You’re pedaling like crazy and nothing is happening, is your bike “broken”?  Well more than likely you will have this experience when your chain has slipped off.  If your chain slips off surely it should slip right back on without a lot of struggling?  But wait a minute it’s stuck in a gap and won’t come out and there’s no way to stretch it…what to do when your chain slips off?

To begin let’s remind ourselves where a chain goes and what it looks like when it’s correct position on the bike… it would be great to follow it on your own bike.

The chain is a continuous loop

Lets start following the loop at the front – it travels around the teeth of the chain rings and as we follow the top of the loop it travels between the front derailleur and along until it connects with the teeth of the sprocket (in the rear cassette) it travels within the rear derailleur and comes around the front of the top jockey wheel and then behind the bottom jockey wheel continuing along the bottom of the loop back to the the chain rings.

The key thing to note is the Z shape as it comes from the sprockets in the rear cassette through to the jockey wheels and along the bottom of the loop. You may think yeah, yeah … I know where the chain goes but if you weren’t able to look at it and if it looked totally different with the chain off – do you know it well enough.

The bike chain and the drive train of a bicycle-Recovered

For more information on the bike chain ….read Know the bike chain

Journey of the bike chain. goRide
The z of teh bike chain goRide

This photo shows the concept of the z shape of the bike chain.

What is a chain that has slipped off?

So we know what the chain looks like on the bike when it is in the correct position. Lets have a look at what you chain might look like when it has slipped off. Somewhere on its continuous loop the bike chain is not in its correct position. It has slipped off the chain teeth of the chain rings, sprockets of the rear cassette or the jockey wheels of the rear derailleur.

Bike Chain Slipped Off - dropped bike chain

Dropped chain

Bike chain slipped off - caught

Chain trapped

How do you fix your chain that has slipped off?

In simple terms it is simply about getting it back on the bike in its correct position.

There are 3 options. If you are lucky enough it may right itself with option 1 or 2 otherwise it is a matter of getting your hands dirty.

# 1. While on the bike – Change gears so you you are in the largest chain ring at the front. Use your left hand to shift the gears into the largest chain ring.

# 2. Get off the bike and spin the rear wheel. Lift the back wheel off the ground and spin the pedals backwards.

# 3. If the above options didn’t work  it will be a hands on job. As your bike chain is greasy be prepared to get your hands a little dirty.

  • pull the rear deraileur forwards (towards the front chain rings) with your left hand
  • use your right hand to feed the bike chain back into its correct position. Start with the top of the chain
  • Lift the back wheel and spin the pedals with your hand to align the chain with the gears the bike is in.

Note: Sometimes there are additional challenges when the chain has slipped off. For example the chain  has managed to wedge itself into a gap and has become stuck. There is no simple answer other than remember if it could get into this position it can get out. At this point it my be useful to turn your bike upside down. Making sure the bike is stable if you need to use a little force.

Once the chain is back in place check that there is no damage to the chain.

bike chain slipped off - put it back on while on the bike

#1. Use left hand shifter to change into large chain ring at the front

Bike chain slipped off - lift back wheel spin pedal

#2. Lift the back wheel and spin the pedals with your hand

Bike chain slipped off - feeding back on

#3. Pull rear derailleur forward and feed the chain back on.

Why does a chain slip off?

Here is a list of circumstances when your chain may misbehave.  If you carry this knowledge with you, you’ll know exactly whats going on when pedaling doesn’t move your bike forward

  • changing gears while pedalling if your derailleurs aren’t aligned properly.  This mechanism basically pushes it too far and it misses the sprocket
  • going over bumps moves your derailleur and causes slackness in your chain so your chain can “jump” off
  • bent or broken sprocket teeth can push it out of line
  • it will come off more easily if you’re trying to change into small/small or big/big front and back sprocket combinations.  Learn more about good gear combinations in this story...
  • backwards pedalling can cause it to slip off
  • if the derailleur is bumped or knocked when the bike is being transported
get Better and goRide – Bike Repair – How to fix a chain that has slipped off…

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