Vintage Bicycle Chain

Bicycles have not always had the same type of chain. In the early days, bicycles didn’t have chains at all… the pedal cranks were connected directly to the front hub of the bicycle, like a child’s tricycle. Eventually, technological advancement made the use of chain possible, allowing for many new innovations that would evolve into the bicycle as we know it today. Early bicycle chain was primitive and did not perform nearly as smoothly as modern chain does. One type of early bicycle chain, often referred to as block-chain was a simple design that consisted of a block, linked by two thin pieces of metal on the sides and pins to hold them together. There was a lot of friction involved with this design. This problem was solved by roller-chain, which is what modern bicycles still use today. The roller chain has an additional component… a piece of tubing around the pin that acts as a bearing, greatly reducing friction as it rolls over the sprockets.

three types of chain

Upper left – 1/2 inch pitch chain.

Upper right – 1 inch pitch, aka “skip tooth” or “skip link” chain.

Lower middle – early “block” chain.


Left – 1/2 inch pitch sprocket.

Right - 1 inch pitch, or “skip-tooth” sprocket.

In the next article we will cover how to shorten or lengthen a chain and how to refurbish a rusty one, plus correct adjustment and lubrication. Have a question? Feel free to email

Diamond Chain

Diamond brand chain, new in the box.


Often, someone not familiar with vintage bicycles will acquire an old bike and learn that they are unable to find a replacement chain that will fit the bikes sprockets. In all likelihood, their bike was equipped with a 1-inch pitch chain… a type of chain that has not been available at bike shops in many decades. 1-inch pitch chain, commonly referred to as “skip-tooth”, or “skip-link” chain, was used on most bicycles from the 1900′s through the mid 1950′s. This chain fits sprockets where the teeth are one inch apart. This chain is also wider than modern half-inch pitch chain. This configurations means that the chain fits a sprocket that has half as many teeth as modern one where the teeth on only 1/2 inch apart. So the question is… where do you get new skip-tooth chain? Unfortunately, you can’t. If you insist on un-used chain, your only option is to buy some from a vintage bicycle dealer, at a swap meet or on eBay. You can expect to pay up to $100 dollars for a brand name chain that is new in the box. Fortunately, if your bike was equipped with 1/2 inch pitch chain, the same type used on modern bicycles equipped with single speed hubs, you can buy new chain from your local bicycle shop. If you buy inexpensive BMX chain from a department store, be aware that this chain is usually not long enough to fit vintage full size bikes. There are ways to make the chain longer, but the better plan is to buy a correct chain from a bicycle shop.

chain width

Left – 1/2 inch pitch chain with equal length links.

Right – 1 inch pitch “skip-tooth” chain with un-equal length links that are also wider.

Vintage bicycles and parts for sale on eBay!

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Vintage Bicycle Chain — 8 Comments

  1. Do you have any Diamond Skip chain? Is their a ph#? We are restoring a Farmall H pedal tractor that was made in the late 40′s or early 50′s that uses skip chain. We would like to keep the restoration as original as possible. We can find both sprockets but no chain.


  2. I have a 1894 Victor Bike with a 1″ skip tooth (I think) sprockets but the width is 3/8″ wide I keep finding 3/16 and 3/32 can you help?

    • Hi Chris, I’m going to assume that you need skip-tooth chain. I recommend that you click on one of the eBay ads on this page. eBay is going to be your best chance at getting a good price on some of this chain. It is no longer produced, so you may have to settle for a good used one. Good luck!

  3. Hi Dave,
    are you able to suggest ways of “breaking” a 1″ skip tooth chain as I am unable to find a tool to do it. Broke a precious link trying to use a regular tool. Will a motor bike chain breaker work?

  4. recently bought a tandem bike found @ an old farmers barn have been looking for a chain (skip link or 1 inch pitch) bike is in good shape i”ve bought new tires and rims as well as a new gear from back rider to back new rim need a skip link or 1 inch pitch chain for drive gears its an old bike want to leave as original as possible

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