The Ultimate Mountain Bike Chain Guide

The Ultimate Mountain Bike Chain Guide

If there’s one integral element of a mountain bike’s construction, it has to be the chain, responsible for joining the two components together that make it all work.

Although seemingly simple, there’s a lot more to this part than meets the eye, and as the lucky owner of a mountain bike, you need to be educated.

So, how do you choose a mountain bike chain? Having the right chain is all about matching it to the bike you ride, with mountain bikes having specific needs because of their drivetrains and unique construction.

Once fitted, the correct chain will help everything run smoothly and safely so you have to get it right.

To help you navigate your way around the world of mountain bike chains, we’ve created this simple guide that can you walk through everything you need to know.

We cover maintenance, replacement, and repairs, and why this one simple part is so important in the grand scheme of mountain bike use.

What Does a Chain Do?

What Does a Chain Do?

The chain of a mountain bike is arguably one of the most important parts, and it’s commonly found on most other types of bicycles as well.

In these bikes, the chain acts as the connection between the front of the drivetrain and the rear, so it’s integral to have it right and in good working order.

The front of the drivetrain features parts like pedals and cranks, and being connected to the rear hub and cassette or sprocket is essential to ride the bike.

This is where the chain steps in and connects them, giving the bike its pedal power that comes from the forward movement, and without it, you wouldn’t go anywhere.

Getting the chain of a bike is so important because it has to be a perfect fit otherwise your bike will fail to ride as it should.

You’ll need to consider what type of bike you’re riding and the drivetrain it uses to choose the right one.

The width of the cassette and sprocket also matter so that the chain fits in between them, so there are a lot of variables to factor in.

Maintenance and Care of Your MTB Chain

Maintenance and Care of Your MTB Chain

A mountain bike is a huge investment, and it requires a lot of ongoing care and attention to keep it in good shape.

The chain of a mountain bike is one part that needs specific maintenance, so follow these tips to give yours a long and healthy life.

  • Keep an eye on the chain and its length, as well as inspecting all of the singular links, and incorporate this into your regular bike maintenance. Don’t ignore signs that there might be something wrong with the chain if you notice them.
  • Clean the chain regularly to keep it clean and free from debris. It’s easy for all matter of grime and dirt to get into a chain on a standard mountain biking ride.
  • After cleaning, add an oil-based lubricant to the chain.This will help it to move smoothly and prevent it from damaging other parts like the sprocket or chainring.
  • Use a chain cleaning tool for the best results. These are dedicated tools that can get into the links and small crevices, and run it through a series of cleaning devices and degreaser to do a thorough job.

Potential Dangers of Riding With a Bad Chain

Potential Dangers of Riding With a Bad Chain

When you’re aware of an issue with your mountain bike and you ignore it, the likely reaction is that other parts of the bike will start to suffer.

This is true especially for a faulty, loose, or damaged chain, as continuing to ride without fixing it will start to impact the rest of the bike as well.

The most obvious issue with continuing to ride with a bad chain is that it’ll wear down the cogs, and eventually the chain and cassette will have to be replaced.

For bikes with internal gear hubs, you’ll wear down the sprocket, and if enough damage is done, the chain will fail to work all together and the bike will be un-rideable.

Before it gets to that stage, performing regular checks and maintenance to the parts of your bike is all you need to stay on top of issues.

Signs That Your Chain Needs Fixing

Prevention is always better than the cure, and the same goes for your mountain bike.

Just knowing some of the signs that indicate an issue with the chain can prevent you from costly repairs or worse still, an accident on your bike that’s caused by faulty parts.

These are some common signs that there could be an issue with your chain worth checking out.

Chain is falling


Sometimes the chain might start to fall from the bike, and this is because there’s a damaged link or it’s elongated to the point where it no longer stays on.

If you’ve noticed this happen, inspect the chain to look for problem areas or have it replaced completely.

Gears are slipping or jumping

The most obvious tell will be when you’re riding and the gears keep jumping or slipping out. If this happens, the most likely cause is the chain, and you should hop off to inspect it further.

Noises coming from the chain


You may notice a new noise occurring when you shift gears and this could be due to the chain. This happens when the derailleur is misaligned, and the next likely event is that the chain will start to drop.

You can adjust the derailleur to tighten it back up and align the parts to prevent this from happening again.

The chain has been damaged

If you’ve personally witnessed the damage being done to the chain and can note a difference in how it looks or acts, it will need to be replaced.

