A bicycle chain is put under a lot of stress during its lifetime. Combine that with it being exposed to the elements and you will inevitably need to replace your chain every now and again.

Rather than paying a bicycle mechanic every time it needs replacing, you can easily switch out your chain at home with a few tools. One of the most common questions about replacing a bicycle chain is, are bicycle chains directional?

Some bicycle chains are directional. SRAM chains are not directional; however, Shimano chains are (the engravings on the chain must be facing away from the bike).

How to know if your chain is directional

Although SRAM and Shimano tick off two leading manufacturers of chains and bicycle components, how do you know if the bicycle chain you bought is directional?

An easy check is to see if the chain has logos embossed into only one side of the chain. If it does, then that side should be facing out (away from the bike). Also, always read the instructions and packaging that comes with your new chain.

It will tell you if there are any specific nuisances to the installation of that particular bicycle chain. 

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What happens if you put it on the wrong way?

It does not impact brand new chains’ performance if you do inadvertently put the chain in the “wrong” direction. Perhaps on really high-end chains and groupsets, it may have a marginal impact on efficiency or lifespan; however, for most cyclists, you will not notice any drop in performance or skipping of gears. 

If you are taking off an existing chain to clean it and put it back on, you must put it back in the same direction as it was before.

Due to wear and tear, failure to replace the chain how it was before will result in the chain and gears slipping.

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Thankfully, no many chains out there are directional, and even when they are, it isn’t a terrible thing if you get it wrong (as long as the chain is new).

Make sure to follow the steps in this article to find out if yours is directional, and make sure to install it correctly! This will help your bike work in its peak performance.