How can I undo a chain that is closed with a master link?

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Inspired by comment from https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/39284/19705

  • Wouldn't that other answer also require an explanation how to open a master link when outside? The length of brake cable you mentioned there might do just that?
    – gschenk
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 20:58
  • For field repairs, a master link is useless unless you can remove the outer plates of a link, meaning you need a chain tool.
    – mattnz
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 23:26
  • 2
    @mattnz a master link is handy for repairs, I carry one in my on-bike tool kit.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 4:19
  • 3
    I'll note that a trick I use when reattaching a chain is to use a piece of stiff wire shaped into an elongated C to grasp the chain several links from the end and hold in place, leaving the ends slack. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 12:13

11 Answers 11


I use a tool made out of a steel wire clotheshanger to squeeze the two pins together and open the link.

enter image description here

Also, that one hanger turned into three tools: the link opener, a tool to hold the ends of an open chain together, and one to hang the cleaned-and-drying chain from the tree over the driveway.

enter image description here

  • 2
    Great idea. I have a short length of brake or gear inner cable that I carry on-bike for the same purpose. Will try and add a photo.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 22:26
  • > short length of brake or gear inner cable .. That sounds nice and compact, I'll have to try that. Also, it's not something that would poke through the side of a container or bag. Also, unlike with my wire-hanger piece, you don't have to maintain a perpendicular orientation with the link to push the pins together. I guess I could add some kinks/Dremel some detents to trap the link if maintaining orientation became a problem.
    – compton
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 8:21
  • Note, I just learned if you have a SRAM Powerlink you still have to squeeze the two side plates together before you can slide the link apart, see bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/45973/28706 . It took me an hour of trying before I figured this out. I only added the master link late last year. I'm glad I learned this before I needed it on a ride.
    – compton
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 13:19
  • 2
    Great idea. If you put the link closer to the bend in the wire and squeeze from the outside you'd have extra leverage.
    – stib
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 23:38
  • Clever. I like this. Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 21:16

When disconnected, a chain master link looks like this:

enter image description here

Opening this style requires pressure between the two pins, parallel to the length of the chain.

The proper tool is a special pair of pliers like this:

enter image description here

And in use look like this: enter image description here

  • 6
    Great answer. The bottom photo though seems to show the link being set (attached). The detaching motion is to grip the pliers and squeeze as you would normal pliers.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 20:17
  • @RoboKaren good spotting - I was only looking for a photo of the tool in use, positioned in a chain.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 22:22
  • Not every one is made of money. Some of us have to improvise tools and methods with what we have to work on equipment rather than buy a tool for any and everything we own. Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 14:49
  • 1
    @BeginnerBiker fair enough - there are other solutions listed here that will work well-enough for the occasional user. Those who ride/fix a lot of bikes do appreciate having the "right" tool, and mine did not cost Park-tool prices. If you're only going to do this once, is a different case from "several times a year" and since I wax my chains, I use it every couple months.
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 22:38

It is possible to open the link without the "special tool" that Criggie's answer uses.

The trick is to get the chain loose/slack so you can fold it back on itself such that the master link is at right angles to the two adjacent links. Then you use a regular pair of pliers, held at an odd angle (helps to contort your mouth as you do this), to apply pressure to the two plates in opposite directions.

  • 5
    You can also do it with your bare hands, if you try hard enough. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 20:36
  • 1
    I use a spoke or kevlar twine. The spoke is easier than kevlar, but the kevlar survives the operation and the spoke is trash... lockwire or bailing wire could be use similiarly. There are youtube videos of the method.
    – david1024
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 21:00
  • 1
    The tool costs about 3 Euro/GBP/Dollar and it is a good investment. Some master links are difficult to open without it, like 10-speed chains from SRAM. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 21:09
  • @ChristianLindig - But space on the tool rack is a precious commodity. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 21:11
  • 2
    Just don't bite your tongue real hard as you squeeze on the pliers. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 12:09

There are other sorts of master link too. If you have one like this then the outer plate needs to be driven or levered off. The pliers above won't help.

enter image description here

This answer could do with more info, feel free to edit.