Although they’re durable, a chain that hits a rock or other hard surface can still get bent out of shape easily or snap completely.

Do I Need to Replace the Chain?

Do I Need to Replace the Chain?

Whether you’ve noticed yourself that damage has been done, you can see the chain is falling, or you think it’s time to get the job done, it’s not hard to replace the chain of a mountain bike.

Mountain bikes go through a lot more use than regular bikes because of the tough terrain and ever-changing conditions, so it’s normal to have to replace it more often than other models.

To test the strength of a chain and see if there are any issues with it, you can check for yourself or use a dedicated tool.

Use your finger to flex the lower section of the chain that runs between the rear derailleur and the front chainring and if it feels loose, it’s probably worn down.

The dedicated tool can measure the space between links on the chain to give you a better indication, but you don’t need to use one of these if you’d rather do it yourself

In some cases, you might want to just replace the broken section and refit the chain if it’s worth doing so, and this will be best when it doesn’t show other signs of wear or damage.

Otherwise, removing the old one and fitting a brand new chain takes minimal effort and will give you peace of mind you’re riding safely and comfortably.

The Steps to Replace an MTB Chain

Removing the old chain and fitting a new one is relatively easy, although it requires care and time to do right. This method can be used for mountain bikes and road bikes alike, and it’s a useful skill that’s worth learning.

Take off the old chain


Use a chain splitter tool to push the pins out of the lower part of the chain, and then take the chain off the bike.

Fit the new chain

Shift the front derailleur to the biggest chainring and the rear derailleur into the biggest cog, then release the clutch mechanism.

Thread the chain through the front one and turn the cranks so you have a few inches of chain hanging. Put the other end into the seat stay and over the top of the cassette and then pull the rear derailleur.

Thread the chain over the upper jockey wheel, behind the derailleur cage arm, over the lower jockey wheel, and then pull it through the lower tab and release the derailleur.

Adjust the size

You’ll need to fit the chain to the two largest rings on the front and rear so it can switch easily between the gears inside of this.

Pull the two ends of it towards each other and make sure the right plates are fitted to the ends of the chain, depending on its type. Once done, use your chain tool to split the chain.

Join the chain


Different types of chains will be joined differently, with Shimano chains being joined by inserting the pin where the two ends have met using the chain tool and snapping it off.

For other chains, you’ll need to insert the connector links by hand before snapping them off.

How to Fix a Falling Chain

If you’ve ever experienced a falling chain on your mountain bike or one that keeps coming loose, you’ll know how frustrating it can be.

As well as being annoying, it’s also dangerous, and not something you want to happen while you’re mid-ride.

There’s no common fix to this issue but rather a few reasons it might be happening, so consider these to see how you can rectify the issue for yourself.

  • A worn drive train: If the drive train hasn’t been changed for a while and you suspect it’s worn down, this can prevent the chain from staying on.
  • Stretched chain: A chain that stretches out will be more likely to slip, so use a chain checker tool to make sure it hasn’t lengthened out too much.
  • Dirty chain: Check for signs of dirt, oil, and debris in the chain and give it a good cleaning to see if this rectifies the issue.
  • A link is stiff: One single link can ruin the whole chain and cause it to come loose and drop. Go through and examine each one separately to make sure they’re in good order.

The Key to a Functioning Bike

There’s so much that our bike chains and responsible before, and even a minor issue in one of the links can spell the end of our riding careers until it’s fixed.

With some background knowledge about chains and how to fix the most common problems, you’ll be prepared for anything when the time inevitably comes with your MTB.

Related Questions

A mountain bike’s chain is an integral component that helps everything to run smoothly together.

Although it can seem complicated at first, some basic understanding will ensure you always choose the right one and keep it in order.

We’ve answered some common FAQs that new riders have about chains, to expand your knowledge further.

Do I Need a Chain Guide For My MTB?


A common concern for mountain bike riders is that the chain of their bike will drop while they’re going over tough terrain which poses a huge safety threat.

A chain guide is a device that can help keep the chain in place even in rough conditions and should be considered by all-mountain bike owners.

Are Mountain Bike and Road Bike Chains the Same?

There are no specific chains made just for road bikes or mountain bikes but other specifications and features that you’ll need to consider.

Most importantly, choosing a chain that’s the right size and made of materials you prefer will get you the best results for your MTB or road bike.


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