Bike maintenance, by a total novice… Chain replacement…

When I arrived home from cycling Land's End to John O'Groats, I discovered that I had aged my poor ol Hettie by several decades. I only took up cycling in 2007, and it has been a real learning curve on how to maintain a bicycle. Up to now, I could repair a puncture, clean the bike, pack the bike into a bike bag, and get it re-set up again, replace and repair mudguards... stuff like that. I always thought, the chainset would last for years and years and years. WRONG!

The 'wrongness' of this was sadly discovered once I returned home.

When Hettie was dismantled and packaged up into her bike bag, with both wheels off her, the damage to her chainset was obvious to see. Shark hooked teeth bared their disgust at me. The last week of the ride up though Scotland, I had noticed she wasnt keen to change gear, and that on some days (the hilly ones of course) she rather liked to cycle along rather like an 'automatic' bike, and gave me bigger gearing than I wanted while cycling uphill. The lads of Saddle Skedaddle where very helpful in tightening the rear derailer, but nothing was ideal really until she could be properly repaired.

What I found – Chain stretch.

The chain had a dose of major 'chain-stretch' (A new term for me to remember....). I didnt have a chain stretch measuring gadget in my tool box, (since purchased one), but hubby demonstrated the chain-stretch severity by pinching the chain from the front of the big chainring and being able to lift it clear of the teeth beneath. Not good.

The chain-stretch meant that the gaps between the chain links had badly worn. Basically the loose fitting links were wearing out prematurely, the front chain rings and rear cassette at an alarming rate, to the point where Hettie now needed a complete new set of chain rings on the front, a new chain of course and a new cassette. Had a good cycle company recommended to me again by the members of the CTC forum, and the replacement parts are currently on their way.

It seems Hettie's chain should have been replaced much more frequently than I had been doing. Hettie was brand new in April 2010. Since then she had been ridden about 7,500 hilly miles all with her original kit on. I had without realising ruined her drive train.

This made me think about Enid of course. She was brand new in November 2010, and she is my winter bike, and the bike I choose for Sportives in wet days, and is used for commuting to work etc. Enid had cycled about 2000 miles from new. I purchased one of those Park Tool chain measuring thingys (recommended by the CTC forum members).

Chain tool measuring Chain wear chain tool

And by sheer luck, the chain was not as badly worn as I thought it might be. I really couldn't afford to completly replace the drive chains on BOTH bikes. Enid's chain set was able to be saved. But I was about to embark on a piece of maintenance not ever done before... Chain replacement.

'It's not rocket science, it's not rocket science....' My other halfs words repeated the Mantra, as I got Enid out of the bike shed into the cosy kitchen for her dentistry work to commence.

Here goes......

New chain in box Enid's brand spanking new SRAM chain. 10 speed PC1070 Hollow pin chain.

Next step is to measure her old chain and take a peek at the damage it might have done.

Front chain ring, not badly worn, but there is evidence of some wear and tear, its time to chuck out that chain. Time will tell, if I need to replace any of front rings or the cassette or both... 🙁

Chain tool old chain 1 Old chain measured with Park Tool its just about savable....

Here is the chain wear tool being used. Basically, had the chain wear tool slipped into the gap of the chain links, it would have shown that the chain was badly worn indeed. When I measured the chain, the chain wear tool sat on the link buffer instead, which is great news, as its an indication that the chain wasnt badly worn, but in need of replacement.

Removing old chain with chaintool So, off it came....

The instructions in the chain box were very good and I followed them. I placed the old chain onto the table, and along side it measured the new chain, which needed a link taken out of it, to make the 2 chains the same length, chain stretch occurs inside the links, and does not affect the chain length.. (some thing new Ive learnt).

Once the chain was the correct length, it was threaded back onto the bike and the special 'power link' was clipped into place. (No chain tool needed for this). I had to stand on the bike with brakes on, to get the audible loud 'click' that told me the chain link was fitted correctly and the correct way round.

I then rode Enid (in the rain) up the road to see all is well, and surprisingly enough, the chain is still in place and on.... I think I have successfully replaced it! Way Hey!!! 🙂

Park tool new chain 1 Chain wear tool showing new chain in place.

Something else to add to the independent maintenance list!

Next blog is Major Surgery on Hettie!

Update: 24 September 2011.

Cycling Enid over the past few days, I have gotten to grips with cycling in the 'Big ring' more and more. THis I understand will put less stress on the chain and there lengthen the life of the chain set and cassette as well as the chain its self.

Minor problem. While at speed, dropping chain from big ring to small ring (just 2 cos its a compact chainset) this frequently resulted in the chain dropping to the inside and off the inside ring. (Oily fingers....). Then later in the week, this problem got worse and on Friday the chain slipped off the Big Ring to the outside, AND later off the inside of the small ring. Very oily fingers going to and fro work.

