Updated on March 26, 2022
An important but frequently ignored portion of your bicycle’s transmission, the chain is actually its most crucial link One of the things we value about bikes is the fact that almost every part of them is functioning and on show for everyone to see.
Even the greasy functioning parts are on display, and no part of your chain is even more than the links.
Even if they hadn’t seen a safety bicycle before, they would recognize the chain’s design, due to modern computerized design and manufacturing technologies.
As the number of gears on the rear cassette has increased over time, they’ve also gotten narrower. And it’s the number of gears that you need yours to work with that defines whether you’ll be pursuing a 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, or even 13-speed compatible alternative.
It’s like anything else in life: the more you practice, the better you get. Of all, a cheap but fresh and well-scrubbed chain is still better than a dirty or old model costing ten times the price.
In order to make thinner chains work better with much less shift force, more dependability, less friction, and greater speed while still standing the test of time, the details of both the chain links and the associated contact points has been tweaked and fine-tuned.
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Best Road Bike Chains
- The PC1051 is one of SRAM’s most well-regarded products because of its long-term reliability.
- A strong rivet pin and plate design put it in second place among the 10-speed options.
- It’s compatible with both Sram and Shimano groupsets, despite being built for Sram.
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- One of the most well-known chains in the business, Wippermann has a long history.
- It is the least expensive of the German brand’s 10-speed options, but it nevertheless offers rapid and precise changing as well as being long-lasting due to the reinforced pins.
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- KMC is going all-in on the nerdy stuff now that it has the X11.
- In addition to reducing weight by using hollow plates and pins, a firm surface coating (DLC) has been applied to the entire assembly to boost wear resistance and extend product life.
- This is Shimano’s cheapest 11-speed groupset, and it relies largely on its predecessors for its design and performance characteristics.
- With its Sil-Tec coating and asymmetrical plates like those on its big siblings, it can shift more quickly and wear down less quickly.
- With its latest groupset, Campagnolo has chosen a different approach in terms of cost consciousness. If you’re looking to save money, you can
- use the same chain for all the lowest three groupsets, which is a cost-saving and performance-enhancing move for the company.
- Because Sram was the first company to produce a 12-speed groupset, it only seems right that we include a model from Sram in your collection of the finest bicycle chains.
- Despite the fact that the Red model’s top-of-the-line chain is more expensive, you won’t save much money by going with the Force 12-speed chain, which also has a distinctive flat-top shape.
- In reality, the chain is one of the few reasonably priced components of the brand’s ultra-modern 12-speed powertrain line can be replaced, whichever option you choose.
The chain on a bicycle. For the most part, cyclists don’t doubt it for a second while replacing their worn chain with a new one that has the same name as their derailleurs.
Possibly a small number of people will experiment with something different in an effort to increase corrosion resistance, improve shifting, reduce body mass and/or save money.
Nevertheless, given that a bike’s chain is one of its most demanding components, why stop there? Even while chain lubrication has a significant impact on the chain’s longevity and efficiency, surely chains themselves differ?
Despite the lack of conclusive answers to these issues, new information is beginning to emerge. Zero Friction Cycling’s Adam Kerin has put in over 3,000 hours and AU$15,000 from his own money in search of the perfect chain.
To help you choose the optimum chain for your bike, we have unique access to Zero Friction Cycling’s research.
Coatings and materials used in chains typically determine their pricing differences. Between the cheapest and most expensive chains, lower quality steel and/or differing levels of materials hardening may be present.
With Shimano 105, Ultegra, and Dura-Ace chains, low-friction coatings are often the most noticeable change, as the price rises (and kudos to Shimano for being relatively transparent on this topic).
As defined by SRAM’s Road Technical Sales Coordinator Brooklyn Fowler, “Hard Chrome” is a “much more expensive technique requiring very tight process control that results in an incredibly hard and hence wear-resistant surface” for the company’s latest top chains.
“Chrome” for chains like the Red 22 is just “used to prevent corrosion and offer a pleasant aesthetic,” according to Fowler.
The marketing and aesthetics of some treatments trump the efficacy of others, according to Kerin. As with a chain’s lubrication and cleanliness, it’s what’s happening inside the chain that matters.
The outside is of secondary importance.
KMC’s DLC (Diamond Like Coating) is an example of a chain coating that is placed after the chain has been constructed, rather than immediately on the interior components that inhibit chain elongation most significantly.
More expensive chain models should be subject to more strict quality control and tighter manufacturing tolerances, and this makes sense.
As Kerin discovered, it’s not a given that spending more gets you more, even if the dimensions don’t.
The weight of a chain is also a factor in its price. Most high-end chains have slotted plates and hollow pins to reduce weight.
According to Shimano and SRAM, hollow pins frequently result in a stronger chain, and these chains have an additional peening operation that tapers the ends of the pins.
