One of the most fundamental parts of your bike is your chain. It is also the part that we as cyclists always neglect.
How many of us seriously give our chains the care they need? Do we all at the end of a wet and dirty ride clean and lube our chain?
Probably not, so the chances are you already need a new chain, to make it easy for you we have a guide of the best chains available.
Rather than give you a bunch of chains and hope you can find one a version of it for your bike we decided to break the chains down into speeds. We found the best chain for single speeds, 10-speed bikes, 11-speed bikes, and the new 12 speed bikes.
All of these chains excel at what they do, but they are only as good as your maintenance schedule. So, after the chain guide, we have included a little bit about maintenance, and we have a guide with the best products for making the maintenance of you chain a piece of cake.
Taking care of your chain will help you get the most from your power output. Slacking on your chain cleaning schedule will have you standing at the side of the road wondering why you didn’t bother.
Best single speed/track chain
Izumi NJS V Super Tough Track Chain
Even if you don’t have gears to change, you will still want a great chain to make sure that as much of your power as possible.
The easy way to see its quality is to know that the world’s best track riders use it and they don’t always get the Izumi NJS V Super Touch chain for free. The name just rolls off the tongue though.
As well as being approved by the worlds best, it is also the approved chain for the Japanese NJS league. The NJS league takes racing very seriously, and this chain will always be under scrutiny from them to make sure it stays at that very high standard.
Best 10 speed chain
KMC x10sl Gold
Thankfully KMC does that with the x10sl Gold chain. KMC know how to make chains, and they make around 80 million of them a year, some you will see rebranded as other famous makes such as Shimano.
The great thing about the gold coloring of this chain is that it contains titanium nitride. The titanium nitride coating will give you one very long lasting chain, especially if you take the time to take care of it.
The first thing you notice when you take the KMC chain out of its box though is its weight. It is one of the lightest chains I have ever lifted. It comes in at a mere 243g. It is impressive to get such a long lasting chain in such a light construction.
Best 11 speed chain
For 11 speed bikes our best chain comes in SRAM, Campagnolo and Shimano versions.
Muc-Off NTC Nanotube Chain
So why have we posted three versions, don’t chains have cross compatibility? Well yes but Muc-Off are doing something special.
There Shimano version is a Dura Ace chain. The SRAM version is a RED 22 chain. The Campag version is a Record 11s chain.
It is what they do to the chains that makes them a little special. Muc-Off created a Nanotube chain optimization lubricant for Bradley Wiggin’s hour record attempt.
The lubrication is designed to minimize friction in your drive train. It does so very well if the test results that were released are correct.
In testing, Muc-Off compared it to the what was previously considered to be the best chain you could buy, the CeramicSpeed UFO chain.
What was discovered was that CermicSpeed’s chain was great at the offset, but after around 18 minutes it started to deteriorate.
It was also shown that the Muc-Off chain started to get faster, eventually bringing you 10 watts of difference.
Imagine now you were buying an aero bike to get 10 watts difference and how much more you would be paying per watt for that advantage.
Best 12 speed chain
SRAM Red AXS
As you might have worked out, there are not a lot of 12-speed bike chains around just now. Thankfully though SRAM have released a new Red groupset, you might have read about the Red eTap AXS groupset as it has no mechanical options and SRAM have gone for an electric shifting only drivetrain, it even comes with a lovely app.
What has this to do with chains? Well as part of this new groupset, SRAM has brought us a new chain. The good news is for a chain, pretty much everyone will be able to see the difference between it and other road bike chains.
SRAM’s design is based on the fact that 12-speed cassettes sitting in the same room as 9, 10, or 11-speed cassettes mean that the chain has to be narrower.
One of the problems caused by the groupset manufacturers always trying to have one more gear than the other is chain wear and breakage. As chains have got thinner, they have broken more often.
SRAM wanted a chain then that would bring strength back to chains, even as they added another gear cog. The chain comes with a flat top profile, so at least you will always know you have it on the right way round. You’ll find this style of feature on BMX chains, and BMX riders are not known for being gentle with their bikes.
The other feature is a material change. SRAM are telling us that their AXS chain is constructed from what they are calling Hard Chrome. I guess that may be a bit of marketing but the chain certainly looks tough, and as it is chrome it is pretty shiny for those bling merchants out there.
Chain maintenance tips
Regardless of having bought a cheap or expensive chain you will want to look after it. The more you look after the chain, the longer it will last. Which make a lovely bit of economical sense.
