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Life of a chain

Old 04-06-08, 09:32 AM
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w2brdbkr
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Life of a chain

Yesterday when I had an adjustment done on my rear derailer the mechanic said I'm getting close to needing a new chain. I told him I don't even have 500 miles on my bike & he asked if I had been doing a lot of hill climbing?

When I took my hybrid in last year I put 1300 miles on that bike & they said the chain was fine, but I might need to change it this year.

So how long should a chain last?

If I need to start looking for a new one what is a good brand?

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Old 04-06-08, 09:58 AM
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Chain wear is almost totally dependant on riding conditions and terrain. It is something that you can change often and thus avoid excess wear on cassettes and chainrings.

Wear is defined as chain "stretch" 1/16" in 12 full links (12") is worn to the point of repair. Stretch really isn't streatch but rather the wearing away of the inside of the rollers which causes the taught chain to be longer when measured.

Wet riding is hard on the chain (use a wet lube with persistance). Dry riding can be death to a chain also as the dust that accumulates is like grinding powder if it gets inside.

Anything that keeps wet and dirt out of the inside of the chain is a good thing.
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Old 04-06-08, 10:01 AM
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I'm a believer in the 12" of chain theory. Hold a ruler against the top run of your chain. On a new chain two of the rivets will be exactly 12" apart. When you find that 2 rivets are 12 1/16" apart, it's time for a new chain. If 2 rivets are 12 1/8" apart you not only need a new chain but you also need a new cassette.

I don't trust those nifty little chain checkers because they only test a short section of chain and may even have a little internal slop themselves.
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Old 04-06-08, 10:07 AM
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It all depends. Riding year round in an area where roads are heavily sanded and salted, on a bike with fenders, rustbuster chain, and a partial chainguard, I get over 5,000 miles. Riding my hybrid under the same conditions, I got about 500 miles.

I have no idea why hill climbing would have any effect upon chain life.

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Old 04-06-08, 10:13 AM
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What kind of shape are your cogs in? If they're worn down, that may contribute as well.
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Old 04-06-08, 10:20 AM
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Do higher quality chains really make any difference? bk
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Old 04-06-08, 10:35 AM
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Originally Posted by bkaapcke View Post
Do higher quality chains really make any difference? bk
I doubt it but I don't find it necessary to replace chains with enough frequency to get a very good feel for longevity. Whenever I replace chainrings or a cassette I always start it out with a fresh chain. I'm more likely to replace a chain for one of those reasons than because one wore out.
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Old 04-06-08, 10:51 AM
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There is a chain measuring tool that is available and I measure my chains quite frequently. When it is worn 1%- A new chain goes on my list for the enxt trip to the LBS and I change it. I don't as I carry chains in the spares box but it still has to be replaced.

Life of a chain depends on 3 things. Quality of the chain- how often you clean and oil it and how much use it has had. Quality is obvious. Cleaning and re-oiling the chain will extend its life. And ride offroad and it will wear out quicker (Treat that as wet rides with road grit for road rides).

Then there is the type of chain. 8-9 or 10 speed. Take a quality of chain- Say XT or Ultegra. The 8 speed will not wear out as fast as a 9 speed and in comparison a 10 speed does not last long.

And finally- was it the OM chain on the bike? Probaly a cheap chain was fitted as new on the bike as it is not one of the things that you look at on a bike as an upgraded rear mech would.

I have recently got a couple of new bikes. Both are measuring that the chain is .75% worn. One has done 3,000 miles and the other 1,000. Both are Ultegra chains- but the chain with 3,000 miles on it- has been measuring .75% worn from about 1500 miles.
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Old 04-06-08, 01:21 PM
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I just measured mine. It is an Ultegra chain with 3200 miles on it. I clean it about every 500 to 600 miles and lube it a couple of times between cleanings with white lightning. It is almost exactly 1/16 over so I am ordering a new one today. I think if you climbed a lot at low cadence you would put more pressure on the chain causing it to wear more than if you were a flat land spinner, but I also believe cleaning and lubing is the key to chain life.
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Old 04-06-08, 02:11 PM
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As long as you're not buying a bottom line chain I think you'll find that they all wear just as long. The more expensive ones have plates that seem to catch and ride up the cog ramps for slicker shifting. I've had both fancy and mid line stuff and even the odd low end and they all seem to last the same length of time.

