Did you know the standard bicycle chain has 116 links? Here is our detailed list of Best Bike Chains.
Though it’s one of the most important parts of your bike, many cyclists simply don’t think about bike chains or why they’re so important. For this review, I tested 4 bike chains and found the Shimano Ultegra CN-6701 to have the best design and feature set for the price.
I’ve been riding all sorts of bikes for more than two decades, so I have more than a little knowledge stored away about bikes and bike chains. I used this expertise and some good old-fashioned research to guide you through how I made my top pick and introduce you to some other great chain choices on the market.
Before thinking of buying a new bike chain maybe you can have a look at our guide on how to remove rust from a bike chain.
While the Shimano Ultegra CN-6701 is my overall winner, this doesn’t mean it will be the best product for you. Read below to find out if the #1 pick is the perfect bike chain choice for you or if you might need something a little different to meet your unique needs.
Table of Contents
The following five products are my top picks for the best bike chains on the market. These mini-reviews are meant to give you a quick, overall picture of the bike chains and why they might be right for you.
Shimano Ultegra CN-6701 – Best Overall
Though I’ll review several of the best bike chains on the market, it’s a no-brainer for me that the Shimano Ultegra bike chain tops our list. Overall, this chain is perfect for almost anyone and has a great price tag as well.
Enjoy the fastest shifting performance with Shimano’s Hyper-Glide design system. The Ultegra is great for all 10-speed drivetrains, and Hyper-Glide ensures consistent, smooth shifting even on rough terrain.
The Ultegra comes with a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty and fits true to size, meaning it won’t run too large or too small for your bike. The Ultegra CN-6701 also includes a newly designed inner plate to provide the smoothest rear shifts you’ll ever experience.
The Ultegra weighs in at 272 grams and boasts enhanced press-in construction to ensure even more stable shifting performance.
SRAM PC 971 Road Bike Chain – Best for Beginners
The SRAM PC 971 comes with bulged outer plates along with chrome-hardened pins, intuitive design features that make for one of the best bike chains available. It has a reasonable price point because it’s a bit of a downgrade from SRAM’s PC-991.
The SRAM PC 971 has no nickel plating on its inner plates. Instead, it has steel plating. This makes it a bit more susceptible to the weather, but that doesn’t diminish its performance.
This bike chain’s PowerLink connector makes assembling and disassembling a breeze, so even new cyclists can maintain their chains with ease. The SRAM PC 971 is compatible with all 9-speed drivetrains.
Outer nickel plating helps to enhance the SRAM PC 971’s strength over time, though the chain weighs in a little heavier, at 298 grams. The SRAM PC 971 comes with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Zonkie Bike Chain – Best for Single Speed Bikes
The Zonkie bike chain is very easy to disassemble with its chain joints and “magic buckle” feature. I found this also makes it really easy to clean. It’s composed of special forging steel and high-level material control to ensure quality and strength.
The Zonkie’s design includes surface polishing and internal oiling for smooth lubrication and is manufactured based on professional and technical test data.
It’s ultra-durable and stands up to even the worst weather conditions. This bike chain is a heavyweight at just over 339 grams. It lasts just as long as comparable bike chains at a lower price point.
Don’t buy one if you have a bike with a derailleur as it is designed for single-speed bikes only.
Ventura Roadbike Chain – Best for Cyclists on a Budget
As with the Zonkie chain, the Venture Road bike Chain is made for single-speed bikes. The Ventura provides both a smooth ride and a connection link for lightning-fast installation.
It is the least expensive product in this bike chain review, but don’t let the low price fool you. Its high-quality design makes it one of the best bike chains you can buy, even for only $10.
It weighs 294 grams and is great for daily riders as it will keep working smoothly for thousands of miles.
The Uniglide technology used in its design helps the 122 link Ventura Roadbike chain really shine as the best bike chain for cyclists looking to save a little extra money.
For some added help in finding the best bike chains in 2021, I’ve included some additional information about what to look for when buying a bike chain. This way, you’ll know exactly what to look for next time you’re in the market for a new one.
Any bike chain you’ll buy today is manufactured to the “one-half inch” pitch standard. This means there is a space of 0.5 inches between the chain’s rivets. Even so, this standard does not mean that all bike chains are simply interchangeable.
The first thing to remember is that there are two basic types of bike chains: derailleur and one-speed chains.
One-speed chains are designed for bikes with one sprocket on the crankset and another on the wheel. The width of a one-speed chain roller is about ⅛ inches wide, or 3.3 millimeters. These chains aren’t made to shift on the multiple real cogs of derailleur bikes.
