Your bike chain is one of the most important parts of your bicycle, whether you ride a simple single speed child’s bike or a heavy-duty 15-speed mountain bike. Having a cheap or defective chain can you leave stranded, possibly with unexpected injuries that require long-term recovery.
That’s why you need the best bike chain, not only to ensure you get where you’re going safely but also to reduce the rust and wear that your bike chain will suffer from enduring the thousands of miles you intend to ride.
What is a Bike Chain?
A bike chain is made from a serious of links joined together by pins, which rotate as the chain moves. When you pump the pedals on your bike, the chain turns the cassette or freewheel, which then turns the tires, moving you forward.
These chains are usually made of steel, which is durable enough to withstand the strain placed on it when you pedal your bike. Many of them are also coated for extra corrosion resistance, to reduce rust from forming in wet or snowy conditions.
How to Choose a Bike Chain
When you go to purchase your new bike chain, there are a few things you need to look for to ensure you have the proper chain for your bike.
This will help to determine the width of the chain you need. For example, an 11-speed chain is going to be thinner than a 6-speed chain, since the sprockets on the higher gear model will have narrower spaces between them on the cassette. That’s why it is important to the proper chain for your bike’s speed.
Not every chain is compatible with every cassette available. For instance, SRAM chains can be used with most SRAM or Shimano cassettes, but are not compatible with Campagnolo cassettes.
There are some chains that can be used with almost all cassette brands, but double check to be sure which system you already have installed on your bike before buying your new chain.
Most modern chains are lightweight and usually made of steel alloy or carbon. Steel is more durable, but carbon is lighter. If you do a lot of heavy riding, the steel is a better option.
Many bike chains come with nickel-plating, which makes the chain much more rust resistant than those without it, and it even gives your chain a flashy look. Oiling the chain regularly can help to reduce the amount of rust, as well, but it can’t stop it completely, especially if you are riding in snowy areas that are heavily salted for ice removal. Be sure to clean and lubricate your chain often, to reduce any of this damage and keep your chain working properly for as long as possible.
Now that you know the basics of bike chains, you’re ready to start shopping for your next one. Here are a few options to get you started.
Our Top Bike Chain Picks
SRAM PC 971 9-Speed Chain
Dimensions: 5 x 5 x 1 inches
Specific Features: Nickel-plated steel outer plates, gray steel inner plates, chrome-hardened pins, bulged outer plates, quick-connect PowerLink technology, 114 links, fits 8 or 9-speed bikes
Best Use: Road or city bikes
Though it may be a bit heavier than some other bike chains available, the SRAM PC 971 bike chain is durable and strong, lasting through hundreds, if not thousands, of rides. The outer plates are nickel-plated steel, with gray inner plates, which combined provide you with quick and accurate shifting throughout your ride. Though it works best with a few of the Shimano or SRAM drivetrains, this chain can be used with pretty much all 9-speed drivetrain setups with minimal fuss.
This chain comes with 1 quick-connect PowerLink, which is easy to install after you have sized your chain. It requires no tools to attach the PowerLink, gives you a secure hold for your chain, and is also easy to remove when your chain needs cleaning. With 114 links, you will always be able to find the right size for your bike. The PC 971 doesn’t rattle around when you ride, either, allowing you to enjoy a quiet adventure. At less than $20.00, this bike chain is well worth the money.
Related: There is a SRAM PC 951 9 speed bike chain available as well that is made with the same durable steel, chrome-hardened pins, and PowerLink connector. The difference is that the PC 951 is not nickel-plated, which could affect it negatively if you ride in wet or snowy conditions. It is a bit cheaper, but may rust quicker than the PC 971.
KMC Z-72 7-8 Speed Chain
Dimensions: 3.5 x 3.5 x 0.8 inches
Specific Features: Bulls-Eye pin mushrooming riveting, Z bridge side plate configuration and chamfering, half nickel plated, 116 links, 7.1 mm pin length, bushingless construction.
Best Use: Mountain, city, racing, hybrid, trekking bikes
The KMC Z-72 7-8 Speed Chain is durable, resisting rust even when riding during the rainy season. It can be used with 6-, 7-, or 8-speed bikes and is easy to adjust the length to suit your needs. The included master link snaps together easily, but is a bit harder to open up again, sometimes needing the use of a chain tool to do so. The Bulls-Eye pin mushrooming technique is unique to KMC and provides you with an average of 200kgf of pin power for high-quality side plate retention.
