Cycling can quickly become an expensive hobby. However, you do not always need to get sucked into the hype around the latest and most expensive technology. After inner tubes and maybe brake pads, your bike chain will be the part you need to replace the most frequently, so is it worth spending twice as much every time?
So are expensive bike chains worth it? Expensive bike chains are not worth it for the non-professional bicyclist. Even though they are advertised to give you better durability, shifting efficiency and weight savings, these upsides just aren’t quite good enough to justify their price, especially when for the most part this can be achieved with good bike maintenance.
Some manufacturers will advertise that the top of their range chains offers improved durability. They come with corrosion-resistant coating and will be less prone to accumulating muck and easier to clean.
In reality, with a good maintenance routine, you do not need a corrosion-resistant coating. The chain’s fundamental design does not change, so there is no way that an expensive chain will be able to clean itself, nor negate the need to apply chain lube and clean it frequently.
We always, highly recommend you oil your bike chain with something like this to make sure it maintains its integrity, and is able to shift well.
If you want to get even more sophisticated, this chain cleaning system will do an even more thorough job when you are maintaining your bike.
Another “selling point” for more expensive chains is that they save you weight. While this may be really important if you are a professional cyclist at the peak of your performance. For the everyday rider, a few grams less on your chain will not improve your performance.
Moreover, even on expensive chains, the weight is often the same until you get to models with hollow pins, which lose a few grams.
You are better off saving some money and focusing on improving your fitness rather than obsess about shaving every gram possible on a chain that you will only have to replace after a few thousand miles anyway.
However if you are someone with a larger budget, and are actually looking to build the ultimate bike, this would probably be a good time to cut that ever so slight weight off of the bike.
3. Improved shifting efficiency
The shifting efficiency of your bike comes from the drivetrain. The main influences are the brand and quality of your chainring and rear cassette, not the chain.
You need to ensure your chain is well maintained and not worn to make the most of the best drivetrains on the market.
Buying an expensive chain will not improve shifting efficiency. Link profiling and construction are the same within any particular manufacturer, so shifting is no difference between the levels.
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Are different colored chains worth it?
One final way that manufacturers like to charge a little bit more, is by selling them with different colors. These can be gold, anodized, green, or really any color you can think of.
However in the end, these colors are all about aesthetics and should not be bought with the thought that they will make their bike any faster, agile, or more reliable.
That said, I personally really like the look of a gold chain on a bike, which might make it worth it to splurge the next time a chain is needing replaced.
How much is a decent bike chain?
Generally speaking, when budgeting for a bicycle chain, you should think about spending between $20 – $30 depending on the bike, brand, and quality that you are looking for.
For most things I buy, I personally like to buy mid-range, as this gets me a lot of the quality that high end chains have, but not the low quality that the inexpensive options give you.
This range of price gets you the best of both worlds, for a decent price.
Recommended Bike Chains
Bicycle chains are actually relatively easy to shop for! You mainly just need to match up he brand of chain to your bicycle’s drivetrain, and then choose the chain with the correct amount of speeds.
Below are a couple chains that are my favorites, however keep in mind that they may not work for you!
- SRAM PC850 Powerlink 8-Speed Chain
- SRAM PC1051 10-Speed Chain with PowerLock
- Shimano Tourney CN-HG40 8-Speed Chain
Frequently Asked Questions
The time between replacing your bike chain can vary heavily between the person, the bike, and the chain. However generally speaking, chains should be replaced every 3-400 miles. At this time, the chain begins to wear out in a couple different places, making it more difficult to shift, and more likely to fall off.
Chains don’t technically stretch like we traditionally think, however they do wear out on the ends of each chain link. This then means they have less surface area on each link, leaving the chain just a bit longer. Even 1% of wear on each link can make a huge difference.
We would recommend giving your bicycle chain a good cleaning every 2-3 weeks. If you ride regularly, the chain will have gotten dirty and likely have enough grime to affect its efficiency. Don’t forget to put some chain lube on it though afterwards!
If you have the money and have an expensive drivetrain, then why not spend the extra cash to help prolong the life of your cassette. However, modern entry-level chains from Shimano, SRAM, and KMC are more than up to the job for most regular cyclists.
While many things on bicycles are very much worth the price, like suspension forks, handlebars, even pedals, expensive chains are surprisingly just not quite as worth it as the manufacturers make it seem.
It is something to think about when building your bike, but probably not something to fret over.