I've never broken a chain while touring but based on some very early results from the Broken gear during a bicycle touring adventure poll it appears that some people have experienced this. I have broken my chain twice while off-road mountain biking and once while Icebiking on during my winter commute.
Last week my friend Jakub experienced a chain break during his commute home. Since I was riding with him I had the chance for a quick refresher course in repairing a broken chain.
Even if you never break a chain during a tour it's still a useful skill to have especially if you like to remove your chain and soak it in some chain cleaning material before reinstalling it back on the bike.
At the upper left is a picture showing a Park Chain tool and a short length of practice chain. The practice chain was obtained at my favourite local bike shop by simply asking if they had some spare chain lying around. It turns out that most shops do have extra so it's well worth asking for some so that you can practice your skills in advance.
The Park Chain tool shown in that picture is my preferred tool for working on my bike chains. There are numerous chain tools offered by a large number of manufacturers. Most have very similar features but differing levels of quality so it's well worth looking around to find one that matches your needs.
Breaking the chain
The picture to the left has two images related to breaking the chain. The leftmost image shows a picture of a SRAM chain. Notice the round circles visible in this picture. These circles are the actual pins that hold the various links together.
The second picture shows the chain placed in the chain tool. Notice that although there are two places where it appears that the chain could be placed in actual fact I have placed the chain at the rear most position.
The two positions serve different purposes. I use the rear position to push the pin in or out of the chain. The front position is used to remove tightness from the chain once the pin is placed back in the chain.
The picture to the right shows the chain in two pieces following the removal of the pin. Notice that I have purposely left the pin attached to the chain. I do this even for chains like those made by Shimano where you need to insert a new pin rather then reuse the existing one. It is vastly simplier to repair the chain later if you have a bit of pin already in the chain when you need to start pushing the pin in. If you have to replace the pin with a new one then you can easily push the old pin out using the new pin and the chain tool.
Repairing the chain
The picture to the left contains two images showing the chain being put back together. This is a kind time to once again mention that some chains require you to replace the old pin with a new one whenever you do this operation. One brand where this is often the case is Shimano. When in doubt ask at your local bike shop.
In the first picture the chain is once again in the rear most slot and I am pushing the pin back into the chain. When doing this I am careful to make sure that I only push the pin through so that it is flush with the other side of the chain.
Following the insertion of the pin the chain will often be quite tight in the location where you inserted the pin. It is important that you remove this tightness so that the chain can flow properly through the entire drivetrain without problem. The easiest solution to this is to insert the chain in the front slot and once again press against the pin. This action will spread the chain apart and remove the tightness in the process.
Double check the chain to make sure that the link is still firmly embedded in the chain. If this is the case then your repair is complete.
Keep in mind that if you had to remove one or more links then the chain is now shorter. You should use caution when using your lowest and highest gears. With the chain being shorter do not be surprised if you can not use some of them until you replace the missing length.
Many people carry mini-tools along with them during a bicycle tour. These tools often have some way of allowing you to work on your chain. You should definately try out the mini-tool using a piece of practice chain prior to your tour so that you can make sure that it works the way that you would like it to.
The picture to the right shows me using my Alien mini-tool to work on a chain. As you can see there is a lot more bulk to the chain tool when using this option. The important thing is that with this tool I can indeed repair or break a chain. It is worth mentioning that I find the process easier and much more problem free when using a dedicated chain tool like the Park one shown earlier in the article.
Michel Gagnon added the following...
"For people who buy a 'new' chain tool or rejuvenate an old one, I learned on the road that there is a difference between a chain tool that is 9-speed compatible and one that isn't.
I can tell you that even today, some shops sell 7/8-speed chain tools. The difference lies in the section used to remove the tightness between links. If you have a 7/8 speed chain tool, the chain won't slide in there. Short of exchanging the tool for a new one, a very simple solution is to file slightly the two teeth upon which the chain sits but do it at home and not on the road!"
Submitted by Michel Gagnon
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