Choose the Best Bike Chain: Most Reliable Options Out There

Bike chains are essential components of your bike's transmission system. Whether you are riding on an expensive MTB or not, it's impossible to have an incredible and smooth cycling experience without a high-quality bike chain.

A bike chain links the drivetrain (pedals, sprockets, cranks, etc.) and the cassette/rear hub. It's via a bike chain that pedal power is transformed into forwarding movement, which is why you can ride on hilly trails, urban cities, etc. For this reason, having an excellent bike chain is paramount.

If you’re among thousands of other cyclists with limited knowledge about bike chains, here, I will discuss the best bike chains available in the market.

What You Should Know?

Bike chains determine how well your bike will fare when riding uphill or downhill.

Here are the features of the best bike chains.

Features of the KMC X11 Silver/Black 118-Link 11-Speed Chain

Brand: KMC

Model: X11 Silver/Black 118-Link 11-Speed Chain

Compatibility: 11-Speed Bikes

Find out more about this product on this website.

Features of the YBN 11-Speed Chain

Brand: YBN

Model: 11-Speed Chain

Compatibility: 11-Speed Bikes

Find out more about this product on this website.

Features of the YBN Yaban Chain Black And Chrome Chain

Brand: YBN

Model: Yaban Chain Black And Chrome Chain

Compatibility: BMX Bikes

Find out more about this product on this website.

Features of the SRAM 9-Speed Bicycle Chain 114-Link

Brand: SRAM

Model: 9-Speed Bicycle Chain

Compatibility: 9-Speed Bikes

Find out more about this product on this website.

Features of the Schwinn Bicycle Chain

Brand: Schwinn

Model: Schwinn Bicycle Chain

Compatibility: BMX Bikes

Find out more about this product on this website.

Features of the KMC Z8.1 X116L GY/GY Bike Chain

Brand: KMC

Model: Z8.1 X116L GY/GY

Compatibility: 8-Speed and 9-Speed Bikes

Find out more about this product on this website.

Features of the Zhiqiu FSC F410 Bicycle Chain Single-Speed Chain

Brand: Zhiqiu

Model: FSC F410 Bicycle Chain Single-Speed Chain

Compatibility: Non-derailleur bikes

Find out more about this product on this website.

Top Pick Section

Best for Overall Performance - KMC X11 Silver/Black 118-Link 11-Speed Chain

This bike chain’s design is fantastic and includes all the features for easy installation, superb riding performance, and longevity.

Best for Compatibility - YBN 11-Speed Chain

The bike chain is compatible and easily fits into most MTB and Road Bike drivetrains, and without any issue.

Best Single-Speed Chain - YBN Yaban Chain Black And Chrome Chain

With this chain, you can ride comfortably and excellently on your BMX bike.

Best for Durability - SRAM 9-Speed Bicycle Chain 114-Link

This model is made with exceptionally durable material for long-lasting use.

Review of the Best Bike Chains

KMC X11 , Silver/Black 118 Link 11 Speed Chain

KMC X11 is the first bike chain my team tested, and its performance was satisfactory.

This chain's design is quite commendable, as its inner plate is made of steel, while its outer plate is constructed with half nickel to enhance durability and performance [2]. It's lightweight, which makes riding faster and turning quicker.

KMC X1's compatibility is outstanding, as you can use it on Shimano, Campagnolo, Sram, and any other 11-speed cassette or bike. Its wide range of applications is one of the reasons why I applaud this bike chain.

Additionally, the chain is so easy to install that you won’t have any issue installing it on the first trial.

KMC X11sl dlc runs silently compared to other bike chains within its price range. While you may have to deal a bit with the messy overflow of factory oil, overall, It’s a good bike chain for the price.

Things I like

  • Comes at a good price
  • Good quality
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to install
  • Compatible with many cassette brands and 11-speed bikes.

Things I don't like

  • Relatively long-lasting
  • Has lots of factory oil
YBN 11 Speed Chain Compatible with Shimano Sram Campagnolo

YBN is a reliable brand that makes the best bike chains, and the YBN 11-Speed chain is evidence of their exceptional construction.

This chain is made from good and durable quality materials that ensure it shifts correctly and normally on your bike's drivetrain. Combining this with a lubricant gives you excellent results.