Park Tool Professional Chain Scrubber
Always remember if your chain is dirty it will be slowly grinding away the other parts of your drivetrain. So while a chain scrubber might seem like a luxury, it can save you from a lot of costly repairs.
Over time I have found the Park Tools one to be the longest lasting chain scrubbers. You can buy cheaper versions, and I have tried them, but I tend to accidently drop them and the cheap ones crack when I have dropped them — effectively making them useless as a chain scrubber.
If you run disc brakes using a chain scrubber will stop you from spraying degreaser accidentally on your discs and pads.
It also makes it a lot easier for you to properly dispose of the nasty chain cleaning chemicals, rather than have them run off down your drive.
Honestly try a chain scrubber and your life will be so much better.
Finish Line Citrus Degreaser
To go in your Park Tool cleaner, you will need some degreaser. We recommend the Finish Line Citrus Degreaser for the job.
It is a biodegradable degreaser that does a great job of cleaning even the dirtiest of chains.
As it is made from orange peels, it has a rather pleasant fragrance as well.
What chain lube should I use?
The simple rule with chain lubes is that if the weather is good, you will want to use a dry lube. If it is raining or snowing, you will want a wet lube. Dry lubes tend to be wax based and will attract less dirt, even if you just keep putting the lube on top of previous applications.
Wet lubes are more like an oil. Wet lubes attract more dirt, but they are less likely to be washed off by water.
That is why they are better for use in the rain. Generally, I would use a wet lube in fall and winter and a dry lube in spring and summer.
Now we have told you this we’re going to recommend our favorite chain lube and it is neither a wet nor a dry lube.
Muc-Off Nanotube Chain Lube
Above you will have read us talk about the Muc-Off Nanotube Optimized Chain, perhaps you want one but are not ready to change your chain yet.
Then you want the lube that was optimized to go with that chain. It would make sense given how it is a genuine Tour de France winning technology, and world hour setting chain lube.
That is a sentence I never thought I would type. Chris Froome used the chain and fluid to win the Tour, and Bridie O’Donnell took the hour record using it. Her sport’s scientist, Ken Ballhause, even credited it with being a significant help in breaking the record.
“Consistency is key and reducing driveline resistance is vital, when keeping the variability in cadence and power to an absolute minimum. Muc-Off’s chain treatment process was a vital link in achieving the Hour Record”.
You might think the price is off-putting but remember. It should last for a few hundred miles when applied to your chain, regardless of weather.
It is also expected to save you a few watts. When did you think a chain lube could save you some wattage? It is all about the marginal gains at times, and now we have reached the forefront of design.
You even get a few extra watts as it wears in, as we discussed above about the 11-speed chains coated in the lube.
Finish Line Dry Lube
If you decide that you don’t want to spend the Muc-Off Nanotube kind of money on a bike lube and just want a standard dry or wet lube, I would recommend the Finish Line Dry Lube. It is as you can probably imagine a dry lube and it works great during the summer.
My one major tip for using Finish Line Dry Lube is to shake the bottle properly. If you don’t do that, you’ll find that the lube has separated and you’ll not be getting the correct mix of lube. If you can buy in bulk and you’ll save a few pennies over the course of your chain’s life.
Muc-Off Wet Chain Lube
So if you spill it, you don’t have to worry about accidentally creating an environmental disaster.
Park Tool CC-2 Chain Checker
While you are cleaning your chain, you will want to check on wear. The easy way to do this is with a Park Tool CC-2 chain checker. The CC-2 is the tool your LBS will use to test your chain. It will show when you need to change your chain.
The longer you wait to change your chain after it is worn the more costly it will be. A chain will not skip or shift badly as it wears down your drivetrain.
If you get to the point where your current chain does that you’ll be looking at a new drivetrain. If your chain causes too much wear but hasn’t started to skip yet, you will find that a new chain might not fit on your worn parts.
Don’t let your bike get into that state. By cleaning your chain, hopefully after every wet ride and at least once a week otherwise, you should keep your drivetrain running for as long as possible. As soon as you neglect your chain, your bike is heading down a slippery slope to hefty repair bills.
If have any tips about keeping your chain clean, please leave them in the comments below.
I’ve spent way more time in the bike trade than anyone should reasonably want to. In that time I’ve wanted to make cycling jargon and marketing easier to cut through to help people get the bike of their dreams.
When I’m not writing about bikes, I can be seen out bikepacking on single speed bikes or teaching kids how to ride.