Oh, snap! Your bike chain just broke and you have no idea how much chains cost. You go to your local bike shop and are taken back by how much they can be for just a little bike chain.
So how much does a bike chain cost?
If you need a bike chain for a relatively inexpensive bike the cost of a decent chain will run you about $16 – $40 dollars. For a nice road bike, on the other hand, the chain cost can range from $30 – $100 dollars.
Some people place a lot of value on the quality chain that they need if they are into bike racing. In most cases, if you are not a professional cyclist then buying the most expensive chain will not improve your riding capabilities or award you any accolades. You can buy a bike chain relatively cheap and they are more accessible than ever before now due to global e-commerce.
Be sure to read on for more information on how to take care of a bike chain, when it needs to be replaced or repaired, and how to choose the right bike chain for your bike.
How Much Does A Chain Replacement Cost
If you are not a handy person when it comes to servicing your bike, you may have to pay a visit to your local bike shop for a chain repair.
Most bike shops will charge about $30 – $50 dollars depending on the bike shop, whether it’s a popular brand or a “mom & pop” shop. You may also want to take into consideration that the chain itself may cost $30 – $50 dollars but then the labor cost to replace this might run you an additional $10 dollars.
You might find that if the local bike shop only carries a specific brand like SRAM, due to the fact that they are cheaper and in most cases, easier to put on, you might save some money.
SRAM is a respected brand and many people are happy with their quality. If you have a road bike with Shimano gears, SRAM chains are usually of comparable quality and compatible with the derailleurs, chainring, and cassette.
How Much Would It Cost You To D-I-Y
Replacing your bike’s chain before it becomes too worn, is a good way to save some money. If you can do it yourself it will make you more familiar with your bike and its one of the simplest maintenance repairs you can do.
A bike chain like SRAM will run you about $17 – $35 dollars. The only other cost to repair the chain will be the time it takes for you to replace the chain and having a few hand tools to break the links on the new chain to shorten it before mounting to the bike.
I remember when I was a kid, my dad and I would repair the bike chain with just a block of wood, a narrow bit driver, and a hammer. Now they have tools that make it quite easy to repair the bike chain and have you back riding in no time.
If you are really in a crunch for time, you can always use a quick link that just snaps onto the old bike chain, but it still may require a set of pliers to join the chain together.
Some handy supplies you’ll need:
- Master Link Pliers (MLP- 1-2)
- Chain tool (To split the chain )
- Sharpie Marker
- Chain Lubricant
- Replacement Chain
When To Change Your Bike Chain
One of the most obvious reasons you may have to change your bike chain is when it breaks or it’s visibly tainted with rust.
A worn out, old and dirty chain will definitely determine that it’s time for a new chain. The chain is one of the parts on your bike that will wear out first, so it’s important to maintain it so it doesn’t mess up other parts on the bike.
The term most commonly used to describe chain wear is, “chain stretch”. This is when the chain grows at the pitch (the area where the sprocket teeth fit in) length resulting in a loose or poorly fit chain.
Once the bike chain wears you will start to notice on a geared bike that the gears don’t shift well resulting in skipping gears. If you have a single speed, the chain will feel loose and will show slack making it difficult to pick up the slack on trails.
When you notice slack in your chain, there are a few tools you can use to check and see if the chain needs replacement:
- Chain Checkers – Used to measure pin wear and chain stretch
- Standard Ruler – Accurate ruler/tape measure
The size of chains may vary due to the type of bike and the number of cogs if you have a geared bike. You want to be sure to check the size of the old bike chain and measure it with the new chain to help you change size.
All chains go by the internal width of the chain and are either 1/8″ or 3/32″. You could measure the external length of a bike chain to know how long of a chain you need, but a good way to determine what you need is to know how many gears are on your bike you intend to use this for.
You can’t just use a chain designed for a 5,6, or 7-speed chain on a 10-speed bike. You will have poor shifting and the gears will be stretched to the max.
How To Change A Bike Chain
Take a look at the following video that walks you through step-by-step on how to replace a bike chain:
How Long Do Chains Last
For someone who does not ride regularly, your bike chain can last a long time. To be specific, you may get more than 4,000 miles on one bike chain.
If you are an avid cyclist, meaning you bike more than once or twice a week, then you’re bike chain may start to give more at around 2,000 – 3,000 miles.