Aspects to take into account In addition to durability and efficiency, there are a number of additional elements that go into determining the quality of a chain.
When it comes to chain models, cross-compatibility can be a challenge.
Aftermarket chain manufactures, on the other hand, say “believe us, it’s fine” when a drivetrain manufacturer tells you not to use a chain other than their own.
Users of 8, 9, 10, and 11-speed transmissions can, in most situations, mix and match different brands as long as they stick to the correct gear count (as covered in our drivetrain compatibility article).
Choosing a chain that is one gear faster than your drivetrain will increase shifting and longevity in many circumstances
12-speed, on the other hand, is a very different matter.
If you want to get the most out of Shimano’s 12-speed mountain bike gear, you’re going to have to use their chain.
SRAM AXS Road, on the other hand, employs a chain with a bigger roller, which means you can’t currently AXS other brands.
Shifting performance is not included in this test, although experts like Kerin, who have swapped chains many times, believe it makes a negligible impact.
There is a difference, even if it is difficult to perceive, between the chain plate shapes used by different drivetrain manufacturers to greatest match their respective shifting ramps.
Although shifting quality is subjective, endurance and efficiency are measurable.
Corrosion resistance is also left out of the equation. Rust-resistant coatings and materials are more commonly found in higher-end chains than in lower-end chains.
Finally, tensile and rivet strength is a factor that is critical yet unknown.
Keep an eye out for Kerin’s progress in this area.
Please be aware that all of the chains tested have been found to meet strict strength requirements and are therefore regarded high-quality products manufactured by well-known businesses.
Among the best 12-speed chains, these are the most durable
Chains have long been assumed to be less robust as the number of cogs in the rear cassette has increased, however this appears to be untrue.
It appears that some brands of 12-speed chains have also increased in durability over 10-speed chains thanks to lessons learnt in the field of materials engineering, metal treatment, and design.
Shimano’s new XTR 12-speed chain is excellent in this aspect, and its claims of greater durability are backed up by the results.
Although the new chains have a completely different plate shape, which Kerin points out, they’re not compatible with existing drivetrains and are intended to improve shifting performance.
Even though third-party manufacturers like WolfTooth now provide compatible rings, Shimano’s outstanding 12-speed chains are still best reserved for use with the company’s own 12-speed bicycle drivetrains for the time being.
A comparison of the most reliable 11- and 12-speed chains, as well as Shimano 105 versus Ultegra vs Dura-Ace, is presented.
This is Zero Friction Cycling’s take on the question of whether an 8-speed bike is better than a 9-speed, 10-speed, 11-speed, or 12-speed bike.
On the CyclingTips Weirdo Alert podcast, the findings from this paper are also explored.
Longevity vs. effectiveness
Choosing chain lubricants that reduce friction (efficiency) and enhance chain durability, as Adam Kerin discovered earlier in our best chain lube piece, is nearly always a good idea.
The abrasive wearing on metal caused by lubricants makes sense: they waste energy.
In contrast, when it comes towards the chains itself, there is no such connection or pattern. Some chains thrive in one area, whereas others find a good balance between the two.
Differences in durability of thousands of kilometres and as much as 4 watts (at 250W, 90rpm) separate the best from the worst, and these are not inconsequential numbers.
Think about how much time you’d spend staring at it for an entire year. Adam Kerin already done it, therefore he doesn’t have to envision it.
In his motorized Tacx Neo torture chamber, Kerin put 31 different types of chains through their paces while monitoring chain wear and the quality of the lubricant
(White Lightning Epic Ride, which has previously been found to be a weak and abrasive lubricant).
Overall, he rode a virtual bike for 80,000 kilometres without actually doing any actual riding.
There were at least two tests performed on each chain (53 links at a time), with a half-length of Shimano Ultegra control chain being used in each case as a reference.
Moreover, the results presented here were confirmed by the repeatability of the control chain.
To get access to CeramicSpeed’s chain data, I also contacted them. There’s a lot of information here that has to be deciphered and understood.
The cost, the finish, and the number of slits
How a chain’s lubricant compatibility and durability are affected by the quality of its production can be seen in a matter of seconds by looking at Kerin’s findings.
As a result, no one knows the characteristics of the various coatings and methods used by each brand.
Kerin and I found ourselves repeating the same marketing documentation for the precise distinctions between models – it seems Coca-Cola and KFC aren’t the only ones afraid to divulge their secret formulas.
Hey, all I am Joe Marino I love to ride bikes and teach others how to ride them. Most of my articles are about which bike is best for others. I am passionate about cycling and it shows, whether I am writing about a $25 bicycle from any random website or a $5000 Santa Cruz.
I have always been the guy who gets calls from friends while at work asking which bike they should buy. I have written about the best city bike for commuting, the best folding bike for use on public transit, and even what to keep in mind when shopping for kids’ bikes.
You can follow my blog and read all of my other articles on my website.