Made hubby LOTS of tea and cake, and he took a look at it.

After much huffin and puffin, he could only conclude the problem was the chain. I have a brand new chainring still in its box for sometime in the future, and we compared wear.... Chas concluded that the chainrings were still in fine fettle. So chain it had to be.

'Did you measure the chain?' he asked... 'Yep' was the reply.

'Ah... but HOW did you measure it.... ?'

'I nudged the two chains side by side, removed 2 links until they were both the same.'

But I didnt COUNT the side plates.... DOOH! After counting them, (I had kept the old chain), old chain had 55 side plates, but ...... New chain in place, had 56!

More chain tool stuff, and I had removed another complete link.

Oddly, now with the chain shortened to the correct 55 links, the front deraillier mechanisim now rubbed on the chain and this had to be adjusted. But once this was done, out I went for a quick 12 hilly miles.

Chas seems to have fixed it! No chain dropping, no rubbing either by the front mech.

Next time when chain is replaced. COUNT THE SIDE PLATES.

Coor, this bike maintenance thingy is like pulling hens teeth sometimes! It certainly doesn't come easily to me.

Tomorrow Audaxing 100km. That should show up problems as they happen.

21 comments on “Bike maintenance, by a total novice… Chain replacement…”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Well done Mary. As you say its not rocket science and always satisfying to do things yourself. I used to take ages over changing a chain, counting and recounting the links to make sure I got it right. Then I got a bit blase and took out one too many!
    I found one of the most important things to remember is to put it on the smallest chainwheel and smallest sprocket before starting thus taking the tension off and making it much easier to rejoin.

    I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who does their bike maintenance in the kitchen! 🙂

  2. Patrick wrote:

    Yes, well done. Taking parts off a bicycle can be daunting – you wonder if you'll be able to put it back together again, or have no bike to ride 🙁

    Chain stretch does affect chain length though. It gets physically longer so you need to count the links on the old one and make the new one the same number.

    Major Surgery on Hettie...

    There's very little on a bike you can't do yourself (that includes making your own wheels – I don't think Chris believes me but it's easy). You just need the right tools and there aren't that many. The other thing is remembering which part goes back where, and of course obtaining the right components if you're getting new ones – that is not always simple if you buy online (as you say, CTC forums are a good place to ask).

    The chains on my non-mudguard bikes become dirty very quickly so I clean them often to preserve the chainrings and cassette. KMC quick links are the easiest to get off and put back. I take off the chain put it in an empty 2-litre milk carton then pour Gunk in to just cover it – then shake it for a couple of minutes, fill up with hot water and washing up liquid, rinse, rinse again in cold water then back on the bike. All done in ten minutes. I think this is known as the 'Mick F' method and it's better than chain baths that fit round the chain – they take as much cleaning as the chain itself and they break eventually.

    Mick F also reckons you're better cleaning the preservative grease off a new chain and lubricate it again with something more suitable, so I do that too.

    Good photos Mary!

  3. Kern wrote:

    Very good explanation and photos, Mary. I've never paid much attention to chain length – I may have to go out and get one of this measuring tools.

  4. Mary wrote:

    All sort of ok today, but not sure if I am out of the woods with Enid or not.

    Yesterdays wee cycle test went well. Then today in the MEGA gale, I cycled off to work, once in town I went onto the smaller ring on the rear, and its slipping.

    Got a feelin' I might have to change the cassette and front rings anyway.... Time will tell I suppose.

    But nevertheless, I do feel rather splendid, that I managed this on my own, without help and it all worked, at least the chain is still in place today, doing its thing, just not 100% sure if Ive 'got away' with not replacing everything thats all.

    I have an Audax to do in a couple of weeks, that will be the test day.

  5. Keith Edwards wrote:

    Mary if you mean the smaller ring at the front it is possible to replace just that one ring. If it is a triple I have a 30 tooth road chain ring you can have for nothing. I replaced some with 28 tooth and have them doing nothing.
    One trick MTBers do is to turn the inner ring around as a quick fix.

  6. Mary wrote:

    Sadly Keith, its the rear cassette thats slipping.

    Cycling home tonight (ohhhh how fast was I, tail Gale wind and all....) 🙂 🙂

    Anyway, when taking off from stop signs and traffic lights, on small ring at front (compact – just 2 rings), and on smallest ring on rear, the chain badly slipping on rear cassette to the point of me not being in full control of the bike – I need to set off with acceleration due to traffic queue behind me.

    I only does this while the bike is under stress ie, me lugging it into acceleration, or going up a steep hill, and me standing on the pedals for maximum effect. Its rather disconcerting though.

