Technical Tuesday: How To Fix A Broken Chain

May 11, 2010
by Mike Levy  
For the sixth episode of Technical Tuesday we'll explain how to fix a broken chain and how to properly use a chain tool. Inside you'll find step by step instructions and a great How-To video running you through this repair.

Read on...While breaking a chain may not be quite as common as it once was, it can still quickly ruin a good day on the bike. And if you haven't yet broken a chain while miles out in the bush, your time is coming! Unlike some other mechanicals, if you don't have the proper tools and knowledge to sort out this problem on the trail, it will mean that you are dead in the water. A chain tool is a mandatory piece of equipment that should always be in your backpack. Thankfully this only requires a single tool to fix and can take just minutes once you have the technique nailed down. Below you'll find step by step instructions and a How-To video.

Watch the video to learn how to use a chain tool to fix your broken chain:

Views: 44,393    Faves: 62    Comments: 7

Step By Step Instructions On How To Fix Your Broken Chain:

Tools needed: Chain tool or multi tool with built in chain tool.

Multi tool with built in chain tool
Multi tool with built in chain tool

Before you start this job it is important to figure out what make of chain you have on your bike. If you have a Shimano chain on your bike you'll either have to reconnect it by using another company's reusable link, or by inserting one of Shimano's new pins. If you do not have either of those items you can still follow the steps below in order to get your bike back on the trail and yourself out of the bush, but be sure to be careful as the new connection will not be as strong as if you had used the new pin and could fail. I would recommend taking it to your local shop to have them fix it before you hit the trails again.

There are a number of reasons why your chain could have broken and there are many riders out there who swear by one brand over another. The truth is that any and all chains can break, but there is always a good reason for it. The causes could range from a bad shift under load that caused an outer plate to separate from the pin, large amounts of wear, or even incorrect installation in the first place. Despite a lot of riders insistence that it must be down to their leg strength, this is never the case as there is always an underlying cause. The chain may have broken while you were practicing your gate starts, but your meager amount of ponies wasn't the root cause of the problem!

1. The first thing to do is to remove the broken chain from your bike. This will make it much easier to remove the damaged links and check for any others that may be twisted and cause your bike to skip under load. When you look at the breaking point on the chain you may see a number of different things. Depending on how the chain snapped, you may be left with any number of combinations of male (inner links) and female (outer plates), but to put it back together without using a replaceable link you'll need to use your chain tool and make one end a male end and the other a female end.

Damaged chain link that needs to be removed
Damaged chain link that needs to be removed

2. Now lets start by removing the damaged pieces. Some chain tools feature two different slots to put the chain in. The inner most position is strictly for fixing stiff links that may arise after you fix the chain, but you'll only ever use the outermost position to install or remove links. If your chain tool only has one position then you don't have to worry about this. One more thing to note is that some chain tools use a threaded dial to fit different width chains. If this is the case with your tool, simply turn the dial in after you've placed your chain in the slot. This will hold it in place as you work on it. As you are doing this, you'll only want to remove the damaged pieces in order to keep the chain as close to its proper length as possible. In order to produce a male end (inner link) simply push the chain pin completely through and out the opposite side. The outer plates will fall away and you'll be left with only the inner link. Take care not to let the roller (round piece that can be found between the two inner plates) fall out as they sometimes are prone to doing so.

This chain tool has both an inner position to help loosen stiff links and a standard outer  <br> position to drive the chain pin in or out.
This chain tool has both an inner position to help loosen stiff links and a standard outer
position to drive the chain pin in or out.

3. The next step is to make a female (two outer plates) end on the opposite end of the chain. This is the tricky part. Once again, put the chain in your tool's outermost position and make sure that the tool's pin is perfectly lined up with the chain pin. Begin to push the pin, but the key is to stop before it is completely through. The goal is to push it out far enough to allow you to remove the damaged bits, and if done right you'll have to flex the two pieces to snap them apart. Once apart, you should have close to a millimeter of the pin protruding towards the inside of the female outer plates. If you happen to accidentally push the pin all the way out, you'll have to restart on a new section of chain as it's not recommended to try and reinstall the wayward pin. Leaving the chain pin protruding slightly to the inside will also make it much easier to join the chain once it's on your bike, as it will snap together and you won't have to hold it.

