Monday, July 07, 2008

How To - Campy Chain Install, Illustrated

I finally decided to swap out my chain. I'd planned on doing it when I first got the bike (it didn't have a Campy chain), but I figured the bike has a chain, might as well use it. So I left the original one on there.

A worn chain shifts poorly, makes a lot of noise, wears your cogs and chainrings prematurely, and can even start skipping on the cogs. I'd noticed how loose the chain felt when cleaning my bike a while ago, but with the Nutmeg State Games coming up, I decided to wait until after that race.

Now it's after that race.

The "lift the chain off the chainring" method

I check to see if the chain is worn by a few ways, none of it very objective. One is to see how loose the chain feels side to side, torsionally (twisting it), and how it sits on the chainring. The latter is usually my barometer - if I can lift a link pretty far off the chainring and watch the rest of the chain move, I'm more inclined to swap out the chain.

I don't use the various chain measurers because I find that they keep chains on longer than I prefer - in other words, they think a chain is fine when I think it's worn out. Since chains are cheap relative to cassettes and chainrings, I'd prefer to change a chain sooner than later, to avoid wearing the other pieces out prematurely.

Stuff needed to install a new Campy chain.

You can pick out the new chain (it's a spare that's been sitting in my toolbox forever). The little package to the left of the chain contains the special connecting pin - you must use that pin, and if you lose it, you have to go buy another one. Don't lose it! The Campy chain tool is to the right, and that squiggly piece of spring steel is part of it. The chain is sitting on the Campy chain tool box. Disappointingly it's not made of finely finished wood.

Breaking the original chain does not require that loopy piece of spring steel.

First I remove the old chain. The Campy chain tool is a bit of overkill for this task, but it's a wonderful piece of machined steel and I'll gladly use it to do such a simple thing. No chain holding necessary so I leave the loop off.

To remove the old chain, just push one pin all the way out. Simple.

Chain is ready to remove.

I'm not sure why I took a picture of this, but it's a good time to point out that there are "inner" and "outer" plates that make up the chain. My fingers are holding the end of the chain that ends with an inner pair of plates, and the chain tool is holding the end terminating with outer plates. Obviously you can't attach an outer plate pair to an outer plate pair, nor can you attach an inner plate pair to an inner plate pair. The exception is when you use a master link type thing - the master link is an outer plate pair, and you use it to attach a chain terminating with inner plate pairs on both ends.

Using the "Small-Small" method of chain length - put it in the small cog in the rear.

I prefer using the longest chain possible. This is done by using the longest chain possible that doesn't hang loosely in the small chaingring - small cog combination. In the old days, I'd actually leave an extra pair of links in there so the chain would hang loosely in the small-small combination - the thought being that if there is no tension on the chain, there is less friction and resistance. That may be true but the chain had an annoying tendency to bounce around a lot. Now I keep it snug in the small-small.

Before you cut your chain, make sure that your b-screw is adjusted appropriately. For a standard racing cassette (up to a 25 tooth cog), this means simply unscrewing it all the day. My Campy Record derailleur saves some weight by skipping this screw. I dislike this "feature" but I only realized they'd done that when I went to adjust it and it wasn't there.

"Small-Small" also means small ring in front.

To figure out where to break the new chain (so it's the right length), put the chain on the small cog in the rear and the small ring on the front. Thread it through the rear derailleur, pull the two ends together, and see which inner-outer pair of plates will work.

Here I am checking to see where to break/cut the chain. Make sure the chain is not coming off the small chainring!

Pull the chain so it gets taut - you'll see that the chain just overlaps the other end. There is a bit of chain hanging down in my fingers that you can't see, but looking at the visible links, I'll have to shorten the chain one pair of links in this picture. The zip-tied outer plate is one end of the chain (closer to the camera) and is an outer pair of plates. Therefore I will need to cut the chain such that the other end of the chain (further from camera) ends in a inner pair of plates. Don't screw that bit up!