One thing that will tear the soul out of a new chain is if the cogs and rings are worn already. The extra load on the links as the worn teeth literally try to pry the links apart shows up as a shorter chain life and some funky whirring sound. Ever notice how new chain, rings and cogs ends up being totally silent? In the extreme cases you have chain suck that isn't related to glue'iness of mud or lube.

Check your cogs. If you see any sign of little ridges on the gullets and if you can catch your fingernail on them then the cogs are worn. Same with the rings. And another test for the rings is if you can pull the new chain away from the teeth on the front of the ring by more than about 3/32 then your teeth are well on their way out. I recently put a new chain and ring on my SS and did this test. I can only lift the chain perhaps 1/64 inch. Virtually nothing. The old chain and ring I could lift away from the teeth about 1/8 inch. The new setup is silent compared to the old one.
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Old 04-06-08, 02:20 PM
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I ride a lot of bikes a lot of miles and consequently buy a lot of chain... single speed bike like a fixed gear, ss, or 3 speed will enjoy a longer chain life as the chain is or always should be running in a perfectly straight line.

On my fixed gear road bike I went 4000 km before having to replace the chain and most often buy KMC as it is affordable and although it might be a little noisier than SRAM chain, it is pretty much bombproof.

On my 3 speed commuter, running KMC 1/8 chain I went 3500 km before needing a chain replacement.

I have gotten 3000 km out of the SRAM chains I run on my MTB and Cross bike and these bikes do see a lot more abuse in the form of dirt, water, and crud.

The key to getting a good life form a chain is keeping it cleaned lubricated and even my winter bikes have enjoyed good chain life as they get some pretty regular cleaning.

A mix of one part motor oil and 3 parts mineral spirits is said to be among the very best lubes you can use and is probably cheaper than any commercial product too...I have seen claims of people getting 6000 plus miles from a chain due to it's very high lubrication and protective properties.
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Old 04-06-08, 04:21 PM
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Originally Posted by stapfam View Post
...
Life of a chain depends on 3 things. Quality of the chain- how often you clean and oil it and how much use it has had. Quality is obvious. Cleaning and re-oiling the chain will extend its life. And ride offroad and it will wear out quicker ...
Make that "5 things" For a given amount of torque on the cranks and a given gear ratio, the smaller the chainring and cog, the greater the linear stress on the chain. Fewer rollers grab the cog at any time, and these are taking a heavier total load, so the problem probably goes up quadratically. The other huge factor is whether you slog the higher gears (hard on the chain and your knees) or spin in lower gears.
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Old 04-13-08, 02:12 AM
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My question is what if you don't change the chain at all even when it passes the 12 1/16 th inch mark? If you guys don't use the 12 in 1/16 trick, what are other signs that a new chain is needed? Does the chain squeaks or something while you are riding?

I ride a 25 lbs road bike mainly through city streets and roads. I weigh around 125 (+/- 5) lbs and go an average of 15 mph (though my speedometer says 9 mph). I lubed chain and all the gears with White Lightning wax. What's the life expectancy of my chain?
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Old 04-13-08, 02:41 AM
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Originally Posted by MrZhuKeeper View Post
My question is what if you don't change the chain at all even when it passes the 12 1/16 th inch mark? If you guys don't use the 12 in 1/16 trick, what are other signs that a new chain is needed? Does the chain squeaks or something while you are riding?

I ride a 25 lbs road bike mainly through city streets and roads. I weigh around 125 (+/- 5) lbs and go an average of 15 mph (though my speedometer says 9 mph). I lubed chain and all the gears with White Lightning wax. What's the life expectancy of my chain?
A worn chain will wear out the cassette and Chain rings. No problem if they are worn till you put a new chain on. Then the new chain will skip over the worn cassette rings and chain rings. One way of getting over this is to have a worn in chain available- just in case the new chain starts skipping but the main thing is not to use a worn chain.

