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How To Remove A Bike Chain

How To Remove a Bike Chain

Table of Contents

When it comes to cycling, it’s not just riding your bike that’s extremely satisfying but working on it too. We often get asked a lot of questions about how to work on our bikes, and as cycle mechanics love to answer them for you. 

One topic that comes up quite often is how to remove a bike chain. Although it might seem like a simple task, there’s actually a bit more to it than people think. You might need to remove a chain for many reasons, and it’s a valuable skill to learn for any cyclist.

With some chains removed in different ways and a variety of different tools you might need, we thought this guide would be extremely valuable. In this article, were going to be telling you everything you need to know by discussing:

  • Why Is It Important To Learn How To Remove A Bike Chain?
  • How To Know When Your Chain Needs Replacing
  • What Tools Will You Need To Remove A Bike Chain?
  • How To Remove A Bike Chain

Bike Chain & Gears

Why Is It Important To Learn How To Remove A Bike Chain?

There are many reasons why you might need to remove a chain. Here’s why it’s a vital skill to learn for any cyclist:

To Replace Your Chain

Bike chains over time, wear out. Most manufacturers recommend changing them every 1500 miles (Road Cycling). The more you ride with a worn chain, the extra havoc it creates on the cassette and chainrings. 

To Clean Your Chain

If you want the perfect clean on your chain, the best way to do this is by removing and cleaning it off the bike. Tools such as ultrasonic cleaners are way too small to fit the whole bike, so parts need to be removed separately. 

Also Read: Best Bike Chain Cleaner

To Work On Other Components

What’s interesting about a chain is how it wraps around many other components of the bike. It has to wind through multiple derailleurs, and if these need replacing or servicing, the chain has to be removed. 

To Wax

A lot of cyclists in modern times don’t use chain lube but instead, soak it in wax. It’s a great way to protect the chain, increase performance, and keep it incredibly clean. You need to put the chain in a slow cooker to do this, and that requires removing it.

Clean Chain & Gears

How To Know When Your Chain Needs Replacing?

The most common reason you will need to replace a chain is because it gets worn out. It’s something that, as a cyclist, happens all the time and is one of the more common jobs I used to do at the bike shop. 

Catching it soon rather than later can protect the life of your other components, so we need to know when it is worn out. Here’s how you can tell:

Chain Checker

The first and easiest way to establish if your chain needs changing is by using a chain wear tool. This is a tool that costs roughly $8 and can measure the stretch of your chain. When your chain stretches over 0.5%, it’s time to think about changing it. At 0.75% needs to be replaced. 

Pull Test

If you don’t have a chain checker, you can do a method I like to call the pull test. This is where you pull the chain on the front chain and look at the gap it makes next to the chain links. If you can see 1mm, then it’s got a lot of life left. You will need a new chain for anything over 2-3 mm.


Another warning sign is how the bike feels to ride. If the chain is slipping, making some awful noises, or not shifting very well, more than likely, you are going to need to get the chain replaced and then check the other components. 

Tools To remove a Bike Chain

What Tools Will You Need To Remove A Bike Chain?

There are a lot of different bike tools available on the market when it comes to replacing a chain. Depending on the chain you have and how it is connected, you will need different tools. Here’s what we recommend you have:

You will either need the chain breaker or chain link tool to complete the job. We recommend owning both tools as they will be useful and sometimes you might require both when changing a chain. 

Step One:


The first thing you need to do is to get prepared. Find somewhere safe to work, where you won’t be in anyone’s way and can make a mess if required. We highly recommend popping your bike into a stand, as this is going to make the job much easier. 

It’s a good idea to take a picture here so you can see how the chain is threaded through the drivetrain for when you need to reinstall it. 

Wearing gloves for this task is a great way to keep your hands and yourself clean. Dirty chain oil can be difficult to remove from clothing and your hands. 

Master Link

Step Two:

Locate The Master Link If You Have One

Now it’s time to locate the master bike chain link. The master link is a single link that has the ability to come apart and go back together again. Not all chains have a master link, but it’s the first place you are going to check, as it makes the job much easier. 

A master link is the only link in the chain that, instead of having a circular hole, will have an oval hole. This gives it the ability to slide together on itself and come apart. 

If you don’t have a master link, you will need to break the chain instead, which we will discuss in step four. If you do, then continue to the next step, where we can remove the link by breaking it.

Removing Master Link

Step Three:

Remove The Master Link

If you have a master link, we are going to remove this now. To do this, you will need to use the chain tool. This small plier-type device slots in between the links and can either release or tighten the link. 

Slot the chain link tool on either side of the master link. Now pull the handle together, and this will bring the links together. Here you can separate the link and it will fall apart. Ensure not to lose either side of the master link, as you can use this again to reattach the chain later. 

Break The Chain

Step Four:

Break The Chain

If you don’t have a master link, you will need to break the chain. We do this when we don’t have a master link to undo. To break a chain, you will need a chain breaker which is a tool that can drive a pin out of the chain, essentially breaking it. 

Get the chain breaker and insert one of the links into it. The breaker will have a slot where the chain can sit, and the pin will drive directly through the center of one of the links. Sit it here and start tightening up until the pin goes through the link and falls out the other side. 

Once the pin is through the chain, you will need to unscrew the chain breaker, and the chain will fall apart. It’s important to know that you cannot reinsert the chain tool pin to put the chain back together. You will need to add a master link to ensure this chain can be used again. 

Step Five:

Unthread The Chain

Finally, the last thing you need to do is unthread the bicycle chain. Typically when the chain is undone, you will see it come apart very quickly, but if it doesn’t, here’s what you need to do. 

Instead of pulling the chain from one side, we recommend pulling it from the center of the chain where it’s located in the drivetrain, as this means there’s less chance of damaging any components. 

Putting A Chain Back On A Bike

Once you have done any maintenance on your chain or replaced it with a new one, it’s time to return it to the bike. Here’s what you are going to need to do to get it back on the bike. First, take out the picture you took earlier to know how the chain should run through the system correctly. 

Ensure the chain is cut to the correct length if it is new, and then thread it through the system as the picture shows you. Please pay close attention to the rear derailleur, and most people run it through the cage wrong, and it gets caught on the central part of the cage.

Once all run properly, you are going to want to insert the master link and then use the chain link tool to open the link and set it into place. Once set, you will want to run the chain around a few times to ensure it works correctly. 

A Final Note

Learning new skills when it comes to bike maintenance is great for improving the cycling experience. It can save you money going to the bike shop and give you great skills if you ever have to do roadside repairs. We highly recommend investing time into learning bike maintenance skills, as they will come in extremely handy. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do I need to remove the derailleur to remove a chain?

You can split the chain and thread it out of the derailleur instead. Removing the derailleur would be much more work, and the chain would still be stuck in the frame afterward. 

How do I reconnect a chain after it has been removed?

The easiest way to reconnect a chain is to use a master link. This is a special chain link you can remove and install as much as you want without using a chain breaker. 

How often should I replace a bike chain?

Manufacturers recommend every 1500 miles on a road bike, but it could be sooner if you’re riding hard or in poor conditions. 

Picture of Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri

Robbie picked up a bike ten years ago at the age of 26. It started with a ride from London to Paris. Since then, he couldn’t get enough of big mile cycling and started bikepacking and eventually ended up racing ultra distance and even breaking world records.

Robbie has also worked in bike shops and closely with brands to design bikes and new products. Now he loves to share his knowledge and experience to add value to other people's cycling.

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