Road Bike Chains 101 A Guide to Types and Sizes

Road Bike Chains 101 A Guide to Types and Sizes


Your road bike chain can play a critical role in the performance of your bike. A good chain can deliver a crisp, responsive shift when you’re out on the road. It can also help maximize the life of your drivetrain components by reducing friction, lowering wear, and minimizing noise.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing the right road bike chain, including:

  • Types
  • Sizes
  • Compatibility

Benefits of Road Bike Chains

Road bike chains offer many benefits for both recreational and competitive cyclists. These chains offer increased durability, flexibility and strength with the use of top-quality materials. With a wide range of sizes and levels of performance, there’s a road bike chain out there perfect for each rider.

Durability is one major benefit to choosing an appropriate road bike chain. Chains will last longer when they are compatible with the components they are connected to on the bike. The greater precision that comes with the installation of a lightweight, high quality chain will result in fewer adjustments required during its life span due to its ability to better resist wear and tear; this means that you can ride without worrying about repairs or maintenance as often.

Flexibility is another asset that comes with having a road bike chain as it can be altered easily by changing its length according to your requirements as a rider. Additionally, if you plan on participating in competitive events or training sessions where quick shifting is necessary, then you’ll want to invest in a road bike chain designed for speed because it won’t limit your ability when back-pedalling or downshifting quickly into turns or downhill total segments in races and competitions.

Finally, another benefit of having a road bike chain is their high level of strength due to their construction from strong metals such as steel which offers added durability against impacts from frequent bumps or contact from other riders while racing at higher speeds. This allows them resist breakage even during hard crashes which helps protect other components on the bike like derailleurs, crankarms and cogsets that could possibly be affected by excessive tension against them during moments when torque risks overloading them beyond their capacity capacity.

Types of Road Bike Chains

As one of the most important components of a road bike, a chain is a key part of the overall functionality. Different types of road bike chains have been designed to meet the needs of different types of riders.

In this guide, we will discuss the various types of road bike chains and the sizes available. We will also provide a few tips on how to select the best chain for your bike:

  • Consider the size of your bike – the size of your bike will determine the size of the chain you need.
  • Check the chain compatibility – make sure the chain you choose is compatible with the drivetrain of your bike.
  • Choose the right chain length – the chain should be long enough to reach the rear cassette and around the front chainrings.
  • Check the chain durability – look for a chain that is made of high-quality materials and designed to last.

Single Speed Chains

Single speed chains are designed for use on a single gear ratio. These chains are designed with simple construction and lack the complexity of other types of bike chain options that feature integrated shifters. Single speed bike chains have fewer moving parts which means the overall weight is reduced and durability is increased because it has fewer stress points. Single speed bike chains generally tend to be more affordable than other types of bike chain options, which makes them well suited for entry-level riders and budget enthusiasts.

In addition to the traditional single speed style, there are a few variations like “half links” and specialized non-circular chainrings. Half links are shorter sections of chain that provide tiny adjustments to fitment while specialized non-circular chainrings can help increase longevity while still offering an efficient drivetrain setup.

Most single speed bike chains tend to be suitable for 1/8 or 3/32 inch drivetrain setups although you will want to double check before you commit as there can be subtle variations between sizes even if they appear the same on paper.

1/8-inch Chains

1/8-inch chains are the most common type of chain used in road bikes. These narrow chains are ideal for single-speed and fixed gear riders. They feature a one-eighth inch internal width, which is just wide enough to provide power transfer from the crankset to the cassette. The success of 1/8-inch chains comes from their small size and easy installation procedure; the narrow chain fits easily through all single, fixed, freewheel and derailleur system components. In addition, these chains rarely need replacement due to their durable design – allowing them an extremely long working life span as compared to standard road bike chains.

Whether purchasing a 1/8-inch chain for your existing bike or shopping for a complete drive train setup, it’s important to verify that your chosen chain is capable of transferring power efficiently at different gear ratios and speed settings. When choosing the right type of chain, be sure to consider both material compatibility and gearing capabilities. Some 1/8-inch chains will only pair with certain types of sprockets or cranksets; if not properly matched this can result in:

  • slipping during shifts
  • dropped gears when operating under load conditions

– both uncomfortable experiences!

3/32-inch Chains

3/32-inch chains are the most common type of road bike chain and are used on nearly all multi-speed bicycles. This size is suitable for bikes that have front or rear derailleurs and 6-, 7-, 8-, 9-, 10- or 11-speed cassettes, although some 12-speed cassettes require a thinner 1/8-inch chain. The most popular 3/32” chains are readily available and tend to be the least expensive type.