    Will ask other half his opinion. Likely a bit more surgery needed (new cassette)

    Can one just replace the chain and cassette without replacing the front compact chainrings?? What do you all think?

  7. Patrick wrote:

    Is this a new chain on a worn cassette Mary? I think it is. When a chain wears and stretches it no longer matches the teeth on the sprockets, and possibly the chain rings too but more likely just the cassette. So the chain skips over the teeth, and you do need a new cassette or you will wear the new chain prematurely. I'd leave the chain rings for now as they tend to wear more slowly, and see how it goes. A big chain ring can last for years and years even with duff chains.

    You'll often be fine for a while with an old stretched chain and an old worn cassette (they will match) but as soon as you replace one, or the other, they won't.

    PS: You did well to cycle at all today... the wind is howlin'

  8. Chris wrote:

    When you write that the chain is slipping do you mean that it drops on to a lower rear sprocket when under strain? If so couldn't this just be down to the rear derailleur cable being stretched? (Re-indexing required.)

    2000 miles isn't so long for a rear cassette – Campagnolo (is it?), they are supposed to be harder wearing than Shimano, I understand. If the chain slips on the teeth of the same rear sprocket then, yes, is sounds like your cassette is worn (or at least one or some of your rear sprockets).

    I agree with Patrick that your chain rings should still be fine. I'm sure they are made of the hardest wearing metal (then the rear cassette, then the chain).

    The "chain stretch" measurer is one I must add to my tool kit. That and a torque wrench, but they're so pricey. But surely the chain doesn't get physically longer, wear comes from the bushes being worn down (or "through attrition of the bushings" as Wikipedia puts it).

  9. Patrick wrote:

    Good point about checking it is actually skipping and not slipping sideways – it's hard to tell sometimes.

    The chain does get physically longer Chris. If you lay the old and new side by side you'll see. That's why you can check its wear by measuring it still on the bike. One foot should be an exact number of links (can't remember how many but it doesn't matter). If one foot length of chain has stretched over 1/16" then I'd replace it. The Park Tool will be easier and more accurate I imagine, but you can do it with a ruler.

  10. Chris wrote:

    Hmmm. That'll teach me to speed read (I took too much notice of the quotation marks round the words "chain stretch"). I imagined that the tool measured the degree of wear on where the rollers that come in to contact with sprocket and chain ring. But I see it is more complicated than that – it would even appear that a successor to Sheldon Brown is not convinced about how to measure wear on sprockets/chains:

  11. Hilary wrote:

    Chris wrote

    2000 miles isn't so long for a rear cassette – Campagnolo (is it?), they are supposed to be harder wearing than Shimano,

    I agree. I use Campag cassettes and would expect them to last much longer than this. As your chain checker didn't indicate too much wear I'd be surprised if it has caused your cassette to wear too much in only 2000 miles. As the other guys have said it could just be the indexing thats a bit out. I usually replace my chains after about 3500 miles and can get through 3 chains before needing to replace the cassette. I suppose it may be different with a 10 speed set up though.

  12. Alan wrote:

    Mary wrote: ... on small ring at front (compact – just 2 rings), and on smallest ring on rear, the chain badly slipping on rear cassette ...

    Small/small and big/big are the most extreme angles, and some of us avoid them. First, they increase chain wear. Second, they may cause the chain to catch on the adjacent sprocket at the back or the derailer at the front.

    Perhaps it's catching on the second-largest sprocket, and Enid is saying, "Please don't do this to me." However, it could be sprocket wear. Can you put up a photo?

    You've shamed me into changing Brown Bike's chain. It's the original so has done 11,000 to 12,000 miles. Now I can measure it more accurately, I still can't measure any wear. Certainly less than 1mm in 20 inches, so <0.2%. And it has the same sideways flex as the new chain. They don't make chains like they used to! The new chain is quieter than the old one, but very sticky. I'll clean and re-lube.

    I fixed the difficulty in dropping to the small chainring with a screwdriver tweak.

  13. Chris wrote:

    Mary wrote: ... on small ring at front (compact – just 2 rings), and on smallest ring on rear, the chain badly slipping on rear cassette ...

    Ah, yes. Missed that. There's your problem – well one anyway – and a sure fire way to weaken a chain (even if it doesn't actually stretch it). It is an inefficient way of using your gears because of chain deflection.

    A poor analogy, but think of how you would try to open a stubborn lid on jam jar. You wouldn't lock out your elbows and with arms fully stretched try to open the jar at arm's length. You would bring the jam jar in to your body and... oh, no wait. That's not poor, it's a rubbish analogy, but something to do with the best use of angles. Or something. Anyway, have another read of Patrick's earlier post:

  14. Mary wrote:

    Well, everyones right! I must admit though Patrick that I didnt know the chain length altered and stretched with age and wear either, I thought like Chris, that the links simply wore out from the inside.. Glad I did this post, Ive learnt such a lot this week.

