Introduction: How to Service a Bicycle Chain

Disclaimer: Riding a bicycle can be dangerous, never ride out of your limits and always wear the appropriate amount of protective equipment. When handling certain chemicals for chain maintenance follow all manufactures safety precautions and wear proper protective equipment such as safety glasses, gloves etc.

A bicycle chain is the direct link between the power you put in through your legs and feet to the pedals and to the rear wheel for forward movement. It is important to keep the chain in good condition to optimize shifting performance and maximize its service life. Without proper cleaning and lubricating the chain will collect dirt and debris causing premature wear which can led to degraded shifting performance and eventually breakage, possibly leaving you stranded miles from home or your car. Intervals of how often the chain should be services depends on your style of riding, riding conditions and usage. Regardless, the following instructions are applicable to all styles of riders and bicycles, including but not limited to road, mountain, BMX, casual etc.


Safety Glasses, Nitrile Gloves, Chain Pliers, Chain Breaker (Optional), Chain inspection tool, Container such as plastic bottle or old Tupperware Mineral Spirits or other degreaser, Old t-shirt or rag, New chain pin (if not using quick link), Air compressor and air nozzle (Optional), Pliers, Chain Lubricant

Step 1: Installing Bike Into Maintenance Stand

Install bike into maintenance stand. Caution should be used when clamping the bike to avoid damage to carbon fiber or suspension style seat posts.

Step 2: Locate the Chain's Quick Link

The quick link is a visually different link of the chain with a slot. If your chain does not have a quick link proceed to step 3, otherwise proceed to step 4. Use the chain pliers to squeeze the link together and with a slight twist the chain will come apart. Remove the chain.

Step 3: Remove a Pin

Using the chain breaker tool select a pin to remove from the chain. If the chain has been repaired using this method before it is recommended that a pin at least four links away be removed. Insert the chain breaker between the links aligning the pin of the tool with the pin of the chain. Ensure the chain is properly seated in the tool prior to actuating the screw. Turn the screw clockwise until the chain pin pushes out of the chain. You will feel some initial resistance and hear a pop when the chain pin breaks free at the beginning and end of removal, this is normal. Remove the tool from the chain and the chain from the bike.

Step 4: Cleaning the Chain

Place the chain in the container and fill with enough solvent to cover the chain. Put on the lid and shake vigorously for a minute or so. Open the container and discard the used solvent. Replace with fresh solvent and repeat at least once more. It is recommended to repeat this process until the solvents contamination is reduced to only slight discoloration. You can filter used solvent through a coffee filter and use again for initial chain cleaning in the future.

Step 5: Inspection

Once satisfied that the chain is sufficiently cleaned, remove from the solvent and wipe dry with a clean rag. You may blow the chain dry with an air nozzle if available or leave to dry for ten minutes. It is also recommended that time be taken here to clean the derailleur, cassette and front chain rings as well as inspect for any damage. Using the chain inspection tool measure the wear of the chain following the tool manufacturer’s instructions. If the chain is damaged or worn replace the chain with new. If installing a new chain begin by degreasing the chain as above and follow the steps below.

Step 6: Routing the Chain

Once clean and inspected it is time to reinstall the chain. If installing a new chain, compare the lengths and shorten the new chain if necessary by removing links as described above. Begin by routing the chain over the front sprocket and allowing the chain end to hang. Take the other end of the chain and pass it through the chain stay and seat stay and over the rear cassette. Route the chain around the back of the cassette and guide the chain around the front side of the upper sprocket (jockey wheel) and behind the tab on the derailleur guide plate. Pass the chain around the rear of the lower sprocket (idler wheel) and pass through derailleur frame. If your bike does not have a rear derailleur simply pass the chain around the front and rear chain rings.

Step 7: Securing the Chain

Put one half of the chain quick link into each end of the chain and bring the chain together. Secure the quick link by inserting each of the pins into the corresponding holes and pulling each end of the chain in opposite directions until a click is felt or heard. The chain is properly seated when the quick link pins are at the rear of the slot and no gap is seen.

If your bike does not utilize a quick link proceed to step install a new pin as follows. Begin by removing one additional link from the portion of the chain where the original pin was removed. If this process has been performed multiple times on the same chain it may be necessary to install a short piece of chain to regain proper length. Bring the two ends of the chain together and insert the new pin until it stops. Install the chain tool, aligning the pin of the tool with the pin of the chain. Turn the tool’s screw clockwise until the pin is just flush with the link on the inside of the chain. Remove the tool and using standard pliers, grasp the pin and break off the protruding portion of the pin. The pin should break easily at the scribed line.

Step 8: Lubricating the Chain

To properly lubricate the chain begin by selecting your preferred lubricant. Manufactures create different lubricants for different conditions, consult your local bike shop to determine what would suit your riding style best. While turning the cranks backwards apply a generous amount of lubricant to the chain along its entire length. While not necessary, you may choose to let the lubricant sit for a minute or two. Using an old rag grasp the chain from the bottom and turn the cranks backwards. Using light pressure let the chain pass through the rag, removing excessive lubricant. The end result should only be a thin layer. Use caution here to not get rag or fingers caught between the chain and sprockets.

Step 9: Checking Your Work

Rotate the cranks forward and move the chain through the entire range of gears ensuring proper shifting. Once satisfied inspect the chain one last time for proper quick link or pin installation. The final product should be a clean chain with no dirt, grease or grime. Only a thin film of oil.

This is also a good time to inspect the remainder of the bike. Remove bike from the maintenance stand and go ride!