Life expectancy is about the same as a length of string. Keep the chain clean and well lubricated and it lasts longer- but a well lubricated dirty chain will just push the dirt into the chain and the resulting grinding paste will wear out a chain pretty quick.
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Old 04-13-08, 04:43 AM
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Distances of 10,000km on a chain and gearset are not uncommon. I've done it with an 8sp Sora system.

The wear occurs mainly on the shoulders of the inner link sideplates. After they have gone, the rollers then start to wear on the pins. Both the pins and the rollers are of surface-hardened steel, whereas the shoulders of the sideplates are not. But once the surface hardening is worn away, the wear becomes much more rapid.

The wear translates to an increase in the apparent pitch of the chain (which starts at 1") and the change is measured as previously mentioned.

The wider the chain, the more "meat" there is on the shoulders of the inner side plates, and therefore it can take longer to wear out a 7/8sp chain or a 1/8th width single-speed/fixed gear chain than a 9sp or 10 sp chain which are somewhat narrower and have less metal available to wear.

The reason why a transmission can go such a long period is that the apparent pitch of the cogs, chainrings and chain all wear together. Much will depend on the quality of the metal in the chainrings, for example. The most obvious sign of extended wear on cogs and chainrings is the shark's fin appearance as well as chain skip.

Replacing a chain at 1/16th of an inch over 12 inches is advisable, but after several chain changes, there is no guarantee that the apparent pitch of the chainrings and cogs hasn't changed and chainskip on either or both may occur. Remember that the rollers have a hardened surface, whereas the metal it impacts on with the cogs and chainring doesn't.

I am an advocate of using one small drop of lubricant over each roller on the bottom run of the chain, delivered by a discarded eye-dropper bottle. It means around 110 drops of oil, and takes less than five minutes. There should be no overflow on to the sideplates of the chain, because the lube will find its way to the places it needs to be pretty promptly. You don't need to wipe down with a rag. It is not unusual for my chains to show minor oxidation (rust) on the outer plates.

I also am an advocate of cleaning a chain the Sheldon Brown way with a pop bottle and two rinses of degreaser (I use kerosene), because it ensures the fluid gets right into the most important area -- between the hole in the rollers and the shoulders of the adjacent sideplates. It gets to be like a washing machine inside the bottle as it's shaken like a cocktail mixer. The method is much better than any other I've used including the proprietory chain bath and brushes.

There was an extensive and interesting thread on Bicycle Mechanics quite some time ago that I was involved in that thoroughly discussed the wear issues on chains.

As to w2brdbkr, unless the mechanic can tell you how he measured the wear and give you a valid method and reading, I would have my work done somewhere else. It sounds to me like he is trying a con job, unless you have ridden much of the 500 miles off road in really wet and nasty conditions.
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Old 04-13-08, 12:01 PM
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A good chain, with proper care, will easily last 10,000 KM or 6,000+ miles.
We use the hot wax method to lubricate.
BTW that's on our tandem that gets a lot more torque on stuff than a single bike.
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Old 04-13-08, 12:13 PM
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I bought a new Trek Madone 5.2 and biked hard on paved trails well above 6,000 miles. I did not keep track but it may have been close to 10,000 miles. I cleaned and lubricated the chain every day.

Eventually the drive started making noise and some of the noise was bad. Shifting became a problem.

I just got this bike back from my LBS including a bill for $500 for all kinds of new parts. The LBS owner suggested I change the chain every 2,000 miles and that is what my tour leader recommends also. I knew it but I was too lazy to do it.
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Old 04-13-08, 12:15 PM
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I'd love to get 10,000 km out of a chain but I slog some high gears and ride in some pretty filthy conditions... most bikes I see here with that kind of mileage usually need to have major drive servicing as it means the chain has been run past it's wear limit.

In a fairly pristine and dry climate I can see folks getting better life from their chains...my riding mates report that they get similar chain life and ride in pretty much the same conditions. And they too are a little anal about keeping things clean and lubed.

