The bicycle chain is a complex construct. It must fit the wheel (circuit), have the right length (chain links) and width (pins). In our theme world bicycle chain, we clarify the fundamentals. And tell you which chain fits your bike.

When buying a bicycle chain, it depends mainly on your gear. Your drive determines which chain you need. Therefore, we give you tips on how to find the right chain for your bike. An unsuitable chain leads to the fact that the circuit does not work smoothly, relatively higher wear occurs or the chain comes off sooner.

The Right Bicycle Chain

When buying a new bicycle chain, you need to check what type of gear your bike has and how many gears it has. Take a look at the gear (sprockets and chainrings).

Do you shift by hub or derailleur? The hub gears have only one sprocket on the rear wheel, the rear derailleur is hidden in the wheel (the hub). With derailleur gears, on the other hand, you have 5-12 sprockets at the rear and 1-3 chainrings at the front. (This then results in a derailleur with 18, 21, 24, or more gears – but at this point only the number of rear sprockets is relevant).

If it is a hub gear: is it a narrow or wide hub gear? You can notice a wide hub gear by the fact that the sprocket is much wider than on a derailleur. If you are unsure, go for the wider chain – it always fits and is more recommended for hub gears.

If it is a derailleur: count the sprockets in the back. The number of sprockets is decisive for the choice of chain.

Or do you have no gears at all – are you riding a fixie/single speed? Then read the tips below.

Which Bicycle Chain Do I Need Now?

You now know what gear you have. Which chain fits it? Generally, the chains are distinguished by their links (width) and the length of the chain. In addition, quality is an important criterion, because not all cheap chains are manufactured with a lot of eye and quality control. We recommend investing a few euros more here. A poorly made chain that wears out quickly will also lead to faster wear of the sprocket and sprocket set – which are generally more expensive than a new chain. Read more about this in our guide to the chain gauge, with which you can determine the wear of the chain.

Differences And Characteristics Of Bicycle Chains

Chains are distinguished mainly by the length of the pin (connecting pin) and the width of the rollers (rings inside the individual chain links).

All bicycle chains are the same length (pin to pin)! Only the width is decisive.

same legnth

But not the length (1/2 inch) is crucial, but the width. Because based on this decide whether it fits your bike/circuit. There are two types of bicycle chain design and two relevant sizes in the width: pin length (corresponds to outer width) and inner width.

For chain size, there is always the specification of length times width, e.g. 1/2″ x 3/32″. This means that the chain has an inner width of 3/32 inches (2.2mm).

As a rule, the inner width is always specified, since most chains today are “bearing collar chains” and here the inner width determines how flexible a chain is. The more gears, the more flexible the chain must be. The pin length is also important since the inner width of modern chains can not get any smaller (approx. 2.2mm), which is why the pin length is also getting smaller.

Are There Different Bike Chain Sizes?

Yes, There are following most Common bike Chain Sizes.

  • 1/2″ x 11/128″ ~ 2.2mm – pin length approx. 5.6 mm: Derailleur with 11 sprockets (e.g. for 11 x 2 gears),
  • 1/2″ x 11/128″ ~ 2.2mm – pin length approx 6.0mm: Derailleur with 10 sprockets (e.g. for 10 x 3 gears).
  • 1/2″ x 11/128″ ~ 2.2mm – Pin length approx 6.5mm to 7.0mm: Derailleur with 9 sprockets (e.g. for 9 x 3 gears).
  • 1/2″ x 3/32″ ~ 2.4mm – pin length > 7.0mm: derailleur with 5, 6, 7 and 8 sprockets (e.g. for older steel road bikes with compact cassettes)
  • 1/2″ x 1/8″ ~ 3.2mm – pin length approx 9.0mm: in connection with 1/8″ (inch, English inch) chains (with wide hub gears, Singlespeed, fixie, or track bike).