The Z Bridge side plate configuration and chamfering gives you a much quieter chain while still allowing for smooth, quick shifting. There have been some issues with the factory grease that coats this chain picking up a large amount of dirt when riding, so it is recommended to clean it off completely and re-lubricate the chain before you attach it to your bike. This bike chain is compatible with a wide variety of bikes, from hard-core mountain bikes to the more comfortable, easy riding road bikes.
Related: There is also a KMC Z7 Bike Chain available, which has the same Z Bridge design, with chamfered inner plates for less noise, but with 2-step pin riveting and an internal gear hub. It also has 7.3 mm pins, and is better suited for city or trekking bikes. Though still a great chain, for those who prefer more rugged rides, the KMC Z72 is a sturdier choice.
Shimano Ultegra CN-6701 Chain
Weight: 10.4 oz
Dimensions: 9.5 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches
Specific Features: Super Narrow HyperGlide technology for 10 speeds, enhanced press-in construction, unidirectional design, one connecting pin, 116 links
Best Use: Mountain, road bikes
This 10-speed Shimano Ultegra CN-6701 Chain is narrow and lightweight, but still strong enough to withstand significant stretching after thousands of miles. It is made with a unidirectional design, with the inner plates developed to give the chain better contact with the gears.
The outer plate chamfers and dimensions are made to reduce the amount of chain suck while still accommodating the different shifting requirements of the drivetrain it is used with. Because this chain can only be attached one way, it is important to read the instructions while installing it to make sure it is on correctly.
The Ultegra CN-6701 comes with one master pin to hold it together, which is a replacement for a master link used on other chains. This chain moves smoothly and soundlessly through the gears, and though it is a bit more expensive than some other bike chains on the market, the sturdiness and reliability of this chain makes it worth the extra money.
Related: The Shimano CN-6600 10 speed bike chain is similar to the 6701, using the same HG technology, and the same durable steel, with the added zinc-alloy silver finish on the outer plates to help reduce corrosion. The 6701 has asymmetrical inner and outer plates, to optimize shifting in both the front and the rear, while the 6600 is symmetrical.
Schwinn Bicycle Chain
Dimensions: 0.7 x 2.8 x 8.6 inches
Specific Features: Fits most 5-7 speed bicycles with derailleurs
Best Use: Mountain, road, city, beach cruisers, single speed bikes
The Schwinn Bicycle Chain works well for pretty much all 5- to 7-speed bikes. It is durable steel, though it is not corrosion-resistant and may rust if used in rainy or snowy areas that have been salted, so be sure to clean and lubricate this chain regularly. The lubricant it comes coated with is a bit thick, picking up a large amount of dirt during your ride, so it is recommended to remove it and apply a thinner lubricant of your choosing.
There is a pre-installed pin on one end that is ready to attach after you have sized your chain and are ready to complete the installation. The use of a chain tool is needed, and the instructions could be better, but once you’ve figured out which end attaches to which, it will take less than a minute to complete the process.
Related: Though they make a wide variety of bikes, helmets, and other accessories, this is the only bicycle chain Schwinn has available at this time.
Projekt Fixie Upgraded KMC Z410 Bike Chain
Dimensions: 3.5 x 3 x 6.5 inches
Specific Features: Nickel-plated steel, standard plate thickness, pin riveting, 112 links, master link
Best Use: Road, mountain, BMX, track, fixed gears, fixies, single speed bikes
The Projekt Fixie Upgraded KMC Z410 Bike Chain has lengthened significantly, with 112 Hyperlinks instead of the original 96. This longer chain can fit on a larger variety of bikes with minimal fuss. It has kept the same plate thickness and pin riveting as the original model though, which together give you a strong, durable, and noiseless chain for any type of riding. This chain comes lubricated, so when it arrives, you just need to adjust the size if necessary, attach it, and you’re ready to ride.
The master link is included and is easy to install using the clip-on fastener. This chain also comes in a variety of colors, including black, white, blue, red, and green, so you can style your bike any way you want. Keep in mind that the master link is silver, no matter what color of chain you purchase, but if this is an issue, you can paint it to match your chain. These chains are nickel-plated to protect against rust.
Related: The original KMC Z410 bike chain is almost exactly the same as the upgraded version, but with 96 links instead of 112. It is a decent chain for adults with smaller bicycles, or for children’s bikes, but for longer length bikes, the upgraded version would be a better choice.