Much of this wear will depend on how well you maintain your bike chain, what type of terrain you are riding, and how hard you ride. I recall having to change my bike chain only after a few bike rides because I applied so much force when taking off that breaking the chain was inevitable. Another thing that contributed to that incident would be that I was overzealous to get out and ride my bike.
One of the simplest things you can do to maintain your bike chain is by lubing it up after each wash. Keeping the chain lubed will definitely help it last longer and ride smoother for the life of the chain.
Biking with gears put more stress and tension on the chain because it’s constantly being stretched from gear to gear. One tip to consider when biking with gears is to not make a habit of cross-chaining. This is when you ride in a big gear on the drivetrain and then also a big gear on the rear cog. This also stands the same for riding in the small gear.
How To Choose The Right Chain
For most people who plan to change a bike chain themselves, they are often overwhelmed by the number of choices online and end up asking their local bike shop for advice. Then they feel bad, not buying from the shop but instead purchase online to save money.
Here is how to not be that guy and determine how to choose the right chain for your bike.
If you have a bike with gears, the amount of cogs on the rear cassette whether it’s 9,10,11, or 12 is crucial to finding the right size chain. You need a chain that fits those specific gears and the distance between the cogs teeth vary on different speed cassettes. The right chain is one that will fit the largest front chain ring and the largest cog in the rear.
Chains must not be too wide for the cog groupset. This could cause rubbing against the next larger cog. Also, a chain width that is too narrow could fall between the two cogs.
Use the chart below as a guide on choosing the right bike chain:
|1/4″ – 9/32″
|SRAM, Shimano HG/IG
|SRAM, Shimano HG/IG
|KMC, Shimano CN-9000,Campagnolo
New chains, out-of-the-box come in a stock length of 116 links or 58″, which will fit mostly upright bicycles. (Note: this will be different for single speed bikes with custom gear ratios) Before installing the bike chain, you will still need to have the correct number of links to attach the new chain and allow the drivetrain to work correctly. It’s usually normal for the chain to be a few inches longer than what is needed to fit your drivetrain.
Tip: It’s relatively easy to shorten a bike chain that’s too long, but trying to lengthen a chain that’s too short is near impossible without adding more links.
Do I Need To Change The Cassette With A New Chain
With all the components that will wear and tear on a bike with use, it may come a time to change the cassette with a new chain.
If you replace your chain before any major wear occurs, then replacing the cassette will be unnecessary each time the chain is replaced. The key rule of thumb is that if you treat your chain replacement like an oil change on a car (every 2,000 – 3,000 miles) you should be ok and not have to change the cassette.
Some things to consider to determine if the cassette needs to be changed at the same time as the chain:
- Noticeable wear of cog teeth on the cassette
- Damage to cassette
- Gears skip when you just replaced your chain
- The chain has been ridden beyond the point of wear (This will cause damage to the rear cogs and chainring)
- Your bike has missed out on previous maintenance
- Pure neglect, not lubing or cleaning cassette and chain
Bike Belt Drive Pros And Cons
As bikes have evolved towards being more efficient, user-friendly and comfortable, one might consider going with a chainless bike.
If you are considering going with a belt drive bike versus a chain drive bike, the number one disadvantage is the cost if you happen to damage the belt drive.
Keep in mind though that belt drives are nice and are becoming more popular in new innovative bikes that are coming out on the market. Also, there are some advantages of going with a belt drive versus a chain drive.
Here are the pros & cons:
- Low maintenance: no lubing, less cleaning
- Last 4-6 times longer than chain drives
- Great for commuters
- No grease on your clothes
- Relatively weatherproof
- High maintenance cost
- Can’t break the belt and re-install another like bike chains
- Requires more tension to keep the bike moving
- Belt drives can’t be used with a traditional derailleur
- Limited to single-speed or internally geared hub
- Expensive to change the gear ratio
Even after considering the pros and cons of a belt drive, you still may go with the chain drive. Although a lot of e-bikes with pedal assist come built with a belt drive setup.
Many cyclists who road race or mountain bike competitively would prefer a chain drive bike versus a belt drive. It really comes down to what type of riding you are doing and the cost you are willing to pay. If you still happen to go the belt drive route then, word on the street says, Gates Carbon Drive Systems are the better choice.
But do your research to find what is the best drive belt system for you.
Troy StampsTroy Stamps is an avid cyclist based out of California. Road cycling is his passion which he's been doing his whole life and he has even competed in some local races. He loves getting new people into the sport and teaching them how to change their life through cycling.
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