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Now that most BMX bikes tend to have much shorter dropout slots, chain tensioners aren’t nearly as important now as they were a few years ago. However, anyone that has had a constantly loose chain likely cured the issue with one of these wonderful little devices.
At the basic level, there is just one type of tensioner and it uses a fairly simple design. It’s a steel washer (about the same outside diameter as the average axle peg) with a hole in the center (the same size as your axle), an end cap that cups the back of your frame dropout, and a threaded piece attaching the two for adjustment. There are a few that are small washers with a raised area to fill the gap between your axle and the inside of the dropout, but those are not as common.
To figure out which size to get is as simple as knowing which size axle you have. For example, if you have a 14mm axle, get a 14mm tensioner.
Tensioners are made of either steel or aluminum, and one isn’t going to function better or worse than the other. The only real consideration when deciding which will be best for you would be whether or not you’ll be using them with pegs. Without a peg between the tensioner and the axle nut, every time you tighten the axle nut it will dig into the material a little bit. The axle nut will chew its way through aluminum easier than it will through steel.
Because it is common to only use one on the right side of your bike, some are sold individually and start at about $9. If you’re buying a pair, they can go up to as much as $30.
Most riders choose to run their wheel either all the way forward in the dropout (referred to as “slammed”) or as close as they can get to that which will eliminate the need for a chain tensioner. You can achieve the same thing by removing chain links and/or using a half-link. If your dropout slots are long enough to accommodate a tensioner and you want to run your wheel a little farther back without worrying about your chain loosening, then start with a single tensioner on the right side. If you are still having problems with your wheel moving forward, then opt for a pair of tensioners.
Before buying, be sure to do your research and read product reviews. Reviews are a great way to find out specifics about a particular model, user impressions, and things to watch out for. After you’ve purchased a product and had enough time to thoroughly test it, we encourage you to leave a review for other people to see when they are researching bikes and parts on the web.
We hope you’ve found this information to be helpful. If you have a question that isn’t answered in this guide, our BMX forums are a great place to get advice from knowledgeable riders. Your local bike shop is also a great resource.
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