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CHAIN LINK TOOL

When you are designing your own DIY human powered vehicles, you will likely be using standard
bicycle transmission components to transfer your leg energy to the drive wheel. These standard bicycle
transmission components consist of a crank set, a rear freewheel, a set of derailleurs to change gears,
and of course, the bicycle chain. Recumbent bikes and trikes are longer than an upright cycle, so they
require a chain that is also longer. Some recumbent cycles are so long that they may require a chain of
more than two times the length of a standard bicycle chain, so you are faced with the challenge of joining
one or more chains together to create the necessary long recumbent chain.
This tutorial will demonstrate the use of a chain link tool, which will make your job of lengthening or
shortening a bicycle chain extremely easy. If you only purchase one inexpensive bicycle specific tool,
then make it this one because it will save you so much effort when joining up chains. The only
alternative method to using this tool involves hammering the link pin out with a punch and a finishing
nail. That process is so annoying that I am not even going to demonstrate it.

You can purchase the small hand held chain link tool from any bicycle shop for about $20 or less. This
tool will last a lifetime and can be used to open up any size bicycle chain as well as garage door opener
chain, which is the same pitch and width as single speed BMX chain. You will probably use this tool
several times during a bike build as you find that optimal chain length.

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Chain link tool

CONTENTS

Opening the chain ......................................................................................................................................................................... 2

Joining the chain............................................................................................................................................................................ 6


Opening on a bike ......................................................................................................................................................................... 9

Around the derailleur ............................................................................................................................................................... 11

Stiff link problem ........................................................................................................................................................................15

Stiff link repair .............................................................................................................................................................................17

Optimal chain length ................................................................................................................................................................. 19

OPENING THE CHAIN

Like most mechanical parts, a bicycle chain is a roller chain consisting of many alternating inside and
outside links joined together by link pins. A roller chain is a very effective method of power transfer,
with efficiency as good as or better than 95% in some cases. A chain drive is also much simpler and
certainly lighter than a gear drive system, and it offers the ability to change gears using another
lightweight mechanical device called a derailleur. A derailleur simply forces the chain from one chain
ring to another, so there is no efficiency lost in the transmission as there would be with a gear driven
multi speed transmission.

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Chain link tool

To open a bicycle chain using the chain link tool, insert the chain into the tools cradle with the link pin
that you want to remove positioned under the tools link pushing pin. Press the chain into the tool using
your thumb as you spin the lever in the clockwise rotation to set the tools pushing pin up against the link
pin. The pushing pin must contact the link pin directly on its face or else you could damage the link plate
as the pin is forced through the hole. Ensure that the pushing pin is directly over the link pin before you
start cranking on the lever to separate the chain.

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Chain link tool

With the tools link pushing pin lined up directly over the chain link pin, start cranking on the lever,
turning it in the clockwise rotation to force the pushing pin onto the chain link pin. As you turn the lever,
the pushing pin will be threaded downward onto the chain link pin, and it will begin to slide away from
the link plate. Keep turning the lever in the clockwise rotation until it completely locks out. At this point,
the chain link pin will be pushed all the way through the center roller and will be sticking out of the far
side of the other link plate. The tool is designed so that the link pin is not pushed all of the way out of the
far link plate. If the link pin were completely removed, it would be extremely difficult to reinstall it into
the link plate again.

To open the chain, just bend it at the open link point and it will come apart. The fact that the open link
pin is still installed a small bit into the link plate will work to your advantage when you are reinstalling
the chain in your bike because the chain can be snapped back together to allow you to install the chain
tool. This means that you can install a chain on the bike through the derailleur and check it for length
without having to push the pin all the way back in each time. It may take two or three tries to get the
optimal length chain, so this does make the job much easier.

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Chain link tool

One thing to note is that you cannot shorten a chain by only a single pin. Well, you can actually remove
the pin next to the one you just opened, but if you did that, then you could not rejoin the chain because
you need an inside link at one end and an outside link at the other in order to make a join. So, look at the
links to ensure that you will end up with the same type of link at the end of the chain you are removing
links from. In this image, I started with an inside link, so I removed the pin that would once again leave
an inside link at the end of my chain.