You should always select a 3/32” chain that is compatible with your drivetrain system and the number of cogs on your cassette. For example, if you have an 8-speed cassette, you will need an eight speed chain; however, it’s important to note that many multi-speed drivetrains rely on compatibility between three different components:

  • the sprocket teeth and spacing of the cassette;
  • the ramp shape of the front chainrings; and
  • the internal width of the derailleur cage plates.

With this in mind, you may want to consider buying a higher quality 3/32” chain even if your bike has fewer speeds than its designation suggests. Higher quality chains will last longer due to improved durability and enhanced shift performance.

Campagnolo Chains

Campagnolo is an Italian-based cycling company that was founded in 1933. Campagnolo is well-known among professional and amateur cyclists alike for its innovative and reliable components, including its wide range of road bike chains.

Campy road bike chains are available in a variety of sizes, both single speed and multi-speed versions.

  • Campy’s 11-speed record chain is the lightest chain they offer, weighing just 220g (0.48lbs), making it perfect for racing or light weight touring bikes. It features a unique link profile on the inner and outer plates making it extremely quiet and efficient when shifting from gear to gear. The nickel surface resists corrosion from sweat, saltwater, mud or rain making it durable and long lasting.
  • The 10 speed version of this Campagolo chain features solid pins with the same inner and outer plate profile as their 11-speed version for smooth shifts that are nearly silent under load when pushing hard up a climb or into a stiff headwind. This version weighs only 240g (0.52lbs).
  • For cyclists on a budget or value conscious rider looking to create an economical set of wheels, they also offer an 8 speed campy inspired option which weighs just 260g (0.57lbs). This low cost option still offers largely the same performance as their more expensive versions but at the cost savings right away!

Whether you’re looking for a lightweight racing build or a budget friendly option, Campagnolo chains offer something to suit your needs!

Chain Sizing

When sizing a chain for a road bike, it is important to match the size to the drivetrain components of the bike. Standard chain sizes include 1/2 x 3/32, 11/128, and 3/32×1/8, and there are several factors to consider when choosing the right size for your particular bike.

Let’s explore all the sizing aspects of a road bike chain and discuss the best practices and precautions:

Chain Pitch

Chain pitch is the most important factor when choosing a bicycle chain. While there are several types of bicycle chains available, they all share the same basic geometry. Each link in the chain consists of two pins held apart by a solid piece of metal in between. The size of that solid piece of metal is known as “pitch”.

The pitch measurement is usually given in fractions or millimeters (mm). The common size for road and mountain bikes is ¼ inch, or 6.4mm which works for nearly every setup and will provide smooth gear changes. Other chain pitch measurements you may find include 1/8 inch, 3/16 inch and 5/16 inch, although these are less common on modern setups. Most modern road bike chains also have an outer width measurement specified with 1/8 inch being the most common width for road bike chains.

Knowing your chain pitch will allow you to buy a compatible chain, but it can also help you achieve optimal shifting performance on your existing setup if you find that your current chain isn’t shifting smoothly or breaking too often due to wear and tear.

Chain Length

When selecting a chain for your road bike, it is important to match the chain length to the number of gears in your drivetrain. Chain length changes slightly as the bike shifts into different gears, making it necessary to allow extra room in the chain for rough terrain and large gear changes.

In general, most road bikes utilize a 117-link or 114-link chain as they can accommodate an 8-11 speed drivetrain. For 7-speed systems, you’ll need 108 links or often a 112 link will be used. Anything bigger requires an extended link that splits into two parts which needs to be extra long, so most riders will stick to either 114 or 117 links for the longest life and widest range of possibilities when improving their system at some point down the road.

Once you have determined the correct length of your chain you must decide on width. It is important to determine this prior to purchasing a new chain because all chains are not interchangeable between cassette sizes and speeds due to certain derailleur compatibility requirements – e.g., 10-speed systems use different chains from 6/7/8 speed systems due to thinner widths of smaller sprockets used with 10-speed setups. Common road bike chains measure 5/6/7mm in width with additional alternative sizes reaching up to 12mm in extreme cases; however those are rarely seen on road bikes these days!

Chain Width

When selecting a chain, you’ll need to know the correct width for your drivetrain. The most common widths are 7 and 8-speed, 9-speed, 10-speed and 11-speed. While narrower chains may fit on wider cassettes or chain rings, it is not recommended as it may cause shifting issues.

  • For 7/8 speed systems, the chain should be 3/32 inches wide (approximately 4.7mm) and for 9 speed systems the chain should be 5/32 inches wide (approximately 4mm).
  • For 10 and 11 speed systems, the chains should be 3/16 inches wide (approximately 4.5 to 5mm).