Shimano Ultegra CN-6700 Chain
Weight: 0.61 lbs
Dimensions: 0.5 x 2.5 x 9.5 inches
Specific Features: Nickel-plated steel, super narrow chain, asymmetrical design, 116 links
Best Use: Mountain, road bikes
This super narrow Shimano Ultegra CN-6700 Chain is made of lightweight, nickel-plated steel that will resist rusting for thousands of miles. It is a unidirectional 10-speed chain, which means it can only be attached in one way, but the instructions are clear on how to do this properly, reducing your frustration when putting it on or taking it off for a thorough cleaning.
The inner plates are designed to give you smoother rear shifting. The outer plates have also been redesigned to reduce the amount of chain suck you have to deal with This asymmetrical design makes shifting smoother and faster, with less work for the chain to move between the cogs and chain rings. This also helps to eliminate any chain noise, giving you a quiet, relaxing ride.
With 116 links, you’ll be able to fit this chain onto any bike 10-speed bike, though it is most compatible with those with Shimano drivetrains. There have been some issues with this chain breaking, though, so it is best to check it often to be sure there is no wear that will leave you stranded on the trail.
Related: This chain uses the same asymmetrical design as the narrow Shimano Ultegra CN-6701 bike chain we reviewed above.
Ventura 116 Link 7-8 Speed Bicycle Chain
Weight: 0.7 lbs
Dimensions: ½ x 3/32 inches
Specific Features: Uniglide, master chain lock, 116 links
Best Use: Light off-road, commuter bikes
This lightweight Ventura 116 Link 7-8 Speed Bicycle Chain has an extra-long length at 116 links, making it fully compatible with a wide variety of 6-, 7-, and 8-speed bicycles. It has an average tensile strength of 1050 kg, and minimum pin power of 180 kg, so it will be able to handle your light off-road rides or your daily commute to work or school.
There have been some who have had a bit of difficulty using the power link that comes with this bike chain, but most find it easy to use when attaching their chain, especially since no tools are needed to install it. This bike chain is compatible with a variety of drivetrains, so you should have no trouble fitting it onto your bike. The Ventura chain runs smoothly and quietly through the gears when shifting and is compatible with many Uniglide cassettes.
Related: There is also a Ventura Single Speed Bike Chain, which has only 112 links, sized at ½ x 1/8 inches. It is made of the same quality steel and uses the same connecting pin. For those using a single speed bike, this is a great option, but for those using a bike with 6 to 8 speeds, which would include a drivetrain and other shifting gear, the longer Ventura bike chain is better designed for this.
KMC Z50 Bicycle Chain
Weight: 0.81 lbs
Dimensions: 3.8 x 3.2 x 0.8 inches
Specific Features: IG and HG compatible, inner and outer plate chamfering, bushing-less construction, 116 links, compatible with 6-7 speed bikes, 7.3 mm pin length
Best Use: Mountain, road, commuter, touring bike
The KMC Z50 Bicycle Chain has a low price tag of less than $10.00, but this doesn’t mean it is low quality. It is made of lightweight steel that is quite resistant to rust, no matter what conditions you are using it in.
The inner and outer plate chamfering gives you accurate shifting, without jumping 1 or 2 gears and throwing off your ride.
Combined with the bushing-less design, this also gives you a smooth, quiet ride, with no rattles. There is a connecting pin already installed on one end of the chain for added convenience. If this 116-link chain is too long for your bike, it is easy to remove a few links to size it up, though be sure not to remove them from the connecting side. It is easy to attach the connector when you have it ready to install onto your bike, but be sure you have it sized perfectly, since it may be a bit difficult to open it up again.
Related: There are two other KMC chains that are similar to the Z50. These are the Z51 and the Z51 Rust-buster. All three of these chains have the standard bushing-less design with the chamfered inner and outer plates, are the same size, and have the same 116 links. All three are also IG compatible, but the Z50 is the only HG compatible chain. The Z51 RB also has more anti-corrosion properties, but this comes at a higher cost. For regular use, or for those who prefer the HyperGlide system, the Z50 is the most affordable one to choose.
Having a bike chain that breaks or corrodes so much that it no longer works can turn your expensive bike into a useless piece of equipment taking up space in your garage. That’s why you need the best bike chain on your bike, to keep you riding and shifting smoothly through those gears, for thousands of miles.
If you have used a chain that you think is as good or better than the ones we’ve reviewed here, please post a comment below.