Composition and structure of lotic ecosystems can be affected by substrate instability. Consequently stream ecologists have used various methods to determine bed stability characteristics. However, the link between community composition and these measurements varies because benthic biota often responds to combinations of bed stability characteristics. This paper presents a protocol to determine reach-scale stream bed stability in mountain streams which is relevant for invertebrate communities (Stream Bed Stability for Invertebrates, SBSI). The approach is calibrated on community composition response to bed stability but does not measure any single bed stability characteristic per se. It consists of 13 parameters that are assessed once at each reach with minimal instrumentation and low interference with the substrate. These 13 parameters cover aspects of sediment supply from banks, transport capacity and substrate erodibility as well as effects of particle transport on channel bottom structures, substrate assemblage and single grains. Application of the SBSI protocol improved the relationship between bed stability and community diversity compared to when conventional bed stability measures were employed. The SBSI protocol provides a cost-effective and time-effective assessment method for bed stability and its application can facilitate research on invertebrate community response to physical disturbance. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.