When to Replace a Worn Chain

Knowing when to replace your chain is an important aspect of bicycle maintenance that can help extend the life of components and maintain optimal drivetrain performance. This article covers the various tools and methods for determining when to replace a bicycle chain.

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Preliminary Info

Chains are a consumable part of the bicycle drive train. As you pile on the miles, your bike’s chain will wear out. The internal parts of the chain, the rivets and rollers, begin to wear out and give the illusion of stretching. This wear can cause the chain to mesh poorly with cogs and chainrings, causing poor shifting, premature wear to the cogs and even skipping over the cogs. Since it’s far more expensive to replace your cassette than it is to replace a chain, knowing when to replace your chain can actually save you some money in the long run.

There are different methods for measuring chain wear from simply lifting the chain off of the front chainrings to measuring the distance between two rivets on your chain. But the easiest and most accurate way to determine chain wear is by using a tool such as the CC-3.2 Chain Checker or the CC-2 Chain Checker.

You may either place your bike in a repair stand or leave it on the ground as long as it remains stable and will not shift or tip over.

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Method 1: Lift off Chainring

The first method for checking chain wear is to simply lift the chain off the front chainring. Shift into the smallest cog on the rear and largest chainring in front and lift the chain off of the chainring.

Lift chain of chainring

If it lifts off the chainring to the point where you can see a lot of daylight between your chain and chainrings, you’ll either need to replace your chain, or you are fast approaching the point of replacement. It’s nearly as accurate as using the proper tool, but it’s a good starting point if you haven’t replaced your chain in a while.

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Method 2: Measure with Ruler

Another ballpark method for checking chain wear is by measuring it with a ruler. Pick a rivet and line it up at the zero mark. Count 23 more rivets and your last rivet should be at the 12” mark of your ruler. If it is off by more than 1/16” your chain is stretched to the point of replacement.

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Line up first rivet at zero mark

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Check last rivet at 12" mark

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Method 3: Use CC-3.2

The CC-2 and the CC-3.2 Chain Checkers are made expressly for the task of quantifying chain wear. To start measuring chain wear with the CC-3.2, locate the end of the tool with the 0.5 stamp. Install the hook end on a link with inner plates to ensure you’re measuring against the roller and not the side plates. Attempt to install the other end into the chain.

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Hook on roller between inner plates

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Check wear at other end

If it doesn’t go in your chain is not yet 0.5 percent worn. If it does insert into the chain it means that your chain is not 0.5 percent longer than when it was new. Flip the tool over to check if your chain is 0.75 percent worn. If doesn’t not insert into the chain on the 0.75 percent end, your chain is not yet 0.75 percent worn.

Now let’s talk about what each reading on the CC-3.2 means. Anything at or beyond the 0.75 percent reading means that you should change your chain immediately. If you are using a chain designed for ten or fewer gears, replace your chain as it nears the 0.75 percent mark. If you are using an eleven or twelve speed chain, replace your chain once it has reached 0.5 percent wear. For two-sprocket or single speed bikes, replace your chain as it reaches the 1 percent wear mark.

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Method 4: Use CC-2

To measure chain wear using the CC-2 Chain Checker, insert the rear stud between two outer plates and the front stud between two inner plates.

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Rear stud between outer plates

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Front stud between inner plates

Push lightly on the lever to take slack out of the chain and feel where it comes to distinct stop. Don’t force the tool beyond the stopping point. The reading in the window will tell you the percent wear of your chain. It’s that simple.

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Push to remove slack

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Check reading in window

Remember, using a chain beyond its intended wear limit will prematurely wear out your cogs and chainrings so staying on top of this routine maintenance task can save you a lot of cost and hassle in the long run.