Bike Chain Won’t Go Backwards? Here’s Why

Last updated on June 5th, 2022 at 03:37 pm

If you’ve ever tried to pedal a bike in reverse, you know it doesn’t work. Well, your bike chain won’t go backwards for the same reason. But how does this happen? It’s not just because you’re pedaling that direction – it’s the way that chains are designed. 

This article will walk through the physics needed to understand why a bike chain won’t go backwards.

Should Your Bike Chain Go Backwards?

In the world of bike maintenance, there are many myths and old wives’ tales. One of the more common ones is that the bicycle chain should always be run in the opposite direction to which it was manufactured. The idea behind this myth is that by reversing the direction of rotation of a part, it will last longer.

However, while this may be true for some parts such as brake pads or tires, it’s not true for chains. Running your chain backwards can shorten its lifespan.

But, why?

The answer lies in how chains work. Chains consist of sprockets (also known as ‘teeth’) attached to links which are connected by pins that fit into holes within each link. The pins are what allow the chain to move around freely without coming off or falling off. When you pedal forward, the sprockets get pulled forward along with everything else on your bike; when you pedal backwards they remain stationary and so do all the other parts attached to them (including your rear wheel). 

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This means that if you reverse your chain regularly then over time it will wear out faster than normal because there is less movement between each tooth and pin. 

6 Reasons Why Your Bike Chain Won’t Go Backwards

Before gathering your tools, you must first understand the primary causes of your bicycle chain’s inability to move in reverse. In most cases, a loose chain prevents your bicycle chain from pedaling backwards.

However, in more complex circumstances, it could be due to improper alignment, bent parts, or a lack of grease. As we proceed, we will examine in detail the numerous causes and solutions for your bicycle chain not moving backwards.

1. A Slack Chain

This is one of the main reasons why your bike chain won’t go backwards. Identifying and solving a slack chain is critical. Having a loose chain can cause poor shifting and chain dropping regardless of the cycling direction. Slacking will most likely cause your chain to break or become stuck. 

2. Discordant Chain Links

Long-term use or inactivity can cause the chain links on a bike’s frame to become crooked and unsightly. You’ll see that a few of the links are bent down or up since they haven’t been used or lubricated. There is no smooth movement in the chains when you try to move them. As a result, your chain won’t be able go backwards.

3. Malignant Chain Wheel

The chain will not move backwards if the chain wheel is bent. Because the chain wheel is rarely bent or damaged, it will make it difficult to pinpoint the source of the issue. Reversing the chain wheel is an easy way to check your chain wheel if you’re a regular cyclist.

4. Lack of Grease 

If you don’t regularly lubricate and oil your bike, you risk running out of torque. Due to riding on tough terrain, your chain is likely to be hard-stuck and unable to move.

bike chain not going reverse

5. Derailleur Problems  

Your chain wobbles, gets stuck, and slacks if your bike is not aligned with the derailleur correctly. It’s just as damaging to your bike’s cassette and frame as the chain wheel problem.

You need to verify the bolts and the alignment of the derailleur on both wheels very carefully if you have a bicycle with two wheels. A derailleur problem likely necessitates either a replacement or a trip to the shop for repairs. 

6. Dirt 

If you do not clean your sprockets regularly, grime and dirt can readily accumulate. When this occurs, your bike chain will no longer run as smoothly as it once did because the buildup of dirt and grime will prohibit its teeth from fitting into the grooves of your sprocket. 

How To Fix a Bike Chain That Won’t Go Backwards 

Even the most seasoned cyclists can have trouble with their bike chains. The good news is that it’s a relatively easy problem to fix. The bad news is that if you don’t know how to fix your bike chain, you could be stuck with an expensive repair bill.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to fix a bike chain that won’t go backwards. Here are a few techniques: 

1. Check for Obstructions

The first thing you should do when your bike chain won’t go backwards is check for obstructions. If there are any small rocks or other debris lodged between the sprockets and derailleur cage, they may be preventing the chain from moving smoothly through its gears. Remove these obstructions by gently prying them out with a flathead screwdriver or similar tool. 

2. Clean the Gears and Chain

First, remove the rear wheel from your bike and clean all dirt from it using a brush and soapy water. You can use compressed air to blow away any dirt particles that might be stuck inside the gears. This will help prevent jamming of the gears in future rides.

3. Lubricate the Chain

Next, lubricate both sides of the chain with an oil that is specially made for bicycle chains (such as WD-40). Use an old rag or paper towel to apply oil on both sides of the chain, while rotating it slowly around its axis while applying oil on each side again after every rotation till you have covered 5 full rotations on both sides (a total of 10 times).


Why Does My Chain Get Stuck When I Pedal Backwards?

It’s not unusual for a chain to get stuck when you pedal backwards. It can happen on any bike, but it’s more likely to occur if you regularly ride in the rain or if you’ve been riding in deep mud or sand, both of which can stick the links together.

Why Does My Bike Chain Slack When Pedaling Backwards?

The rear derailleur needs to be adjusted. When you pedal backwards, your chain will slack (not touching the chainring.) This is because when you pedal backwards, there is no tension on the chain. The only time your chain is under tension is when you are pedaling forward.

Certified bike mechanic based in Orlando, Florida. With over 15 years of knowledge and experience in the industry, I can help you diagnose issues and fix them.

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