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How To Remove A Bike Chain Without Breaking It (7 Steps)

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Replacing a bike chain can be a daunting task for beginners (to say the least!)

Fortunately, removing a bike chain doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. With a bit of practice, it’s something that only takes a few seconds.

In this post, I’ll take a look at:

  • The simple seven-step process to remove a bicycle chain without breaking it
  • How to remove a bicycle chain without a master link
  • How to get a bike chain out when it’s stuck
  • When to change your bike chain
  • Why is it important to look out for chain wear?
  • Calculating chain wear
  • How to take care of your bike’s chain
how to remove a bike chain without breaking it

Step#1 — Collect your Tools

Master-Link Pliers

Master-link pliers are made to reach in between bike chain links. While it is possible to manually disconnect some master links, this task is simplified by using a pair of master-link pliers.

If your chain is made up of standard links, you don’t require master-link pliers unless you plan on upgrading to a different type of chain.

Not sure if you have a master-link? A master-link is basically one link on the chain that will look different. It is often got a clip on, or looks bigger. Most bikes have them, but some don’t.

Chain Tool

The proper chain tools should be part of any serious cyclist’s standard equipment.

Without one, you won’t be able to unfasten a chain made with standard links. A chain tool is still required when using a master-link chain to cut a fresh chain to the correct length for your bicycle.

New Chain for Your Bike

Remember that bike chains are speed-specific, meaning that the width of your chain needs to match the width of your cassette.

A 9-speed cassette can only be used with a 9-speed chain, a 10-speed cassette with a 10-speed chain, and so on.

Step#2 — Verify the Length of Your Previous Chain

I am presuming that you are at some point going to put a new chain on. To do this, you want to first check the length of the old chain.

You can use the correct length of the old chain as a guide to cut the new one down to size if you take the time to ensure that the chain you are replacing is the correct length.

Put the largest chainring (the front set of gears) and the largest rear sprocket in place first. It’s recommended that the chain be long enough to maintain this gear combined with a slight inverted S-shape across the two pulleys of the rear derailleur.

Change to the smallest chainring and rear sprocket you have.

In these gears, the chain should be tight, and there should be just a tiny space between the derailleur arm and the cassette.

Step#3 — Connect the Chain Tool and Link

In addition to the tiny metal pin, your chain tool should feature two prongs that may be inserted into a corresponding hole in a bike chain link.

Insert the link between the two prongs and tighten it. Both of the prongs should slide into the openings on each side of the link.

There will be rollers and pins, as well as outer and inner plates, in your bike chain. To disassemble a chain, you’ll need to use a chain tool to dislodge the pin from the rollers.

Don’t risk damaging your chain by inserting your tool anywhere besides the pins.

Step#4 — Spin the Chain Tool’s Handle Clockwise to Insert the Pin

To properly attach the chain, the pin must rest in the exact middle of the link.

If that’s the case, keep turning the knob in a clockwise direction. Even if you encounter some difficulty, make sure the tool hasn’t fallen off the pin.

Observe the rivet (the pin in the center of the chain link) being forced out on the other side of the link as you turn the handle. If the rivet falls out of the link while you’re turning the handle, it’s impossible to get it back in.

To remove the pin from the chain link, rotate the tool’s handle counterclockwise. The pin must be completely removed from the link.

If you can lift your bike chain out of the chain tool without rotating the handle further, you’re done.

Useful Tip

Take care that your pin doesn’t fall out completely, as you may be able to put it back in the link.

Your chain can be shortened to the next undamaged link if you push your pin all the way out by removing that link. However, this may hinder your ability to change gears.

Another option is to go to a bike shop and ask about getting a new pin for your chain or a new chain.

Step#5 — Locate the Master Link

Typically, the master link will stand out from the rest of the chain in terms of appearance.

Try to find a link that stands out from the rest by having a different color on one side or pins (the round metal pins in the center of the links) that don’t match the rest. An arrow icon may be used on your master link.

Step#6 — Disconnect the Link

Compress the master link using a pair of pliers.

A master link plier has a special shape that allows it to slide into the notches of a bicycle chain link.

The pliers’ jaws should be positioned in the openings on either side of the master link. Place the master link between the pliers’ handles.

Once the master link has been positioned, the pliers’ handle may be squeezed to shut the jaws, and the link can be pushed together.

Letting go of the pliers will allow the master link to break. To release the master link, pull the pliers apart at their handles.

We need to break the master link. (Source)

Step#7 — Pull the Chain off the Bike

Pull the chain up and away from the sprockets of your bike with care. Now that the master link is unhooked, it should be simple to remove (hopefully!).

Rejoin the rivets at the chain’s ends and secure the master link in place with the pliers to reattach the chain.

If you’re a person that prefers to see information like this visually, then there is really good youtube video that shows you how to remove a bicycle chain:

Removing A Chain Without A Master Link

You’ll have a more difficult time dismantling your bike if its chain lacks a master link. (sorry!) However, it can be done even without any specialized equipment.

