What's the deal with bike chains?
I get it, chains are about as interesting as yet another sponsorship farewell announcement by some rider saying goodbye to some company, neither of which you give a toss about. But they really do deserve better, given that they're probably one of the most important yet least cared for components on your bike, and even though the only time most of us think about them is when we're on the side of the trail trying to put one back together.
This week's Explainer is all about where chains came from and why we're using them. We'll also take a look at a few very strange and long-extinct chains, and address some common misconceptions.
They don't get much credit, but there's a lot going on with your chain.A Brief History of the Bicycle Chain
So, where did they come from? Back when bicycles had massive front wheels that were driven directly by the cranks, along with comparatively tiny rear wheels, people kept falling off and hurting themselves because, well, these things were pretty sketchy. Eventually, someone in England made a bike with equal size wheels that meant riders didn't have to be perched way up high, but now they had to figure out a way to translate the action from people's legs to the bicycle's forward movement. Of course, there were some strange contraptions around this time, but an early version of the chain-drive won out, largely because you could easily adjust the gearing by swapping the cog or chainring for ones of a different size. This was all happening in the late 1870s, long before people had to think about derailleurs and gears, and chain design was far from being standardized.
The simplest of these had to be the bar-link chain that used a 1" pitch (the distance between each pin, and double what's used today) and looked like the chain a six-year-old might draw. Or me right now. There were no rollers or inner plates, making it incredibly inefficient, and it disappeared from bicycles in the early 1900s. There was also the skip-link chain that used side plates of alternating length to vary the distance between the pins, supposedly to help make it more efficient. It stuck around until the 1950s.
Triangles of power! The Simpson lever chain was said to provide the rider with an added mechanical advantage over a conventional design.
The strangest? That has to be the crazy-looking Simpson lever chain that's pictured above. Levers? Yup, it looked like a bunch of tiny triangles strung together, and its maker said that those provided the rider with extra leverage. It went away in the late 1890s, around the same time that American velodrome racing went from attracting crowds of 20,000 people to nearly going extinct. The Modern Bicycle Chain
If you want to be technical about it, it's actually called a roller chain, and there are many different kinds out there being used on all sorts of machines. Today's bicycle roller chain sports a 1/2" pitch - the distance between each pin - regardless of how many cogs you might have. 6-speed? Yup, 1/2" pitch. 12-speed AXS or XTR drivetrain? Still a 1/2" pitch.
More numbers. A modern 10-speed chain is about 6mm wide (measured at the rivet), an 11-speed chain is about 5.5mm wide, and a 12-speed chain is 5.3mm wide. While mixing and matching between manufacturers is sometimes fine, it’s important to run the correct width chain for your drivetrain, no matter how many cogs you have.
Breaking it down, it's obvious what the inner and outer plates are, and the rollers, well, they roll on the cog and chainring. Those old chains didn't have rollers and the pins ran directly on the teeth of the cog, making them terribly inefficient and probably noisy as hell. These rollers make all the difference in the world, but there's one more detail that often goes unnoticed: the bushing-less design.
This means that the rollers spin on tiny shoulders that are stamped into the inner plates, whereas an older version might employ a bushing for this job. Last but not least, the pin runs through it all and hopefully keeps everything together despite all those squats and lunges you're doing. Misconceptions You're so strong that you broke your chain:
That's a hard no. Your chain didn't break because you're really strong, even if you actually are. Wipperman, a European chain manufacturer, did a test of 10-speed chains back in 2007 and the results might be surprising to some: The tensile strength - the force required to simply pull a chain apart - ranged from 9,100N up to 10,800N. That's 2,045lb to over 2,400lbs, or approximately one Toyota Yaris hanging from a chain. That's a freakin' car. Also, the European ISO standard that every chain manufacturer has to meet is about 1,800lb.
So, why do chains break? The most common reason for a broken chain: Shifting while you’re putting down all those ponies you have, which can twist the chain or see the cog teeth pry an outer plate off of the pin. But sometimes it’s just bad luck, too. When that happens, it starts a chain reaction and the whole thing can twist apart. Skinnier chains are weaker:
Nope. Chains aren't getting weaker, either, despite being skinnier than ever. Testing points towards modern 12-speed chains being more reliable and stronger than ever, largely due to improving materials, manufacturing, and tolerances.