New female end on the left, male on the right
New female end on the left, male on the right

4. Now you're ready to reinstall the chain onto your bike. In order to have the least amount of chain tension to make it easier on yourself, shift your rear derailleur to the smallest cog position and your front derailleur (if you have one) to the smallest ring position. Feed the chain through on the route that it would normally take, but be sure to have the pin that you just pushed mostly out facing to the outside of the bike so it is easier to work with.

Chain pin facing out and ready to be reinstalled
Chain pin facing out and ready to be reinstalled

5. Join the two ends of the chain together. If you've pushed the pin on the female end just the right amount, you should be able to snap it together and not have to hold it from coming apart. If not, you'll struggle to keep it from springing apart as you use the chain tool to push the pin through. One trick is to take a 4" section of old spoke and bend it into a "C" shape, using each end to hold the chain together. Before you begin to push the pin back into the chain, take a few seconds to make sure that everything is lined up. If the chain pin is not lined up perfectly with the holes in the outer plates, it will damage them as it passes through and the chain will not be safe to ride. When you're happy that everything is lined up, begin pushing the chain pin through until there is an equal amount protruding on either side of the outer plates. Depending on your chain, the ends of the pin may be very close to flush with the outer plates. The important part is that both sides are equal. Inspect the new joint carefully for any damage to the chain such as plates that were bent out during installation.

Using the chain tool to reinstall the chain pin
Using the chain tool to reinstall the chain pin

6. There is a good chance that the chain does not rotate freely at the new joint. This is because the outer plates have been squeezed together in the chain tool as you pushed the pin through. You can easily spot a stiff link when pedaling backwards and watching it go through the rear derailleur's pulley wheels. There are two ways to deal with this, you can use your hands or use your chain tool to fix it. I prefer to simply use my hands. Place one hand on each side of the chain with your thumbs close to the stiff link. Using some effort, flex the chain side to side directly at the offending link. It should only take one or two tries until the new joint turns freely. The alternative method is to use the innermost position on your chain tool to give the pin at the stiff link only the slightest nudge. This is also an effective method of freeing up the stiff link.

You can use your hands to free up a stiff link
You can use your hands to free up a stiff link

7. Before you jump on your machine and start sprinting away, always check to make sure that you've done the job correctly. There should be no bowing or cracking of the outer plates at the new joint. Run through your gears and take a few cautious pedals before going out and wheelie dropping off your balcony! Keep in mind that you've removed chain links and the chain is now shorter than it was before you broke it. If the chain was already at just the right length, it may be too short now when in the bigger cogs. Be very careful otherwise you'll end up installing a new rear derailleur and hanger!

Past Tech Tuesdays:

Technical Tuesday #1 - How to change a tube.
Technical Tuesday #2 - How to set up your SRAM rear derailleur
Technical Tuesday #3 - How to remove and install pedals
Technical Tuesday #4 - How To Bleed Your Avid Elixir Brakes
Technical Tuesday #5 - How To Check And Adjust Your Headset

Have you found this tutorial helpful? Share any of your hints or tips below!


  • + 41
 Likin' the how-to vids, thanks guys
  • + 38
 how bout tuning gears or adjusting the brakes.....this only takes a few tools aswel so alot of people could do it at home
  • + 45
 how about reading before you post.
  • + 33
 Keep in mind one of the tougher things to do is please your entire audience. There are people out there that take thier bike to an LBS for new tubes, replace reflectors, etc. Pinkbike has to balance the difficult articles with the easy ones. I'm glad to see ANY How-To Video up.
  • + 30
 Do Pinkbike charge you to read this article? - No. Is Pinkbike a rad website? - Yes! Stop whining you baby, two balled bitches!
  • + 29
 I think its good to show the basics......there are many riders out there who really know very little and they have to learn from somewhere.... why not pinkbike?
  • + 21
 good work, keep em coming, lots of people need to know the stuff covered in tech tuesday!
  • + 18
 The only bad thing about this sport is all the self centered haters, weight weenies, and technical tits. Some one took the time to help some one else and even though it is not you they may be helping, they are helping. For some one to take their time to do there job and to do it well should begit acclamation and heaven forbid a thank you! It is time for all you insecure idiots to face the facts riding a bicycle into adulthood is in no way or form cool! and in no way should be taken as seriously as cursing a poor man for doing a job! Face facts no matter it DH, XC, DJ, street... we are all just enfants tryiny to fight growing up! This is what we should accept and embrace cuz really isnt this why we do it.! PS. if you are having ill thoughts, or correcting my spelling and or grammer you are the person for whom i speak about!!! Last one down is a rotten EGG!
  • + 16
 I'm just going to ignore all the haters this time. Fixing a broken chain is a USEFUL skill, and there are A LOT of people who don't know how to do it.

