Tangled bicycle chains are one of the most common problems cyclists face. But while a tangled chain may seem like a big problem, the process to fix it is relatively straightforward. To untangle the chain, you can try giving it enough slack to be able to untangle it. If this doesn't work, you can remove the rear wheel, pull the chain off the sprockets, and shake it until it unravels. In the long run, all you will need is a little time and patience to be able to be pedaling again in no time.
Method 1 of 4: Create slack in the chain to untangle it
Step 1. Slide the chain onto the smaller sprockets
Sprockets are the metal plates with teeth that move the chain. Since you will not be able to ride the bike, you will have to move the sprockets manually. To do this, simply lift the chain and move it to the smallest sprocket. Do this on both the front and rear sprockets.
Step 2. Push the derailleur to get more slack in the chain
The derailleur is a mechanism that guides the chain and is hung from the rear chainring. It is made of plastic and metal and looks like an incomplete hook. Push the derailleur in and hold it there. This will give the chain a little more slack.
Step 3. Unroll and untangle the chain
Once the chain is loose, you will need to untangle it with your hands. Think of the chain as a series of scrambled knots and study how the chain has become tangled. Try to work backwards to untangle it, and be careful not to twist it too much.
- The more slack the chain has, the easier it will be to untangle it.
- Be careful not to create more tangles or kinks in the chain.
- Keep in mind that if the chain twists against the axis on which it travels and the chainrings bend, you will not be able to straighten it.
Method 2 of 4: Remove Rear Wheel to Access Chain
Step 1. Turn the bike around
Before fixing the tangled chain, you will need to turn the bike over. This will help you keep the bike stable while you untangle the chain. Also, the chain will be higher and easier to access.
- Make sure you are on a flat surface.
- Position the bike so that the handlebar is perpendicular to the body of the bike.
- If you're concerned about scratching your bike, put a towel underneath.
Step 2. Loosen and unscrew the rear wheel quick-lock rod
The quick-lock rod is a long piece that slides into the holes at the rear of the bike body and through the center of the wheel. Find the handle of the wheel rod. Move the lever and turn the handle counterclockwise. At the same time, hold the nut on the other side of the rod. After several turns, the rod will loosen.
You may need to pull or push a pin to be able to rotate the rod before releasing it
Step 3. Disengage the brake from the bike
Find the thin steel cable that connects the cable body and the rubber brake pads. Next, loosen the caliper lever so the brake opens just enough for the wheel to slide off. On some bikes, you may need a flat screwdriver to loosen the clamp.
It may be that simply unhooking the brake cable releases the brake
Step 4. Slide the chain off the rear chainring
The rear chainring encompasses the sprockets on the rear wheel of the bicycle. Depending on the type of bike, there may be a different number of sprockets. To remove the chain, gently pull it off the chainring. When the chain has a little slack, slide it off the chainring.
Step 5. Remove the chain from the main plate
These are the main sprockets that drive the bike. They are attached to the pedals of the bicycle. To remove the chain, gently pull on it to lift it up. You may have to use both hands to lift both sides of the chain that are resting on the chainring.
If you have a derailleur, which is a device attached to the rear of the bike's body, you may need to move it forward and pull the chain a little harder to get enough slack to remove it
Method 3 of 4: Shaking the chain to untangle it
Step 1. Slide the chain through the body of the bike behind the pedals
Even if you have removed the rear wheel and separated the chain from the chainring, it will still be attached to the bike. Before attempting to untangle the chain, you should move it towards the rear of the bike, where you can do so without the obstruction of the pedals and chainring.
Step 2. Hold the longest part of the chain with one hand
This is the part that is not tangled. Do this carefully, as you do not want to tangle the chain further. When grasping the chain, move it up so that the tangles are below the non-tangled part of the chain.
Step 3. Straighten the chain
Once the tangled part is hanging below the untangled part of the chain, straighten the chain as much as possible. You may be able to partially untangle part of the chain by pushing the tangle back on itself. However, be careful and avoid making things worse.
Step 4. Shake the chain
Once you have straightened the chain, hold the untangled (top) part of the chain and begin to vigorously shake it up and down. As you do so, the chain should begin to unravel. Shake the chain for at least a minute.
- Repeat the chain shake as needed.
- After a few shakes, you may be able to untangle the rest of the chain by twisting or turning it.
Method 4 of 4: Reinstall the Wheel
Step 1. Put the wheel back on the body of the bike
Gently place the center cylindrical part of the wheel into the wheel well, which is the semi-circular grooves that you pulled it out of. The center of the wheel must be fully seated in the housing. Push the wheel to see if it turns the way it should. If it doesn't, readjust the center of the wheel for a good fit.
Step 2. Slide the bottom of the chain onto the smallest sprocket on the main chainring
The smallest sprocket should be closest to the inside of the bike. Make sure the chain fits on each of the sprocket teeth. If the chain does not fit properly, it could become tangled again.
Step 3. Fit the other side of the chain onto the rear wheel chainring
Just like putting the chain on the main chainring, you will have to gently slide the chain onto the rear chainring. Once again, put the chain on the smallest sprocket.
If your bike has a derailleur, you may need to push it to get more clearance
Step 4. Secure the wheel lock rod
Slowly pass the rod through the center cylinder of the rear wheel. Once inserted, place the nut on the side farthest from the rod. Hold the nut and turn the rod clockwise until everything is tight.
Try to separate the wheel from the body of the bike. If it comes off the bike, it means that you have not secured it properly. Check that the rod has passed through the semicircle part of the bicycle wheel housing and through the wheel itself
Step 5. Reconnect the brake
Pull the brake wire rope until the brake pads are almost touching the bike wheel. Depending on the type of brake system you have, you may need to screw in a caliper to tighten the brake or release the brake cable itself.
You may need to readjust the brakes after you have reassembled the bike. Just squeeze or loosen the brakes until you feel comfortable with it
Step 6. Turn the bike over and check that everything is properly mounted
Once you have reconnected the brakes, turn the bike over and move it to make sure it is working properly. You may have to pedal slowly in a small space to test it. Keep the following in mind when testing the bike:
- Check that the chain is resting on the teeth of the sprockets. If you have a multi-speed bike, do a couple of shifts to see if it gets it right.
- Test the brakes before going too fast.
- Check the wheel lock rod to make sure it is tight.
- See a photo of an intact and untangled bike chain to see what it should look like. This can help you untangle the chain.
- Think of the chain as a puzzle. Work carefully step by step to untangle it.
- If all of the above fail, purchase and install a new chain.