How to Install ATV Tire Chains (Diamond and Ladder Style)

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Installing chains on your ATV may seem a bit tricky at first. But as long as you know the steps involved, including a few critical success criteria, it’s not that hard.

I made this step-by-step guide so that anyone should be able to install ATV chains on their bikes. For those with some previous chain installing experience, you may even find a few tricks for an even faster and snugger install.

The guide fits both ladder-style chains and diamond-style chains.

My personal experience with installing tire chains began over 15 years ago. I had to install chains on the tractors on the farm every winter. I’ve also been using chains on my ATV for the last couple of seasons.

Related: Which Are Better for Your ATV: Tire Studs or Chains?

Preparations Before Installing ATV Chains

Ensure You Got the Correct Chain Sizes

Take note of your tire sizes; you find the sizing on the tire sidewall.

ATV tire chains come in several sizes, each made to fit a range of tire sizes.

install atv chains what size tires
My ATV chains do not precisely match my tire size but fit well according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

You should generally have no problems finding chain sizes that fit your specific tire size. But sometimes, there is necessary to make a slight modification to the chain to get a snug fit.

Ensure You Have the Necessary Tools

You will need just a few tools to install ATV tire chains:

  • Air compressor with tire inflator (optional)
  • Valve stem removal tool (optional but recommended)
  • Pliers or wrench
  • Angle grinder or chain cutter (if the chains need modification)
  • Shackles or zip-ties

Ensure There is Sufficient Clearance

Most ATVs are not designed with the use of tire chains in mind. Many bikes do not have enough space in the wheel wells for the tires to spin freely when chains are fitted.

The front wheels are often the ones causing problems because of the space needed for turning.

install atv tire chains measure clerance wheel spacer
My Polaris Sportsman has no clearance issues after installing two-inch spacers on all four wheels.

Generally, I recommend a minimum clearance of two inches anywhere around the wheel.

This also includes the distance between the tire’s sidewall and fragile components like the brake lines or plastics. Ensure you also measure the clearance when turning the wheel to the left and the right.

Consider Using Wheel Spacers

Because space is limited, achieving a snug fit when installing chains is crucial.

This will keep the chains as close to the tires as possible. Thus needing less space around them without running into any collision issues.

If the chains are fitted too loose, they can cause severe damage to the bike’s brake lines, fenders, suspension, exhaust, or other parts that get hit.

This is especially true when riding at some speed. The centrifugal forces involved will sling the chains outward from the tire. Thus, needing much more space than if the chains were installed snugly.

But sometimes, a snug fit will not give you enough clearance.

By installing wheel spacers, you move the wheels outward. This creates more space on the inside of the tire.

installing atv tire chains wheel spacers for better clerance
Wheel spacers will give you better clearance.

You can use special spacer bolts or a one-piece wheel spacer made of metal. The spacer bolts are the cheapest option. But proper wheel spacers are generally a bit stronger. So they are what I recommend getting.

Wheel spacers come in different sizes, adding anything from ½ – 2 or even 3 inches of extra space on each tire. A spacer width of about 1,75 – 2 inches is usually sufficient.

Going too wide will only add unnecessary strain on the bike’s bearings and suspension. This is not recommended.

Related: How to Choose and Install ATV Wheel Spacers

1. Park the ATV on a Level, Smooth Surface

During the installation process, you will be pushing the ATV slightly forward. This will be a lot easier if you have a solid, smooth surface to work on. A concrete driveway or a garage floor is ideal.

Working on a clean hard surface will also make the whole process much more enjoyable. You won’t have any wet mud or gravel that will make your hands cold and your clothes dirty.

It’s no problem installing tire chains out in the woods in a pinch. But it’s a bit messy and requires more fiddling to get a good result.

Put the bike in neutral to roll freely, but leave the parking brake on for now.

2. Slightly Deflate the Tires

The easiest way to ensure a snug fit is by deflating the tires slightly before installing the chains. And then, after the chains are in place, you inflate the tires again.

