I have a bike with a single chainring up front and an internal hub and a coaster brake in the rear. (For those unfamiliar with this setup, it's essentially like having a single-speed bike in that the chain is exactly as long as need be, and tension on the chain is adjusted by moving the rear wheel in the rear dropouts before tightening it.)

My preferred procedure for cleaning the drivetrain is to completely remove the chain. The obvious way to do this would be to loosen the rear wheel in the rear fork and take the chain off. (Remember, no rear deraileur and no chain tensioner.) However, rear wheel placement with an internal hub can be tricky.

If I were to install a chain with a master link, would I be able to remove the chain without loosening the rear wheel, or would the tension on the chain make this operation difficult?

  • FYI, I wasn't able to get the chain back on without removing the rear wheel -- but the shop managed to do it. I think this is as much a matter of practice and experience as it is a mechanical issue. Nov 18, 2010 at 14:08

5 Answers 5


It depends on the style of master link and how much chain tension is in your setup. An SRAM power link needs about 1-2mm of chain slack to unhook the link. If you can find this amount of slack, it should work with most types of master link. If your chain doesn't have 2mm of play, but isn't too tight, a master link that snaps off the side (like the first one pictured in the terminology index) should work.

The tighter your chain, the harder this is going to be to snap back together. Depends if you would prefer fiddling with a master link on a tight chain versus the re-aligning the rear hub.

  • That's about what I figured. I'm toying with the idea of getting a longer chain and a chain tensioner in the future. But it's such a nice, elegant system that I'm reluctant to add complexity. Oct 24, 2010 at 5:31

A full chain guard may be a better solution to the problem. As there no movement in the chain when changing gears, a chain guard can fit tightly and completely cover the chain. Then assuming you are not riding in deep water the need to clean the chain will be greatly reduced.

I have gone well over a year with daily use (on roads) on a bike with a full chain guard without having to clean the chain. The chain only need oiling every few months as it is no protected by the chain guard.

  • The bike aleady has a full chain guard, and this is the first time I've cleaned the bike's drivetrain in over a year. I wish I could put these on my other bikes! Oct 23, 2010 at 16:15

Agree with the answer above but one note on other ways.

I've also been able to remove a chain with a standard chain breaker on BMX bikes, which essentially duplicate the setup you speak of. It's harder to put them back on than a bike with a rear derailleur (since you can get chain slack easy by compressing the bottom pulley) but entirely possible. Just takes a bit of practice.


Sometimes it is possible to close the master link with the chain disengaged from the chainring, so that it is loose.

Then, you engage from the chainring bottom and pedal backwards, so that the chain "snaps" in place.


I'm not sure why you wouldn't just take the wheel off? The only case I've heard of people doing this is when they want to slam their rear wheel as far forward as possible. So far that the only way they can get the rear wheel off is to break the chain.

oh....re-read your question...didn't see that you're taking the chain completely off the frame. As long as you get some slack by loosening the rear wheel it should be no problem to pop the chain off/on with the wheel still on there. However, it'll probably be easier (more slack) if you take the wheel off.

  • As the question says, I'd prefer to not loosen or remove the rear wheel. What I would like to know is if this is possible. Oct 23, 2010 at 13:00
  • 1
    But why are you so against loosening the wheel? Sometimes questions don't make sense. I guess it's possible if you like a loose chain. I mean if that's all you wanted in an answer couldn't you have just tried it??
    – dotjoe
    Oct 23, 2010 at 14:16
  • Because chain and hub cable tension on this bike are quite finicky, and a pain to re-adjust. Nov 23, 2011 at 16:11

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