Shortening a chain is almost always required. I suppose one possible chain that won't need shortening is the "Campy compatible" super light chain which is lighter simply because you get fewer links in the chain. I think it comes with 108 pairs of plates, not 112, and if you got a Campy chain and that one, both with the same number of links, the Campy chain is lighter. It also wears your cogs out slower because the "light" chain has extremely rough rollers.

The new pin (left) and its aluminum guide piece (right).

I must have bought the hollow pin chain since it came with... hollow pins. The special pin used to connect the chain is hardened steel, and in this case it comes with an aluminum guide piece. My previous Campy chains all came with a black plastic guide piece, and they didn't have hollow pins.

The new pin and its longer, aluminum "guide piece", assembled.

You insert the guide piece through the chain first. This holds the two ends of the chain together. Then use the Campy chain tool to drive the real pin (the steel one) into the chain.

Guide piece inserted, pin is ready to mount to it. I've partially derailled the chain off the chainring to give me slack.

Don't drop that steel pin! It's not cheap and it's really easy to lose. For sake of picture taking, I put the guide piece in first. Okay, I put them both in and then the steel pin fell off.

Chain tool lined up, spring loopy piece ready to be inserted.

This time you will need that loopy piece of steel for your Campy chain tool (not applicable for other chain tools, but for installing a Campy chain, I'd highly, highly recommend buying the Campy chain tool). You risk catastrophic chain failure otherwise, unless you are a chain tool wiz. I installed my first few Campy chains using a non-Campy chain tool but it was so stressful, even for someone with 25+ years of wrenching experience, that I bought the Campy tool.

Now? No stress. Buy that tool.

Loopy piece inserted, prevents chain from moving up out of the tool.

The loopy piece is one of the two reasons you buy the tool (the other is the precise machining and long turning handle, both combining to make it very easy to actually push the pin in - no dented fingertips when using this tool). The loopy piece is perfectly positioned to hold the chain absolutely stationary in the Campy chain tool. It allows the chain tool pin driver to line up perfectly with the very expensive steel connecting pin, it holds the chain perpendicular to the driving pin, and doesn't let anything move.

For me, every single non-Campy chain tool install included a heart-stopping moment as the special pin went in sideways into the outer plate. This was because the other chain tools don't hold the chain securely. Only very judicious chain tool use allowed the pin to seat all the way with no noticeable damage to the chain. Way too stressful - it's like trying to tap in a finishing nail with a 25 pound sledgehammer.

Of course, on the other hand, the Campy chain tool is way overbuilt, and one might compare using it to something like using a forklift to unload DVD player from your car. Look, at least you won't drop it.

Push the pin in until it looks about even with the others. The guide pin simply drops off (it's in my fingers). Make sure the chain pivots as expected at the new pin.

Don't push it too far. Since you can repeat the chain position in the tool, you can take the chain out of the tool, look at it, put it back in the tool, and do another quarter turn or so.

Once you finish and remove the tool, don't lose track of your special pin! Meaning on your newly installed chain. You need to make sure the chain pivots there, else you'll have a mysterious skip in your new chain. If it is slightly tight, wiggle the chain up/down, left/right. It should be good. If it isn't, then you may not have pushed the pin in enough (or you pushed it in too far).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. It was helpful. I had resisted buying a Campy chain tool 'til I read your piece.

tblairhug said...

OK- just read this for the Campy 10 speed chain.

I'm guessing that this is the same procedure for the new 11 speed cahin, too.

Is it?

Have you gone to 11 speed?

Aki said...

The 11 speed procedure differs in one significant way - there is an "anvil" that mushrooms the head of the pin at the end of the procedure. This is critical for proper pin attachment. The rest of it is basically the same.

I haven't gone 11, probably won't be able to unless I either get sponsored (hint hint Campy) or my job situation dramatically improves.

tblairhug said...


I have a 10 speed Campy chain tol- & just installed the 11 spd. chain.

Now I have to figure out a way to 'mushroom' the final pin head..

I'll see what I can try... & will let you know how it goes, after my 50 mile ride tomorrow- wish me luck!