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Recently I was out riding when my chain began to skip in the big ring due to heavily worn components. The situation worsened surprisingly quickly such that within a few miles I couldn't practically pedal in the big ring (i.e. the force required to keep moving exceeded that which causes the chain to skip over the cogs).

Fortunately, the small ring was less worn so I was able to make it home using that. But it got me wondering whether there are any quick fixes or tricks to overcome a slipping chain, if only temporarily, if this does happen out on a ride.

One thing I tried was to move up/down the rear cassette in the hope that a different tension might alleviate things, but this had little effect.

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    The real fix is doing your periodic maintenance and noticing chain wear, and chainring wear before it gets to this state. Most riders eyeball their bike every ride, and give it a good look over monthly. For the chainring to be that damaged implies a lot of inattention.
    – Criggie
    Mar 14 at 18:30
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    This is reasonable advice, but as you can see not what I was asking for. In my case I was aware of the wear (although not how quickly it could go to an unusable state) but wanted to get as much life out of the drivetrain as possible whilst the winter weather lasted. It was also clear a service was going to be expensive as the chain, cassette and chain rings all needed replacing.
    – pip
    Mar 15 at 13:25
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    @pippin19 fair enough - you already found the fix that worked to get you home, by using the lesser-worn chainring. Once your ride is finished, then the temp fix is no longer needed. Setting out on a ride, with a faulty bike is probably a bad idea. I guess the main point is now you know how bad it can be, and not let it get that bad again?
    – Criggie
    Mar 15 at 13:29
  • @Criggie Agreed.
    – pip
    Mar 15 at 13:33
  • Since this was a relatively sudden failure, I would suspect that something (such as a failed derailer spring) had caused the chain tension to drop. In such a case switching to bigger (larger diameter) cogs, front and rear, might restore enough tension to limp home. Mar 15 at 17:16
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The only ''quick fix'' is to find a gear combination that works and hope for the best. Spending a few pounds on a chain wear checker will save you ever having to be in this position as you can check once a month or whatever and change the chain before it starts eating the rest of your drivetrain.

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Some ideas that might have helped, some

  1. Degrease/wipe the chain and chainring and cassette. By removing grease/lube off the outside, it might be a little less slippery.

  2. Remove a link of chain to increase the derailleur's tension. You'd need a chain tool and a master link. Risk here is that in larger toothcount gears, you may run out of chain and bust things with leverage, especially if there's an uphill on the way home.

  3. If your derailleur has a Clutch, try toggling it on or off, to see which helps most. I suspect ON would be more helpful.

  4. Lockout any suspension on the bike that you can. Not common on a road bike, but if this was a MTB then a lockout will prevent bob and give the chain a smoother trip.

  5. Pedal in circles - meaning to pedal with smooth easy pressure on the pedal as you roll. No harsh power-strokes, and if you can use your top/lower foot to draw the pedal forward/backward with smooth transitions, that will minimise the Jolting effects on the chain.

Your only other options are to not pedal in some way:

  • Get off and stump it home. This can be slow - walking a bike is around 4-5 km/h compared to riding. Will also damage road cleats too, so try to walk on the grass where possible.
  • Get off and scooter it. This means to put your right foot on the left pedal, and push against the ground with your left foot, while steering normally with both hands. Your right hip presses against the saddle.
  • If you're riding with someone else, you can use the towrope or push. The othes take turns to push your lower back with one hand while they are pedalling, or to pull a towrope - an inner tube works well here. If using a tow rope both of you hold it in your hand, nothing gets tied to the bikes. Or you can grab the belt/waistband/jersey of another rider for a tow to your destination.
  • Finally, the Last-Resort Phone Call Of Shame where you ring up home and ask for a pickup, please. I've done this twice in a decade, and all your other options should be tried before this final fallback.
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    A hybrid option for getting home is to walk uphill, and freewheel downhill. On the flat, scoot, punt, lower the saddle and run it (but pedals hurt shins) or struggle with the skipping chain. When I destroyed my RD and trashed my chain (so it kept snapping in emergency SS conversion) I averaged about 9km/h that way to a station for a train+lift home. I'm on 3 calls of shame in about 12 years - I can't date the first exactly but I was fairly new to bike commuting then which gives me a rough idea
    – Chris H
    Mar 15 at 14:14
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    Really good suggestions. I realise carrying around a small chain tool might be a good idea, especially for longer rides. I think 5. generally works well unless the chain is skipping really badly. As an alternative to the Phone pick-up, depending on where you are you may be able to discretely place your bike behind a hedge and walk to a bus/train. Or, make the phone call but get them to bring the spare bike!
    – pip
    Mar 15 at 14:25
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    @Pippip19 I ride quite a long way from home, so go well-equipped - a chain tool is a good idea. Generally (except commuting) my lock is a token thing for when I'm barely out of sight of the bike, but it is a lock, and is worth having
    – Chris H
    Mar 15 at 14:37
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You could try flipping the chainring around, but that won't help if the primary problem is chain "stretch". If it affects all gears so badly that the bike is unrideable you might be able to split the chain and refit it in single-speed mode (easier with horizontal dropouts - with vertical dropouts or thru-axle you have to hope there's a sprocket that's rideable that provides adequate tension).