It’s important to note that some chain manufacturers only offer their chains in shorter lengths of 122 links or less due to compatibility with derailleurs. Chains may also differ slightly in width when they transition between manufacturers because of variances in tolerances. In general, it’s best to purchase a quality chain from one manufacturer if you’re looking to take advantage of its full life expectancy.

Chain Maintenance

Taking care of your bike chain is essential for the longevity and condition of your bike. Chain maintenance is important for smooth and efficient gears, as well as proper operation of brakes. In addition, it can also prevent corrosion and premature wear of the chain.

This article will discuss the basics of chain maintenance and what you can do to protect it:

Cleaning and Lubrication

Maintaining your road bike chain is essential to keeping it in working order. Regular cleaning and lubrication will help to protect your chain, maximize its efficiency and reduce overall wear and tear.

To keep your chain clean, use a brush and degreaser to remove any dirt, debris or old lube. Make sure the area around the chain is clear of any large obstructions so that all of the links are accessible while cleaning. Once you’ve cleaned all of the links, you can dry them with a clean cloth before moving on to lubrication.

Road bike chains need regular lubrication because dirt, grime and humidity can quickly build up and cause rusting or jamming of the chain components. Lubricants come in both wet and dry varieties, typically either mineral-based or synthetic oil based formulas. Wet lubes tend to be ideal in wet conditions as they create a thin outer layer that won’t attract too much dirt or dust like dry lubes can. Dry lubes are great for use in warmer weather when moisture levels are low as they penetrate more deeply into the drivetrain parts for more efficient performance over time.

How often you need to reapply lubrication depends heavily on both your riding habits and local weather conditions (more frequent applications will be needed if riding in wetter climates or areas prone to large temperature fluctuations). However generally speaking, re-lubricating every couple of weeks should be enough for most riders. After each application wipe down any excess or pooled lube from around the drivetrain as this can accumulate along with dirt from rides and compromise performance further down the line.

Chain Wear

Chain wear is an unavoidable consequence of riding, but you can minimize the rate of wear by cleaning and lubricating your chain regularly. Checking chain wear is an essential maintenance task that should be done on a regular basis as part of an overall bike maintenance plan.

Chain wear is known as chain stretch, and it occurs when the roller pins where the inner plates meet the outer plates are pushed outward due to chain friction and torsional force. As chain stretch becomes more pronounced, shifting becomes compromised, resulting in sub-optimal performance.

Chain wear can be measured with a simple tool like a 12 inch ruler or a special type of tool called a Chain Wear Indicator (also known as a Chain Checker). To use this tool, you insert it into the links at several points so that it touches both inner plates on one side and the two outer plates on the other side. If it fits easily between the links without squeezing or binding up, then your chain is still within its optimum range; if it fits with some effort and causes your ruler to bow slightly, then your chain has gone past its ideal range and you should replace or re-install it soon to avoid unnecessary wear on your drivetrain components.

Another way to find signs of excessive chain wear are patterns like elongated “fishes” on your rear cog teeth which indicate too much contact between the drivetrain components during operation. If visible signs like this appear, then check the chains for additional symptoms of stretching. For safety reasons, this maintenance task should always be done when replacing chains or sprockets so that neither component wears out prematurely due to improperly matched sizes or incompatible materials used during assembly.


Now that you understand the basics of road bike chains, you’ll be able to examine types and sizes more deeply to ensure you find a chain that meets your needs. It is important to note that even with well-maintained chains, they do wear out over time. Before selecting a chain, considering how many miles you ride each week, as well as the environment you live in and the kind of terrain and weather conditions you typically cycle in. This will help determine which type of chain is right for your ride.

If this process turns out to be too confusing for you, don’t hesitate to consult with a bike store professional or experienced cyclist who can give specific suggestions based on your riding style and expectations. And remember – before heading out on your next ride, always check your chain to make sure it is properly adjusted and securely fastened!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What types of road bike chains are available?

A1: The two main types of road bike chains are single speed and multi-speed. Single speed chains are designed for bikes with one gear, while multi-speed chains are for bikes with two or more gears.

Q2: What size chain do I need for my road bike?

A2: The size of the chain you need will depend on the type of bike you have and the number of gears. Generally, a 10-speed chain will work for most road bikes. However, it’s always best to check with your bike’s manufacturer to be sure.

Q3: How do I know when to replace my road bike chain?

A3: It’s important to regularly inspect your road bike chain for wear. If it’s starting to look worn or stretched, then it’s time to replace it. You may also want to replace your chain if you notice a decrease in shifting performance.

The Bicycle Doctor