What are they?
A bike chain is made of links joined by pins. It converts and transmits the power created by you via your pedals to the cassette/freewheel to make your bike travel forwards. Bike chains are mainly constructed from alloy steel. This material is strong and durable enough to withstand the stresses associated with pedalling.
What are features of a good quality chain?
A quality bike chain enables your transmission to be smooth and positive. High end chains are designed so that the links of the chain assist in gear shifts, with small ramps allowing the chain to progress between gears. Good chains also house the roller pins (inside the chain links) in such a way that they stay lubricated; this gives the chain more flexibility and provides you with more efficient power transfer in the drivechain set up.
How do I choose?
Bike chain selection is firstly decided based upon the "speed" of the chain; this is because it determines the width of the chain. An 11 speed chain for example is narrower than a 9 speed chain, as the sprockets on the 11 speed cassette have a narrower spacing between them. Therefore, if you are using 11 speed transmission, then you require a 11 speed chain and so on.
Within each "speed" category, different chains are available depending on their build qualities. For example, different varieties may be lighter due to slotted links and hollow pins, whilst others may be cheaper because they do not have such a complicated manufacturing process.
Chain compatibility issues:
- A Shimano chain will not work particularly well with Campagnolo cassettes.
- Campagnolo chains will not work well with Shimano or SRAM cassettes.
- Lastly SRAM chains are generally compatible with SRAM and Shimano cassettes but not with Campagnolo. However, it is worth checking the information of a product for compatibility information.
Chains from companies such as KMC and Wipperman are compatible across various cassette brands. Please check the product text for full confirmation though.