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  • These are two good suggestions - the emergency singlespeed conversion definitely seems something to be prepared to do (e.g. if derailleur breaks). Wish I had tried flipping the chain too. The only other thought I had was whether filing some of the teeth (so they have a more even profile) might get you home.
    – pip
    Mar 14 at 17:52
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    Do you carry a file with you?!
    – JoeK
    Mar 14 at 18:09
  • @JoeK actually, I do - but its a little 70mm combo file on a leatherman so not particularly fast.
    – Criggie
    Mar 14 at 18:28
  • @JoeK I have a bit of silicon carbide wet/dry paper instead of the sandpaper for patching tubes. it's enough to take sharp edges off even steel things and can be wrapped round a tyre lever or something similar, but would take a lot of work to reshape teeth, even if you only needed to do a few.
    – Chris H
    Mar 15 at 14:17
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You had the solution with you, and used it.

Double, and even more so triple, chainrings solve a lot. Find a gear that works, ride home or to a bike shop; a new chain might have been better, or might have been worse, depending on the mix of chain- and chainring-wear. There's always a less-worn ring (or sprocket). Where you were lucky is that the less-worn small ring was good enough - because fewer teeth are engaged at once, it needs to be in better condition.

Similarly my rear shifter cable can go from looking good where it always breaks, to "that's funny, I adjusted it recently", to snapping, in half a long ride, say a couple of hundred km. Then I locked off the RD and rode home 200km on a 3-speed, for a rather late night.

Rather than a singlespeed conversion, with vertical dropouts, and if I couldn't get it to stay in gear, but had a lot of flat (so no walk up/freewheel down option) I'd try shortening the chain significantly so the rear derailleur provided more tension, but then you'd need to be sure not to shift much if at all. The extreme version would be to lock off both derailleurs (if thei rlimit screws will do that) or their shift cables, selecting a middling gear, and stretch the RD to the sort of angle you'd see if you were in the big ring and biggest sprocket

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  • Hi Chris, please could you elaborate on what you mean by 'locking off' a derailleur?
    – pip
    Mar 15 at 14:37
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    You may be able to drive both limit screws in to prevent derailleur movement, but then you've got to sort them out later. Starting with a broken cable I clamped it off to the using the bottle cage and its screws, and fine-tuned the barrel adjuster, so my shifter was disconnected from the derailleur. The barrel adjuster then gives you a gear or 2 of range, so you can make it easier for a drag uphill, quicker for a longer straight.
    – Chris H
    Mar 15 at 14:40
  • ... the reason for locking off is so that you don't accidentally try to shift into a gear that will jam the shortened chain
    – Chris H
    Mar 15 at 14:47
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Two ideas. I have found increased slipping can be caused by misalignment of the index shifter and improved by adjusting the shifter cable. That is consistent with the problem coming on quickly without time for extra chain wear and easily adjusted back.

And I was convinced my chain was slipping badly recently (also came on quickly) but in fact it was the ratchet pawls in the freehub that were failing. So it may not always actually be the chain. But there's no easy field-fix for the pawls that I can see.

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