What Does A Chain Tensioner Do?

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Chain tensioner in use

If you hang around with people who are avid cyclists or have walked around a bike shop lately, you might have seen or heard about chain tensioners. You may not be familiar with them because they are not always necessary, so you might be asking yourself “What does a chain tensioner do?”

In the rest of this article, we are going to explain what a chain tensioner is and help you be able to confidently answer the question “What does a chain tensioner do?” 

What is a chain tensioner?

When you break it down very simply, the name chain tensioner itself tells you a lot about what you need to know about it. It is one of those words that is a perfect descriptor for what it actually is made to do. 

Chain tensioners are small metal objects that will create more tension on your bike chain. There are a couple of reasons why you would need or want a chain tensioner, but we will get into more of that later on in this article. 

What does a chain tensioner do? 

There are a few reasons why you might want to pick up a chain tensioner. Not every cyclist will need or want one depending on the age of your bike, how often you’re riding, and what your specific goals are. 

If you’re still wondering what does a chain tensioner do, it’s important to know that you don’t need one, but they can be helpful. If there are specific issues that you need to address with your bike chain, you might want to pick up a chain tensioner. 

Here are some circumstances where a chain tensioner might be something you need or want:

Provides extra chain support 

If you are someone who likes to ride their bike daily, chain tensioners are a great investment in the longevity of your bike chain. A chain tensioner is an added layer of protection that will help keep your chain in place and tight on even the longest or most strenuous rides. 

When you know you’ll be putting a lot of miles on your bike or if you are a very aggressive pedaler, a chain tensioner will give some extra support to the chain so it can better withstand the wear. 

Bring a tired chain back to life 

Even if you’re not riding your bike daily or even weekly, bike chains do tend to get loose with age. When you’ve had your bike for a while, this is a very normal thing to start to show some wear. But before you replace your bike chain entirely, consider a chain tensioner to help extend your existing chain’s life. 

On an older bike that you’ve been riding for a while, you may notice a bit of slackness in the chain or it may look like it’s longer than it used to be. This is due to normal wear and tear, but a chain tensioner can pull the chain back to being taught so you can continue to ride your bike. 

Conversion from multi-speed to single-speed

There are countless reasons why you might be looking to convert your multi-speed bike into a single-speed bike. 

If you are converting your bike to a single-speed, you definitely want a chain tensioner. You can easily do this conversion with a kit, but it’s important to know that the kits do not come with chain tensioners despite the fact that you need one to complete the job. 

The chain that comes on your multi-speed bike is longer than a single-speed bike chain. A chain tensioner can take some of the slack away from your longer chain so that it can be pulled tight and provide the right amount of tension needed to ride it at a single speed. 

Do bikes come with chain tensioners? 

Brand new bikes don’t need chain tensioners because the chains are brand new and are built to withstand a lot of riding before they start to wear out. If you recall from above where we talked about what does a chain tensioner do. They are really only used to make up the slack when a chain gets loose over time. 

New bikes don’t come with chain tensioners simply because they are not necessary usually until the bike has been ridden a lot or is a few years old. 

If you know you will be doing some custom modifications on your brand new bike that will require a chain tensioner, you can certainly purchase one separately from the same bike shop that sold you your bike. 

Will a chain tensioner extend the life of my bike’s chain?

If you are trying to make your bike chain last longer, a chain tensioner is a great thing to help you achieve that. Many people don’t know what does a chain tensioner do, but it can totally change the way your bike feels to ride. 

Whether you are going to be using your bike for casual, infrequent rides or as a daily activity, chain tensioners are an inexpensive way to maintain the integrity of your bike’s chain. 

When you notice that your bike chain is starting to look a little slack or loose, it’s a great time to pick up a chain tensioner from a local sporting goods store or bike shop. They are easy to put on and you will see right away the difference it makes in the tension and alignment of the chain. 

How much do chain tensioners cost? 

There are different types of chain tensioners, but on average they cost anywhere from $12-$25. You can find one to fit any style of bike depending on what your specific needs are. 

You can buy a chain tensioner at local bike shops in your area, at sporting goods retailers, or even online on stores like Amazon. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to get a hold of and they can really make a difference in making an older bike feel a little more tight and ready to take on a ride. 

Final Thoughts 

Hopefully, now you’re no longer wondering what does a chain tensioner do. 

Chain tensioners are a great, inexpensive way to be able to tighten or shorten your bike’s chain due to either wear and tear or to try to convert your bike to a single speed. You can install them easily on your bike in a short afternoon and be back to riding with a tight bike chain in no time. 

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Paul Tuthill
Growing up in Scotland, Paul developed a love for the outdoors and a desire for adventure from an early age.