Dropping 3-4 PSI should be fine. Some even prefer deflating them completely to achieve a very tight fit.

Use a valve tool to speed up the process. Or you can push down the little pin inside the tire valve – if you have the patience.

install atv tire chains deflate tire
Slightly deflate the tire using a valve stem core removal tool.

Valve stem removal tools are cheap and can be bought at most auto supply stores or tire shops.

Caution! It’s important to know that this procedure for snugging up the chains is not risk-free. If you do it incorrectly, or if the chains are weak or damaged, they may break, and the tire may blow up. Never do this procedure with more fragile chains like regular truck chains.

However, most quality ATV chains should be strong enough to handle this procedure if you don’t overdo it.

You should skip this step if you are not confident you can monitor how tight the chains get when reinflating the tires.

Instead, it would be best to use other means of keeping the chains snug. Installing chain tensioners is a good option.

3. Lay the Chains Out Flat Behind or in Front of the Tire

Lay the chain flat behind the rear tire and remove any twists and tangles. For the front tires, you lay the chains in the front of the tire.

The studs (the aggressive side of the chain) and the ends of the cross-chain hooks should be facing upwards.

install atv tire chains lay chain behind tire
Lay the chain flat behind the tire. Studs should be facing up.

At one end, you will find a boomer fastener on one side and a C-hook on the other. Or, on some models, you will find a boomer fastener on both sides and no C-hook.

Ideally, it would be best if you orientated the chain so that the “bend “of the boomer fastener faces forward in the tire rotation direction. This reduces the chance of it coming loose when riding in deep snow and mud or from debris rubbing against the tire.

Boomer fasteners do, however, need more space than a C-hook. If space is limited, it’s better to orient the chain so that the boomer fastener is outside of all tires, even if that means that the “bend” of the fastener is facing backward on one side of the bike.

There are ways you can prevent the fastener from coming undone, like adding a solid zip-tie.

If the type of chain you have uses boomer fasteners on both sides lay the chains with the boomers facing forward. This will ensure the correct installation.

On diamond pattern chains, there is a set of shackles at one end of the chain. Remove these and set them aside for now.

install atv tire chains remove shackles
Remove shackles and set them aside.

4. Drag the chain up and over the tire

I find that it’s easier to keep the chain nice and straight if you drag them straight from the front or behind the tire. Or, you can lift them over the tire from the side; it comes down to personal preference. Use both hands to get a good grip.

5. Drape the Chain Over the Center of the Tire

Use both hands to slightly lift and adjust the chain sideways so that the same amount of chain hangs down on each side of the tire. It needs to be in the center of the tire.

The studs and the ends of the cross-chain hooks should be facing up and away from the tire. Untwist any twists so the chain lays as smooth as possible against the tire.

If any sharp parts of the chain are in direct contact with the tire, it will soon start wearing on the tire. After a while, this can cause a flat or even a blowout.

The front end of the chain should now be at about ground level. Tuck this end under the front of the tire to be ready for the next step, rolling the ATV forward.

install atv tire chains draped over tire polaris sportsman
The chain is nicely draped over the tire.

6. Push the ATV Until the Tire Sits on Top of the Chain

Release the park brakes so that the bike rolls freely.

  • Rear tires: Push the ATV forward by hand.
  • Front tires: It’s best to push the ATV backward for easier access.

You may also start the bike and ride it if you need to. But this will leave you with less control of the chain’s positioning.

Stop and adjust the chain to sit as tight as possible on the tire and stay in the center if needed.

Continue moving the bike until about 15 inches of the chain remain behind the tire. The other end of the chain should now hang freely on the tire at about 2 o’clock.

install atv tire chains rear wheel
The chain is in position and ready to be connected.

7. Connect the Side Chains Fasteners

In this step, ensuring the inner and outer chains are the same length is crucial.

If one side ends up being shorter, it will be tighter than the other. This will drag the chain to whatever side is tighter when riding.

