Lessons learned from a roadside chain repair

I had to ride on the 28th of February, I was 36 kilometres short of my monthly goal, and being the last day of the month I didn’t have much choice. The weather wasn’t great, high winds and rain. At the moment it always seems to be good weather on the days I don’t plan to ride! I took the opportunity of a mid afternoon lull in the storm to head out for some easy KMs on my Look.

About half way up the first hill leading out of the village, my chain made some weird noises (like my indexing was off, which was also the case) and promptly snapped. I could have simply coasted home, but I took out my trusty Park IB3 multi tool which has a chain breaker on it, and set to work reattaching the loose plates. I carried on and bore the worst of the storm (which I’d thought I’d dodged) soaking my clothes and fogging up my glasses. Eventually the sun came out and I started to enjoy myself (bar my freezing wet feet), until after turning towards home the same thing happened to my chain. More violent this time, it fell away and was left lying in the road like a roadkill snake. The pin from the offending link was now missing, so I was left with no option but to take a pair of links out and make the chain a little shorter. Crouching in a ditch with a fiddly chain tool for ten minutes near the end of a ride was no fun, but eventually I got it sorted and gingerly set off again.

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My trusty Park multitool with chain breaker

So why did it happen? The short answer is that I must at some point have reattached the chain at this link and made a poor effort of it. I’d done so using my Park multitool, not by the roadside, but in the workshop. This is not good practice; ride tools are meant to be lightweight and portable, for emergencies and simple adjustments, not for regular or heavy use. By using my mutlitool in the workshop at the same time I’d done a bad job reattaching my chain and put unnecessary stress on my tool (the pin removal rod was in fact slightly bent). There’s no point getting your multitool out on the road or trail to find that the allen key you need is rounded on your screwdriver is bent. Lesson number one: don’t mix workshop tools and ride tools!

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The offending link

I could have made my life easier by removing the pair of links the first time it went wrong, but I opted to reattach a link I knew was dodgy. Here is another lesson. When something out of the ordinary goes wrong on a ride, take a minute, take a breath, have a snack. Pause and get your head round the problem and its cause, and how best you can fix it (not just how quickly). The same rule can applied in the workshop – any time I saved in my slipshod chain connection was more than wasted by the roadside.

Coincidentally I’ve just fitted a SRAM chain with a PowerLink quick connection to my mountain bike. This allows tool-free chain attachment and removal. While it wouldn’t have helped me in the case of a split link, it removes the need to be taking the chain apart and reassembling it for cleaning, reducing the chances of poorly connected or stiff links. Two years ago I had a stiff link pull my rear derailleur clean off – writing it off. Both incidents would likely have been avoided with a quick link. I’ll be adding one to this chain (third party links are available for existing chains) so I hopefully won’t need to use a breaker on it anymore.

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My workshop chain tool and KMC quick links to add to my chain

My final learning point is to keep my indexing tuned in. Although this didn’t cause the problem, it no-doubt exacerbated it. My poorly indexed gears were suddenly switching up and down, causing the chain to jerk, while at the same time the derailleur was pushing the chain laterally. These two actions applied to the poorly connected link likely triggered the failure.

I guess the moral of this story is that if you want your tools and components to work as intended, treat them as they were intended!