The “pin length” refers to the pin that holds the individual tabs of a link together. The shorter the pin, the more clearance the link plates and rollers have between them. This makes the chain more flexible and gives it more room to move when shifting gears. With longer pins, on the other hand, the chain sits more stably on the sprockets and it is less likely that the chain will jump off.

Pin Or Chain Lock?

Another criterion of the bicycle chain is the method used to attach the new chain to the bike. After all, the chain sits on the sprockets between the frame bars – so to attach and remove the chain, you would have to open either the frame or the chain. Logically, therefore, new chains come in open form.

New bicycle chains come with either a pin or a chain lock system. In the first variant, you use the pin to connect the two ends of the bicycle chain. This then makes the connecting link indistinguishable from the other links. Here you need a chain riveter to close the bicycle chain and open it again.

In a chain lock system, the chain has a special connecting link on which you can also open the chain again afterward. These chain lock systems have different names depending on the manufacturer, such as “Missing Link” or “Snap-On”. Sometimes they are also called master links.

The wider 9mm chains usually fit all single-speed bikes, track bikes, and bikes with wide hub gears. Here pin (pin/pin) and the roller in the chain are wider. These chains should never be used with derailleur gears. These chains are also referred to as 1/2-inch x 1/8-inch chains. When using a chain for a track racing bike, you should take a sturdier, high-quality chain, as these bikes are more heavily used.

Such chains are less flexible and more stable because they need to be less flexible. Unlike bicycle chains for classic derailleurs, they do not have to perform the constant jumping around action, after all.

Chains For Narrow Hub Gears

In addition to these chains for wide hub gears, there are also special chains for narrow hub gears from some manufacturers. Sometimes these chains carry the addition “Narrow”. These chains are usually about 7mm wide and are therefore also much lighter than the 9mm chains.

It is usually easiest to choose a rather wider chain for hub gears. However, this is much heavier and provides more wear, because this has more play and constantly slips back and forth on the sprocket. Who decides for a narrower chain (“Narrow”), should be sure that the pinion is also suitable for it! The manufacturers of the hub gears usually indicate this accordingly.

Some of these “Narrow” chains are built a little more flexible and are also suitable for 5- to 7-speed derailleurs. So you can also experiment with it if you feel like it 😉

Bicycle chains for derailleurs

many sprockets1The derailleur has been established since the 50s. Even today, you can still find hub gears, but the vast majority of bikes are equipped with derailleur gears. It is easier to manufacture and adjust. Although it requires more frequent maintenance.

In the following, we give you tips for chains specifically for road bikes and mountain bikes. Since these groups have very different demands on the material.

A general guide for bicycle chains by gear type (number of gears, such as 8-speed, 9-speed, 10-speed, etc.) can be found here:

For the chains for bikes with a derailleur, it depends on the number of sprockets in the rear derailleur. Count the sprockets on your rear wheel. This number indicates which chain you need. You need to distinguish between 9-speed derailleurs, 10-speed derailleurs, 11-speed derailleurs, the new 12-speed derailleurs, and the lesser derailleurs. The 6-, 7- and 8-speed gears belong together and use the same bicycle chains.

Best Bicycle Chains For Road Bikes

Especially as a road cyclist, you think a lot about efficiency. How effective is the power transmission on the chain? Is there unnecessary friction? Loss of power due to a poorly maintained chain? We also think a lot about the lubrication of the bicycle chain. But when it comes to the chain, we often reach for the manufacturer or name whose logo is displayed large on the gearshift. Shimano? SRAM? But why settle for that?

Australian Adam Kerin has tested several hundred chains over several thousand kilometers on the Zero Friction Cycling website. And published his findings in an impressive study. We also rely on these test results to find the best bicycle chain for road bikes for you.

In short, the best chains are often those that come from the same manufacturer as the drive (crank, chainring, and sprocket). A Shimano chain is perfectly matched to the Shimano sprockets. And SRAM chains now time optimally to the SRAM circuit. However, even drive-independent manufacturers such as KMC show that they can also produce very low-maintenance and durable products.