YBN 11 produces low noise, maximizing comfort. It is readily compatible with most cassette brands, meaning you can install it on most cassette brands without any hassle.

Furthermore, this chain comes at an affordable price. Compared to other products within its price point, I'd say that it is reasonably cheap.

Although my team wasn't happy with the coating and design choice - a silver quick-link on a black chain - the overall performance was good.

Things I like

  • Affordable
  • Maintains optimal noise
  • Shifting is smooth and efficient

Things I don't like

  • Coating quality is poor
  • Color design is unimpressive

YBN Yaban is the most affordable bike chain on this list. Despite its low price, this durable bike chain offers good riding performance.

It is designed for BMX bikes, meaning that you can’t use this bike chain on a road bike and MTB.

This YBN chain is a single-speed chain designed to improve the speed of your BMX bike. You can ride quicker and make fast turns more effectively with this lightweight bike chain shifting on your drivetrain.

Its durability is also worthy of mention, as it's made from silver steel for increased resistance against rust.

The product is also compatible with many lubricants. Should friction occur in the drivetrain, you can apply any grease, and your bike will go back to riding efficiently.

However, the bike chain was relatively noisy during testing, which wasn’t very pleasant.

Things I like

  • Good quality
  • Delivers speedy bike performance
  • Lightweight
  • Low price

Things I don't like

  • Noisy
  • Slightly difficult to install
SRAM 9-Speed Bicycle Chain, 114 Links with PowerLink Chain Connector

In terms of durability and performance, the SRAM 9-Speed Bicycle Chain is one excellent bike chain that has it all. This bike chain is made from a superior durable Nickel material for long-lasting use.

It has excellent wear resistance that ensures you use the chain for a very long time.

What's more? This chain is compatible with 8-speed and 9-speed bike, so you don't need to worry about the chain's incompatibility with your bike's sprocket.

The bike chain has chrome-hardened rivet pins, with extended outer Nickel plates and inner plates for efficient performance. Also, you can easily install the chain, and the PowerLink chain is reusable.

The inner and outer chains are coated with a high-quality PowerLube to extend the chain's life and offer the best protection.

Furthermore, the SRAM chain is exceptionally robust. Though relatively heavy, this chain won't hamper your biking performance, as it's exact and has great shifting performance.

Things I like

  • Great shifting performance
  • Incredibly durable
  • Robust
  • Easy to install
  • Noiseless

Things I don't like

  • It’s a bit short
  • Covered in so much grease
Schwinn Bicycle Chain

This is another good quality bike chain with a great design that fits into 21-speed mountain bikes and many others effectively.

Schwinn Bicycle Chain is a single-speed bike chain made from Nickel material to prolong its use. If you do a lot of offroading and uphill riding, this breaker chain won't disappoint you.

Also, the low price-point is something that would attract every buyer. A single-speed chain coming at that price is impressive, and no doubt, an excellent bargain.

Though bulky, this bike chain will still offer speedy performance and maximize your riding's maneuverability.

My team was happy with how relatively easy it was to install, although it did give some tough time to assemble the chain because it lacked a MasterLink. For a beginner, I wouldn’t advise that you go for this chain.

Things I like

  • Excellent for the price
  • Great quality
  • Excellent for maneuverability
  • Delivers excellent performance

Things I don't like

  • Requires a chain breaker to install
  • Doesn’t come with an installation guide
Z8.1 X 116L, GY/GY

When it comes to durability, this KMC bike chain isn’t different from other KMC bike chains designed by the company. As you know, KMC is famous for producing excellent bike chains.

KMC Z8.1 X116L is made from carbon steel to last long and reduce wear and tear. It's compatible with several lubes to minimize friction and prolong the sprockets and cassette's lifespan. With this chain, you are guaranteed up to 5000 miles before replacement.

This bike chain comes with 116 links in an 8-speed design. This means that the bike chain will be compatible with MTB and road bikes with 8-speed and 9-speed drivetrain.

Additionally, this bike chain includes a Master Link to help with the chain's assembling and installation on the drivetrain. Also, it's affordable.

