Tony's Trailers
Close-up of mechanic repairing a bicycle in workshopClose-up of mechanic repairing a bicycle in workshop

How To Tighten A Bike Chain – A Step-By-Step Guide

Your bike chain is always in motion, which means it gets worn out easily, or come loose while you’re cycling. There are a variety of reasons why this happens, such as heavy loads carried in your favorite bike trailer, improper adjustments, incorrect chain length, and so on. The good thing is, it’s easy to fix! As long as you’re prepared to get your hands greasy, that is.

In this article, we’ll teach you how to tighten a bike chain for both single-speed and multi-speed bikes. But first, let’s differentiate between the two:

Single-speed vs. multi-speed bike

As the name implies, single-speed bikes have only one gear setting, which makes them easy to maintain as they hold up well for much longer. On the other hand, bikes with a derailleur, or multi-speed bikes, have anywhere from 3 to 27-speed settings, which make them highly versatile and less exhausting to ride.

The downside to these bikes with derailleurs is that its very function makes it more high maintenance, especially since the bike chain wears out faster.

What you’ll need

If you have a multi-speed bike such as a mountain bike, you’ll be needing an axle nut removal tool to get your bike chain fixed and tightened. Or, if you have a derailleur bike, you’ll need a wrench that fits your derailleur screw. If you want to make the task easier, you may also opt to use a chain tensioner or a chain tightening tool.

Before you start…

First things first: before you proceed with tightening the chain on your bike, make sure that it’s not damaged or broken in any way. The same goes for your bike’s gears. If there’s any damage, tightening the chain is futile, as these parts will need replacement. Moreover, thoroughly clean the chain and gears regularly.

How to tighten a bike chain

Here’s how you can tighten the bike chain of a single-speed bike in five easy steps:

Step 1: Flip the bike

bicycle flipped onto handlebars

The first step is to position your bike in such a way that it stands on its handlebars and saddle. This will make things easier for you to fix the bike chain, especially if you’re working with a single-speed bike. Alternatively, you can work on your bicycle by using one of the best bike repair stands.

Step 2: Loosen the tire

Once the bike is in position, carefully loosen the rear tire by partially unscrewing the axle nuts holding the tire in place. You can do this with an axle nut removal tool. Once the tire is loose, you’ll be able to work on adjusting the chain tension.

Step 3: Move the tire

Next, gently tug on the rear tire to pull it back from the bike, which should increase the tension on the bike chain. Do this slowly, so as to not damage or break the chain.

Step 4: Find the right tension

As you pull on the rear tire, try tugging on the chain to test its tension. It should move a bit- no more than half an inch in either direction. This is your ideal chain tension.

Step 5: Tighten the rear tire

Finally, fit the rear tire back into the bike frame, and using your axle nut removal tool, tighten the axle nuts back into place, taking care to keep the tire in position. If it comes into contact with the bike frame or the chain, loosen the axle nuts slightly and make the necessary adjustment to reposition the tire, before screwing the axle nuts securely into place.

And, you’re done! Just check the chain tension once more by tugging on it, and spin the tire to see whether it bumps into the chain or bike frame.

How to tighten a multi-gear bike chain

If you have a multi-speed bike, follow these three simple steps to tighten your bike chain:

Step 1: Unscrew the derailleur screw

Before you start, stand your bike steadily in such a way that you can easily work on the rear tire, either by flipping the bike over, or using a bike stand. Once that’s done, locate the derailleur screw (it’s on the back of the derailleur and marked with a “B”). Rotate this screw clockwise to tighten the bike chain.

Take note, we are working on the rear derailleur only, so don’t touch the front derailleur.

Unscrewing a screw to fix a bike chain

Step 2: Get access to the rear wheel

The next step is to disconnect the shifter cable by releasing the brake’s quick-release levers, which should give you access to the rear wheel.

Step 3: Adjust the rear wheel

Moving on to the rear dropouts, slowly slide the axle wheel backward, working in small increments at a time and lowering the release lever each time to check whether you’ve got the ideal chain tension. Once you’re satisfied with the tension, reattach the shifter cable, make sure the levers and derailleur screws are in place, and the wheel spins smoothly.

Why does my bike chain fall off?

You may be worried that your bike chain keeps coming off, especially since you just replaced it. But, here’s the thing: both new and old bike chains are susceptible to come loose and for a variety of reasons.

New chains may not fit as perfectly on the old gears and cogs of your bike and may come off when the load is too heavy. Are you searching for a way to carry more? Check out these best bike cargo trailers. On the other hand, old chains may be stretched thin and worn out, or even completely damaged.

Other than that, sometimes, you can get a loose chain from forceful impacts such as accidents and haphazardly letting your bike drop onto the ground. And other times, you may simply experience your bike chain slipping randomly.

One thing you can expect is that you’re more likely to experience bike chain skipping if you have a single-speed bike, like a road bike or a dirt bike (most modern ones are single speed). The good news is, as you’ve read on this guide, tightening your bike chain is easy!

Does the lubrication effect chain tension?

The answer is yes and no. Technically, the chain experiences the same tension whether or not it’s lubricated. It’s like asking if a rock feels lighter because your hand is slick with cooking oil.  The difference lies in its performance and durability.

A well-lubricated bike chain performs better in the sense that the lubrication enables it to move easier and more efficiently, and with less effort. And, since it’s not creating friction with the gears, it doesn’t wear as quickly.

So, a lubricated bike chain makes for a better biking experience.

Having said that, it’s important never to lubricate a dirty chain, as this can be a cause of chain slipping, excessive wear and tear, and chain damage. Therefore, whether you opt for dry or liquid lubricant, clean and dry your bike chain first.

Final thoughts

A bike chain coming loose is bound to happen to all bike owners, especially if you have a single-speed bike. But as we’ve proven in this guide on how to tighten a bike chain, it’s also one of the easiest bike maintenance and repair tasks you can do on your own.

As long as you take care of your bike and all its parts, ride it safely and inspect it at the first sign of a problem, and follow the right steps in repairing it, your bike can last in good condition for a really long time.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular

Most discussed