Why I Spent More To DIY My Bike Chain

Before we go any further, a clarification: This is not a post about HOW to replace your bike chain. I’ve only done it once and there are many sets of directions out there on the interwebs. This is a post about why I did it–even though in the short run, it was actually more expensive. It’s also meant to be encouraging, as I am inexperienced, lacking in upper body strength, notoriously uncoordinated, and responsible for supervising two preschool boys simultaneously with any repair attempts, so if I can, you can!

A few months back, I had my bike at the local bike shop for a gear problem I couldn’t resolve myself. The bike mechanic mentioned that my chain was near the end of its life. I had two options:

  1. Pay them to replace it. This costs $15, and they give you 15% off the chain.
  2. Replace it myself. This would require a $15 tool, and I would have to pay full price for the chain. The total was thus slightly higher.

Well, I bought the chain and the chain tool (the mechanic called it a “chain breaker,” which sounds awesomer, so I’m going to call it that, too). A chain breaker is a unitasker. It does only one thing–push connecting pins in and out of bike chains. But without it, you simply can’t do the job. Fortunately, it is small and not too expensive.

Post-repair, the thing was no longer nearly this shiny.

Post-repair, the thing was no longer nearly this shiny.

Obviously, I will save money next time I need a new chain, because I already have the tool. But to save $15 every year or so, was it really worth learning a new skill and, well, getting my hands filthy? Obviously, I think so. For one thing, there are four people in my family. If I replace four chains a year, that’s $60 a year, not $15. I already worked out, back when I learned to wax my own eyebrows, that saving $15 four times per year, with compound interest, works out to $904 over ten years.

Then there’s the one-more-thing factor. I’ve realized that I probably actually save more money than I thought by doing my own eyebrows because inevitably, I got my hair cut at the same time. So sometimes I was getting my hair cut because my eyebrows were a mess, and sometimes vice versa.

I took this picture of the chain so that next time, I won't need to go to the bike shop to buy it as I will know what I need.

I took this picture of the chain so that next time, I won’t need to go to the bike shop to buy it as I will know what I need.

I imagine it would be much the same thing with a bike chain. Go in to get the chain replaced, wind up with a couple new gadgets (rear view mirror? clearance bike shorts?) and some additional services you only kind of need.

Pay particular attention to which way the chain goes under and over these little wheels (shown upside-down).

Pay particular attention to which way the chain goes under and over these little wheels (shown upside-down).

It’s a pretty easy job. There were a few points of challenge:

  1. Turning the chain breaker to push out a rivet is surprisingly difficult. Those little pins are in tight.
  2. Re-winding the chain was tricky. I took a photo (see above) of the chain path, but the harder part was getting the chain under the little metal guards. Then it was hard to hold the ends together and shove in the closing pin at the same time.
  3. The special closing pin had a guide portion that, once the chain was joined, had to be broken off with plyers. This took several tries.
  4. The trickiest part of all: The kids kept running away with the chain breaker.
I used old dishwashing gloves--the ones I normally use for rinsing grossness in the toilet--and they helped, but eventually I just grabbed the chain with my bare hands.

I used old dishwashing gloves–the ones I normally use for rinsing grossness in the toilet–and they helped, but eventually I just grabbed the chain with my bare hands.

How are your bicycle mechanic skills coming along? Am I the only one making slooooow progress?

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

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