Single Speed a Mountain/road Bike




How to single speed a bike in the event of a broken derailleur. Useful when having a bike that can peddle in a single gear is better than no bike at all!

I do Adventure Racing and a broken bike means lots of lost time in the race. While single speeding a bike was in my mental list of break down solutions, I'd never tried it at home before hand. A mate recently broke his derailleur during a race and attempted to single speed the bike, but the chain kept dropping down the cluster due to insufficient chain tension and so was still effectively a broken bike.

Thanks to Eric from my local bike shop (Beerwah Cycles) who suggested I combine chain shortening along with bmx style chain tensioning by shifting the rear axle.

The basic premise is
1 - using a chain breaker take out a link so that you've got a single chain length and not a loop
2 - trying to keep the chain fairly straight (ie centre front to centre rear sprocket) set the chain and observe the link overlap
3 - move up/down a couple rear sprockets until the chain would be 'just' too short if you were to shorten it
4 - remove the excess links with the chain breaker and rejoin the loop
5 - undo the axle quick release, set the chain on the sprocket then push the axle back until the chain has some tension (axle should not have returned all the way to its usual spot)
6 - do up the quick release
7 - start peddling and be careful to avoid bumps/jumps/speed which could force the axle back and damage the bike.

My first instructable, so please be kind with your comments ;-)

_post publish edit_
ahh just poking around the Instructables site a bit more and found a near duplicate. Could have saved myself the time of wondering how to do this and the authoring of this guide....

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Step 1: Break the Chain

So you've broken the derailleur or have broken enough links that the chain is too short for the derailleur.

Get out the multi-tool from your under seat tool bag and break the chain.

Step 2: Find a Good Chain Length

Lay the length of chain over the front and rear middle sprockets (so that the chain is fairly straight) and observed the overlap of the links. You want the chain to be 'just' too short so that only a minimal axle shift forward would allow the links to overlap properly. Move the chain up/down a couple sprockets until you find a combination that gives you the optimal length (mine was one up off the centre rear sprocket).

The three pictures show
1 - too short (or too long depending on your perspective)
2 - nearly there
3 - pretty good, the 10mm'ish of length won't take much of an axle shift

Step 3: Rejoin the Chain

So you've found a gear ratio that gives you a good chain length.

Mark or remember the overlap point. Using a chain breaker remove the excess links. Using your chain breaker (or in my case a quick-link) rejoin the chain

Step 4: All Done

Undo the axle quick release and bring the wheel forward in the axle recess so that you can lay the chain over the sprockets.

Push the wheel back into its axle recess and you should find the chain gets some tension on it while the axle does not quite reach its usual position. Do up the quick release firmly.

Start peddling so that you can move forward again. Be very careful with jumps/bumps/etc because if the axle gets pushed back from a thump then you could snap the chain (or do some other more major structural damage) and end up pushing the bike anyway.

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    8 Discussions


    good instructible! I lost my derailleur cog on the spring cycle and so rode like this for 5k. fortunately I wasn't far from work so I dropped my bike off, grabbed my fixie and rode the remaining 40k..

    2 stroke

    9 years ago on Introduction

    i did that thomy bike the shifter cables and the shifters were seized and i didn ot reaal need to pedal the bike much since i am a motorize it with a chainsaw engine friction drive and the pdals are in emergency only or for starting ( friction drive)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Ta.  In my particular case I couldn't because the derailleur hanger is gripped by the quick-release nut.  Even if I could I'd probably still leave it there cause I'd then have to dig out the tools to take it off without damage and then find space in my pack to carry the spare parts.  This guide was to show my approach to a single-speeding when stuck out on the trail.  Same as tradtimbo, I would not be recommended this approach as a long term solution.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for posting! I'm considering turning an old bike into a single speed to avoid having to replace the entire system, and had also missed the previous post. ;) It's always awesome to have multiple explanations for the same idea, as it increases the chance that I'll get it right.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    please take care if you choose this approach for a single speed bike. Rear freewheels/cassettes with multiple cogs are not meant to run like this. This is an emergency quick fix for a broken rear derailleur.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This instructable is showing the correct use of this quick-fix on-the-trail solution. The other instructable is instructing people to use this method to obtain a single speed bike. big difference. The reason to be careful is just as you mentioned. The bike can break. If your riding the bike when it breaks, your in for a nasty crash. Good post. For more of an explanation as to why this is only a quick-fix method visit: