Do You Need a Chain Tensioner For Single Speed?

The single-speed bike is one of the most basic concepts ever when looking at bikes. Many high-end road or mountain bikes feature a set of derailleurs and shifters, which gives the rider more functionality and versatility whilst cycling.

Should the rider need to switch to a different gear, the shifters would help them add to choose a gear that could them more speed or allow for easier pedaling.

So, do you need a chain tensioner for single speed? Depending on your bike, the chain tensioner serves an important purpose. The main goal of the tensioner is to make shifting happen and keep the bike chain from slipping off. In addition, chain tensioners are essential if the bike chain is too long, when you pedal hard, cycle daily, or want to boost the chain’s life.

Furthermore, a bike chain slipping off the cogs can be detrimental to cyclists. You only have to look at what happened to Andy Schleck during the 2010 Tour de France.

When it comes to a single-speed bike, the bike will have a gear set and no shifters. This means the bike will have a gear set selected, which will be used for all cycling situations.

To determine whether a chain tensioner is needed for your single-speed bike, we need to delve deeper into the purpose of the tensioner.

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What Is A Chain Tensioner?

The chain tensioner is a metal object set that works together to create more tension on the bike chain. It ensures the correct and required tension of the timing chain surrounding the crankshaft sprocket and the camshaft sprocket. Additionally, it exercises complete control, which makes the chain run smoothly, preventing it from rattling and coming off the sprockets.

Since the bike chain can often come loose when you are shifting, many riders would rely on the chain tensioner to keep the chain secure to the bike. It should ensure that the chain can shift to different cogs without any issues.

What Does The Chain Tensioner Do?

As mentioned, a chain tensioner is responsible for keeping the chain stiff and making sure that it does not slide off the bike. As you are shifting gears on the bike, the chain often goes from a stiff chain to a loose chain.

One of the risks of the loose chain is that it could easily slip off the gears. The chain tensioner prevents this from happening.

Keep in mind that not all cyclists need a chain tensioner, and depending on the setup of your bike, it might be important to have one or add additional weight.

Someone competing for general classifications of a grand tour would want to keep the weight as low as possible. This means that a bike chain tensioner could often add unwanted weight.

When Do You Need A Chain Tensioner?

There are a few cycling situations that call for the chain tensioner. These circumstances can be rare, but they might also have an impact on your performance and improve your cycling experience.

If you have been wondering about the chain tensioner, we have identified a few common situations that might require you to have one:

1- If You Want To Preserve The Chain

For many riders, doing long daily trips can put a lot of strain and fatigue on the bike chain. The chain is constantly working, and the metal fatigue can set in. eventually, you could find your chain simply dropping while you are riding.

The chain tensioner provides the extra level of support you might need and could preserve the longevity of the bike chain.

2- Converting Your Bike To A Single Speed

While not all single-speed bikes will require the use of a chain tensioner, it can work when it comes to conversions. The conversion process is often more complicated than some people would expect, but having a chain tensioner could remove the need for a complete conversion kit.

Many single-speed conversion kits might require an expert to help you. If you have a multi-speed bike with fancy derailleurs, you will notice that the chain is longer than it needs for a single-speed bike.

Common sense easily dictates that a loose chain could fly off the bike at any moment. However, using a chain tensioner will enable you to keep the chain tight and use the bike.

3- Older Chains That Have Lost Their Flexibility

Around 43 million people in the US have a bike, which translates to around 42% of the population (Source: Statista). Unfortunately, only a handful of these people ride regularly, which means many bikes simply stand in the garage.

If the bike is not used, the components will degrade, and your bike chain is one of the first components to lose functionality.

Once you get onto the bike, you might notice that the chain is slacking. The clacking chain could be frustrating to deal with and will fall off the bike. You can add a chain tensioner to the bike to ensure that it does not slide off the cogs. The chain tensioner is far cheaper to add to your bike rather than buying a new chain.

4- Extending The Life Of The Bike Chain

Bike chains are not expensive by any means, but it is a massive drag to replace. You need to find one of similar length and other minor features that could affect the chain, and you also need to put it on the bike.

Generally, bike shops can do this for you, but it is also an expensive endeavor, and not everyone is such an avid cyclist.

If you could add a chain tensioner to your bike as soon as you buy it, it could preserve your bike chain. Instead of the chain bearing the largest brunt of the cycling experience, your chain tensioner will also be doing its part to preserve the chain.

Additionally, those that notice slacking in the bike chain could consider adding a chain tensioner to perverse the chain for a few more months.

If you are considering Trail Bike And Mountain Bike and may be wondering which one you should choose.

Do You Need A Chain Tensioner For Single Speed Bikes?

Single-speed bikes have a very simplistic design and often do not have the same setup that many high-end bikes with Shimano or SRAM drivetrains have. For your single-speed bike, you might want to look at the dropout. If your bike has a vertical dropout, the chain tensioner will keep the wheel from rocking forward and backward.

A chain tensioner might not be as important for horizontal and semi-horizontal dropouts. One of the reasons is the spacing of the pulley. Keep in mind that you need something like a derailleur or chain tensioner to pull the chain out. Simply adding it to the bike does not have any bearing on whether you can put tension on it.

We have found that many single-speed bikes you buy off the shelf might not need a chain tensioner. In some of these bikes, the chain tensioner can often be seen already added. However, those with a horizontal dropout will create enough tension through the setup, which renders the chain tensioner useless.

We have found that the chain tensioner becomes more important when converting your bike from multi-speed to single-speed. The chain used by multi-speed bikes are longer, and the derailleurs can also stretch them. You will need to bring the bike chain back to size and keep the tension. For this to be done, the chain tensioner is your best bet.

Alternatives To The Chain Tensioner

Not everyone can afford a chain tensioner, and if you are not such a big fan of cycling, you might want to find a cheaper alternative.

If you already have a cheap bike, buying an expensive chain tensioner for your casual Sunday afternoon cruise around town is no use. Fortunately, you can use the existing derailleur as a chain tensioner:

1- Removing The Shifting Cable

One of the first methods will involve a lot of practical work. You might need to remove the smaller derailleurs and only focus on the one that provides enough tension for your bike. You will want to disconnect the shifting cable from the derailleur, and you can remove the shifters from the handlebars as well. 

You will be lining up the front and rear derailleur to achieve a straight chain with enough tension. This would make it much easier to ride your bike without a chain tensioner.

Remember that it might not offer the same longevity for your bike chain as it would using a bike chain tensioner.

2- Only Shortening The Cable With Additional Cogs 

Another option would be to shorten the shifting cable that inserts into the rear derailleur. The purpose of this is to give you the ability to manage and adjust the tension as needed.

You could even reduce the number of gears on the bike to make it more practical for your needs by removing some of the cogs.

While this is a great method, it takes plenty of mechanical ingenuity, and you might notice that it is not that effective.

We recommend this to those wanting some versatility, but reduce the number of gears and tighten the chain.

When Should You Replace a Single Speed Chain?

You should replace your single speed chain every 1000 miles or when it reaches the 1 percent wear mark to improve chain retention. Also, ensure you keep your chain clean, and properly maintaining your chain can extend your chain’s life span.

Check out the video below on properly tensioning a single speed chain.

Video Explains How To Tension a Single Speed Chain –


There are plenty of reasons that could be driving you towards a single-speed bike. However, the single-speed bike is limited in terms of functionality.

A bike chain tensioner is vital to ensure your chain does not slip off, and we would recommend considering it a part of enhancing chain longevity and improving your bike performance.


Hello fellow bikers, I am Altiné. I am SO excited you are here! I am the guy behind I am a biker and very passionate about reading, sports, and all things outdoors. I hope you find what you are looking for while visiting

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