How To Shorten A Bike Chain Without A Chain Tool?

Photo of a bike mechanic shortening a mountain bike chain without a chain tool. How To Shorten A Bike Chain Without A Chain Tool?

As a cyclist, you know that maintaining your bike is crucial for optimal performance and safety. One essential maintenance task is shortening your bike chain when it starts to stretch or wear down.

While using a chain tool is the most precise way to shorten a chain, sometimes you might not have one on hand – but don’t worry! Below you’ll learn how to shorten a bike chain without a chain tool and other alternative methods.

How To Shorten A Bike Chain Without A Chain Tool

Learn how to shorten a bike chain without a chain tool by using alternative methods such as pliers, a hammer and nail, or a screwdriver to pry links apart.

Method 1: Using Pliers, A Nail, And A Hammer

One effective method to shorten a bike chain without using a chain tool is by utilizing pliers, a nail, and a hammer. Follow the steps below to complete this method successfully:

  1. Identify the link you want to remove and position the chain on a stable surface.
  2. Straighten a thin nail so it matches the size of the pin you will be removing from the chain.
  3. Hold the straightened nail in place against the pin with pliers or other small clamping mechanism.
  4. Carefully tap the other end of the nail using a hammer, applying steady pressure to push out the pin from inside the chain link.
  5. Remove the loosened pin and separate the links as needed; ensure not to completely remove it if planning to reuse it later.
  6. Continue tapping out pins and separating links until achieving your desired chain length.

Keep in mind that performing this method requires careful precision in order not to damage your bike chain. It is always recommended to use proper tools for maintenance whenever possible, but this method may work well in an emergency situation or for those who do not have access to specialized tools.

Method 2: Using A Screwdriver To Pry Links Apart

Shortening a bike chain without a chain tool can also be achieved by using a screwdriver to pry links apart. This method, while not as precise as using a chain tool, may be more accessible for some cyclists. Here’s how you can accomplish this task:

  1. Locate the master link on the chain and ensure that the bike is in a secure position for easy access to the chain.
  2. Use your fingers or master link pliers to disengage the quick links if present in your bike’s chain.
  3. Find the link you want to remove from the chain and position it on a sturdy surface.
  4. Carefully insert the tip of a flathead screwdriver into one side of the outer plate covering the pin of the desired link.
  5. Apply gentle pressure to pry open one side of the outer plate until there is enough space between it and the rest of the chain.
  6. Repeat this process on the other side of the selected link, ultimately removing both sides of its outer plate.
  7. Slide out any remaining inner plates and pins that were holding together this portion of your bike’s chain.

Remember that this method may cause some stress on your bicycle’s chain, so exercise caution when making these adjustments without proper tools at hand. It’s essential to lubricate your shortened bike chain thoroughly after completing this process as well.

Step-by-Step Guide For Shortening A Bike Chain Without A Chain Tool

This section provides a detailed guide on how to shorten a bike chain without a chain tool, including removing the chain from the bike, measuring and marking the length to be removed, using alternative tools to remove the pins, and reattaching the shortened chain.

Removing The Chain From The Bike

Before attempting to shorten a bike chain, the first crucial step is removing it from your bicycle. Start by positioning your bike on a work stand or, if one isn’t available, lean it securely against a sturdy surface like a wall.

Ideally, have the bike upside down for easier access to the chain and drivetrain components.

Now you can locate and disengage the master link. Most modern chains have quick links or master links that allow for easy removal without needing any tools. If you’re having difficulty identifying this unique link on your chain, search for one with two outer plates of different shapes compared to other links.

To separate these plates by hand, press them together while sliding them towards each other simultaneously; doing so should release their interlocking tabs, which hold tension between adjacent pins and rollers in place – enabling an effortless separation of the chain ends afterward.

Measuring And Marking The Length To Be Removed

Before attempting to shorten a bike chain without a chain tool, it is important to determine the exact length that needs to be removed from the chain. One way to do this is by counting the links and measuring the distance between each link pin.

To remove one link, measure the distance between two adjacent pins and add an additional half-inch for adjustment purposes.

Another method of determining how much to cut off is by visually comparing your old bike chain with your new one then cutting them both to match in length.

Using The Chosen Method To Remove The Pin

Once you have measured and marked the length of chain that needs to be removed, it’s time to remove the pin using your chosen method. If using pliers, a nail, and a hammer, grip the link firmly with the pliers and position the nail at the center of the pin.

Gently tap on the nail with a hammer until the pin pops out. Repeat this process on one more pin to completely separate the unwanted section from your chain. Alternatively, if using a screwdriver to pry links apart, use it to push down on one end of a link until it separates enough for you to pull it apart by hand or with pliers.

It is important to note that shortening a bike chain without a tool may weaken it over time and cause it to break more easily in future rides.

Reattaching The Shortened Chain

Once the desired length of chain has been removed, reattaching it is a straightforward process. First, ensure that both ends of the shortened chain are clean and free from debris.

Then, position the chain together so that the two open ends meet.

Next, use a paper clip or nail as a makeshift chain pin to hold the links in place while you attach them back together using your chosen method from earlier.

Finally, inspect your work closely to confirm that everything is properly aligned and tightly secured before taking your bike out for a ride.

While shortening a bicycle chain without specialized tools can be done with care and precision, it may not provide results as precise or long-lasting as those achieved with professional-grade equipment.


Shortening a bike chain without a chain tool may seem daunting, but with the right tools and instructions, it can be done with ease. Whether you’re out on a ride and need to shorten your chain in a pinch or you simply don’t have access to a chain tool, these alternative methods can come in handy.

Remember to take caution when using pliers or hammers as there is potential for damage to the chain. Also, keep in mind that although shortening the chain without a tool is possible, it may not be as precise as using one.

I've been riding bikes for 30 of my 35 years. Nothing gives me more pleasure than grabbing my Enduro bike and take on the mountains. Learn more about me here.