new chain should match the length of your old chain. If you’re unsure you can follow the chain sizing instructions provided by the chain manufacturer.
  • Chain Compatibility: Ensure that the chain you choose is compatible with your bike’s drivetrain components, including the chainrings, cassette, and derailleur.

Measuring and Cutting the New Chain

Once you have the right chain it’s time to size and cut it to the correct length.

 Follow these steps.

A person measuring and cutting a new bicycle chain to the correct length.
Measuring and cutting the new chain to the right length is a crucial step in chain installation.
  • Wrap the chain around the largest chainring and the largest rear cog without threading it through the derailleur. Make sure there’s enough slack for smooth shifting and rear wheel removal but not so much that the chain will drag on the ground.
  • Add one full link to the measured length to allow for proper tension and movement.
  • Use a chain breaker tool or rivet extractor to break the chain at the appropriate link. Be cautious when breaking the chain, as you want a clean break without damaging the adjacent links.
  • If your chain has a quick link make sure to connect it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically, this involves inserting both ends of the chain into the quick link aligning the pins, and then pulling the chain to lock it in place. Always check that the quick link is securely fastened.

Installing the New Chain

With the new chain properly sized, it’s time to install it on your mountain bike.

 Follow these steps:

  • Thread the chain through the rear derailleur: Begin by guiding the chain through the jockey wheels on the rear derailleur. Make sure it follows the same path as the old chain passing under the lower jockey wheel and over the upper one.
  • Thread the chain onto the chainring: Carefully guide the chain onto the smallest chainring in the front, ensuring it engages with the teeth smoothly.
  • Make sure proper tension: If you have a rear suspension on your mountain bike compress it slightly to mimic your riding position and provide proper chain tension.
  • Shift gears: Shift through all the gears to make sure the chain runs smoothly on both the front and rear drivetrain components. Pay attention to any chain skipping or noise which may indicate improper installation.

Adjusting Chain Tension

Proper chain tension is important for smooth shifting and efficient power transfer. 

Follow these steps to adjust the chain tension.

Properly adjusting chain tension is crucial for optimal mountain biking performance.
  • Check the chain tension: Make sure that the chain has proper tension without being too tight or too loose. It should have some slack but not so much that it sags or drags on the ground.
  • Adjust the rear derailleur: To fine-tune the tension use the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur. Turn it clockwise to tighten the chain or counterclockwise to loosen it. Make small adjustments and test the shifting performance between each adjustment.
  • Double-check shifting: Shift through all the gears again to confirm that the chain moves smoothly and doesn’t skip or drop.

Lubricating the Chain

Lubricating your bike chain is essential to reduce friction prevent rust and prolong its lifespan.

 Here’s how to properly lubricate your mountain bike chain.

A close-up image of a bicycle chain being lubricated with a specialized chain lubricant.
Applying chain lubricant to ensure smooth performance.
  • Clean the chain: Use a clean rag or shop towel to wipe off any excess dirt and grime from the chain.
  • Apply the lubricant: Apply a small amount of bicycle chain lubricant to each link on the chain. Be sure to apply the lubricant evenly while rotating the pedals backward to ensure complete coverage.
  • Let it sit: Allow the lubricant to penetrate the chain for a few minutes.
  • Wipe off excess lubricant: After the lubricant has had time to penetrate the chain use a clean rag to wipe off any excess. This prevents attracting additional dirt and debris.
  • Lubricate regularly: Depending on your riding conditions you may need to lubricate your chain after every few rides or when it starts to sound dry or squeaky.

Final Checks and Safety Precautions

A mountain biker inspecting the bike before riding.
Safety is a priority Before hitting the trails conduct final checks and safety precautions to ensure your mountain bike is in top condition.

Before hitting the trails it’s important to perform some final checks and safety precautions to make sure your mountain bike is in optimal condition.

  • Check your brakes: Make sure that your brakes are functioning correctly and that the brake pads have sufficient life left in them.
  • Inspect your tires: Verify that your tires are properly inflated and in good condition. Check for any signs of damage or excessive wear.
  • Test your shifting: Shift through all your gears once more to make sure your chain is running smoothly.
  • Secure all bolts: Double-check that all bolts including those on the chainring derailleur and quick releases are properly tightened.
  • Safety gear: Don’t forget to wear the necessary safety gear, including a helmet, gloves, and protective clothing.

Conclusion

Properly installing and maintaining your mountain bike’s chain is essential for a smooth safe and enjoyable riding experience.

 By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide you can confidently put a new chain on your bike adjust it to the correct tension and ensure it operates flawlessly. Regular chain maintenance including cleaning and lubrication will extend the life of your drivetrain components and keep your mountain bike in peak condition for many adventures to come. 

Remember a well-maintained chain is not just a key part of your bike it’s a key part of your mountain biking experience.

FAQs

Q: How often should I replace my mountain bike chain?

Ans: The frequency of chain replacement depends on several factors including your riding style terrain and maintenance habits. As a general guideline, it’s recommended to replace your chain every 1,500 to 2,000 miles (2,400 to 3,200 kilometers). Regularly checking your chain for wear using a chain wear gauge can help you determine when it’s time for a replacement.

Q. Can I use any bicycle chain on my mountain bike?

Ans: No, it’s essential to choose a chain that matches your bike’s specific speed. For example, if your mountain bike has a 10-speed drivetrain you should select a 10-speed chain. Using the wrong speed chain can lead to compatibility issues and poor shifting performance.

Q. Do I need to use a quick link to connect the chain or can I use a chain breaker tool?

Ans: You have two options for connecting your chain: using a quick link or using a chain breaker tool to press in a rivet. Quick links are convenient for tool-free installation and removal. However, some chains may require a chain breaker tool to press in a connecting rivet. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific chain.

Q. What type of lubricant should I use for my bike chain and how often should I apply it?

Ans: It’s essential to use a lubricant specifically designed for bicycle chains. There are wet and dry lubricants available, and your choice may depend on your riding conditions. Apply lubricant sparingly to each chain link, let it penetrate for a few minutes, and then wipe off any excess. The frequency of lubrication depends on your riding conditions but may range from every few rides to as often as once a week.

Q. Can I install a bike chain on my mountain bike without any mechanical experience?

Ans: While it’s possible to install a chain with limited mechanical experience it’s highly recommended to familiarize yourself with your bike’s components and consider seeking guidance or tutorials. Proper chain installation is essential for safety and performance. If you’re uncomfortable with the process it’s a good idea to consult a professional bike mechanic or attend a maintenance class to learn the necessary skills.

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