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Are there adjustments that can be made instead of replacing it?

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Chains don't stretch, they wear. Rather than parts getting longer by stretching, the pins wear away and the part of the link or bushing that touches the pin wears away too. – Móż Apr 3 at 5:12
up vote 8 down vote accepted

It depends on what you mean by 'loose'... Chains stretch naturally over many hundreds of miles, and the stretching of the links is actually a good indicator of wear.

If, instead, it seems like there is a lot of slack or 'extra' chain, this is an indicator of one of two issues:

  1. The chain is simply too long. All new chains (not already on bicycles) come longer than they need to be. If you recently replaced your chain, and didn't remove the extra links, this would cause the chain to be loose.
  2. The dérailleur is not creating chain tension. If you find that the chain seems to sag at both the top and the bottom, this may mean that your dérailleur has lost some of it's 'springiness' and is not effectively creating chain tension. It's hard to determine without further details, but if this is the case, the dérailleur may need to be replaced.
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To amplify the frist part a bit, if it was once fine and is now slack/loose then replace it - there's no reason why it has to be a particularly expensive for a upright (slightly different for the 2.something chains needed for my recumbents) and its an easy job to do - even more so with contemporary chains with clever links. When doing the replacement compare the old and the new and you'll see how wear has caused it to "stretch". In theory you're supposed to replace other stuff too... but that does get expensive. – Murph Aug 25 '10 at 20:39

I believe you can just remove a link if it's that loose. But beware that more stress could cause it to break.

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I've done this when I was waiting for a new chain. This is a common temporary solution. – Neil Fein Aug 25 '10 at 20:57

If the bike has hub gears, then you can undo the wheel nets and firmly push the wheel back into the axle slots while doing up the nets. There is a neck to this, as you don’t want chain too tight and you need the wheel to be aligned when turning.

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You can loosen the back wheel's axle then pull it back so the chain is tight. After you do this you can tighten it in place. If the back axle nut is rusted and stuck, you must buy a new one.

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If it's a single-speed or fixed-gear bike: Loosen the back wheel pull the tire back into the dropouts,tighten wheel - whaala.. tightened your chain.

This is a temporary fix, you will eventually need to replace your loose chain or your entire drivechain due to wear.

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Welcome to Bicycles.SE! I've edited your answer to remove the caps and hopefully clarify things a bit. If I've inadvertently changed your intention, please say. – James Bradbury Jul 30 '14 at 20:31

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