The Mountain Bike Life

We’ve all been there – bombing down that beautiful technical single-track, hopping over everything you can, carving perfect lines through the corners, getting ready to pedal your way over that big root and… Nothing. Nothing more than your yells of frustration and, as was often the case for me, pain. What happened? Why didn’t it work!? Yep, you guessed it (especially you folks that read the title): the chain fell off. Instead of having an awesome story to tell, all you have to show for that trail are a few new bruises and some nice scratches on your bottom bracket. Below, I’ll walk you through the amazingly cheap and relatively painless process of making your own chain guide, so you can keep riding and quit resetting your chain.

Ouch! This is what happens when you drop your chain.


So, what do you do? Well, you either resign yourself to the world of door-dodging, or you find a way to keep that damn chain from falling off right when you need it most. Since I would rather ride at Rampage than do another trip along Hastings Street, I’ll tackle the chain issue here.

Not my idea of a good time. Photo credit: Richard Masoner


Let’s say you’re not into riding the huge drops, and as such you’ve bought yourself a Cross Country/Trail/All Mountain (essentially, a frame with less than 6″ of travel) bike. Chances are, you won’t have the three handy little holes called ISCG (International Standard Chain Guide) Tabs surrounding your bottom bracket, on the drive side. Without those, there really aren’t a lot of options, and as you may have seen in my previous post, the options available are fairly spendy (though I must say, I continue to be impressed with that little piece of metal). Why not make one yourself, you might ask? Well, that’s actually the point of this whole post!


When I decided to make my own chain guide, it was mostly an experiment. Since it’s obviously not a necessary part, and I already have a more than effective guide on my main bike, I wanted to do it as cheaply and easily as possible. The resulting product cost me a whopping $0.10, and actually works almost as well as the one I paid real money for!


Here’s what you need:

2x 6” Cable Ties
2x 3” Cable Ties – for $4, you can buy a 200-pack of assorted sizes from Amazon.com
1x Seatpost Reflector Mount – Free with bike, your LBS will probably have a few laying around if you ask nicely!

I am fortunate enough to have a junker bike to ride around the city, so taking the reflector off of my MTB wasn’t really an issue. Setting up the chain guide is amazingly simple: first, remove the reflector from the seatpost mounting ring. Do what you want with the reflector, we’re only interested in the mounting ring at this point. Next, pull the ring apart and place it around the chain. That’s really all there is to it! I used the two small zip ties to close the ring, and the two larger ones to attach the ring to the chainstay.


There she is, in all her glory. The blue tie runs through the hole that would normally attach the mounting ring to the reflector.

Granted, it’s not the prettiest solution, and it’s a tad noisier than the one I paid real money for, but after hitting the same trails with both the home-built and the factory-built, they both seem to work about equally well. The biggest problem I’ve found is that, occasionally, the ring will rub against the tire and make a horrendous sound, but so far it seems easier to deal with that than with a dropped chain.

The first time this happened, we thought someone had turned on a lawnmower in the middle of the forest.

When I originally embarked on this adventure, I was getting a lot of advice from other riders and readers regarding what would work and what wouldn’t. Probably the most common one I heard was to use a small piece of PVC piping, suspended with zip ties. I tried this, but ultimately decided that the reflector was the most effective and least likely to break (along with being cheaper). Watching my buddy ride up and down some curbs, it became immediately obvious that without a solid piece between the guide and the chainstay, the entire thing bounces up and down. I don’t actually know how much abuse zip ties can stand up to, but I figured that eventually they would break, so I decided to go with the reflector mount.

At this point, we’ve had that bike on the trails for about 5 hours, and everything is standing up remarkably well. The guide hasn’t noticeably slipped (though I would suggest wrapping a bit of electrical tape, or an old innertube, over the chainstay), the chain has yet to fall off, and there doesn’t seem to be a significant amount of resistance. All three front rings work just fine, and we haven’t taken any links out of the chain. Were I forced to decide between the two, well, I would probably go with my Bionicon guide. However, I am a somewhat shallow person, and I happened to get an Amazon gift card for Christmas, so the decision was an easy one. If I hadn’t had the money to blow, then I think I would have been perfectly fine using the home-built guide (though I would probably, and may still, put a coat of paint on the outside).


Have you built your own guide and want to share? Have any tips or trick for other readers? Leave me a comment or shoot me an email, and I’ll get it out here!

Postscript: Yes, I do feel bad about the amount of rust on the black bike. Ideally, you don’t ever want your machine (main or otherwise) to get that nasty. These pictures were taken after she sat in my basement unmoved for a few months, I assure you all that she now looks much nicer!

To patch, or not to patch
Introduction to Downhill Racing Part 3 - Practice

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