How to Shorten a Bike Chain

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Want to know how to shorten a bike chain? Read on to get your answer!

Like other parts of your bike, the chain wears out over time, and the links might stretch, making it longer. When this happens, it might keep slipping out of the sprocket and cause significant wear on the sprocket teeth.

One way to solve this is by shortening the chain. Even if you decide to get a replacement, it might be too long, so you must reduce its length.

So how do you shorten a bike chain? First things first, you need to know if the chain needs a reduction.

For an old chain, count 12 links, then measure them from end to end. Ideally, they should be 12 inches long, but up to 12-1/8 inches is okay. If the measurement looks good, loosen the rear wheel, then pull it back to tighten the chain.

When dealing with a new chain, you can only know if it is long after installing it on the bike.

If it is longer, there are two ways to shorten it: with a chain tool and without one.

How to Shorten a Bike Chain with a Chain Tool

You will need a:

  • Bike stand
  • Chain tool
  • Pair of pliers
  • Chain cleaner
  • Lubricant

Step 1: Clean the Chain

Begin by mounting the bike on a stand. If you don’t have one, lean the bike against a wall or flip it upside down to give you easy access to the chain.

If dirty, clean the chain using isopropyl alcohol or any high-quality, biodegradable cleaner to remove dust, debris, grease, and lubricants. It will be easier to work on a clean chain and locate the master link.

Step 2: Remove the Chain

Locate the master link, which usually has a darker color or a different outer plate with protruding pins. Some chains do not have master links, so you will have to break one of the regular links.

If you locate the master link, move it between the front and rear gears for easy access. Loosen this link, then open it. Depending on its design, you can either bend it using a pair of pliers or swivel it to the side so that the pin can pop out.

Check the chain make and model on the side, then find details about the master link removal process on the manufacturer’s website.

If there is no master chain, use the chain tool to remove the first link.

Step 3: Shorten the Chain

Shortening will determine how your bike will run afterward, and it might affect the integrity of the chain, so you must be careful during this step.

After determining how many links you need to remove, use the chain tool to push the pins. Instead of undoing multiple links at once, it is better to remove one at a time. Returning them might make the chain weaker and will give you more work.

The process is simple as you only have to line up the punching pin with the link pin, then turn the handle clockwise. Don’t push the link pin out of the link. Stop when it is clear of the outer plate but still in the link.

Repeat this process for all the pins you have marked to remove, then remove the excess chain links to shorten the length.

Step 4: Reassemble the Chain

After reducing it to the right size, reconnect the two ends of the chain using one of the links or the master link if there was one. Use the chain tool to push the pins through the inner and outer plates until you hear a clicking sound.

Next, apply oil to the chain to maximize its smoothness and durability. The lubricant makes the links (and rollers) turn effortlessly around the sprockets and simplify gear shifting.

Complete the process by taking your bike out for a ride to test and inspect the shortened chain.

How to Shorten a Bike Chain Without a Chain Tool

You will need a:

  • Bike stand
  • Hammer
  • Pair of pliers
  • Thin nail
  • Chain cleaner
  • Lubricant

If you don’t have a chain tool, you can use a hammer, pair of pliers, and a thin nail instead. The process of cleaning, removing, shortening, and reassembling is quite similar.

But you will use the pair of pliers to hold the thin nail as you hammer the pins to separate the inner plates from the outer ones.

Remember to place the chain over a firm surface so that the hammering does not damage other parts.


If you are an ardent biker, you must know how to shorten a bike chain because it is one of the basic skills of bike handling. Following the steps above, you will find that it is an easy process and have your bike back on track in no time.

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