How to Fix a Dropped Chain Without Getting off Your Bike
Imagine you’re out on one of your Saturday group rides, humming alongside one of your cycling partners. You’re chatting about things people chat about these days — you know, social distancing, vaccines, remote learning and where you got your mask.
There’s another rider in front of you, and as you and your friend are looking ahead, you see her chain drop off her chainring. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, and you know what to do: Slow down so you don’t rapidly overtake her now that she can’t keep pedaling.
But just as you start to brake, you see her pedaling forward as her chain seems to magically take hold again. She barely slows down, and everyone keeps riding without a hitch.
You turn to your partner, who looks back at you in shock. “How did she do that?” he says.
Such will be your ability to dazzle your fellow riders and save time on a ride after you learn Coach Darryl MacKenzie’s latest trick. Although few cyclists know it, you can fix a dropped chain without ever stepping off your bike. Here’s how.
When This Won’t Work
The first thing to know is that this only works when you can keep some momentum going. In other words, you need to be going downhill or at least on the flats. If you drop your chain while climbing uphill you’ll slow to a stop far too quickly for this method to be effective. If that happens, you’ll just have to go with the old-fashioned technique: Get off the bike and put the chain back on the chainring manually.
Finally, don’t do this if your chain is stuck rubbing against your seat tube, which is part of your bike frame. Frame damage is an expensive repair, so don’t risk it. Stop and fix your chain by hand in that case.
Find Where Your Chain Dropped
If you can keep your momentum, then you’re in good shape. The first thing you’ll need to do, though, is figure out how you’re going to fix the slipped bicycle chain.
The specifics will depend on whether your chain fell off on the outside or inside of your chainrings. So, stop pedaling and make sure you’re safe to take your eyes off the road for a moment and look down. Once you see whether your chain is hanging on the outside or inside, you’ll know what you need to do.
Fix Your Chain Without Missing a Beat
Here’s the trick: Based on whichever side the chain fell off, you’re going to want to shift your front derailleur in the opposite direction to put it over the gear farthest from where the loose chain is.
So, if your chain dropped on the outside of your chainrings, shift your front derailleur to the innermost (smallest) gear. If your chain dropped on the inside of your chainring, shift your front derailleur to the outermost (largest) gear.
As you shift, pedal slowly with very little pressure to allow your front derailleur to pick up the chain, transport it past the closest chainring and drop it onto the chainring that is farthest from where the chain fell off. If you’re careful, you’ll be back in action with hardly any time lost.
Not a Guarantee, But Close
Coach Darryl learned this simple trick for how to fix a dropped chain from a bike ride with his friend, cycling legend Eddie Borysewicz, who just recently passed away. He’s since used it countless times over his decades on the bike and has seen many other riders use it successfully.
All told, he estimates it probably works 80% of the time. If it doesn’t work for you at first, it’s most likely because you’re pedaling too fast or with too much pressure while trying to restore the chain. Additionally, if you’re on one of the smallest or largest cogs in the back, you might have trouble due to too much or too little chain slack. That’s another case where you may just have to get off and restore your dropped chain manually.
As cyclists learn how to prevent dropped chains (look for a future post on that), and as the industry moves more toward electronic shifters, dropped and jammed chains become less common. Still, it’s helpful to know this trick when you need it — if only to impress your fellow riders.
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.