There’s nothing more annoying than a clicky, jumping bike chain

With bikes, it’s all about the drivetrain. Or maybe I should say drive-chain.

The chain is the primary power transmitter between your legs and the wheels, and without it you’re essentially helpless.

No wonder, then, that so many bicycle maintenance issues come down to chain integrity.

A remarkable number of cycling issues can be traced back to chain health, and it’s usually because people don’t bother to replace them, ever.

But why is the chain on my bicycle making clicking noises?

There are many reasons why your chain might be making noise, jumping around, or causing excessive vibration.

Here are four common causes.

1) Your bike chain is really freaking old

Yeah, this is probably the reason. People don’t replace their bike chain nearly as often as they should.

Chains stretch over time, which causes them to move around more, both horizontally and laterally.

New and old bicycle chains, compared

Photo Credit: Streetsweeper

When the links fit snugly to the sprocket, you won’t feel or hear a thing. When they’re worn out and stretched, that widened gap means they clatter around as you pedal.

That’s bad news. An old, loose chain will wear out your sprockets and chainrings.

In the shop, we use something called a chain wear tool to check for this; it measures the gap between your links. This chain wear tool by Park Tools is good and inexpensive.

It’s definitely worth attending to a worn-out chain, especially if you’re restoring an old bike.

Note: a squeaky, clicking chain can also be caused by not regularly oiling your chain. So oil your chain!

2) Your chain is misaligned

A misaligned chain is another common woe. It happens easily: your spacers might be poorly placed, you might have the wrong sized wheels, sprockets or chainrings. Or (this is common) your rear wheel might not be centered.

Ideally, your chain should have a nice, straight path from rear sprocket to chainring. There’s some grace since chains have a bit of flex, but if it goes too far your components will wear down and your chain will start to click and jump.

Note: on a fixed gear bike you need a really taut, straight chain line, since there’s no derailleur to tighten the slack.

3) Your derailleurs need adjustment

On geared bikes, derailleurs push and pull the chain into gear. A poorly adjusted derailleur is an incredibly common reason for chain clicking and jumping.

Most shifters and derailleurs use a cable to adjust the gears. However, if that cable is too tight or too loose, the chain will want to jump out of gear.

That might indicate a worn-out shifter cable, but it’s likely you just need a tune-up. Shifter-derailleur balance is a fine art, so I recommend bringing it to your local bike shop for adjustment.

Related: Vintage Bike Restoration Near Me

4) You components are damaged or worn out

Components like sprockets and chain rings do wear out. This is the least common issue, so only address it if you’re certain (because it’s expensive.)

Often, a chainring will receive wear to the point that it can’t grip the chain fully anymore. Unfortunately, replacement is your only real option here.

Other bits and pieces that can wear out are: sprockets, derailleurs, shifters, and cranksets. Once broken or worn down, no amount of adjustment will fix the problem.

Those are the four most common reasons your bicycle chain will make clicking noises and jump.

Other causes do exist, but start with this list and see where you end up. Thanks for reading!

Related: Presta Valves or Schrader Valves, Which is the Better Option?

Bike Chain Keeps Clicking: The FAQs

Can I use WD-40 on the bike chain?

When your bike chain gets dry and rusty, moving the bike becomes harder. Most times, this is the reason why the bike chain keeps clicking and making an obnoxious noise. To get rid of that, you can apply the WD-40 to degrease the bike chain. Moreover, you can apply to same lube to other moving parts of your bike.

What is the best lubricant for a bike chain?

  1. Finish Line 1-Step Cleaner & Lubricant

  2. Muc Off Dry Lube (50-ml)

  3. Boeshield T-9 Bicycle Chain Waterproof Lubricant

  4. Rock N Roll 135816 Gold Chain Lubricant

  5. Ultrafashs Bike Chain Cleaner Lube Set

  6. Finish Line Ceramic Wet Bicycle Chain Lube

Can you use chain oil on forks?

Though it might not be the best option in all cases, chain oil can be used in forks. Just add a sufficient amount of the oil and compress your forks. It will remove some dirt and make the forks start working smoothly again. But when the dryness is too much, you want to check the best lubricant for forks.

How much is a bicycle chain?

Most of the bicycle chains you’ll find in the market always differ in one way or the other. But if you are in the market to buy a new bicycle chain, don’t just think about the price. Try to consider other factors like size, quality, and type of chain that will suit your bike. Typically, the price of bike chains will fall from $10 to $90. If you have a high-end bike, expect to spend more.

How often should I change my bike chain?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the wearing and tearing of your bike chain depends on the usage frequency. Perhaps, if you are not lubricating the bike chain it may not last long. The general rule is to change your bike chain after 2,000 miles.