The chain is an essential part of your bike’s drive train, responsible for transferring the power of your pedal stroke to the power to turn your rear wheel. A chain that is properly lubricated and taught is much more effective at translating your hard effort into forward motion. A firm chain is also less likely to slip off the chain ring, resulting in frequent stops to slip it back on -- a messy and sometimes frustrating proposition. If you find you have a droopy chain, it’s time to grab the toolbox and fix it.
Invert your bike so it rests on the seat and handlebars. Place protective towels beneath both if you’re doing this on concrete or other hard surface.
With the adjustable wrench, lightly loosen the nuts holding the rear wheel to the bike frame. Loosen them just enough so you can move the axle.
Get behind the wheel and grab both sides of the axle with your hands. Gently pull the wheel as far back into the “drop outs” — the slots the wheel axle fits into — as you can, without forcing.
Hand-tighten the nuts when the wheel won’t go any farther.
Check to see if the chain appears tighter. If so, tighten the axle nuts with the adjustable wrench.
Before flipping the bike back to its upright position, turn the pedals by hand. If the chain doesn’t slip and it feels like your pedaling motion is immediately turning the rear wheel, your problem is licked. Get your bike back on two wheels and ride.
- If the chain remains lose, it could be the result of various factors. Normal wear-and-tear stretches a chain, causing it to droop and skip. One solution is to replace the chain. If your bike has multiple external gears, your rear derailer may either be worn out or out of adjustment. In any event, if the adjustment described here doesn’t tighten the chain, you’re looking at a more complex problem, or at least more complex than you may have the time or special tools to handle. Seek help from your neighborhood bike shop.
- It's easy to pinch your fingers when sliding the axle down the drop outs; keep your fingers to the outside of the axle. When tightening the axle, be careful not to over-tighten the bolts, which can cause stress on the rear of the frame.
Joe Miller has been writing about health, fitness and outdoor adventure since 1992. For 10 years, he wrote a weekly outdoor adventure column, Take It Outside, for "The News & Observer" in Raleigh, N.C. He's the author of three books on hiking and backpacking, with a fourth, "Adventure Carolinas," scheduled for release from UNC Press in spring 2014. He has a Bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.