Replacing a Chainring Without Removing The Cranks – Craziness or Reality?

Condensed Info:

If the big chainring attaches to the drive-side crank via bolts, it’s possible to replace it without removing the cranks.

If the chainring is permanently attached to the cranks via rivets, it’s not possible to get it off without removing the cranks.

If the system uses three chainrings or a double chainset with an ultra-compact second chainring, you won’t be able to remove the smallest ring without pulling out the cranks.

Bolted Chainrings

Medium and high-end chainrings are connected to the drive-side crank via bolts.

This engineering allows users to:

  • Change gear ratios without having to replace the cranks
  • Replace worn chainrings without having to buy new cranks

A side bonus of bolted chainrings is that the user can remove larger chainrings without having to pull out the cranks too.

The procedure is as follows:

Step 1: Remove the chain

Technically, this step isn’t mandatory because the process can be done with the chain on. However, getting the chain out of the way will make working on the drivetrain easier.

If the chain has a quick link, this step will take less than a minute.

Step 2: Examine the position of the front derailleur

If you’re switching to a chainring that’s notably larger than the current one, the front derailleur may have to be moved to a higher position.

If you don’t want to deal with this issue right now, downshift to the smaller chainring to get the front mech out of the way.

Step 3: Remove the Big Chainring

To remove the largest chainring, you will need 2 tools:

  • 5mm Hex Allen Key (more common) or T30 Torx wrench depending on the bolts that the chainring uses
  • A flathead screwdriver or a chainring removal tool
Chainring Bolts (front)
Chainring Bolts (backside) – hold this part with a screwdriver or a chainring removal tool while unwinding the bolts from the front

To remove the chainring, hold the backside (nut) with a flathead screwdriver and unscrew the bolt with the appropriate wrench.

Once the bolt is untightened, remove the backside holders with a set of thin pliers or use a screwdriver to gently pop them out.

After removing all bolts, rotate the chainring a bit and slide it out of the crank.

If you’re using a triple chainset, however, you won’t be able to remove the smallest chainring without pulling the crank out.

As you can see, the smallest chainring on a 3x set-up is held by bolts inserted from the opposite side.

Technically, you can untighten the bolts holding the granny ring without pulling out the crank, but the cutout in the middle of the chainring will be too small to slide it out of the crank.

The same applies to double chainsets using a second chainring that’s notably smaller than the main one.

Step 4: Install the New Chainrings

To install the new chainring(s), you have to perform the same procedure in reverse.

Step 3: Final Adjustments

Adjust the front derailleur if you have installed a larger chainring (there should be a small gap between the derailleur and the largest chainring). Then, re-install the chain.

Note: If you’re switching to a significantly bigger chainring, you may need a longer chain too.

Riveted Chainrings

Lower-end cranks come with riveted chainrings that cannot be removed from the cranks without structurally damaging the components. Therefore, the user is expected to replace at least the drive-side crank in order to get new chainrings.

FAQ: What are the benefits of removing a chainring without pulling out the cranks? Any negatives?

This procedure has two main benefits:

  • Saved time and energy
  • No need to use specialized equipment such as a crank puller

The downside is that it doesn’t work with extra small chainrings. Other than that, the process is solid.

Summary: What You Need To Know

  • The big chainring can be removed without pulling out the cranks. All you need is the appropriate wrench and a flathead screwdriver.
  • After removing the chainring bolts, you can simply slide out the big chainring.
  • If the second chainring is very small, it may fail to clear the crank.
  • If the drivetrain uses a triple set-up, the smallest chainring won’t be able to “escape” either. Or in other words, the procedure works only if the chainring is fairly large.
  • If the chainrings are small, the only way to remove them would be to pull out the cranks.
  • If the chainrings are low-end, they’re probably riveted. In that case, the chainrings and the drive-side crank are seen as one unit.

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