We chatter a lot about frames, wheels, etc... but not so much about Chains.
Chains are the bass player in our band: Not out in front or flashy, but a founding component and definitely should not be overlooked.
In the track world, there are 2 chain size standards:
- 1/8 inch wide (AKA: 1/8"; "Wide"). This is the Track bike standard.
- 3/32 inch wide (AKA: 3/32" or "Narrow"). This is the Road bike standard.
- 1/8 = 4/32 = 0.125
- 3/32 = 0.09375
Using the same materials, 1/8" chainrings are stiffer and heavier than 3/32".
This measurement is the width of the gap between the plates of the chain where the chain fits over the teeth of the chainrings and cogs. As you may have guessed, chainrings and cogs come in 1/8" and 3/32" sizes. Ideally, you want your entire chainring, cog, chain system to be of the same width (1/8 or 3/32).
"Can I mix and match??" Yes. But in a mixed system, the chain MUST be 1/8" to fit over 1/8" or 3/32" chainrings and cogs.
Think of it this way: A man's LARGE shirt will fit on his size SMALL wife, but her size SMALL shirt will not fit on him.
When buying equipment, because 3/32 is less popular on the track scene, it may be on sale or may come on some budget bikes.
TL;DR: My suggestion is to make (and keep) everything 1/8".
Also, being on the "track standard" makes loaning and borrowing chainrings/cogs easier.
I read a bike-check article years ago where Sarah Hammer's 1st generation TK1 was outfitted with Dura Ace 3/32". I'm sure she had a great reason, but the article didn't mention it. Maybe to save weight?
Qualities you want from a chain:
- Resistance to fatigue. You don't want it to stretch. A stretched chain grinds down your more expensive chainrings and cogs faster than a non-stretched chain would.
- Strength. You don't want it to break. This sort of goes without saying, but it needs to be on the list.
Qualities you don't want from a chain:
- Lateral movement. Milti-speed chains for road bikes are designed to move laterally to climb and descend cogs and chainrings in order to shift gears. There is none of that on a track bike. So, while a road chain will work on a track bike (assuming you have an all 3/32" setup) it is not advised. Multi-speed chains are generally weaker than a comparable single-speed chain for this reason. Also the same rider will apply much more force through his/her chain on a track bike than on his/her road bike via standing starts. On the road, one gears-down for rapid acceleration. On the track, you lay the hammer down.
- If you have a flexy frame and a flexy chain, a standing start may flex the frame so much that the chain will drop off the chainring. I had this happen when climbing a hill on a street fixed-gear.
What chain should you get?
I'm not familiar with every chain out there. I'd love for you guys to comment on chains that you have experience with.
I group chains into 3 buckets:
- Less than $15
- $15 - $40
- Over $40
Every chain that I've used or encountered in the less than $15 range was prone to stretching and not strong enough for standing start work. These usually come stock on off-the-rack bikes. I always suggest that people replace these soon.
$15-30 seems to be the sweet spot of value/price. These are the KMC-K710, Izumi ECO, DID NJS, etc... chains. I've poured 350NM of force and over 2100W (I can feel my Dura Ace pedal spindles flexing) into these chains and they didn't stretch. BTW, chain-checkers are inexpensive and easy to use.
Park Tool Co. » CC-3.2 : Chain Wear Indicator : Chain
Park Tool Co. » CC-2 : Chain Checker : Chain
Over $40 are past the point of diminishing returns. I've used the Izumi V Supertoughness ($80+) and interchanged it with the Izumi ECO ($30) and didn't notice a difference in feel. And actually the ECO was more quiet. They weighed about the same. But, the V has the cool screw-pin master link whereas the ECO (as with most other chains) has the c-clip master link. The V is more of a bling thing for me, I have to admit.
Some random thoughts:
- The chain is an integral part of your drivetrain (and brakes). It connect the chainring to the cog. Its importance cannot be overstated.
- You should care for your chain as it moves as much as your wheels do. This means learning to remove, clean, lubricate, and reinstall it.
- The master link is your friend. Learn how to use it.
- Most (if not all) modern chains are NOT designed to have pins removed and re-added. USE THE MASTER LINK. Old-school chains were designed for this. Every chain failure that I know of personally was with a chain that had a pin removed and reinstalled. If you cut your chain too short, don't re-add the links.
- There are several tutorials online about chain cleaning and oiling.
- My favorite oil is Dumonde Tech Lite. Easy to find, smells good, very light and not sticky. Track is not like road, CX, or MTB. Less grit and grime out there.
- I have several chains. I keep them in ziplock bags in my tool box to keep the oxygen out.
PLEASE post your thoughts and comments about things that I have missed. Also post about chains that you like and don't like and why.