Grab the 15-inch part of the chain that still lays flat on the ground, lifting it against the end that hangs at 2 o’clock. You will be connecting the side chains that go all around the tire.

At one end, there is a fastener (boomer or C-hook, depending on the model). At the other end, there are a few free chain links to hook onto.

Connecting a C-hook:

  • The C-hook style fastener hooks straight onto the side chain link.
install atv tire chains c hook connector
C-hook connected to the free links of chain.

Connecting a boomer fastener:

  • First, the boomer fastener goes through the desired side chain link. It may require some wiggling to get the link to the base of the boomer fastener hook.
  • Then you must lever the boomer fastener 180 degrees back toward the side chain.
  • There it locks in place by hooking it up with the keeper link.
  • Bonus tip: Twist the side chain to press the boomer against the tire when space is limited.
install atv tire chains boomer fastener
Connectin the boomer tensioner.

Start with the inside fastener. Try to get the chain as tight as possible while keeping it at the center of the tire. The “leftover” links should be facing away from the tire. Make sure nothing gets twisted.

Then move on to the outside fastener. Use the same number of links as you did on the inside.

If you are installing ladder chains, you can skip step 8.

8. Connect the Tail Ends

If the chains you are installing are diamond pattern chains, you will find that you still have two loose ends of chain at one end. There should be two metal rings at the opposite end.

Grab the loose chains and thread them up through each of their rings ring from underneath. Tighten until the chain is snug. Then pull one of the tail ends over to the side chain.

install atv tire chains connect tail ends to side chain
Connect the tail ends to the side chain using a shackle.

Ensure that all studs face outward and everything lays as flat to the tire as possible. Any twists and bumps will make the ride a lot more uncomfortable and may cause premature wear to the chain and tire.

Tighten about as much as you did on the two side fasteners so that it feels snug. Connect the tail end to the sidechain using one of the small shackles you removed in Step 3. Tighten the shackle only by hand for now.

install atv tire chains tighten shackle by hand
Tighten the shackle by hand for now.

Count the number of tail links from the one you’ve already connected. Then repeat the process with the remaining tail end on the other side of the wheel. Use the same number of tail links on this side as well.

Some chain kits come with shackles. If yours didn’t, or if you lost them, you can get new ones cheaply at most hardware stores. Get ones with about the same thickness as the chain links; 4-6mm is typical.

install atv tire chains finished
Both tail ends are now tightened and fastened.

Then repeat steps 3 – 8 with the remaining tires.

9. Reinflate the Tires to the Correct Tire Pressure

Now it’s time to put air back into the tires. Use a pressure gauge to keep track of much air you are adding.

The chains will tighten up as you put more air into the tires. Ideally, they should become tight/snug just before reaching the specified tire pressure.

install atv tire chains reinflate tire
Inflate the tires again. Be careful so that you don’t overinflate!

If you had tightened the chains too much before inflating the tires, they might become too tight. Do not overinflate. Doing so could break the chains and have the tire explode with a powerful force that can cause severe injury.

If the chains are getting tight before reaching about 75% of proper tire pressure, do not continue. Deflate the tires and loosen the chain with one link on each side. Then inflate again.

10. Test Drive, Inspect and Re-Tighten

Now it’s time to test your installation. Start by riding very slowly to make sure nothing is catching.

Then take some turns to see if you’re still good when turning the wheels to the max. Do not ride faster than about five mph on your test ride.

In fact, never go fast; chains are for slow riding only.

The ride doesn’t have to be long; a couple of runs up and down your driveway is fine. You only need the chains to “slip in place, “which will happen naturally when the wheels rotate.

This often allows you to re-tighten the chain when you return from your test ride. One more link on each of the tighteners is typical.

It requires some work to deflate, tighten and reinflate the tires, but it may be necessary to get the snug fit you need.

Now tighten all shackles using some pliers or a wrench.

11. Secure All Loose Ends

Any loose ends of the chain need to be securely fastened. If not, they will quickly damage your fenders or other components.