Derailleur chains are designed so that they can move from sprocket to sprocket and can widely vary depending on different manufacturing standards.
While looking for the perfect chain, you should check the number of rear sprockets. Those designed for rear cog sets are designed with 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 sprockets. The spaces between cogs are usually reduced in size as the number of cogs on the rear hub increases. As a result, chains are designed to narrow as the rear cogs increase.
If you’re worried about making the right selection, a good rule of thumb is to stick to the drivetrain manufacturer’s suggested chains. Mixing up bike parts can get complicated, and if you choose to do so, consulting a professional bike mechanic could prove useful.
Materials and Cross-Compatibility
One important factor in the best bike chain designs is the quality of the materials and coatings used to make the chain. Most bike brands keep their coating processes secret, only describing the benefits of the treatment and not the true nature of the treatment.
Though your bike chain’s performance won’t really be affected by the chain’s coating and material, those factors could affect its overall lifespan. High-quality coatings prevent rusting and add corrosion resistance allowing for better longevity.
Most bike brands suggest strict manufacturing tolerances that discourage cross-compatibility between different chains and drivetrain models, but aftermarket chain makers obviously encourage it.
It’s your choice whether you want to mix parts and brands. Normally, 8-, 9-, 10-, and 11-speed bikes will be just fine if you use parts interchangeably if you’re sure to stick to the proper cog counts.
As bike chains are complicated mechanisms in their own right, it’s normal for any-and-all cyclists to experience some common bike chain issues. There are some frequent problems that you might face, even with the best bike chains.
Lucky for cyclists everywhere, most of these problems have easy fixes, which I’ve listed below.
- Bike Chain Keeps Skipping
- Check your derailleurs to ensure they are adjusted properly.
- If they are, check the cogs for teeth that are bent, rounded, or broken.
- This type of damage means the affected cog of the chain should be replaced.
- Worn and damaged chains are more likely to skip and should be replaced.
- Bike Chain Keeps Falling Out
- Use a wrench to loosen up your axel nuts on the back wheel.
- Firmly pull the wheel back and retighten the bolts.
- Use your bike’s tensioning adjustment, if available, to turn the screw and increase or decrease chain tension.
- For a bike with a derailleur chain, adjust the limiting screws marked “H” and “L”.
- “H” controls how far away from the bike frame the chain will travel.
- “L” controls how far towards the bike frame it will move.
- Adjusting these controls changes how far the derailleurs can move from left to right.
- Adjust your screws until the chain stops jumping off the cog when you change gears.
- Bike Chain Won’t Change Gears Correctly
- Ensure your chain is well lubricated and clean as it is much less likely to jump gears that way.
- Once cleaned and lubricated, if the chain is still jumping, adjust the derailleur.
- This helps keep the chain in place on your bike’s cogs.
- When a chain can’t shift towards the bike spokes, turn the cable barrel-adjuster counterclockwise.
- If the chain is shifting away from the bike spokes, turn the cable barrel-adjuster clockwise.
- Be sure to turn your adjuster only half a turn at a time as you turn the bike pedals till the shifting is smooth.
Care and Maintenance
It’s very important to ensure you’re properly caring for and maintaining your bike chain. Even the best bike chains will degrade if you’re not careful. Keeping it well maintained will only save you time and money over time. As with complete maintenance of your bike. We have detailed guide on how to remove rust from bike.
You always want to make sure your bike chain is properly lubed. You can find a bottle of chain lube at your local bike shop or even find some online. Drop a little lube onto the center of the chain and spin the bike pedal backward until the chain cycles through once or twice.
Afterward, let the chain sit for five minutes or so. Doing this ensures that the lube will soak into the rollers and pins on the bike chain.
Then use a dry, clean rag and pinch the chain while spinning it back once again to remove excess lube that attracts dirt.
If you want to deep-clean your bike chain, you’ll need to remove it from the bike. Use soap and water to clean it until no trace of debris, dirt, or grease remains. If you’re in a hurry, you can soak a rag in a degreaser and wipe the chain while it’s still attached to your bike.
For both options, make sure you remember to re-lube your chain after it has dried completely.
Of all the best bike chains mentioned above, for me, the Shimano Ultegra CN-6701 is obviously the best choice. This doesn’t mean you should buy it, but if it seems like the best option for you, I implore you to give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
Amazon carries all of them if you’re looking to shop online, as do several other bike part manufacturers around the globe.
If you’re going the brick-and-mortar route, big chain stores like Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Good carry the best bike chains, along with many more small bike businesses in cities and towns everywhere.
I wish you good luck with your new bike chain purchase and an abundance of happy rides to come!