Things I like

  • Seamless to install
  • Good quality replacement chain
  • Highly durable
  • Comes at an affordable price

Things I don't like

  • Some models come with the wrong width.
  • Too much oil
ZHIQIU FSC F410 1-Speed Bicycle Chain Single (1/2 x 1/8-Inch, 104L)

Zhiqiu is another good single-speed bike chain that offers optimal performance on your BMX bike.

This bike chain has 104 links designed with sturdy material to reduce wear, minimize rust, and increase its robustness against friction. It is also lightweight, making it a great choice for speedy bikers.

I love the chain’s brown color, even though the coating slightly faded during testing.

This durable bike chain is compatible with all non-derailleur bikes, and installation is straightforward. The chain removal tool is also excellent. If the chain is slightly longer, you can cut the length with the right cutting tool for accurate fitting.

It runs reasonably quiet, unlike some low-budget and low-quality ones out there.

More importantly, the chain is also affordable. Compared to other bike chains within its price range, I’d say this chain is worth purchasing.

Things I like

  • Super affordable
  • Compatible with all non-derailleur brakes
  • Easy to install
  • Effortless to use

Things I don't like

  • The coated finish can fade
  • Not suitable for uphill or heavy-duty riding

Buying Guide of Best Bike Chain

Buying a suitable bike chain is a tough decision, mostly if you have no prior knowledge of what to look out for. There are a few factors to consider when buying one, and that’s what I shall discuss in this buyer’s guide.

Bike Chains Speeds

Most newbies assume that all bike chains are pretty similar. They may have similar designs and the same function, but they have different chain speeds.

There are six bike chain speeds - 6-speed bike chain to 11-speed bike chain. A 6-speed bike chain is the widest and has a width size of 7.8mm. Comparatively, an 11-speed bike chain is the narrowest with a width size of 5.5mm. The size of the width decreases as the number of speeds increases.

These bike chains are designed to fit into different MTB and road bike drivetrains, and you must purchase the chain that's compatible with the drivetrain's sprocket.

For instance, a 10-speed cassette will require a 10-speed chain and vice-versa. The distance between sprockets varies on speed cassettes.

Bike Chains Designs

Bike chains are mostly constructed from alloy, nickel, and carbon. Alloy bike chains are the lightest of the three of them, while carbon-steel bike chains are the heaviest.

Most alloy bike chains are found on road bikes. Comparatively, carbon bike chains are mostly found on mountain bikes or MTB due to biking's rigorous nature.

When shopping for a bike chain, remember to get a steel chain with rivets, as they are very durable, even though they cost more than regular bike chains.

Bike Type

Bike chains are designed to fit into a road bike, mountain, and BMX sprocket. Although many bike chains suitable for road bikes will fit into MTB bikes, there's no universal bike chain. That's why you must get the best fit - to avoid causing damage to your front and rear drivetrain.

As a road bike or MTB rider, the weight of a bike chain is a significant factor that impacts biking. If you're more concerned about weight, I advise that you go for a lightweight chain, as it's quicker to move. However, it may be different for an MTB rider.

Since you’ll be MTB riding on a trail with some much grime and grit, you may want to get a bike chain that’s more environment-tolerant than a standard lightweight chain, probably carbon chains.

BMX bikes require a different chain compared to road bikes or MTB because a majority of BMX bikes have narrow cassettes. Like MTB and road bikes, attaining the best fit is essential.

If speed is a factor, consider getting a single-speed chain, as they're easier to move and quick to maneuver.

There are two types of BMX bike chains - the traditional chain with two half-links and half-Link BMX chains with thick and thinner ends.

How to Size a Bike Chain?

There's every possibility that a bike chain may be too long to fit into your drivetrain. Therefore, what you should do is to size it appropriately.

Before you can size your bike chain, you need to remove the old chain.

After removing the bike chain, the next thing is to size it. There are two ways to size a bike chain. It's either you run it through the front Derailleur or size it by measuring its length against the old chain's length. The latter is more comfortable, and that's why I recommend it for beginners, as most of them are not very familiar with bike parts names.

After removing the old chain and sizing the new chain correctly, then replace the old chain with the new one.

If you realize that the new chain is a few links longer than the old chain during installation, you can still resize it. Remember, shortening a bike chain doesn't affect its durability.

How to Determine If You Need a New Chain Replacement?

How to Determine If You Need a New Chain Replacement?

