How To Choose The Best Replacement Chain For Your Bike

How To Choose The Best Replacement Chain For Your Bike
How To Choose The Best Replacement Chain For Your Bike

What chain do I need for my bike? Everything you need to know to choose the right replacement chain

Finding the right chain to replace your old one can seem easy. But the chain is one of those simple-looking bicycle parts that hides an incredibly complex web of compatibility issues beneath the surface.

The easiest option seems to be to replace your old chain with the same model of the same brand, but even that is fraught with pitfalls. You can save significant amounts of money by using aftermarket brands. Here we’ll tell you how to choose the right replacement chain for your bike, the pitfalls to avoid, and what you get for paying more for the chain.  

When should you replace my chain?

Your chain should be replaced when it has been significantly stretched – 0.5% elongation is the usual threshold for an 11 or 12 speed chain, while a 9 or 10 speed chain is generally considered an upward stretch. up to 0.75% is acceptable. Check out our guide to find out.


How to choose the ri▢ght chain for your bike


If your bike has less than 12 gears, the important factor is how many gears it is designed for. By “gears” we mean the number of gears in the box, not the theoretical number of gears you get by multiplying the front and rear numbers.

As the gear ratio increases, the chain becomes thinner to accommodate the sprockets closer to the belt. This means that a 9-speed chain may not work well with a 10-speed group, for example.

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Buyer’s guide to road bike groupsets

The main difference is in the width of the side panels; the rollers running on the teeth of your sprocket and chain are the same 2.18mm wide for a nine, ten or 11 speed chain, although they are a different width than the 2.38 mm rollers used by the chain have eight speeds or less .

Almost all chains have the same spacing of half an inch (12.7 mm) – the distance between adjacent links. So an 11-speed or less chain designed for the right number of gears will work well on all brands of road bike sets, even Campagnolo, a slightly unusual brand. This means you’re not limited to the same brand of chain as your groupset and can consider chains from alternative brands like KMC and Wipperman.

sram red axs chainset and flattop chain

Things get more complex once you get to 12-speed chains, as the major groupset makers have diverged in chain width and design. 

SRAM’s 12-speed road chains have a flattop design. The brand’s 12-speed road/gravel groupsets only work with this chain; you can’t use a SRAM 12-speed MTB chain or a chain from another road bike groupset maker with them.

In contrast, Shimano 12-speed road bike groupsets use the same chain range as its 12-speed MTB groupsets.

campagnolo ekar derailleur

The 12-speed Campagnolo chain is different and also different from the chain used by the 13-speed Ekar gravel set.

You can also buy 12-speed chains from aftermarket brands, principally for Shimano groupsets and SRAM MTB groupsets.

Another recently added complication is that Shimano introduced the Linkglide as an option for 11-speed and lower groups. This runs alongside its Hyperglide cassette setup and uses a Linkglide chain that has a different configuration than the Hyperglide chain. There are plans to streamline lower spec groups with the launch of CUES, which offers interoperable Linkglide parts across lower spec groups.

Finally, if you own a fixie or a speed bike, you will need a different type of chain. Single speed chains come in 3/32 and 1/8 inch widths, so you need to choose the right one for the rest of your drivetrain.

Should I just buy like-for-like?

Shimano 105 crankset 50-34 11 speed
Shimano 105 crankset 50-34 11 speed

The advantage of replacing your existing chain with the same model is that you never have to worry about compatibility, as long as you have the same number of gears. But newer generations of the same group often add more gears.

For example, the current generation Shimano 105 R7100 is 12-speed. This is an increase from 11 speeds in 2022 (though Shimano still sells the previous generation 105 R7000 mechanical groupsets). Let’s go back to the 1990s and the Shimano 105 has seven speeds; since then, a gable is added every 5 years. If in doubt, count the number of gears in your cassette.

If you have a Shimano 105, Ultegra, or Dura-Ace 10-speed group on your bike, you’ll need to purchase a current-generation Shimano Tiagra 10-speed chain or another brand’s 10-speed chain to work with it. , otherwise you’ll need to find a store that has stock of the old group’s original chains.

Under 12 speeds, as long as you’ve matched the speed numbers, there’s no benefit to buying a chain that integrates into the group. You can save money by swapping the cluster hierarchy or buying from an aftermarket chain brand.

After all, a chain is a consumable item that you’ll likely need to replace around the same time (along with your cassette) whether you’re spending £20 or £80.

What do I get if I spend more money on a bicycle chain?

slotted bicycle chain

So why spend more on a chain?

Like most things on a bike, the more you spend, the less you get – at least in terms of weight. Hollow pins and/or split side panels are popular ways to save weight. Your chain may be more machined and has ramps that the chain manufacturer says improves shifting performance.

