Chain Joinery – Fixing stiff links

I’m still working on getting everything working smoothly with my old ’93 Specialized Rockhopper, after replacing the chain, cassette, front cranks and sprockets.  To compensate for larger chainrings, I ended up having to add a couple of links to my chain, and I thought I’d pass on a tip.

I have always found it frustrating trying to put chains back together with a chain tool.  I would always start by pushing the rivet all the way back into the link, and almost invariably, the link would end up so stiff I could barely move it.  I could never figure out how to get it loosened up properly.  My chain tool includes a secondary “ramp” for fixing stiff links, but it never seemed to do me any good.  It would spread the link apart a little bit, but the link would remain stiff.  Working the chain back and forth laterally, as recommended on various web sites, didn’t work for me either.  It was very frustrating, until I came up with the following strategy:

  1. Begin reassembling the chain with the chain tool as you normally would, except instead of pushing the rivet all the way into the link, tighten the chain tool only about 1 full turn or so, just so the rivet goes in far enough to hold the link together.
  2. Remove the chain from the tool, and verify that the link moves freely.
  3. Put the chain back in the tool (regular position, not “stiff link” position) and tighten another ¼ to ½ turn.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, pushing the rivet in just a tiny bit each time, and testing the link, until you feel the link start to stiffen up.
  5. Put the chain into the “stiff link” position on the chain tool.  Usually, this is the position closest to the crank handle.  Tighten handle around ¼ turn, just enough to slightly spread the link.  Never turn the handle more than ¼ turn in this position, or you may distort the link.
  6. Remove tool from chain.  Check to make sure the link has loosened up.
  7. Continue to push the rivet into the link little by little, checking the link for tightness each time (steps 2-3), and loosening it up as needed (steps 5-6), until the rivet is all the way in the link.  That should do it!

I’ve had great success with this method.  The trick is to keep the link loose by making small, gradual adjustments, rather than trying to free the link up after the rivet has been inserted all the way.  Good luck and happy riding.

Drive Train

We’re now about midway through September.  The first week of September featured weather similar to the inside of a gym locker room.  This past week, the weather has been beautiful.  We’ll see what the rest of the month holds.

I haven’t ridden my mountain bike since I broke my chain a few weeks back.  I put a new chain on, but then I decided I should also replace the drive train.  The cassette and chainrings were all mid-1990s vintage, and probably completely worn out.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they contributed to the chain’s demise.  So anyhow, replacement 7-speed MTB cassettes are pretty cheap online.  I bought a new SRAM cassette for around $17.  We’ll see how it holds up.  The gearing is a bit different from my old one; the small cog has 12T vs 13T on the old cassette, which will give me a slightly higher gear going down hills.  The largest cog is also larger, giving me a lower gear for climbs.  I don’t really need a lower gear on this bike with the kind of riding I do, but as you can imagine, there isn’t a terribly wide selection of gearing choices in 7-speed cassettes nowadays.  This was about the best I could find given how I’m going to ride it.

Buying new chainrings was an interesting lesson in economics.  It’s very hard to find replacement chainrings for old cranksets, and when you do, the cost of 3 new ones often adds up to more than the price of a brand new crankset (which includes the chainrings).  There was nothing wrong with my existing crank, but I ended up replacing it, because it was cheaper than buying 3 new chainrings separately.  The new crank is a Shimano Acera M361, with the same specs and gearing as the old one, and a chain guard to boot — I am a big fan of chain guards now that I’ve had one on my road bike for awhile.  One thing to be aware of, is that some of the cheaper cranksets have the chainrings permanently riveted on.  If you have any intention of replacing chainrings as they wear out (which is more likely if you do a lot of riding), you’ll want to stay away from these.  Of course, if you’re like me and wait 18 years to swap chainrings, it won’t matter, because you’ll be replacing the cranks anyhow.  🙂

I’ve got the parts installed on the bike, but still need to readjust the derailleurs and get it shifting smoothly.  Once I do, I’ll report back on how the bike rides.  I’m hoping it’ll be an improvement.