The Best MTB Chains

12-speed derailleurs are still relatively new, but they are becoming more widespread. These bikes no longer have a front derailleur at the front, but shift only through the rear sprockets. 13-speed gears have also been introduced. Such exotics are seen mainly on mountain bikes.

However, the tolerances for the 12 and more gears are simply incredibly small. These circuits tend to be very sensitive and difficult to adjust. Since even small inaccuracies lead to errors in the circuit. But that’s a whole separate topic. For MTB, the following chains have proven themselves.

FAQ – Bicycle Chain Review

Bicycle Chain: What Does HG Mean? And What About IG?

HG bicycle chains are the Hyperglide series bicycle chains from Shimano. The vast majority of new Shimano chains are Hyperglide. These fit by the shape especially also on Hyperglide sprockets from Shimano. Hyperglide and non-Hyperglide are compatible without any problems. Only what concerns the IG system (Interactive Glide) of Shimano, there are compatibility problems with other chains! An IG sprocket needs an IG chain.

Who invented the Bicycle Chain?

No single person can be identified who was responsible for the use of a chain drive on a bicycle. Several people were working on a safety bicycle in the late 1870s, using chain drives. The main aim was to make the bicycles – which were still high-sided at the time – safer and to move the rider’s seat further back and further down.

The English designer John Kemp Starley made the breakthrough with the chain-driven Rover, which he designed in 1884. Within a few years, the design proved itself and caught on – the modern bicycle was born.

Why is the Bicycle Chain on the Right?

There are several historical theories, but they are only speculations. Possibly it is because the chain drive was invented in England and people there drive on the left, so they tend to get on their bikes from the left. Or maybe it’s because horses have traditionally always been ridden from the left. Or maybe it’s simply because most people are right-handed and therefore ride their bikes from the left and get on from the left.

Common to all theories is the basic assumption that the chain should be on the other side than the one from which you get on the bike. Otherwise, you’ll get your pants dirty or your foot caught in the chain.

How Much Does a Bicycle Chain Cost?

Depending on the quality of the chain, the price can vary greatly. For normal use, however, even a low-priced chain is enough – as long as it is made by a quality manufacturer such as Shimano, Connex, or KMC.

Online you can get chains from these manufacturers for under $10. A high-performance chain that withstands thousands of kilometers without wear can cost over  $10 to $90  – but is much more durable. We would advise against any third-party manufacturers and bicycle chains from the REWE market.

Bicycle Chain: What to Look For?

What you need to consider when buying a new bicycle chain, you will learn in our section The right bicycle chain. In short: It is about the chain that fits the gears of your bike and the number of sprockets in the back!

Bicycle Chain: What Does 8 Speed / 9 Speed / 10 Speed etc?

This is about the number of rear sprockets. Because the more sprockets you have at the back of the bike, the narrower and more mobile the chain must be. A 9-speed chain, for example, should only be used on a bike that has 9 sprockets at the back.

Why Does my Bicycle Chain Jump Off?

Old bicycle chain? Then the chain is probably already heavily worn. With an inexpensive chain gauge, you can quickly and easily determine whether the chain needs to be replaced. New bicycle chain? Find out in our guide to bicycle chains, whether you have purchased the right bicycle chain. Possibly, however, it is because you have already broken your sprockets with a worn bicycle chain! Then only a replacement of the sprockets helps.

How to Measure Bicycle Chain?

With gauge and caliper can only measure the wear of a bicycle chain. How to measure the bicycle chain in this way, we explain under How to use a chain gauge? or How to measure bicycle chain with a caliper gauge? But if you want to find out the right chain length for optimal tension, you’d better read on here: Measuring the right chain length.

Why Change a Bicycle Chain?

If you never change your bicycle chain, you will not only break your bicycle chain – you will also break sprockets and chainrings! The longer you let the wear of the bicycle chain progress, the more the distance between the chain links of the bicycle chain widens. But this is only the first step.

