Chain Length Sizing

Replacement chains for bicycles are always longer than you need. This repair help article will take you step by step through the different methods of sizing a bike chain.


Preliminary Info

Before we begin the chain sizing process, let’s first define the two types of multi-speed bicycle chain. There are chains that use a master link and chains that use a special connecting rivet chains. Master link chains use two removable outer plates to connect the chain. Connecting rivet chains use a special rivet to connect the chain.

Master link (L) and connecting rivet (R) chains


Check & Remove Chain

Before removing the old chain, verify that it is the correct length.

Shift the bike into the largest chainring and rear cog. The chain should be long enough to make this shift with two slight bends at each pulley of the rear derailleur.

Slight bend at each pulley

Next, shift to the smallest chainring and sprocket. There should be no slack in the chain, and the derailleur should not pull so far back that the chain contacts itself.

Correct derailleur position and chain tension

Next, remove the rear wheel. This will take tension off the chain and give you better access to the chain. Inspect the chain for a master link.

Master link

Master Link Chains

If a master link is present, use a master link pliers such as the Park MLP-1.2 to disengage the link. If you have a chain tool and your chain is worn out, you can ignore the master link and simply cut the chain using a chain tool.

Disengage with MLP-1.2

Connection Rivet Chains

Connecting rivets will appear visually different from other rivets. When selecting a rivet to break, be sure that it is at least a couple of links away from any connecting rivet already installed in the chain. Install the chain tool and bring the driving pin of the chain tool into contact with the connecting rivet. Ensure the chain tool pin is driving in a straight line into the chain rivet. Turn the handle with force and drive out the rivet, then remove the chain.

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Bring tool into contact with rivet

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Drive out in straight line


Sizing to Original Chain

If the old chain is an acceptable length, lay it next to the new chain. Always line up outer plates with outer plates or inner plates with inner plates. This example is incorrect because we have an end with outer plates being compared to an end with inner plates. Insert the master link to get a true side by side comparison. Take care to match them rivet by rivet noting that old chains will lengthen as they wear.

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Add master link for comparison

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Match rivets on used chain to new chain


Largest Cog & Largest Chainring Method

If you don’t have an old chain to compare length with, you can use this method to determine the correct chain length for your bicycle. First, shift the front derailleur over the largest chainring and the rear derailleur to the smallest cog. Begin by wrapping the chain around the largest rear cog. If the new chain has one end with an outer plate, it should be routed toward the front chainring. Pass the chain end through the front derailleur cage onto the largest front chainring and hold it at about the five o’clock position.

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Pass chain through front derailleur

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Hold at five o'clock position

If the chain uses a master link, install half of the master link. This will account for the extra half inch the master link provides. With this plate installed, the rest of the process is the same for master link and connecting rivet chains. Pull the lower section of chain snug and engage it on the front chainring.

Pull lower section snug

Pay special attention that the chain is fully engaged on the largest rear cog for accurate sizing. You will bypass the rear derailleur entirely for this step and extra length will be added later to account for this. Find the closest rivet where the two chain ends could be joined. You will match inner plates to outer plates in order to join the chain. The rivet closest to where the chain can be joined is the reference rivet. From the rivet we add two additional rivets.

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Reference rivet

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Add two rivets

This is the cutting point for your chain. It can occur that, when we pull the lower section snug, an outer plate meets and outer plate. This cannot be the reference rivet because the chain cannot be joined here. Add one rivet. This becomes the reference rivet and from here we add two additional rivets, cut the chain with a chain tool, and the chain is sized.


Exceptions & Considerations

If the bike uses a chain guide, make sure it is routed through the system before determining chain length. Add the same two rivets before to establish the cutting point.

Route chain through guide

The amount of rivets added is different if you are using the following component configurations:

A SRAM® derailleur with an eleven or twelve speed cassette and a single front chainring with no rear suspension. With this system, add four rivets from the reference rivet.

Another consideration deals with rear suspension. The distance between the rear cogs and front chainrings will change as the suspension compresses and moves for bumps. To account for that, disconnect the shock, and compress the linkage.

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Disconnect shock

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Compress linkage

This is the maximum possible distance between the front and rear sprockets. With the suspension held in place, we use the same technique as before, adding two rivets for the cutting point. This is for all bikes with rear suspension including SRAM® 11- and 12-speed 1x systems.