I do expect that the new and better chain on my fixed commuter will easily see 5000 km.
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Old 04-13-08, 12:21 PM
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Originally Posted by will dehne View Post
I bought a new Trek Madone 5.2 and biked hard on paved trails well above 6,000 miles. I did not keep track but it may have been close to 10,000 miles. I cleaned and lubricated the chain every day.

Eventually the drive started making noise and some of the noise was bad. Shifting became a problem.

I just got this bike back from my LBS including a bill for $500 for all kinds of new parts. The LBS owner suggested I change the chain every 2,000 miles and that is what my tour leader recommends also. I knew it but I was too lazy to do it.
$500.00 ?

I'm guessing that your Madone now has a new set of chain rings, a new cassette, a new chain, and new jockey wheels in the derailer.

Over this 10,000 miles 5 chain changes would have cost perhaps $200.00 if you were using high end chain and the drive might still have been in pretty good, albeit somewhat worn shape and run for a few more good miles.
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Old 04-13-08, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Sixty Fiver View Post
$500.00 ?

I'm guessing that your Madone now has a new set of chain rings, a new cassette, a new chain, and new jockey wheels in the derailer.

Over this 10,000 miles 5 chain changes would have cost perhaps $200.00 if you were using high end chain and the drive might still have been in pretty good, albeit somewhat worn shape and run for a few more good miles.
Yes, you are correct on all counts.
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Old 04-13-08, 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by will dehne View Post
Yes, you are correct on all counts.
You would think I did this on a regular basis or something.

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Old 04-13-08, 01:28 PM
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another thing toi look at is your style of riding-- if you are always in the small chainring and have a lot of cross-over--meaning smallest cog to smallest chainring or largest cog to largest chainring, you will wear out your chain much faster than if you try to regulate your gears a bit better.

As a rule (obviously exceptional cases arise), I try to use the three largest cogs with the small chainring only, and the three smallest cogs with the big chainring only. The middle cogs are for use with either--- this prevents cross over and keeps a straighter line on the chain.

On my fixie, I have about 15,000 miles and am on my second chain

train safe--
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Old 04-13-08, 04:37 PM
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I have approximately 1 year and 6600 miles on my Dura-Ace 10 spd chain. I am pretty good about keeping it clean and lubed, but not a total fanatic. I see no stretch/wear. I'm not quite expert enough to know about the wear on the Dura-Ace cassette, but everything is shifting smoothly so far. I will admit that I got a bit better about cleaning and lubing since I went from the Ultegra to DA.
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Old 04-13-08, 08:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Sixty Fiver View Post
$500.00 ?

I'm guessing that your Madone now has a new set of chain rings, a new cassette, a new chain, and new jockey wheels in the derailer.

Over this 10,000 miles 5 chain changes would have cost perhaps $200.00 if you were using high end chain and the drive might still have been in pretty good, albeit somewhat worn shape and run for a few more good miles.
In the past, I have always run the chain & cogs until they wore out (which seems to take about 10,000 miles) and replaced everything as a set. In light of the discussion here and looking at the prices of new cassettes & chain rings, I'm beginning to doubt the wisdom of this approach. If I don't run the chain until it is worn out, how do I know when it is time to replace it?

I never suspected the mileage I get from a chain might be on the high side. I dislike the small ring and cross chain all too much. I weigh about 180 lb and we have plenty of hills here. I do keep the chain well lubed and clean it occasionally. I've got 7000 logged mi on the chain on one bike and roughly 8000 mi on the chain on the other, guess I should pull them off and check for wear even though they are shifting perfectly.
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Old 04-13-08, 08:59 PM
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If you keep running the same chain and the same drive train they will wear together so may not skip until the teeth are extremely worn.. you will not be able to replace any single piece of the drive train as it will not match up with the worn parts.

A new chain on a badly worn drive will not work well and a new ring on a badly worn drive and chain will also not run properly.

I also agree with the sentiment about avoiding cross chaining as this puts a lot of lateral stress on the chain and hastens the wear on the cogs and chain rings... the ungodly noise a bike makes when it is cross chained should be enough to make you find the same gear elsewhere.
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