Tutorial: How to Put On a Chain For Mountain Bikes

Do you want to learn how to put on a chain for a mountain bike? Installing a chain on a mountain bike is a routine procedure, and you will inevitably have to do it someday.

Here’s how you can put on a chain for mountain bikes:

  1. Arrange a chain that fits your mountain bike
  2. Position the bike either on a stand or flip it upside down
  3. Place the chain on the sprocket and the gear mechanism
  4. Confirm that the chain fits
  5. Join the loose ends of the chain once you fix it on your bike 
  6. Inspect it thoroughly by taking your bike for a ride

While it is always an option to consult a professional to do the job for you, I recommend you not to do that because I am fairly certain that you can do it all by yourself once you learn it.

The only question that remains is, are you ready to learn to put a chain on your mountain bike all by yourself? If yes, then let’s get right into it!

What Do You Need to Replace the Mountain Bike Chain?

To replace your mountain bike chain, you need very basic equipment that will be easily available in your house or at a local bike shop.

Here is a small list of items you should quickly grab before you start with the procedure:

  1. A master mountain bike chain appropriate for your bike type (explained below)
  2. A long rivet or a skewer to fix the old and new chains as you measure their length
  3. A chain tool and pliers for fixing any stiff links in the chain
  4. A lubricant such as WD-40 to apply when you are done installing your chain

How to Put On a Chain For Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are more durable and better adapted to your strenuous activities for obstacle-laden pathways. Almost all mountain bikes contain strong and durable chains with a master link. This definitely eases the process of installation for you. 

As I will discuss further, master links are relatively simpler and easier to join, and thus, you can connect your chain conveniently.

#1 Arrange the Right Chain 

First of all, you need to make sure that you are using a brand-new chain because if you use an older chain, then it will obviously wear down faster. If you have arranged a new bike chain for your mountain bike, the next thing to check is if the chain is compatible with your bike. 

For example, if your mountain bike works on an 11-gear mechanism, then you need to get an 11-speed chain that would be well suited according to the size as well as your strenuous activities.

The right compatibility for the chain ensures that your rides will be smooth and your riding experience elevated. 

How to Check Chain Compatibility?

The most widely used method to check chain compatibility is simply counting the number of cogs on the rear cassette of your wheel. You can then buy a chain that is compatible according to that number.

If you don’t know much about checking the compatibility of chains, I would recommend asking a shopkeeper who is well-versed in bikes. 

If you are simply replacing your bike chain, then you can just take out your old chain and buy a chain according to its size, as explained later on.

Anyways, the point is that it is crucial that you arrange a rightly compatible chain for your mountain bike and then proceed towards installing it.

#2 Position the Bike

Before you start with the process, you should position your bike such that the chainring and sprockets are easily accessible to you to install the chain. 

The ideal position is to simply flip the bike upside down and then start the process.

However, be sure to put a comfortable mat or a piece of cardboard underneath. This would prevent the saddle seat from getting damaged due to strain and will also keep it clean.

Another way to do this procedure is to place your mountain bike on a bike stand. That would slightly elevate it and allow you enough room to put the chain on the chainring. 

#3 Measure the Chain Appropriately

You should measure the dimensions of this new chain and ensure that they are suited for your mountain bike. 

If you are replacing your bike chain, then you can start by placing both chains side by side in such a way that the chain plates are on their sides.

Next, penetrate a long rivet on through the lined-up ends of the chain on one side. 

Now check if the lengths of the old chain and the new chain are equal. If they are not, then mark the point from where you will be cutting through and removing the links.

You can either remove these extra links now or later on when you have fixed the chain on the drivetrain. 

#4 Position Your Chain In the Gear Mechanism

To start with the installation process, you will have first to place the chain in the gear mechanism properly. That essentially means that you will have to pull it back around the overall drivetrain. 

Place the chain on the drivetrain in a way that both ends meet somewhere in the middle between the wheel so that you can fix them together later on.

The significance of allowing the ends to meet at the bottom midpoint is that it will be more accessible to you and allow gravity to keep it fixed in its place until you are done with the rest of the procedure.

Moreover, your ride will be smoother this way, and you will have a better riding experience.

#5 Remove Extra Links From the Chain

When you bring the two ends of the chain together, you might notice that the chain is slackening a bit. If that is the case, it would be loose when you attach the ends. 

Thus, it is better to tighten the chain by removing some links from the chain. These extra links are safe to remove and would not harm your chain or bike in any way.

You can remove these extra links by first shifting your bike to its lowest gear and then removing the chain links one by one. However, you should be careful to avoid popping the pin holding the links together.

If you pop the pin, it will be difficult to reattach it, and you won’t be able to join the loose ends. 

One way to ensure this before you fix the chain on the bike is to count the links on your old bike chain (if you are replacing it). Then count the links on your new bike chain and if there are any extra links, you can easily remove them.

» Read my blog post: How To Shorten Bicycle Chains?

#6 Attach the Loose Ends Of Your Chain

This is the step where you can understand the convenience that master link chains impart you.

You have fixed the chain in position, but it is not truly fixed until you join its loose ends. You can do that by simply slipping the pin of the link into its slot to complete the link. 

