How To Shorten Bicycle Chains? (Step-by-Step)

A bike chain is the center of many functional abilities of your ride. Essentially, it’s what makes sure your bike can run smoothly and quickly. Your bike chain can help transfer your pedaling power into speed running the cogs. 

You can shorten the bicycle chains by following the step-by-step instructions:

  • Measure the bicycle chain first and see how much you want to shorten it. 
  • Now prepare your bicycle by placing it on a stand and marking the chain from the areas where you need to chop it off. 
  • Keep the tools on you and carefully cut the chains one by one according to the marked length.

When the bike chains are not of the correct size, they can cause major performance issues, and eventually, it takes away all the fun in biking. However, there is a quick fix for this too! 

All you need to do is cut a few links from the chains, which can ensure that it resumes its perfect working.

This article is centered all around shortening chain lengths and the different ways to do it. 

How Much Can You Shorten a Bike Chain? 

There’s a certain limit to how much you can shorten a bike chain. Ideally, your bike chain should be no longer than 12 inches, so you shouldn’t shorten your bike chain any less than 12 inches, either. 

The most common way is to use a chain tool so you can remove a few chain links.

This ensures steadier and much better bike performance if your chain is getting too long.

Since this is the minimum working length, further reduction in size will affect the performance much as the long chains do. 

If your bike chain is way too long then you can shorten it by following these steps.

Step 1: Measure Your Bike Chain

Firstly, when you begin shortening your bike length, it’s important for you to determine how long is your bike chain and how much you need to chop it off.

Another factor that you need to consider is if your bike chain needs to be shortened or simply replaced. 

In order to come to a conclusion on whether or not you need to replace it, you must measure all 12 chain links present in the bicycle.

All 12 links should measure 12 inches; anything longer than that means you need to shorten it. 

Now, if your chain does need shortening instead of a repair, then you move forward on shortening the links without the use of a tool. 

Step 2: Prep and Locate the Master Link

For this step, you’ll need a bike stand; if you have one, bring it out in the garage. If you don’t, just place your bike on its handlebars and let it rest on the saddle. 

This way, it will show the chainwork on your bike, and you’ll have a better view of your chains. Regardless of the method, you must make sure your bike is stable. 

Next, go ahead and clean the chain. Once it’s clean, you’ll have a better view of how damaged it is or the state of its condition. Plus, it’ll also help minimize future problems and keep it well-maintained. 

Once you’ve finally cleaned your chains, spotting the master link will be easy, and you must pop it open.

» I have covered more on this subject in this blog post: How To Find the Bicycle Chain Master Link

This is pretty easy but differs depending on the type of master link chain you have. Different chains have different ways to open them. 

If you don’t have a master link in your bike chain, refer to this step-by-step guide on how to remove the bike chain without a master link.

Step 3: Remove and Reassemble

Once you measure the chains in step 1, you should have a rough estimate of how many links you want to remove. Keep that figure in mind, and start removing the links one by one. 

The best advice here is to be cautiously slow. Any wrong move can ruin your entire chain, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, make sure you’re not rash and keep the chain links with you until you’re sure everything’s set. 

This way, if you accidentally shorten the chain too much, you can add them back to make it the right length. 

Thus, follow these steps in mind until you end up with the desired chain length. Once you’re content with the length, it’s time to put it back together again.

Now you only have to return the chain to the chainrings and reassemble them. Attach the ends of your master link followed by a click sound for extra security. 

Shortening the Bicycle Chain Without a Tool 

The above method was shortening the bicycle chain with tools. Oftentimes, you may not have chain tools lying around and still need to fix your bike chain. 

In this case, worry not because you can still shorten your bike chain without having chain tools. All you’ll need to shorten your chain are: 

  • Hammer 
  • Pliers 
  • Small clamping tool 
  • Small nail 

With these few items, you can easily shorten your bike chain to fit your desired length, and here’s how: 

Step 1: Measure Bike Chain

Like before, step 1 is basically the same as shortening it with a chain tool. You measure your bike chain and determine the length it should be cut to. 

Once again, a chain is way long if it’s beyond 12 inches for 12 links. In that case, a few links need to go. 

» Read my blog post: Single Speed vs Geared In Cycling

Step 2: Prep and Locate Chain

For easier use, you’d want to pop your bike on a bike stand or just flip it upside down to attain the best view. Regardless of what way you choose, make sure it is stable. 

If you don’t have a holder, just make sure your bike doesn’t wobble about and stays rooted in one place. That way, you can easily access the chain. 

Some degree of maintenance is also good. This means you need to clean the bike chain and make sure no dirt or grime is stuck in between the chain links.

Remove all dirt in between the cassette, gears, and other pertaining areas with the hopes of finding the master link. 

Make sure you get rid of the rust from the bicycle chains, too.

Once you’ve found the master link, you can loosen the two ends in hopes of detaching the link from the chain. Once that’s done, remove links one at a time. Make sure to keep the master link safe once it’s removed. 

Step 3: Remove Pins and Reassemble 

Now, when removing the master link from the chain, keep the loose connection in place with a clamping tool. 

To remove the link completely, you may need to place a nail over the hook and gently hit it with the pliers. It may not work the first time, but if you keep hitting, it’ll eventually come out. 

Repeat this for every chain you wish to remove until you’re sure you’ve reached the required length. This should be easy if you’ve accurately measured the length and found out how much you should cut off. 

Now keep removing the links until you’re certain you’ve reached your desired length, and simply pin the ends of the chain back together. There you have it — the chain length is shortened without any use of chain tools. 

Next, all you need to do is put the chain back on the bike.

Is It OK To Shorten a Chain?

If it wasn’t obvious already, shortening bike chains is completely okay, possible, and people do it all the time. The practice is common when your chain isn’t working the way it’s supposed to, and shortening it is the only way to make it work. 

That being said, bike chains cannot be shortened beyond their working ability. If they’re way too short then it won’t work as well and your problem will prevail. This is why you have to make sure not to shorten your bike to the point of creating more issues. 

If it stays well behind the limit, then you can consider your bike to work perfectly. Ideally, you shouldn’t remove more than five links in the bicycle. Even this is in extreme cases. Otherwise, only 2 or 3 links will suffice. 

You can read my blog post: How to Fix Bike Gears That Won’t Shift

What Happens If My Chain Is Too Short? 

When a chain is shorter than it should be, then shifting will be difficult. It’ll be harder to move about, and the derailleur will be stretched out depending on how short the chain is. 

If it’s very short, it can even stretch as far as the chainstay.

Additionally, if your bike really is short, then you’ll have trouble getting into maximum chainrings. In fact, it may not even move if it’s cut too short. 

Wrap Up

By now, I hope you’ve been cleared of any doubt or questions arising from bike chains and their ways of shortening them. Even if you use a chain tool or go the old-fashioned way, shortening bike chains isn’t complicated and just requires some concentration. 

That being said, I hope you realize shortening bike chains isn’t an everyday issue and should only be done if the chain is too long to function properly. Otherwise, if it’s just one inch or a half, then there’s no use in shortening it. 

Regardless, I hope this article helped clear any confusion and will make your chain-shortening experiences bearable and much less complicated. 

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