Next, sprockets and chainrings adapt to the widened bicycle chain, so that the distance between the teeth grows here as well. In the worst case, a new bicycle chain will no longer fit the worn sprocket or will constantly fall off – you will have to replace the sprocket set. The chain gauge can be used to determine in time whether the bicycle chain is worn.

How Do I Know What Chain to Buy for My Bike?

The range of gearing in the system is essential to know what chain to buy for your bike. Bikes that have rear sprockets 36 teeth or smaller, the largest rear sprocket and front ring should be used. Two rivets are included in this (one-inch) for the place to cut the chain.

How Do You Run a Chain Through a Derailleur?

  1. To run a chain through a derailleur you need to keep the seat of your bike into the repair stand. Add some cleaning solvent onto a dry cotton cloth and clean it.
  2. Now revolve the pedals of your bike to clean the chain free of debris and apply some drops of mineral-based chain oil on all the links and move the pedals to see if the chain still slipped. Adjust the cable tension on the rear derailleur to make sure that the chain is in the middle of the rear cassette.
  3. Move the handlebar barrel adjusters counterclockwise to stress the cable tension. Revolve the pedals to check the rotation of the chain. Check the hanger of the rear derailleur to see it hasn’t been twisted, clean it with a dry cotton cloth. Screwed the hub bolts to step the rear cassette from moving freely.
  4. In the end, remove the safety clip from the chain’s quick-release link and check the link pins to find any issues. You can change the chain if you find any issues or twisted link pins.

How do you put a chain on a rear Derailleur?

To put a chain on a rear derailleur, you must loose the chain and move it around the front sprocket. Press the arm of the rear derailleur forward to introduce slack in the chain. Then, use it to thread the other end of the chain onto the smallest front sprockets. Let go of the arm of the rear derailleur and make sure that the chain is solid now.

How do you attach bike chains to Gears?

  • Use a gear lever to rotate the chain to the big ring position when you are still moving it. Shift it to the lower gear while cycling, puts the chain on the biggest chainring and the chain goes back to its position.
  • Rotate your bike over to make it rest on handlebars and bike seats.
  • Just release the tension of the chain to resolve the issue. Leave the rear derailleur to release chain tension by pressing it forward. Use your left thumb to push it onwards.
  • Put the chain back to its position with the right hand, move the top chain, put it on the smaller chainring, and release the rear derailleur.

How do I know my Chain size?

To know the chain size of your bike, you need to measure the distance between any three rivets in a row, then split the result by 2. Then measure from the first rivet to the third and divide that number in half to get your chain pitch.

Can you put a bike chain on the wrong way?

Putting a bike chain on the wrong way doesn’t make a difference. If you’re putting a new chain, the direction doesn’t matter. If a recently purchased chain you place wrong, it would not even be noticed.

Which Way Does a Shimano Chain Go?

Shimano chains are off-balanced and should be installed so that the chain writing faces outwards towards you the time you install the chain.

How do you put a chain back on a one speed bike?

To put the chain back on a one-speed bike, move the chain around the small gear on the rear axle, and place some of the chains around the big gear around the pedals on the side facing the seat. Place one hand on the chain to support it and start cycling.

How do you install a Shimano chain?

  1. While installing a Shimano chain, always place it in the chain tool grooves close to the handle.
  2. Press the replacement pin in with the closed-end first, then screw until the end is fully exposed on the other side. The bigger end should stick out from both sides of the chain.
  3. Use your pliers; break off the closed-end of the pin. If the link feels hard, place the chain on the inside grooves of the chain tool near the handle and strengthen it until the link revolves.

Are All Bicycle Chains the Same Pitch?

Yes, all the bicycle chains have a similar pitch of half an inch: the more speeds, the narrower chain. The single-speed chains are the widest, both on the outer and the inside roller width. They have a roller width of 1/8″ (3.175 mm).