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Chain link tool

JOINING THE CHAIN

Rejoining a chain section is just as easy as removing a link. Place the inside link into the open outside
link so that the open link pin holds the chain together. If you are doing this on a bike with a rear
derailleur, then the small amount of link pin that remains on the inside of the open link should be able to
hold the chain together even under the force of the rear derailleur tension spring.

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Chain link tool

Open the tool all the way by spinning the lever in the counter clockwise direction until you can insert the
open link with the pin facing upwards towards the link pushing pin. Press the chain down into the tools
cradle with your thumb as you crank the lever in the clockwise rotation, pushing the pin back into the
other link plate.

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Chain link tool

When the pin begins to enter the other link plate, watch carefully to ensure that the pin has been
pressed through both plates at the same distance. When the link pin appears to be installed through
both plates evenly, remove the tool from the chain.

At this point, your newly joined chain will have a very stiff link that will refuse to bend where the link
was pushed back into place. If you tried to use this chain on your bike, it would cause your rear
derailleur to skip and jump all over the place each time the stiff link was forced through the cage. To
repair this stiff link, you need to open the gap between the link plates ever so slightly. This can be done
by grasping the chain in both hands and bending it sideways back and forth around the stiff link. When I
say "bending it sideways", I mean against its natural angle of rotation so that you are forcing it to bend in
a way that will help open up the link plates a bit.

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Chain link tool

OPENING ON A BIKE

When you are adjusting the length of a chain that is already installed on a bike or trike, there are a few
tricks you can use to make the job easier. If you need to pull the chain through the rear derailleur, then
you will need to push out a link that leaves an inside link on the side of the chain that will go through the
rear derailleur cage. If you tried to fit an outside link through the derailleur cage, then it would get stuck
since the link pin is pushed out through the opposite plate. Of course, the opposite is true if you want to
pull the chain forward through the chain guide tube; you need the inside link on that side.

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Chain link tool

If you just need to pull or add a link or two in your chain, it is best to break it on the lower side just
ahead of the rear wheel. This area is easiest to reach on most bikes, and will allow you to rejoin the chain
with minimal fuss. To open the chain, place the tool on the chain so that the cranking lever is facing
away from you on the other side of the chain. This will allow you to use the tool facing you when you put
the chain back together, which is more difficult than pulling it apart.

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Chain link tool

Push the link out using the tool and then snap apart the chain to release the two halves. The rear
derailleur spring will push the derailleur cage backwards and pull the chain halves apart. Because of the
ratchet installed in the rear freehub, the chain will not slide off the rear freehub, but you may need to
place something through the crankset chain ring to keep it from moving. A screwdriver placed through
the front chain ring will hold the cranks from spinning the chain off while your make adjustments.

AROUND THE DERAILLEUR

To remove the chain from the rear derailleur, pull down on the cage and then slip the chain through the
lower side, along the lower idler pulley. If you took out the wrong pin and ended up with an outside link
here, then you may still be able to twist the link pin through the derailleur cage by twisting the chain. If
not, then you will have to remove both of the bolts that hold the idler wheels in place to open up the
derailleur cage. The other option is to unwind the chain all the way around the other side of the bike
first.

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Chain link tool

Now, slide the chain through the derailleur cage over the top idler pulley while you lift the chain up over
the rear freewheel chain ring teeth. Be careful not to scrape the chain along your frame or you will likely
scratch or chip your paint. This is especially true when you are assembling a new bike that has just been
painted and the paint has not cured for more than a week.

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Chain link tool

To reinstall a chain through the rear derailleur, repeat the last steps in the reverse order. Feed the chain
over the top of the rear freewheel towards the left and then over the top derailleur idler towards the
right, pulling the chain all the way through. Because the freewheel will turn in reverse, this part is easy.
Now, wrap the chain around the bottom derailleur idler so it forms a backward S around both idler
wheels.