Bike chains don’t last forever. All bike chains have limited lifespans, and at some point, you’ll have to change them for more optimal performance. But how do you know if you need a replacement?

Although most bike experts recommend changing a bike chain once it exceeds a specific mileage, let's say between 2000 and 3500 miles, it doesn't hold up to a certain extent. What does this mean? It means that you may have to replace the bike chain sooner instead of allowing it to cover or exceed the suggested distance.

One of the first signs that suggest you need a new bike chain is stretching. Once your chain begins to stretch and skip over sprocket teeth, it’s an indication that you need a new bike chain. However, this depends on how quick your observations are.

If you identify the problem early enough, you may need to only replace the chain. If otherwise, depending on the wear, you may have to replace the cassette and probably the sprocket.

 Below are other ways to find out if you need a bike chain replacement;

  • Lift the chain off the sprocket
  • Adjust the gears into the smallest cog on the rear and the largest sprocket in the front and drape.
  • If there's a big gap between the chain and the sprocket, you should immediately go shopping for a bike chain.

Another option is to measure the rivet on the chain with a ruler. Select a rivet on the chain and measure it against the zero marks on the ruler. Now, count 23 rivets, and the last one should stay put on the "12" spot. If the measurement is 1/16" more, you should get a new replacement chain.

The last method, and maybe the easiest of the three, is to use a chain measuring device. This device will detect if your chain is wearing out or not. There are different chain measuring devices, available in relatively different designs, but have the same function.

How to Maintain and Clean Your Bike Chain?

Bike chains, like every other mechanical part, need proper maintenance to last long. You must carry out periodic maintenance to avoid shortening the chain's lifespan and ultimately putting your safety in jeopardy.

Chains will wear out over time, and when it does, it will impact performance negatively. Not only that! It will damage the sprocket and leave you with some substantial running costs.

Before taking your bike for a ride, examine gears and chains. If they're dirty, wipe it clean with a rag, and remember to keep those parts lubricated always to avoid friction. A lubricated chain will shift better and prolong the lifespan of the drivetrain.

Regarding cleaning, if the chain is muddy and full of grime, wiping with a rag won't cut it. You'll need a chain cleaning device like a degreaser.

  • Give the area a regular wipe down with a rag.
  • Use a degreaser like Simple Green Bike Cleaner and Degreaser to clean deeper and further for a few minutes [3]. By now, the chain will look sparkingly clean.
  • Allow the greaser to dry, and then apply some lubricant slowly onto the chain and each link.
  • If you ride or live in a damp area, you can use the best bike chain lube to keep the chain from rusting.

If you're able to clean your chain effectively, you will eliminate any expensive surprises. Also, you would be able to use four to five chains before replacing the cassette.

On the other hand, improper cleaning maintenance will wear the cassette and the sprocket out, which would run into hefty expenses - not to talk of the poor performance the chain will offer.

How To Replace A Bicycle Chain

Best Bike Chains (FAQs)

1. What is the best chain lube for my road bike?

Muc-Off wet lube, Boeshield T-9 dry lube, Green oil-wet lube are some of the excellent chain lubes for your road bike.

2. What is the best bike chain cleaning agent?

Pedro's Pig Juice, Bike Medicine Golden, Muc-Off Nano Tech chain cleaner are some of the best bike chain cleaning agents.

3. Are KMC chains better than Shimano?

Shimano chains are slightly better than KMC bike chains because the former is more compatible with various bike cassettes. Nevertheless, both are excellent bike chains that offer a high degree of durability and performance.

4. Are expensive bike chains worth it?

Yes, as some expensive bike chains offer something extra. Technically, the significant advantage of expensive bike chains is their relatively low weight.

5. How long do bike chains last?

A bike chain should last up to six months before replacement. However, durability actually depends on the model, use, material used in constructing, and compatibility.

Final Words & Recommendation

Though it could get quite complicated for a buyer to determine which bike chain fits conveniently, this detailed and comprehensive best bike chain review will make your decision-making process more straightforward. I was most impressed with the durability, compatibility, and performance of the KMC X11 Silver/Black 118-Link 11-Speed Chain. This ultimately makes it the best bike chain. It is lightweight and convenient to install, boosting the bike's movement and maneuverability.