What would happen if your bike chain broke while you were out riding? Could you fix it? Do you have the tools and the skills to repair the bike chain and be able to keep riding?

On my first bike touring adventure in my early twenties from Blenheim to Hamner Springs through the Molesworth Station my bike chain broke. I was a long way from home and a long way from help. Neither myself or my girlfriend had the tools or the skills to fix my chain….oh no.

Fortunately there were two good endings to this story. The first- at the very last minute a male friend had decided to join us on our trip, he was able to fix my chain and I was able to finish a wonderful ride. The second- I learned early on that chain maintenance, repairs and knowledge is an essential part to successful riding. I needed to take some responsibility and learn about the chain.

Know your bike parts. goRideSeat

Common components of a bike

Getting to know your bike by learning about the bike chain and its components will help you with your ability to maintain your chain and deal with the chain if something goes wrong.  The chain is an essential component that if it is not working – you will not be going anywhere, you will not be able to ride your bike.  In my case ….I was not going to make it to Hamner Springs.

get Better and goRide by joining me as we discover the bike chain.

We are going to look at: The bike chain – its parts. What components the chain connects with/works with on the bike. What differences are there between chains on different types or size of bikes. All helping you to get to know your bike chain.

  1. The Bike Chain- Its parts.

The bike chain is a continuous loop made up of a number of chain links .

There is 4 main parts to the chain link  . Find each part in the diagram and then identify each component on your bike chain

  1. Outer plate
  2. Inner plate
  3. Roller
  4. Pin or rivet
The bike chain components

A single link is made up of:

  • 2 pins/rivots
  • outer link and an inner link
  • 2 rollers
a single chain link components goRide
  1. What does the chain connect with on the bike?

The bike chain is known as a roller chain. The roller is the only part of the chain that connects with other components of the bike. Let’s follow the continuous loop on its journey so we know where it goes and what it connects to. Make sure you follow it on your bike.

Chain on small rear cog

At the front :

  • The chain runs through the front derailleur
  • The roller of the chain connects to the chain teeth of the chain rings.  There will be 1 or 2 or 3  chainrings at the front depending on the number of gears the bike has. How many do you have? As a set these chain rings can also be called a crankset.

At the back:

  • The chain connects to the chain teeth of  the sprockets.Roller chain connecting to chain teeth of the sprocket.
  • Multiple sprockets (the pyramid shaped stack of sprockets) make up the rear cassette. The number of sprockets will depend on the number of speeds or gears on your bike. Generally there are single, 6, 7,8,9, 10 speed bikes. Count your sprockets. When there are multiple sprockets each sprocket may be called a cog and collectively a cogset. Confusing I know but the terminology is interchanged depending on the author, so it is important you recognise that they are talking about the same thing.
  • Travels through the two jockey wheels of the rear derailleur. (You may also see/hear them called the guide and idler pulley of the rear derailleur.) It travels in a shape of a Z. The chain travels around the front of the top jockey wheel (or guide pulley) and around the back of the bottom jockey wheel (or idler pulley).

Please take note and remember the z shape and the path of the bike chain. If your chain does break this area can look very different and you can be left scratching your head trying to work out where the chain goes to enable you to fix your chain.

Journey of the bike chain. goRide

Follow the bike chain and recognise the components it connects/attaches to.

The z of teh bike chain goRide

The ‘Z” shape of the bike chain.

  1. What are the difference in chains on different types and sizes of bikes.

Though what makes up a chain link is standard on all chains there are differences depending on the type and size of your bike.

Width: The width of the chain varies depending on the number of sprockets you have in your cassette. Remember you counted yours.  How many did you have?

Basically the more sprockets you have the narrower your chain will be.

I have 10 sprockets this is called a 10 speed chain. If you have 6 it would be called a 6 speed chain

Length: The number of links in your chain will vary depending on the type and size of the bike. Having the correct number of links in your chain is important so your gears work smoothly. Count the number of pins in your chain and then halve that number as there are 2 pins per link.

I have a 114pin that is 56 link chain ( this is the standard size for an adult bike)

Type of Chain. It is good to understand the brand of your chain. You can find the brand of the chain stamped on the chain. Some common brands are Shimano, KMC, Campagnolo, SRAM.


I have a KMC bike chain

get Better and goRide – Know your Bike Chain 

Thanks for reading. Used together our stories, resources & products support you to achieve and develop as a rider.

Related Resources:

Cleaning the Bike Chain

Lubing Your Bike Chain

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