You can retain the piece of chain left by the boomer tensioners onto the arm of the fastener itself.

install atv tire chains boomer fastener
In this pic, the free links of the chain are hooked onto the boomer fastener.

The free links of chain by the C-hook also need to be fastened. Use a heavy-duty zip-tie or preferably a shackle. You can use this method to secure all free links of chain if that’s what you prefer.

ATV chains secure
Free links of chain secured with a shackle.

You can cut them off using an angle grinder as a final option.

But doing so does come with the disadvantage of making the installation a bit harder the next time. You will also lose the possibility of using the chains if you later decide to get slightly bigger tires.

Now you are done!

12. Add Chain Adjusters/Tensioners (Optional)

If you do not like the potential risk of using tire pressure to snug up the chains, there are other ways. You can get almost the same effect by adding chain tensioners. It will keep the chains centered on the wheel and keep them from sliding around.

Be aware that you should not install these until after taking a test ride and re-tightened the chains.

Chain adjusters are springs or rubber bands with small hooks on each end. They are made as a star pattern where each spring connects to the side chain. 4-6 spring-loaded “arms “are standard.

You can also install a basic bungee cord in a star pattern to get the same effect.

You should add a tensioner on both the inside and the outside of each tire. This will stretch the chain towards the center of the tire and keep it snug at all times.

What if the Chains Are Too Long for the Tires?

Sometimes you’re unable to source chains that fit your tires. Or you may have bought a new ATV with smaller tires than the one you had before.

Also, when the chains have been used for some time, they will lengthen due to wear. Painted chains will stretch just from wearing down the paint. The paint is not thick but adds up when counting every link on the chain.

So at some point, you may need to shorten the chains. This is just a part of owning chains for any vehicle.

All you need to achieve this is an angle grinder or some good bolt cutters.

  • Start by draping the chains around the tire and note how much you need to cut off.
  • With ladder-style chains, you can cut off as much as you want.
  • Remove the desired number of cross chains using an angle grinder. Or, you can widen the cross-chain hooks using a hammer screwdriver and pry bar. A pair of chain repair pliers will make the whole job much easier, but it is not usually something you get for a one-time job.
  • Then cut off as much as you need from the side chains.

You must cut away at least one complete “diamond “to get a good result on diamond-shaped chains.

  • Simply cut all the places where I have marked with a red line.
  • Test fit the chains to the tire before making the end cuts. Adjust these to the desired length.
install atv tire chains modify angle grinder
Cut where the red lines are marked. Fasten the chain in a vice to keep it secure when cutting.

Related Questions

How do ATV tire chains work?

ATV tire chains have sharp studs that penetrate the ice for better grip. Because of the aggressive pattern they provide, they also improve traction on compact snow and gravel. They are not made to be used at any speed.

How long do ATV chains last?

ATV tire chains’ life expectancy heavily depends on surface hardness, speed, and proper installation. Snugly fitted chains will last about twice as long as loose chains. Using chains on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt will wear much faster.

How to tighten ATV tire chains?

ATV tire chains can be tightened by adding chain adjusters to both the inside and outside of the wheel. Many prefer attaining proper chain tightness by slightly deflating the tires before installation. After installation, they are reinflated. This procedure requires caution.

How to repair a broken ATV tire chain?

repair ATV chain pin connector

When a link breaks on the ATV tire chain, use a pin connector to replace the broken link. This repair will make the chain just as strong as it was initially.

Are ATV Tire Chains Worth It?

For general use in regions with consistent and substantial winter conditions, investing in a set of ATV tire chains is undoubtedly worthwhile. However, individuals who encounter occasional snowfall would benefit more from acquiring a set of high-quality ATV winter tires.

Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok is an ATV and off-road enthusiast with a rich background spanning two decades in owning, maintaining, repairing, and utilizing ATVs for farming, logging, and hunting. Outside his professional life as an engineer and project manager, he cherishes recreational trail riding and is the creative force behind, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

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