What would be worth mentioning, I think, is the quick link. I always carry around at least one. I find that fixing the chain (as mentioned in this article) is actually a bit finicky, and I always end up with either a sticky link, or a weak link (and a shortened chain). The Quick Link saves time, and fixes your chain like new. And it's a very inexpensive option.
  • + 3
 i agree, i think if they had a few more tips in tricks and not just the basic reassemble it would help.
  • + 12
 i would nothave been able to do this if it werent for this genious information
  • + 12
 Perfect timing, just snapped my chain an hour ago.
  • + 5
 Again, all very well teaching the basics but doesn't 90% of the folk on here know how to split a chain anyway? The other 10% has sram. How about something people could learn to save them money from a bike shop doing it, truing a wheel for example.
  • + 19
 If you don't already know how to do this, then just log off, and never come back.
  • + 17
 Fair point mate, but you'd be surprised by the amount of people who go to bikes shops to ask them to fix broken chains, replace flatted tubes or how to take off a pedal. Essentially these vids ARE saving people money from the LBS on things that they could do on the trail, let alone at home. Truing a wheel is best done on the special devices which people will most likely NOT have at home.
  • + 7
 Fair enough, but you can true a wheel on the bike fairly well, can pinkbike start doing an "advanced technical thursday" or something?
  • + 3
 without a wheel brace or whatever they're called would be good. My mate just does his in his frame.
  • + 22
 Far out! Don't people get this? These things will start basic and progressively get more technical. Every week people say that the examples are too basic. The advanced technicals will come later.
  • - 1
 personally i would rather true my wheel either in my frame or forks, using the cable tie trick, stands are over complex and if you don't use them daily they can be alot harder
  • + 1
 doug13 Do you actualy realize how much know-how and experience is required for wheel building? It would have to be a wheel building tuesday for a half of a year or more. You want only truing? Do you expect pinkbike to tell you just this small piece of it? you expect them to tell you: do that and that, because of, nevermind - too long story?
  • + 34
 "If you don't already know how to do this, then just log off, and never come back."

Surely at some point you were riding a bike before you knew how to split a chain!? Since this statement applied to you at some point in your life... Why don't you log off, sell your bike (to somebody who isn't a tool), and never come back? Then we can get down to business encouraging more people to enjoy their bikes.
  • + 14
 yes im sure there was a point in everyones life where they didnt know how to build a chain, which was probablies before they bought a bike.......
  • + 2
 well i think doug has a point cos i know how to to true a wheel, but how do you fix an oval shaped wheel? or maybe teach us how to service our forks/ replace bushes/ change oil.
  • + 6
 Raleigh: replacing bushes is not the topic for this forum, unless you want to give your backyard pump track some gardening touch Smile Orchids around the burm?

However if you meant bushings, it is pretty hard to do it at home. You need a tool, either original or made by yourself. Both ways it's easy to get them up, but it takes some know-how to fit them down properly, so it's better if PB doesn't show it, so people don't screw up their forks. Changing oil: that's easier than adjusting rear mech properly. There's no rocket science in unscrewing top and bottom caps, then checking oil level charts.