I used one like this years ago. Putting a large flat blade screwdriver in the opening shown and twisting would open the right end enough to slide the plate to the left and remove it. Then the rest of the link could be removed by sliding the pins out of the chain. To reinstall push the pins through the other two links then slide the plate on from the left. A small flat blade screwdriver supplied enough force on the left end to do the job.

  • 4
    Actually, a pair of standard pliers will often do the job. The trick is to put one jaw on the split end of the plate and the other jaw on the pin at that end. The jaws of the pliers need to be relatively sharp, and not rounded over, in order to catch the end of the plate, however. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 23:57
  • 1
    The other approach is to use a broad-bladed screwdriver on the split end, to drive it towards the other end. But then you don't have anything to hold the link steady, so it's trickier. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 23:59
  • 2
    @RossMillikan - If you put a screwdriver in the slot and twist you risk "springing" the plate such that it will no longer fasten reliably. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 0:00
  • @DanielRHicks: That makes sense to me. I never had any trouble, but didn't think about it. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 0:05

If you have a SRAM Powerlink as your master link, apparently you need to squeeze the two plates (if you stood over the bike, one on left side, one on right) toward each other for release, at which point it's easy to slide the two halves of the master link toward each other along the line of the chain and the link drops apart or can be coaxed open. It helps to remove chain tension from the master link first.

enter image description here

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I used light pressure from needlenose pliers on the two sides, plus my wire tool from my other answer, to keep my hands clean, but apparently this is easy to do with fingers only.

This person has a video explaining:


[Updated after comments]

On a well maintained, clean chain you might be able to do this by hand.

If your chain is dirty, crusty and dry, you might not be able to open it by hand. Instead of buying the link tool above, you can use a pair of pliers as shown below:

Nose pliers for quick link

Full sequence here.Note that nose pliers / needle nose pliers are not necessary; any pliers will do where the jaw tip is narrow enough to sit on the pins of the chain.

Also note that some quick links are not meant to be re-used indefinitely.

  • 1
    I find this fails to generate sufficient leverage because you have to use the tips of the needlenose. @DanielRHicks ' answer above about a Z shaped pattern works better, expecially if you've been using it for a while.
    – Criggie
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 22:25
  • 2
    Looks like it even works on a grotty, badly maintained chain! Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 7:52
  • 2
    Wear a heavy glove on your left hand (if you're right handed) when trying this method. Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 14:43

First I'd like to semi retract this answer after several years of experience: quick links in general simply aren't meant (or can't) be opened by hand without huge effort. It's just not worth it. If you don't have any appropriate pliers, it is usually easier to just break the chain with a chaintool which is present in most multitools. Quicklinks do make things faster to open when you have the tool, and faster to close always. But without the tool, it's just not worth the time and effort.

KMC quick links can be sometimes removed by hand without any tools

Disclaimer: if the chain is clean enough.

This was mentioned at: https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/45960/34651 but I would like to make it a bit clearer.

First if the chain is very dirty/rusty, make sure to clean it up around the quicklink with a drivetrain cleaner such as Muc-Off Drivetrain Cleaner if you have access to it.


  • hold the quick link tightly in a Z shape between your thumb and index finger of your dominant hand (right in picture)
  • hold the chain with your other hand (left in picture)
  • pull hard on both sides of the chain with both hands while holding the Z in place with the dominant hand

Your hand position and direction of applied forces will be like this:

enter image description here

Here is a video showing what I just described:

The importance of cleaning the chain cannot be overstated. Before I knew this tip, I was trying to open the same chain with my hands for second time once it had become dirty, and it wouldn't open for the life of me. So I used the chaintool as a one off, went home and bought the proper plier tool on Amazon for 10 bucks. Then the following day, I decided to clean the chain, and then I tried to open it again with my hands just for fun, and it opened up extremely easily!

