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How To Fix A Skipping Bike Chain

October 05, 2019
How To Fix A Skipping Bike Chain
How To Fix A Skipping Bike Chain

Let’s hear it for the top three skips: to My Lou, the queue, and work for the day. Noticeably absent is a skipping bike chain. That spells trouble. When your bike chain starts to skip, you could have problems switching gears and navigating your two-wheel chariot. 

The good news is that even though a skipping bike chain is annoying, you don’t have to be a mechanic or even a seasoned cyclist to make it right. Here are some tips for what to do when your bike chain skips:

Why Do Bicycle Chains Skip?

When your bike chain skips between gears while you’re riding, or shifts twice instead of once when you try to change gears, the most common culprit is a loose cable. Your bike cables naturally stretch over time. Most stretching happens within the first few rides after you install a new cable, but older cables stretch too far. That’s when the trouble begins. 

Without enough cable tension to properly regulate your derailleur (the part of your bike that shifts the chain from one sprocket to the next), your chain will begin to skip. 

Common Fixes for Skipping Chains

The most typical recommendation for fixing a skipping chain is to add tension to the rear derailleur. However, there may be times when you have to either shorten the chain by removing a link or swapping out the shifter cable altogether. It’s also possible that the cable is too tight. You should begin with the least intrusive repair attempt first (adding tension) and only replace parts if that doesn’t work. We’d hate to see you throw away some perfectly good cables when a 10-minute tension adjustment would have done the trick. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Put your bike in park and manually pedal forward using your hand or foot until the derailleur has been adjusted down into the smallest cog. You’ll want to double-check the shifter at this point. Press the shifter once to see if the chain moves up a gear. If nothing happens, you need more tension. 
  1. Now you want to turn your barrel adjuster all the way in by twisting it away from you. Not sure where to find it? The barrel adjuster is a small part situated on the backside of your derailleur. Your cable passes through it on the way to the gear shifter. 
  1. Check the shifter again to see if the chain will automatically shift to the smallest ring in the cassette. If not, keep adjusting the barrel adjuster to add tension until the bike starts shifting as it should. If this works, you’ve found the sweet spot. 
  1. If you still can’t shift without skipping, visually inspect the cable. If there is too much slack, you may need to add tension. On the other hand, if it’s too tight, you could need to remove some tension. Your cable is kind of like Goldilocks.
  1. Manually adjust the cable as needed. You will physically see the point where the cable exits the derailleur. There will be a tightening mechanism at the exit point (it probably looks like a bolt). Loosen it and pull the cable out to add more tension, or push it in a little bit to offer more slack. Adjust the tension as needed until your bike can successfully change gears without skipping. 
  1. Check the limiting screw if you still can’t get the bike to switch gears without skipping. The limiting screw is on the top of the derailleur. Look for the screw with an “H,” which indicates that it is for the high gear (not all bikes will be labeled this way, but many are). Loosening this screw may allow the chain to reach the smallest cog and switch gears properly. 

While these steps will resolve most chain skipping issues, it is also possible that your chain itself is too stretched or that it’s just too long. You may be able to fix the problem by removing a few excess links. Or you might want to see if the entire chain has seen better days. Remember: every part of your bike, including the cable, will need to be replaced from time to time. It’s better to replace them as needed than risk a serious accident from riding on old parts. 

Once your bike chain is fixed and skip-free, you’re ready to hit the trails again. Join our Journey Club to uncover biking locations around the world and connect with other cyclists.

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