Truing a wheel is not problematic until you don't care that your spokes are not evenly tensioned. If you want to do it right it takes some skill.
  • + 0
 i see what you mean about the forks, but tbh you can get a cheap pair, or if you have a broke pair lying around, you can practice on those, and getting your forks serviced costs a bomb!, it would be useful for them to display tips on how to service your fork, and obviously you'll be trying at your own risk, so if you dont want to, just can pay 50+ quid to get them serviced.
  • + 3
 yea, I service my forks myself, but I just don't dare to touch bushings. If you just think how much precision is necessary there to fit them properly, well get someone with a proper tool that pushes stuff in perfectly in line, someone that does it several times a year, and probably got training from fork manufacturer. Change oil, change seals yea. but leave bushings to the professionals, that's my advice. I actualy always investigate who is who in town among service guys, who actualy knows what he is doing, so I pay the right guy to get the job done right. I know a guy for fork/shock and a guy for wheels. I know how to build a wheel and true it more or less, but if I pay 50$ for a rim, I prefer to give it to a guy that will it right 2. do it so it holds up longer than what I can do.
  • + 7
 You guys need to lighten up. First off..........just because you know everything does not mean everybody else does. Second.......these will most likely get more advanced as we go, eventually pink bike will have a full bike maint guide at your fingertips. Pretty cool. Third..........I think more of you need to read these, I think you will find you dont know as much as you think. Im talking to you connen31, you think a wheel truing stand is too complex? Yet you advocate truing a wheel in your frame, where you could really botch it up? You know what dish is? you better use something stiffer than a cable tie, and you better put one on each side and make sure they dont move.......or your gonna be in for some trouble.
  • + 2
 or as I said: you buy an expensive rim, treat it with according respect... in a truing stand
  • + 58
 Why cant people just appreciate the fact that someone is taking time to do a write up on any sort of how-to bike problems. I mean if all everyone is going to do is complain I'm sure eventually PB will say ok then they dont like tech tuesday so lets just stop doing it. How about people stop being such cry babies and be happy that someone is making the effort to show people who may not know, or may not know the proper way to do things, how to do them properly because as others stated there was a time when all of us didnt know how to fix a chain.
  • + 17
 here here
  • + 12
 Amen. DhGabe. Its like..........why do people even come on here if they dont like it. You are not being forced. Please.......haters, be on your merry way.
  • + 1
 Yes Gabe I am 100% with you. Everytime I see a technical tuesday I am hitting the same wall. And Darkstar stop with this "hating", you watch too much MTV or what? New cool word: "hate" replacing: complain, dislike or lack of acceptance. Simply an unplanned influence of Hard Core music/ Straight Edge which use such expressions that somehow leaked into pop-culture.
  • + 2
 Because Gabe, there are a lot of self righteous people here who like to throw a fit and act superior 100% of the time. That's why.
  • + 1
 Lol, Waki, I havent watched mtv for more than a decade, that comment was tongue in cheek. Smile
  • + 1
 Memo to self: Man you can't even get a working chain breaker from walmart. Kept wondering why it wouldn't fit a chain- has two diecast knobs stuck to it on the outer slot. No chain fits it. at all
  • + 25
 to all you people that think this is a waste, be quiet and quit complaining because i find it fairly obvious that it gets progresevley more complicated each week. but anyway, i really like this tech tuesday, because whenever i try to fix a chin or take a link out or whatever, i really mess things up-this helps alot. and it saves me money AND proves to my dad that the people at the bike shop which my dad thinks are gods ARNT. they just rip him off and say "oh, you have a stiff link chain, you cant use it anymore so we put another one on for you"... argh.
  • + 2
 C'mon man don't b*tch on LBS people. It's job like every other one. You get people who don't give a damn about anything (i.e. kids getting summer job) and those are passionate about their job, working hard, trying to excel. You get the same thing in Espresso Bars: I can't understand how can you boil milk for latte?! if you do it at least 100 times a day do it right FFS! All it gets is to check temperature with your hand! All you need to do is to learn which LBSs (like espresso bars) are good, and which ppl there are good at what, best is to get friends with them in one way (biking with them) or another (buying stuff in the shop Wink )