    Chas agrees with Hilary, I should get many more miles from the cassette, there is little in the way of wear on Enid's chainset except the chain needing changing, and funnily enough I got a RIGHT telling off from him regarding my use of the chainrings.... Cos, well.... unless I am going down hill or for miles and miles on super flat roads I never use the big ring.... WHen I used to ride with the Scone run, I was told never to use it.... (Something about cadance....), so the big ring is rarely used and is in fab condition as a result.

    Chas agreed with what Alan says – and exactly why I got the telling off... went something like this.....

    "They spent YEARS perfecting the big chainrings, designing them making sure it all fits and works..... so USE it Woman!'

    So, it seems that having the chain on the smaller front ring and the smallest rear cog is a No No... I have been told basically to re address how i use the chainset when cycling... opps... I did mention this once to the lads at the LBS at a service, and they told me never to use the big ring either except in exceptional circumstances... All this contradiction... but I intend to do big ring more often from tomorrow...

    Chas also mentioned that as I am using another make of chain on the bike, it doesnt necessarily have the similar side flex as the original one did, thus the reason for slippage and a grinding noise when in teh small cog.

    So.... Tomorrow off to work as usual, and this time I have to use Big Ring when ever I am able to use the smallest 2-3 cogs at the rear.... Thats going to feel strange, but will see how it goes.

    I'll get there one day.... I really will.... 🙂

  15. Chris wrote:

    Mary, way back when I mentioned that my Kinesis Racelight T2 was overgeared that's what I was getting at. I have a large chain ring of 50T, and originally smallest rear sprockets of 11T, 12T, 13T, 15T and 17T. Using the large chain ring those gears are mostly useless to me except, as you say, in exceptional circumstances.

    So now my smallest rear sprockets are 14T, 15T, 17T, 19T and 21T. I like that 21T sprocket because it gives me approximately a 62 inch gear in combination with the 50T chain ring: for every revolution of the crank I move forward about 5 metres. So I will move at around 16mph if I can turn the cranks at 85 rpm.

    A bit geeky isn't it? But it's worth sitting down and working out I reckon. If you have trouble sleeping you might want to read my extended version of the thinking behind customising gears to suit the riding I do:

  16. Alan wrote:

    I reckon they were just embarrassed at watching this woman hurtling off into the distance. They had a secret huddle.

    "We've got to slow her down somehow."

    "But how?"

    "Tell her never to use the big chainring. Then it's like she's in a car with four gears, but she mustn't use third or fourth."

    "That's a bit extreme."

    "It's the only way."

    Having said that, I don't suppose I used my large chainring until I was out of Yorkshire. I struggled in granny or middle up the hills, and freewheeled down them. But I'm a feak and weeble cyclist. You're not.

  17. Patrick wrote:

    LOL Alan.

    Mary wrote: ... grinding noise

    Had that the other day... kept looking down to see if the chain was scraping the front mech cage. It wasn't. Half way round I realised I hadn't lubricated it after it's last clean.

  18. Mick F wrote:

    Moral of the story is to take your chain off, take off your cassette, and clean them thoroughly.

    Do it every few hundred miles – perhaps a thousand miles – depending on the weather and conditions. You cannot do it too often, but you certainly can to it too infrequently.

    I have three chains and swap them round every thousand miles. Each time I swap, I clean the whole transmission.

    Well done Mary!

  19. Chris wrote:

    By some fortuitous coincidence, I have prepared an example of how not to look after a bicycle, in a selfless way of demonstrating how a worn chain would look when measured by a chain wear tool, if you will forgive me the intrusion, Mary.

    Meet my slightly under-maintained Ridgeback MX5 and its unfortunate chain. Mick, and those of a nervous disposition, should look away now...

    chain stretch

    chain stretch smiley face


  20. Kern wrote:

    That is a very impressive closeup, Chris. It brings to mind the reason why Roland Hedley (of Doonesbury fame) lost his job as a TV reporter with the advent of HDTV. 🙂

  21. Mary wrote:

    LOL Alan!

    Yes Chris, this is exactly how a worn chain will look (even if its rusty!). Enid is running well now I have been told what gearing to be in. She needs some indexing though which is getting done today.

    Still waiting for parts for Hettie, looking like I have to use power torque bits instead of ultra torque that she runs in, because Campag are no longer making ultra torque, so changing a chain has become a bit like doing up an old house, the more you peel away, the more you need to do....

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