Broken Bike Chain?

Yes, broken bike chain is a syndrome and no one is immune. It can happen to you with haste. And sometimes there is no explanation other than shoddy craftsmanship. Most of the time it’s a result of poor care.

With chains doing so much of the work, ie, taking you forward up hills and across the land, they get all of the brunt and no thanks. No one gets off their bike and says, “I am so happy about that chain! It’s allowed me to pedal my bike up to this ridge line. Damn it’s gorgeous up here!”

Usually it goes something more like this: “This is a damn fine bike.” They take a look around and move along with a high level of stoke. Life is good. The chain goes unthanked.



What about when the chain breaks? My breaks have been in places that are exclusively isolated and inconvenient. I have to say that at the moment I was not excited about my relationship with my chain.

Why they break:

You’re asking why this happens. So am I. But I know why. Let’s take a look:

  1. chain needed replacing a long time ago and is structurally unsound to operate
  2. really bad shifting (under load)
  3. Installed by an idiot (someone unqualified)
  4. Manufacturer Defect

1. Chain’s need to be replaced as they are a serious wear item. The chain is an assembly of small parts where metal on metal movement is part of life. As the chain twists and bends laterally and rolls over thousands of rpm’s per ride, it’s exposed to dirt and grime and bad shifts. The plates wear at their carrier pins and develop flex. At a certain point this starts to be measured as “chain stretch.” It’s because now the fittings of plates against pins is super sloppy.

broken chain example 1 & 2
fractured chain plates

Then one day under load you shift and then a plate fractures or peels away from the pin and you have a broken chain. End.

broken chain
example 3 & 4

2. When chains shift from cog to cog or chainring to chainring, the chain flexes in an abrupt way, much like when you’re about to miss an exit on the highway at 80 mph and you go for it. Something that is otherwise straight takes on a temporary sharp bend to go to the next gear. When this action happens under load or hard, fast pedaling (like we see done on e-bikes) the chain wears the pins at an accelerated rate. Now concepts from rule 1 apply.

breaking chain
example 5 – chain plate peeling away; chain are quite strong and for a bit this will actually feel like something is going on with shifting until one makes a solid chain inspection

3. When a chain is installed using a formerly pressed out pin, or if a new pin is improperly installed:

improperly installed chain pin
improperly installed chain pin leads to nearly immediate breakage – repaired by simply replacing the link with a master-link

Sometimes the pin installation isn’t right but seems so close that it requires a trained eye. But generally, using a previously pressed pin is the culprit here.

Each chain pin as little flanges at the end that essentially hold the outer chain plates in place. Once a pin is pressed back out it knocks this flange off one side and once pressed back in there is nothing to retain the outer plate on that side of the pin. Do yourself a favor and replace it with either a masterlink or a new chain pin, depending on what chain you have.

shimano chain pin
shimano chain pins, each for a different speed chain.
sram power link
SRAM master link or power link (black is for 10 speed)

4. Sometimes you’re the victim of poor manufacture. Get to your local shop and talk with them about it. Here’s one:

SRAM XX1 Eagle chain that appears to have had a defective pin, notice how the pin is broken in the middle and the ends are still within the outer plates?



Remedies:

Get a new chain. Sometimes you need new chainrings and cogs as well, depending on how worn things are.

America Be Damned, Part 1

An article was published in January of 2015 about the Koch Bros pushing to defund all transportation budget except for the automobile infrastructure. Please read the article:

Koch Brothers can Suck it

And, if you live in a growing rural town like I do you can see that the Coal Rollers (folks with ridiculous lifted diesel truck with modified exhaust systems) pretty much run the town. This summer they spent millions ($$?) paving and then chip sealing our roads, heavily used roads, rather than investing in bike lanes (involves paint), sidewalk, or bike paths that are safe (our bike paths run along busy highways that have no physical barrier, just a 2 foot width of dirt).

What we need is more of this:

The problem isn’t necessarily just the Koch Brothers, it’s the mentality that an automobile is the exclusive mode of transportation in America (United States). Someone asked me how I got my driver’s license suspended since I only rode a bike between work and the store (my license is in great standing).

As he ate a bag of Oreos. From the drivers seat of his truck. Towing a motor boat.

Environment be damned! Let’s pollute the whole damned planet. If you ride a bike you’re clearly a criminal!

DIY issue 1

So there’s a cool thing going around called DIY, or Do It Yourself. Bike D.I.Y. is also a thing. Let’s take an examination of things that folks think they can do themselves, generally.

  1. Washing the dishes. Loading the dishwasher is not how you wash dishes. That’s called punting. Here’s how you wash dishes by hand: https://youtu.be/woT1zf2Fke0
  2. Repair your trailer wheel bearings. Driving down the highway in front of me that guys wheel fell off his trailer. Trailer tipped and dragged. Sparks everywhere!
  3. Bike disc brakes: guy brings me his brake caliper in two halves, still drenched in hydraulic fluid. “I was replacing my brake pads!” This video from GCN: https://youtu.be/Lbi1HQMQIBo





There’s Youtube videos on all of this stuff. But DIY involves a serious amount of troubleshooting. Here’s a photo of what you can do sometimes:

Do you see a sheet metal screw in there? Yeah, this guy DIY’ed after losing his bleeder valve. This caliper is done.

Headset installation. Please tell me that looks correct.

I know I’ve posted this headset assembly picture before but man it’s a good one. Another example is the guy who came in with a 1.5″ tapered steer tube fork and wanted to install it on a bike with standard headtube. He’d read on the internet that all he needed was a “common bearing” from a bike shop to make it happen.

The bike is a $500 bike, with a straight headtube. The fork is a $600 unit with all the modern tech. Not only did he assume wrongly that I had the part he desired, which cannot say exits, he also thought he could simply adapt his 9mm standard QR axle to the new fork’s 15mm thru-axle system with end-caps. The axle of his hub is a threaded cup/cone assembly. Nothing about this idea was going to work.

The best part then was he returned two months later to accomplish the same task. It was like he’d forgotten. Another tech gave him the same information.

Just because you fixed your leaky sink doesn’t make you a true problem solver or bike mechanic. DIY all you want but don’t get upset when we have to put your stuff back together for hourly labor.




How to adjust a rear derailleur

If you are thinking where my post about adjusting front derailleurs might be, it’s not. It’s not a thing anymore, well with mountain bikes. Road bikes will continue to use this antiquated technology until it finally arrives at the bitter end of a dark tunnel.

Step 1: Take your bike to your local bike shop.

If you are more persistent and have read on, then my instructions are below. You will find a video link attached in a few weeks.

  1. Make sure that the derailleur hanger is straight (if you don’t know what this is then repeat the above “step 1”)
  2. Disconnect the derailleur cable (for non-electric systems)
  3. Now dial in your high and low limits by physically pushing the derailleur to the low and high cogs; gently! Adjust your H and L screws so that the chain makes no strange or shifting sounds in those two cogs
  4. Back off all barrel adjusters associated with this system
  5. Attach your derailleur cable to the derailleur using the pinch bolt (gum or duct-tape attachments that work get a star) in the default (usually high) position (Hint: XTR, XT, XX1, X01 and similar derailleurs typically like a little cable slack, maybe 2mm from the tight position at the pinch bolt)
  6. Begin shifting while pedaling the system
  7. Make necessary barrel adjustments to adjust tension on the cable if the shift isn’t quite right
  8. Listen to each gear as the chain rides over it; no sounds should emanate that aren’t simply the normal chain and cog interface

I promise a video to explain all this and make it easier to follow. But for now if you’re desperate then just take it to a shop and pay the $15 to get it done right.