You can get a higher quality steel alloy or the chain can be coated for added durability. Further down the hierarchy, some brands treat each face of the chain differently, so you might find a “half nickel” necklace with only the outer plate covered. SRAM’s 12-speed chain has chrome links that they say make its Flattop chain four times more durable than other chains – a handy feature in a $60 (about £50) chain Force or $80 (about £65) for the Red chain.

Sophisticated coatings like KMC’s Titanium Carbon Nitride can also increase chain surface hardness and therefore chain durability as well as reduce friction in your drivetrain.

muc-off nanotube chain

The most expensive chains have been specially made to reduce friction. CeramicSpeed’s UFO series will save up to 5 watts on your first 650 km. However, the coating can peel off in the rain and chains start at around €120 (about £105).

If you want a vibrantly colored chain to match your frame, or SRAM’s latest limited edition metallic red chain, that will usually also be an extra accessory.

Best bike chain: Pick for every major current groupset

For most groups, there are several chains that will work, including OEM and aftermarket options. While there’s no such thing as the best, here are our picks for a balance between value and performance.

Best bike chains for Shimano groupsets

Shimano Dura-Ace/Ultegra/105 12-speed


If you want to add a bit of fun to your 12-speed group, you can do worse than the KMC X12 Ti-N chain. It is coated with titanium nitride for increased hardness. Links are well designed, with slim side panels and KMC’s X-Bridge technology which, he says, allows for faster gear changes. It also comes in a variety of colors including gold, gold/black, and metallic.

Buy for : £36.80 – £42.49

Shimano Ultegra/105/GRX 11-speed


There are many choices for 11-speed chains, and the KMC X11 half-nickel coated chain is a good choice. It features KMC’s X-Bridge external linkage design, which KMC says will result in faster, smoother gear changes. In our experience, it’s also durable.

Buy for : £17.84 – £19.99

Shimano Tiagra/GRX 10-speed


As we noted above, older bands had fewer gears. Take this 10-speed Ultegra chain, for example. Coming from the higher spec group, it has a slightly nicer finish than the available line and comes with split side panels. It can also be found inexpensively.

Buy for : £23.49 – £29.74

Shimano Sora 9-speed


Shimano’s HG53 Deore 9-speed MTB chain is significantly cheaper than their 9-speed chain and will work well with the Sora group.

Buy for : £14.97 – £18.99

Shimano Claris 8-speed


The SRAM PC870 chain is an inexpensive option to use with the Shimano Claris. It comes with SRAM PowerLink, so connecting both ends of the leash is a bit easier than with a Shimano latch connector.

Buy for : £10.99 -£12.86

Best bike chains for SRAM groupsets

SRAM Red/Force/Rival AXS 12-speed


The SRAM PC870 chain is an inexpensive option to use with the Shimano Claris. It comes with SRAM PowerLink, so connecting both ends of the leash is a bit easier than with a Shimano latch connector.

Buy for :£27.90 – £45.00

SRAM Force/Rival 11-speed


The SRAM PC1130 chain is a good alternative to the brand’s 11-speed Groupset. It’s relatively cheap but still proves to be durable and has good gear shifting with both SRAM and Shimano setups.

Buy for : £15.99 – £23.85

SRAM Apex 10-speed


Another KMC option with X-Bridge outer faces, the KMC X10 is a sturdy, non-directional chainring that works well with all 10-speed groups.

Buy for : £17.05 – £18.89

Best bike chains for Campagnolo groupsets

Campagnolo Ekar 13-speed


For a niche product with an extremely narrow profile, the Campagnolo Ekar series offers very good value for money. Some aftermarket chains have announced a partnership with Ekar, but should probably stick with the in-group option.

Buy for £35.19 – £36.00

Campagnolo Super Record/Record/Chorus 12-speed


We recommend another chain as standard for the Campagnolo 12-speed group. While you can opt for the Super Record chain, the Chorus chain is cheaper and comparable, weighing just over 20g due to the non-hollow pins.

Buy for : £34.31 – £38.99

Campagnolo Centaur 11-speed


The Campagnolo Potenza 11-speed group has been discontinued, but the chain is still compatible with the current Centaur 11-speed group and comes with split links to help reduce weight.

Buy for : £29.99 – £31.00

Best single speed bike chain


You don’t have to shell out a lot of money to get a reliable single speed chain, although if you’re competing there are color chains available if you want something more exciting and very expensive options coins such as the CeramicSpeed ​​​​UFO Tracking Shoe chain. We think the KMC Z1 series has everything you need.