Tested with: a KMC Z-51 / Z-8S - 6/7/8 speed chain: https://www.amazon.co.uk/KMC-Z-51-Z-8S-Speed-Silver/dp/B01I1GL49U

Shimano CN-HG71 with SM-UG51 quicklink

Chain: https://bike.shimano.com/en-EU/product/component/city---trekking-e-bike-e6100-series/CN-HG71.html

Link: https://si.shimano.com/pdfs/si/SI-0034B-001-ENG_FRE.pdf

Got a new chain today, it has:

  • a plate without any pins on one side
  • a plate with two pins on the other side

It is of the same style as the on mentioned at in this other answer.

The plate has a hole in it, which is the only place where the pin can be attached to. The link manual explained pretty well how to put it on:

enter image description here

You have to:

  • pass hole through first pin
  • slide hole towards second pin
  • move the plate on top of the second pin
  • bend the chain inwards a bit so that the second pin will go into the hole

Removal is a bit easier, you can just bent inwards a bit and stick a screwdriver to pop off the second pin out of the hole.

As mentioned on the other linked answer, the specialized pliers won't help with this type.

Here's how it looks like, with the arrow pointing where you'll stick the crewdriver:

enter image description here

Here's a schematic with a more exaggerated hole drawn. By bending the chain, you make the pin go over the hole:

enter image description here

SVG source.

  • This Cyclingtips link asserts that most quick links designed for 9s or fewer speeds are removable by hand. It also asserts that Wipperman Connex links for 10 and 11s can be removed by hand. I've personally used a 10s Connex and I can confirm. cyclingtips.com/2019/01/…
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 14:35

The master link on the left needs no tool to open.

enter image description here

Instead you hold the chain either side of the joiner, put both thumbs on the side plate, and bend the chain towards you.

This angles both pins and allows the clipon plate to clip off.

Down side is that you're putting sideways bending forces on links which may be bad for the chain.


If you have master link pliers, the link is trivially easy to remove. These are cheap and a worthwhile investment for any cyclist who does any kind of maintenance.

Without pliers its possible but some tricks can make it infinitely easier.

The key to making it easy is pinching the plates of the chain together. If you get this right, it will just fall apart. If you get a chance, try it on a brand new link and see how easy it is. These links can be damaged using brute force, and its entirely possible to hurt yourself using the wrong tools and high forces, so best to learn to do it right and not need force.

First clean the link to remove any dirt and grit from between the inner and outer plates so they can move closer together. If there is any dirt between the inner and outer plates, link removal becomes very hard. Next pinch the plates together. If you are lucky, the plates will slide apart easily. If not, wiggle them around while pinching them. You may need to use a pair of pointy nosed pliers as shown by @kabZX, especially with a dirty chain, but the trick is in the pinching the plates together.


You can just use scissors, although you have to be careful but hold the masterlink to stop it from wiggling.

  • 1
    This sounds potentially quite dangerous, at least if you like your fingers. If you're improvising a tool then the coat hanger tool mentioned above seems a lot less risky.
    – DavidW
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 4:13
  • 1
    Can you please add a photo showing what you mean? I still can't visualise how this worked. I guess you're using them like the proper pliers in the accepted answer, but that would provide little leverage, would damage your scissors, and risks a sudden release of pressure.
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 4:23

How can I undo a chain that is closed with a master link?

The difficulty of opening a master link in a dirty chain is alone a reason not to use those master links. You can open a master link in a clean chain with your hands -- the only drawback is that your hands get dirty with chain lube but then that's obvious if you are disconnecting a chain. But why would anyone want to open a master link in a clean chain is a mystery to me. Chains are only clean if not used, and this in practice means you're disconnecting a chain you just installed, meaning you would have saved time by not installing the chain in the first place!

However, in a dirty chain opening the master link is no longer as easy. The sand held in place by the chain lubricant prevents any attempts to open it with reasonable force. To open it, you need pliers -- a tool far larger and heavierweight than the tool to push a chain pin out.

Because carrying pliers is not reasonable in one's emergency toolkit all the time, and because you need a chain tool anyway as a chain can break at a pin and with the master link solution you have to have always the ability to push out a pin completely to replace a broken link with a spare master link you carry with you, my recommendation is to forget those master links and use chains connected by reinforced connecting pins (Shimano).

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