You’ll just need some commonplace items, such as:

  • A hammer
  • A punch tool
  • Supports (such as two wrenches or blocks of wood)

Using the aforementioned equipment, here is a three-step plan on how to disassemble a chain without the master link:

  1. Set up the chain so that it spans the gap between two fixed points.
  2. Hold a punch over a rivet in the chain.
  3. Remove the rivet and the link from the chain by tapping on them with a hammer.

How To Get A Bike Chain Out When It’s Stuck

If you have a broken chain, simply remove it from the derailleur unless it has already fallen to the ground like a dead snake. It could be clumped and jammed somewhere between the chainrings or the chainstay.

Don’t try to force it if that’s the case.

Slowly and carefully free it by concentrating on the area that is firmly attached.

If you have to use tools to pull it out, do it with extreme caution so as not to damage anything.

If you’re having trouble extracting the wheel, removing it from the bike will ease the strain on the gears. If that doesn’t work, you can use a cassette tool to take out the cassette, and then the chain should come right out.

When to Change Your Bike Chain

Many cyclists, especially newcomers, are unaware of how often they should disassemble and inspect their chains.

Check for “chain wear” or “chain stretch” to determine the condition of your chain. Eventually, the pitch of the chain will get longer as a result of normal wear and tear.

This is the most severe form of chain wear, and it occurs when the bushings wear together with the chain pins over time.

Pins wear out and become less secure as bushings expand with use. In most cases, the first link in a chain will have a pitch of 0.5 inches (or 12.7 millimeters). A worn chain has increased in pitch by more than one percent.

This doesn’t sound like much, but it does have a big impact on the running of your bicycle.

Why is it important to look out for Chain Wear?

It’s important to check how worn your chain is and replace it when it’s time.

All chains stretch during their lifespan. That is just the way things are. If you want to find out everything you need to know about this phenomenon, check out this article that I wrote about how bicycle chains stretch (and what you should do about it).

As the chain wears (and stretches), its efficiency drops, and its shifting quality suffers.

Furthermore, a highly worn chain will be weaker and more likely to snap under stress when you’re riding.

The fact that chain wear might lead to significant financial losses if not treated promptly should be the primary factor motivating your concern about it. (Trust me!)

The new chain is made to fit firmly into the cog (with a pitch of 0.5 inches). Increasing the pitch causes the chain to roll higher up on the tooth, which leads to increased wear on the cog because of less surface area in contact.

If the chain has worn too much, it will begin to skip over the top of the gear. This is something no cyclist wants to encounter on their bike. (Source)

Calculating Chain Wear

The wear on a chain can be measured with a chain-checking tool, a ruler, or a tape measure.

Putting a Ruler to Use

If you want to check for chain wear with a ruler, you should start by making sure a brand-new chain is exactly 12 inches across 12 links (measured from the center of the pin to the middle of the pin).

Most industry professionals agree that 1% link elongation is indicative of a worn chain.

Before it gets to this stage, though, you should disconnect and reconnect your chain. If the length of your chain has increased by more than 12 and 1/16 inches (or 0.5%), you should get a new one.

It’s important to remember that while calculating the length of your bike chain, you shouldn’t factor in the presence of a master link, power lock, or quick link.

Here’s a quick table that explains how you should react to the measurements you find when checking the chain stretch:

Length over 12 inchesPercentage StretchAction
1/32 of an inch0.25%The chain should continue to work well
1/16 of an inch0.5%Consider changing for optimum performance
1/8 of an inch1%Consider changing the chain to prevent damage to other parts of the bike
1/4 of an inch2%Change chain to prevent damage and for safety

How to Take Care of Your Bike’s Chain

When you ride your bike on the road or trail, the chain can get dirty and grimy.

It can be difficult to change gears if the chain rusts or dries out due to environmental factors.

Here are a few tips that will help you maintain your bike chain properly to avoid costly repairs or an uncomfortable biking experience down the road!

  • Maintaining a clean and well-lubricated bike chain is necessary for a safe and smooth cycling experience. Keep your bike in good working order by lubricating the chain and giving it a good cleaning regularly to prevent rust. However, be wary of over-lubricating your bike’s chain, as doing so can also cause harm by making it more slippery and inviting dirt and other abrasive particles to get caught in the moving parts.
  • Wet lubricant is best for riders who frequently venture out in the rain because it resists rinsing, while dry lube is more appropriate for drier regions since dirt adheres less strongly to it.
  • Your bike’s chain can be cleaned by inverting it so that the pedals are resting on the ground. The dirty chain can be cleaned using a rag. If your chain is very dirty, you may need to use a degreaser designed for bicycles. Choose a chain lubricant specifically made for bicycle chains, and then apply it to each link of the chain, working it in well before wiping off any excess.


If you are an avid cyclist, you know how important it is to keep your bike well-maintained. Unfortunately, one of the most important components of your bike, the chain, is also one of the most difficult to remove.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a difficult task.

With just a few simple steps, you can easily and safely remove your bike chain without breaking it. Avoiding chain wear and guaranteeing a smooth ride depend on understanding when to remove and replace a bicycle chain.