How To Shorten Bike Chain (Great Tutorial With and Without Tools)

Cycling is one of the enjoyable hobbies that’s great to stay fit and athletic without spending dollars in a gym. The only requirement is that your bike remains in its optimal condition. 

If there’s one issue that irks every cyclist, it’s the bike chain length issue. Your bike’s chain must be of proper length – neither too short nor too long. If it’s long, you should shorten it. 

You can either use a chain tool or a pair of hammers and nails to shorten your bike chain. A specialized chain tool is recommended as it simplifies the entire process. 

But before that, let’s understand a few reasons to shorten your bike chain.

Shorten Bike Chain

Top 5 Reasons To Shorten A Bike Chain (#3 is the most common!)

There are multiple reasons why you should shorten your bike chain and these five are the most common among them. 

  1. Different link and size definitions

Different chain manufacturers follow a distinct link and size definition. This is why the chain lengths vary from brand to brand. For example, most manufacturers assume the distance between the chain pins as a link. 

It’s, however, not strictly correct. While there is a 1″ distance between links, only ½” is the distance between two pins.

  1. You’re in a mechanical emergency

You might also need to shorten a bike chain in a mechanical emergency. It’s recommended to carry a chain tool for such cases, otherwise, you’d require a lift. 

If your bike has derailleurs, you’d have to remove the damaged chain section using the chain tool and get the repair work done. However, if the chain has master or quick links, you might not need a chain tool. 

  1. The new chain is too long

Shortening a chain is more accessible than lengthening it. That’s why the chain manufacturers sell them in a standard length which is always on a lengthier side. Hence, you would need to shorten it before use.  

A standard chain consists of approximately 116 links. This is what you’ll find on most chain boxes. However, the exact number of links varies from bike to bike.

  1. You have changed the cassette

If you’ve changed your bike cassette (the cluster of sprockets located at the rear hub of your bike), this is another reason to shorten your bike chain. This is because different cassette types require an extra chain length. 

For example, if you have changed the 11-34t cassette to 11-28t, you’d shorten the bike chain. However, there is no need for the same if it’s only 32t. 

  1. The old chain has become too long

Bike chains have high tensile strength. This makes it far from possible for any cyclist to stretch its length by any means. Bike chains can only elongate in size when various parts, especially links, wear down over time. 

As a thumb rule, if your bike chain measures 0.5% to 1% longer than what it was earlier, you either need to replace or shorten the chain. 

So, these are the five reasons the need for chain shortening arises. Let’s now discuss how to shorten a bicycle chain with a chain tool and without one.

How To Shorten A Bike Chain With A Chain Tool?

I would recommend a dedicated chain tool if you’re taking the bike chain shortening duty on your shoulders. It’s a useful tool to have both at home and on rides. 

If you have one, here are the next steps to follow. 

  • Measure the correct chain length

There are multiple ways to determine the perfect chain length. You can lay the new chain alongside the older one and remove the extra links if any. If not this, simply count the number of links in the new chain and remove the extra ones. 

For more ways to calculate the length of your bike chain, you can check the video from Park Tool.  

  • Locate the master link

A master link makes it easier to break the chain links and rejoin them. The only thing to remember is that most master links are non-reusable. 

Hence, if you’re dealing with a non-reusable master link, have a new link handy. 

  • Break the chain

When you have located the master link, it’s the ideal time to break the chain using the chain tool. 

I’d recommend the Park Tool chain tool due to its awesome benefits over others. For example, it’s extremely easy to use and build to last. Furthermore, it features an adjustable locating shelf and a long-lasting steel body. 

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
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It’s also a great option for single-speed, 5-speed, and 12-speed bike chains. 

To do so, here’s the entire process. 

Lower the chain on the chain tool for support. Clockwise turn the tool’s handle until the punch sits on the chain pin’s center. Continue turning to take the pinout of the chain to break it. 

  • Remove the chain links

Now, you just need to remove the chain links to shorten the bike chain. You need to break the chain once to shorten it if it’s new. However, you’d need to break it twice if it’s old and has only elongated due to wear over time. 

  • Reconnect the chain

The easiest way to reconnect the chain is by using the master link cleverly. To do so, position the master link over the ends of two pins. Tighten it by rotating the pedals. 

Ensure that the master link doesn’t move from its place while pedaling. 

You have successfully shortened your bike chain with a chain tool. 

How To Shorten A Bike Chain Without A Chain Tool?

You can also shorten your bike chain without a chain tool and here’s how to do it. 

If you’re working out on a new chain, figure out its ideal length for your bike using the different ways discussed above. Once you’re done with the length measurement, proceed to the next steps. 

  • Find the master link

I’d recommend finding the master link before bringing down the chain from the bike. By doing so, it becomes easy to break the chain, shorten it, and reassemble on the bike. 

You can use a piece of cable to open the master link in a quick go. 

Though you can do the above process without the master link as well, joining the links in the earlier pattern would be difficult in that case. 

  • Break the chain

Once you have located the master link and removed it, let’s break the chain. To do so, position the chain over a hard surface. Identify the pin to be knocked out, place a nail over it, and strike the hammer at the pin’s center to remove it. 

Never knock the pin completely out of the chain if it’s incompatible with the master link. 

  • Remove the links

If you’re dealing with a new bike chain, you’d need to remove two half-links at a time to shorten it to the desired length. 

To rejoin the remaining links, position the master link over the ends of two pins. Tighten it by rotating the pedals. 

That’s how you can shorten the bike chain without a chain tool. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How to shorten a bike chain without specialized tools like a chain tool?

To shorten your bike chain without a chain tool, get yourself its best alternatives such as a regular hammer, wood pliers, and thin nails. 

How many links are there in a bike chain?

Although the exact number of links on a bike chain varies from bike to bike, most manufacturers sell chains with approximately 116 links. 

Is the Park Tool chain tool a good buy?

Yes, the Park Tool chain tool is a great buy due to several reasons. It’s not only compact but being universal, it’s suitable for all bike types, from road to mountain bikes. 

How To Shorten Bike Chain Summary

Bike chain shortening is a must-have skill if you’re a cyclist. It helps you fix a long chain at home and on rides to improve your cycling experience. 

If you’re new to this and assume chain shortening is a long process, this article would change your mind. Just follow the above step-by-step guide and shorten your bike chain in a breeze. 

About Martin

I am Martin, I am the author of this blog. My main interests include cycling. That's why this blog was created. I have always been interested in technology and how bicycles are made, so I built one myself.

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