The bicycle chain is probably one of the simplest yet most important components of your drivetrain. Your drivetrain consists of the cassette, chain, front chain wheel, rear derailleur, front derailleur, and shifter.
The chain links the front of the drive train to the rear wheel to transmit power.
It transmits the power created by you via your pedals to the cassette/freewheel to make your bike move forward.
The chain ensures that the rider’s input force is transmitted into effective momentum. Chains come in all sizes and lengths and that is why it’s important for you to pick the one that suits your bike and riding style the best.
Modern bike chains have “roller bearings” which are cylindrical in shape and are held in place by side links. There are gaps in-between these rollers into which the teeth of the cassette or chainring sit into. Most chains are made of alloy steel for strength. However, more performance-oriented chains are made of stronger and lighter materials; sometimes hollow pins or lightweight side plates.
What makes a good chain?
A good chain must ensure the bike smoothly and quietly shifts (when tuned properly). Good quality chains house the roller pins in a secure and watertight manner that they stay lubricated for a long time; this gives the chain more flexibility and provides you with more efficient power transfer when peddling.
High-quality chains will often use nickel or stainless steel in their construction to increase resistance to stretching and corrosion and some models even offer weight-saving features like hollow pins. There are even titanium chains from brands like KMC that take weight saving to a completely different level.
What chain is right for me?
Each type of bike has its own chain requirement. A bike with an 8-speed drivetrain will need a different chain than a bike with a 10-speed drivetrain. The chain will have to be longer and narrower to fit in the narrower gaps between the sprockets. It’s important to match the chain with the number of gears you have on your cassette. All new chains out of the box are longer than necessary to accommodate varying wheelbase lengths. You will need to remove a few links and add them to your drivetrain.
You would think that chain buying would be as simple as picking a chain with the same number of gears as on your bike. That was the case not too long ago. Now, however, things have become more complicated with the introduction of 10, 11 and 12-speed drivetrains. To fit such large ranges within a given hub, chains have had to become ever so thin and narrow. This has made chain compatibility more brand-specific. A chain even a few mm more thick or narrow for the same speed drivetrain between brands could result in improper shifting. This basically means that at certain gear combinations, the chain angle would be too extreme and could cause skipping or grinding issues.
For the most part, almost all bicycle chains and cassettes are compatible across brands like Sram and Shimano. However, there are certain exceptions with higher-end models as explained above. It’s always advisable to stick to the same manufacturer with the entire drivetrain as it’s a safer bet.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It’s true, all you need is for one defective or weak link in the chain for the entire chain to snap on a ride. That’s why it’s a good idea to take care of your chain as a preventative measure. It’s fairly simple, keep your chain clean and lubed at all times and you’re good to go.
Chain maintenance is crucial to a bicycles smooth and accurate shifting. Ensure you “unload” your chain whenever shifting through gears as it allows for a smoother transition which makes your drive train last longer.
Over time chains do tend to stretch and wear out. However, if taken care of, this only happens after thousands of miles on the chain. People instead end up replacing their chains a lot more often simply because of improper care. A chain requires to be well lubed in order to minimize friction wear. Degrease the chain before lubing it so that all of the gunk on the chain comes off and does not contaminate the fresh lubricant.
You can use a chain measuring tool to see if your chain has worn out or not. It would usually exhibit symptoms of poor shifting and slippage in between gears.
Cleaning your chain of dirt and muck is just as important as lubricating it. Over-lubricating a chain is the most common cause of a dirty chain. Ensure that you use a degreaser every once in a while to clean the chain and then lubricate it again.
While changing a chain you must also change your cassette as a worn-out chain also eventually wears out the cassette. If you catch the wear and tear early on then just a chain replacement may suffice. On the other hand, if the wear is extensive then the cassette, chainring along with the chain may have to go.
Two main types of chain lubricants-
lubricant that is less viscous and “lighter” than wet lube. It attracts less dust and grime, as a result, it is ideal for use in dry and dusty conditions. It does, however, need to be re-applied more often as it isn’t as vicious.
These types of lubricants are ideal for wet weather conditions or humid and slushy conditions. Wet lube resists water and grime better in wet conditions than dry lube does. It’s also slightly more viscous than other dry lubes as well.
There are also wax-based lubricants that do a great job of protecting the roller bearings but they are usually on the more expensive side.
In conclusion, no matter what discipline of cycling you follow or what drivetrain you have, wear is inevitable. It is however avoidable to a certain extent as explained above. Look at investing in high-quality chains that will last you longer and provide you with good quality shifting Employ proper shifting techniques, keep it clean, keep it well lubed and you shouldn’t have any problems
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WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING
I’m an avid mountain biker and I like riding fast and flowy singletrack. As I keep riding, I continuously work on honing my riding skills. I like to ride whenever possible, especially with friends. I also like to influence folk into getting to ride more often.
Working on bicycles has also been a keen interest of mine for quite some time.
DISCIPLINE: Mountain biking and Road biking
CURRENT BIKE: RockRider 5.3 & Specialized Allez Elite DSW
DREAM BIKE: Santa Cruz 5010