Pull the chain so that all of the upper slack is picked up and so that the derailleur cage begins to move
forward towards the front of the bike. You can now clip the chain back together using the open link to
hold the chain together while you get ready to use the chain link tool. If the rear derailleur pulls so hard
that the chain won't stay together, jam a board or something between the spokes to keep the derailleur
from pulling back while you set up the chain for rejoining.

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Chain link tool

The properly installed chain will form a backward S as it travels around the rear derailleur idler wheels
as shown here. Now, you can use the chain link tool to reinsert the open link pin back into the chain.

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Chain link tool

STIFF LINK PROBLEM

The reason the chain link tool was placed with the lever facing away from you when you opened the
chain is so that you can use it facing you when you rejoin the chain. Rejoining the chain is a bit trickier
since the rear derailleur is trying to pull the chain back open, so it's just easier to handle the tool this
way.

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Chain link tool

There will always be a stiff link after you reinstall any link pin using the chain tool. Sometimes the stiff
link will be obvious like the one shown here, but often you will not be able to see it. A stiff link running
through the rear derailleur will cause it to jump and possibly throw the chain off the chain ring and onto
the next one for a short duration. This will be noticeable as a "poing" sound as you ride or it may be
more dramatic, causing a gear change every few seconds.

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Chain link tool

To locate a stiff link that is not visibly obvious, turn the cranks in reverse and watch the rear derailleur
for any jumping movement. If the rear derailleur pops forward every few seconds, then this is the stiff
link thats causing friction as its forced to bend around the small diameter idler wheels. Stop right after
the movement and bend each link by hand to locate the offending stiff link.

STIFF LINK REPAIR

You can easily fix the stiff link while the chain is still installed on the bike thanks to the slack given by the
rear derailleur. Grasp the chain on both sides of the stiff link and bend it from side-to-side. Force the
chain using a lot of strength, but don't worry, you won't be able to permanently damage the chain
because it can take a lot of force. Do this a few times and then flex the link by hand to ensure that they all
move with no friction. If the link is still stiff, then perhaps the chain is rusted or damaged. In that case,
you need to replace the bad link or the entire chain.

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Chain link tool

After relaxing the stiff link, spin the cranks quickly in reverse and keep an eye on that rear derailleur for
any skipping or jumping. The rear derailleur should remain almost perfectly still no matter how fast you
turn the cranks in reverse.

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Chain link tool

OPTIMAL CHAIN LENGTH

When you are building up a new long chain for a recumbent bike, start by placing the chain on the
largest front chain ring and around the middle rear freewheel chain ring. Install the chain through the
rear derailleur to form that backward S shape and then pull the lower halves of the chain together until
the rear derailleur cage is in the position shown here, with the two idler wheels sitting in a line with the
rear axle. This is a good place to start as it will allow enough slack in the chain to reach the larger rear
chain rings, but will also let the rear derailleur cage pick up the slack as the chain shifts onto the smaller
chain rings.

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Chain link tool

The two derailleur idler pulley axles form a line with the rear axle is what I call the default position.
The chain on the largest front chain ring and the middle rear chain ring is probably the gear you will use
most often, so this position will give the tension spring in the rear derailleur the most movement in
either direction as you shift. Of course, you will need to experiment on your own bike because there are
a variety of different cranksets and rear freewheels available with a wide range of gear sizes. So, if you
plan on building your own chain driven human powered vehicle, then consider purchasing an
inexpensive chain link tool as it will make working with bicycle chains very easy.

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Chain link tool


Free bike building tutorials:
Using a chain link tool
Basic fishmouth cutting
Arc welding
Cranks and pedals
Front derailleur
Cables
Coaster brakes
Free bike projects:
Kids electric trike
Choppers
Mountain bike tandem

Bicycle bearing basics


Lacing wheels
Frame chopping
Bike chains
Rear derailleur
Freewheel
Head tubes

Sidewinder stunt bike


Velomobile
World Record SkyCycle

Detachable tandem
Tall bikes
Spin Scooter

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Head tube bearings


Salvaging wheel parts
Bicycle autopsy
Rake and trail
Brakes
Gooseneck

Simple SWB recumbent


and more!

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