Is your Mountain Bike Chain Trying to Tell you Something?

If your mountain bike chain is making noises, it may be trying to tell you that it needs some attention. The bicycle chain is a mountain bike part that many of us do not think about very often, but if neglected can cause a lot of problems.

If your bicycle chain is creaking, clunking, or your gears are not shifting smoothly and efficiently, it means it is not performing the way it should. It may need to be cleaned, lubed, repaired, or replaced before a minor issue leads to more expensive repairs.

Parts of Bicycle Chain


The bicycle chain is made up of more pieces than any other mountain bike part. Each link alone is made up of 2 outer plates, 2 inner plates, 2 link pins, and 2 rollers.

Shifting Problems?

A bicycle chain that is stretched, worn, dirty, or not lubed properly will cause problems when shifting from one gear to another. It may also pop out of gear, skip gears, or do other annoying things. Keeping your bike chain clean and lubed makes a huge difference in the way your bike shifts. For cleaning tips, please visit our page on chain cleaning

If your bike chain is clean and lubed properly and you are still having shifting problems, the chain may be worn and needs to be replaced.

A bicycle chain stretches and wears from repeated use. There is no magic number of miles in which it needs to be replaced, Some say every 500 miles, some say 1000, but it really depends upon the type of riding your do, the conditions you ride in, and how well you care for the chain.

It is a good idea to check the wear of your bicycle chain on a regular basis. When it becomes stretched, it needs to be replaced before it causes problems with other drivetrain parts, like the cassette and chain rings.

Measure Chain Wear

Many companies make a type of chain checker tool to measure chain wear, but if you do not have one of these tools, you can just use a ruler or tape measure to figure out whether or not your chain needs to be replaced.

In order to check the wear of your bicycle chain, measure 12 inches from the center of one of the left pins on a chain link. The left pin center of the 12th link from that spot should be right at the 12 inch mark.


If the center of the pin is more than 1/16" past the mark, the chain needs to be replaced. If it is more than 1/8" past the mark you may also need to replace the front gears and/or cassette. The reason for this is because when the chain becomes stretched, it wears down the cogs of your gears so when you get a new chain, it doesn't fit into the gears the way it should.

I made the mistake of not paying attention to the wear and tear of my mountain bike chain. By the time I realized that it needed to be replaced, it had damaged the cassette gears and they needed to also be replaced. Luckily, I did replace it before it damaged the front gears, however.

If you have recently replaced your mountain bike chain and it is skipping when you are pedaling under pressure, this could be a sign that your gears also need to be replaced. You can tell the gears are worn if they teeth start to take on a wave or hook shape.

In order to replace the bicycle chain, the old one needs to be removed. There may also be times you want to take off your mountain bike chain in order to clean it more easily.

It is also important to know how to fix your mountain bike chain if it breaks while you are out on the trail. Most mountain bike chains require a bicycle chain tool to remove a link pin so that the bicycle chain can be taken apart. I really like this Park Tool Mini Chain Brute because it is small enough to stick in my Camelbak and unlike many other smaller chain tools, it actually works well!

Other mountain bike chains, like those made by SRAM or Wippermann, have a master link or powerlink that can be removed by manipulating it with your hands. No chain tool needed. The powerlink can sometimes be difficult to manipulate when it gets full of crud though.

Bicycle Chain Size

When buying a new bicycle chain, you do not have to worry about the length of the new chain. Bike chains come in a length that is longer than needed, so you have to use a chain tool to shorten the chain to the right length.

It is important to know the bicycle chain speed or width that your mountain bike requires. Bike chains come in different speeds, generally ranging from 5 to 10 speed. The way they are different is by their width, which is usually determined by the length of the pins. The speed of the bicycle chain is simply the number of cogs on your rear cassette. For example, if you have 8 cogs on your cassette, you would need an 8 speed mountain bike chain.

Often, the width of 6, 7, and 8 speed bicycle chains are similar enough to be interchangeable. 9 speed chains are narrower, and 10 speed are narrower yet.

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