How to Change a Bike Chain Without a Chain Tool

by Bryan Ray | Last Updated: March 29, 2020

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How to Change a Bike Chain Without a Chain Tool

If you have a local bike shop in your area then you know how expensive it can be to get work done. Once a year, I even take my bike in for a complete tune-up.  

But I don’t use the shop for everything.  Sometimes I can make the repair myself and save a bit of time and money.  

Even without specialty tools, there are a few repairs you can do yourself, no matter what your level of experience.  In this article, I will teach you how to change a bike chain without a chain tool.  

It may seem complicated, and there are fancy specialty tools to make the job easier, but there’s no need to be intimidated. 

You can change your bike chain yourself, at home, with tools you already have, in under an hour. Keep reading to see how!

Removing the Master Link Without a Special Tool

To get the chain off of your bike, you’ll first need to disconnect it. 

While this is easiest if your chain has a master link, and you have a pair of chain pliers, it’s still simple if you don’t.

First, locate the master link.  Note that not all chains have a master link in them.  If yours does, it’ll look different than the rest. It’ll have a slot rather than a hole where the rivet passes through.  

You might have a pair of needle-nose pliers small enough that you can use them like chain pliers.  Use them to squeeze the chain links on either side of the slotted master link, so that the rivet slides in the slot.  The slotted plate should come off easily, and the chain will get disconnected.

If your pliers aren’t small enough, you can still remove the master link.  By angling the pliers (standard or needle nose will work) just right (watch the video above).

You can squeeze the slotted connecting plate so that it comes right off of the rivet.  The chain will come apart after that.  

Once you have disconnected the chain, you can pull it off of the sprockets.  As you do this, pay attention to how the chain is routed around the sprockets and derailleurs. 

On some multi-speed bikes, this can be somewhat complicated. And you want to make sure you get it right when you reinstall the chain. 

You may even want to take a picture with your phone before you fully remove the chain.

If your chain doesn’t have a master link, don’t worry.  You can still remove the chain without the use of a special tool.

Read the next section for that information. Position your bike so that you can follow the steps while the chain is still on the bike. 

It’s a bit more annoying, but you can do it.

Removing a Chain Link Without a Special Tool

You’ll need a couple of standard tools to remove a chain link without using a chain breaker or other specialty tool:

  1. Hammer.
  2. Nail punch or anything sturdy with a small tip.  You need something that will drive the rivet out of the link when you tap it with the hammer.  Even a small screwdriver could work for this.
  3. Something sturdy with a ¼ inch diameter hole through it.  You could use a nut, a socket, or even a piece of wood with a hole drilled into it.

First, position the chain so that the rivet is directly over the hole in the nut, socket, piece of wood, or whatever else you’re using. 

If the chain is still on the bike, this will be more difficult, but not impossible. You’ll need to figure out how to lay the bike down on its side so you can position the chain where you need it.

Next, place whatever you’re using to drive the rivet.

For example a nail punch, screwdriver, etc., as close to the center of the rivet as you can. 

Tap the end of the punch, screwdriver, etc. with the hammer until the rivet pops out of the chain. The rivet will pop into the hole in the nut, socket, piece of wood, etc.

Repeat until you’ve removed the link(s) you want to remove. Make sure that you’ve got mating parts on the ends of the chain that you can put it back together. 

Chain links have big ends and small ends. You’ll need to wind up with a small end and a big end on either side of the chain so you can reassemble the chain.

If you get this wrong, don’t worry.  Pop-out another rivet until you get the end that you need.

Putting the Chain Back on the Bike

First, place the chain over the sprockets, and route it through the derailleur.  Take care to copy the exact original chain routing.

Refer to the picture you took in the step above if needed. The disconnected ends of the chain should now be hanging down from the sprockets/derailleur.

Connecting the chain will be easiest if you have a master link, but still straightforward even if you don’t.

This step will also be easiest if you have something that will hold the disconnected chain together.

That will create enough slack for you to work on the ends of the chain.  A length of stiff wire or even a sectioned piece of coat hanger can do the trick.

Loop the ends of the wire or hanger so that they grab parts of the chain (4-6 lengths away from the ends) and hold them in place. 

The ends of the chain should now be hanging down from the wire or coat hanger with enough slack for you to work on them.

Now, connect the chain.  If you have a master link, use it to connect the ends of the chain together. 

If you don’t, bring the ends together and use the same tools you used earlier. But this time it’s to insert a rivet rather than remove it.

Removing the Bike Chain

Now that you know how to change a bike chain without specialty tools, you should know about the tools that are available. 

If you’re going to be fixing chains a lot, they’re worth the investment. 

Bike Chain Pliers

If your bike chain has a master link, a pair of bike chain pliers makes removing the chain quick and easy.  

To determine if you have a master link in your chain, look for a link that looks a little different from the rest

Every link in a chain is made up of two basic parts: rivets and connecting plates. 

Most connecting plates have a simple hole where the rivet passes through. 

But, master links have a slot in the connecting plate instead of a hole. 

Chain pliers squeeze the chain link together so that the rivet slides in the slot, and the chain easily comes apart.

Chain Breaker

A chain breaker is a simple tool that pushes the rivet out of the chain link.  If your chain doesn’t have a master link, you can use a chain breaker.

The chain breaker easily disconnects and removes the chain from the bike.

If you are interested in checking out a chain breaker I highly recommend checking out this one on Amazon.

Once the chain you’ve removed, you can also use the chain breaker to remove broken links or extra links in the chain.

These specialty tools make the job easier and will help you save a bit of time, but they’re not required. 

You Did It!

Well done, you’re almost ready to hit the road!  But before you do, you’ll want to test the chain a bit. 

Rotate the pedals, and shift the bike through all its gears. This will make sure the chain stays on the sprockets and operates as it should. 

Bike stands are ideal for this, but not necessary. You can do a mini road test, don’t venture too far until you’re sure the chain is functioning properly.

Once you’re confident that the chain is in good shape, it’s time to hit the road or your favorite trail. 

After all, you saved a bunch of time doing all this work yourself versus taking the bike into the shop.

Might as well put that time to good use!

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