LBSs make the bike world spin. If you believe all you need is internet for tech tips and online shops for cheaper stuff, well: wait a week everytime you break something stupid in your bike, i.e. you get some crap on your brake pads just before the weekend. Or you need to buy something and you are not sure what, if it fits. i.e. if handlebars have too little rise for your SC fork so the brake levers don't hit the top tube. Go to a LBS and they will let you try a couple.
  • + 1
 well you see, this guy isnt one of those summer job kids. its not that im bitching about all my local bike shops, just the one that my loves. and i dont, because they really dont know there stuff as much as other local shops when it comes to freeride and downhill. the thing is, my dad thinks they do, and refuses to shop anywhere else. and i understand that a shop needs to make money, but they do that type of thing all the time. and i do agree that local bike shops are what you need for sizing and tips and all of that, thats why i go to the one my friend works at without telling my dad Big Grin
  • + 5
 Maybe if some of the people in my area see this I wont have to be the only person in the entire town that knows how to fix a chain.
  • + 2
 I stumbled upon this article and accompanying video, and it "saved the day" -- I had absolutely no idea that I could use my chain tool to push a connecting pin out, but not all the way, and then re-insert it. Enough years of riding that, perhaps, I ought to have known, but I didn't... and this was the first chain I'd ever changed. PB changed a nightmare into a "been there, done that". Thanks!
  • + 2
 I'm a year or so late to this discussion, so forgive me, but readers should keep in mind that the link they repair will not result in a good-as-new chain link (this is especially true of many Shimano and Campy chains). So by all means take advantage of this how-to for fixing your chain in a pinch, but know that you should should really replace the re-assembled section of chain with either a quick link (e.g., SRAM Powerlink, KMC Missing Link) or designated chain pin (Shimano has specific pins for 8, 9, and 10-speed chains, as does Campagnolo for their chains). Personally, if I break a chain, it's a sign that I'm due for a new one.

Just my 2 cents. Not hating on PinkBike or anything! I'm really stoked that they are sharing this information in fact. :-)
  • + 7
 hahhahaa no shit
  • + 1
 At our bike shop, we're told that we can only mend 9+ speed chains with appropriate linking devices, such as powerlinks, hyperglide pins, etc; I've also had many chains snap on me when mending a chain like this then cranking really hard. Anyone else know what I'm talking about, or is this b/s? I wanna know!
  • + 1
 Am I the only one that recognizes that you should never push an old pin back in? That's why so many people break chains . . you need a new pin every time you push one out. Every shop will give you a 9-speed or 10-speed connecter pin if you ask for it - it has extra little ridges to keep it in - much safer than using your old one!
  • + 20
 Only Shimano chains require new pins (if not using a replaceable link) =)

Other brands can be reconnected with the original pin, or by a replaceable link.
  • + 2
 My mistake then, I've only ever had Shimano chains (for geared bikes). Still, a huge number of people use Shimano and it wasn't mentioned.
  • + 37
 Second paragraph, in italics =)
  • + 2
 Yay! Good man.
  • + 1
 fairly simple but its a bitch to do without a chain tool luckily i had a maserlink handy. i was in a forest with some ladders and the chain breaks si i find a nail a rock and start hammering away at the link until finnaly after hours of work the chain comes back broke 5 minutes from my house because i still had the broken link in
  • + 2
 I do think there needs to be more advanced how to's. like how to replace fork seals. this is one thing people just dont know how to do or why they need to, but it's extremely important and fairly easy
  • + 3
 Most of my friends need to watch this. I use to always fix my buddy's chains on the trail.
  • + 1
 For some people its easy to do a truing at home i do it at home . But before i learn how to do the truing i would always give it to the bike shop.
  • + 2
 is everyone involved with this site 16?
  • + 1
  • + 1
 Oh come on, its not hard to use a truing stand for christs sake, and its a tad mroe accurate than using the frame.
  • + 1
 Great tip! Now I can take the trails home and not ask someone to give me a ride! Thanks PB!
  • + 5
 you may have threaded it. in that case steal one off someone elses bike. however this will require further instructions.
  • + 4
 I went to that place, with the bikes yyyyyy, people told me do things I don't, take a cap, wheel must rotate nooot, a man said. uuaaaghhhyy put on the stick coming out of the wheel, turn with thy fingers down so stay the cap on ndeeee beeeee... then I log in to the forum and ask questions beeeeee becauyyyaaaaa ghhhh- se bacause I thought it was a joke funny that is yyybeeee to talk it on the man that fix chain yyy. I am so funnyyy yyy. valve cap top on yyyyyyy funny laugh people
  • + 1
 hahah oh WAKI if i actually sit there and anuciate that whole thing properly i can almost hear you saying it from Poland.
  • + 2
 well I actualy sit in Sweden, but where exactly do you see the relation between my comment and my location/fromcoming?
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