As soon as you place the pin in the slot, you should hear a popping sound when it falls into place. You can do further inspection by pulling the chain from both ends and ensuring that it is firmly fixed.

You can also rotate the pedals and see that the chain is moving smoothly throughout the motion.

» Read more about this in my post: How to Remove Bike Chain w/o Master Link?

#7 Inspect the Chain Thoroughly

Now is the time to give your mountain bike chain a final inspection. The first step is to bring the bike to its original correct position. 

Now manually move the pedals and see that the chain is moving smoothly through the drivetrain. If you observe any stiff links, you can fix them by resetting the pin with the help of pliers since they are most likely caused by a protruding link.

You should now lubricate your bike chain properly for its protection and smoother movement. Now finally, take your bike out for a ride and observe your chain. 

Check if you are easily able to move your pedals. If you face any resistance or feel it to be unusually tighter, you can reattach some of the links and give it a ride again. 

How to Maintain the Mountain Bike Chain After Putting It On

Now that you have installed a chain on your mountain bike, it is essential that you maintain it. Bike chains tend to wear out over time, but their life can be increased if they are lubricated and maintained properly.

Here are three ways you can maintain your bike chain:

#1 Wash Your Bike Chain

As you travel to various places, your bike chain gets accumulated with dirt, oil, and gunk. All of these materials are harmful to the bike chain and tend to wear them out over time. 

The easiest solution to a dirty bike chain is to wipe it with a clean rag.

After wiping it with a clean rag, you can now apply a degreaser on the bike chain to degrease it and remove any gunk that may be present. 

Finally, remove the degreaser by spraying copious amounts of water and then follow it up with final cleaning and drying with another clean rag.

#2 Lubricate Your Bike Chain

Lubricating your bike chain is an essential part of maintaining it. Whenever you ride your bike, your bike chain moves through the drivetrain and produces friction as it comes in contact with the sprockets, chainrings, and cassettes. 

This friction produces heat and negatively affects your bike motion. The best way of lowering this friction is by lubricating your bike chain.

When you lubricate your bike chain, you ensure that the chain engages with cassettes, sprockets, and chainrings smoothly and maintain proper gear-shifting performance.

Thus, it is crucial to lubricate your bike chain regularly if you want a smoother motion and an increased life. 

#3 Thoroughly Inspect Your Chain For Wear

Another essential factor for maintaining a bike chain on a mountain bike is regular inspection for wear and tear. A worn-down chain can make riding difficult for you and considerably lower your riding experience. 

If your bike chain has worn down, you should immediately replace it. Here are some ways you can inspect your bike chains for damage:

1) Use a Chain Wear Indicator

You can easily find a chain wear indicator in a local bike shop near you. To use the chain wear indicator, you will have to insert it between the chain links and follow its scale to measure and interpret its readings. 

Usually, a chain wear indicator contains stickers that indicate whether your chain has been worn or not. It is basically measuring the distance between your chain links and giving you a calculation based on that. 

If your chain wear indicator does not contain stickers to indicate worn or unworn chains, you should check the box it came in and then make the right decision.

2) Try to Join the Ends Of Your Chain to Check For Wear

If you cannot arrange a chain wear indicator, another method to check for wear is by joining the ends of the bike chain. To perform this method, lay your chain on a surface such that the holes are oriented up and down. 

Now try joining both ends of the chain together while keeping the holes oriented up and down. While performing this procedure, note the sideway flexion and bents in the chain.

If your chain is overly flexed, it is a thorough indication that it is worn down.

3) Get Familiar With the Drivetrain

The drivetrain of your mountain bike is the main component that converts pedaling to the actual motion of the wheels.

The drivetrain can also wear down over time, and in turn, they may cause the chain to wear down too. Thus, you should observe how your bike chain moves through the drivetrain. 

Are Mountain Bike Chains Universal?

No, mountain bike chains are not universal. The bike chains are made very specific to their models and one type of bike chain would usually not fit on any other bike type

It is best to use a bike chain that is specific to the bike model and type. For example, an 11-gear mountain bike would always use an 11-speed bike chain, and no other chain type would fit on it.

How Often Should You Replace Your Mountain Bike Chain?

You should replace your bike every 2,000 to 3,000 miles. Replacing your bike chain regularly is important because it can prolong the life of your drivetrain and lead to smoother functions.

Besides that, you should know that all mountain bikes are half (½) pitch. That essentially means that they measure half an inch between each pitch. 

Approximately if your bike chain contains 12 links and we convert inches to the metric system, then the links would measure 152.4mm.

If your bike chain measures over 153.6mm, then it is time for you to get a new bike chain.

The Bottom Line

If you enjoy riding your mountain bike and want to continue with your hobby long-term, you should know how to put on a chain on a mountain bike. It is an extremely useful skill that would help you navigate situations such as replacing your bike chain or putting it back on if it falls off. 

In this article, I have not only explained the process of putting on a chain on your mountain bike but also how you can maintain it long-term.

If you thoroughly follow the guidelines that I have provided, you will find it easy to put on a chain on a mountain bike all by yourself in no time!

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