They certainly have their upsides, but the inefficiency of shafts and belts is just one of the reasons why they haven't replaced chains.Belt or shaft drives make more sense:
Not for anyone who wants to pedal their bike for any length of time. The problem is that you put out around single horsepower. Just one. So you can’t waste any of that, and belts and shafts are really, really inefficient for all sorts of science reasons. But the same science has chains being something like 95 to 98-percent efficient, which might not seem like a big deal if you have a full-face helmet hanging on the handlebar of your 35lb all-mountain bike that's years old, knee pads on, and just want to go do some jumps - I mean, who cares, right? A lot of people, because it matters.
Of course, belts and shafts don’t play nice with derailleurs, either, and chains can be taken apart easily for installation and removal. What about a gearbox then? We'll leave that topic for a future Explainer video.Your chain is stretching:
Nope, you aren't strong enough to stretch the plates, sorry. What’s actually happening is that you’re wearing material off the rollers, the tiny “bushing-less” shoulders they roll on, and even the pins. As all that wears, the distance between the rollers grows, effectively increasing the pitch from the ½” it’s supposed to be. Because the rollers are farther apart, the pitch is larger and doesn’t match the cog’s teeth, which means it can’t fully engage and will even slip off the cog’s teeth.
Alright, but then why does it measure longer when you compare it to a new chain? As the pins wear, the holes in the plates they're pressed through wear as well, thereby letting the chain "grow" in length.
Previews Explainer episodes:Episode #1 - What's the Deal with Linkage Forks?Episode #2 - Carbon Fiber Leaf Springs
Filmed & Edited by Cole Nelson
i'm on 7-gear cassette and the chain that came originally with the bike was an 11-speed - I might look for something equivalent to what i have now and give that one a go *edit* forgot to ask - did you just match your cassette speed for the new chain ?
So we can get wider ratio cassettes without a dinner plate size sprocket on the back!
For some reason I couldn’t reply in-thread previously and can't delete my duplicate comment
.. so to sum it up it streches
* Not really... I know it's the rollers, etc. that wear, but they do become longer... and slacker
Pintle Chains: Unlike the roller chain, the pintle chain is composed of hollow-cored cylinders
cast or forged integrally with two offset side bars and each link identical. The links
are joined by pins inserted in holes in the ends of the side bars and through the cored holes
in the adjacent links. Lugs prevent turning of the pins in the side bars ensuring articulation
of the chain between the pin and the cored cylinder.
Unless you need this info:
N=number of teeth Dr = nominal roller diameter
Ds =seating curve diameter = 1.005 Dr + 0.003 (in inches)
R=1⁄2 Ds (Ds has only plus tolerance)
A=35° + (60° ÷ N) B= 18° − (56° ÷ N) ac = 0.8 Dr
M=0.8 Dr cos (35° + (60° ÷ N))
T=0.8 Dr sin (35° + (60° ÷ N))
E=1.3025 Dr + 0.0015 (in inches)
Chord xy = (2.605 Dr + 0.003) sin 9° − (28° ÷ N)) (in inches)
yz =Dr [1.4 sin (17° − (64° ÷ N)) − 0.8 sin (18° − (56° ÷ N))]
Length of a line between a and b = 1.4 Dr
W=1.4 Dr cos (180° ÷ N); V = 1.4 Dr sin (180° ÷ N)
F=Dr [0.8 cos (18° − (56° ÷ N)) + 1.4 cos (17° − (64° ÷ N)) − 1.3025] − 0.0015 inch
S=0.5 P cos (180° ÷ N) + H sin (180° ÷ N)
Approximate O.D. of sprocket when J is 0.3 P = P [0.6 + cot (180° ÷ N)]
O.D. of sprocket when tooth is pointed + P cot (180° ÷ N) + cos (180° ÷ N) (Ds − Dr) + 2H
Pressure angle for new chain = xab = 35° − (120° ÷ N)
Minimum pressure angle = xab − B = 17° − (64° ÷ N);
Average pressure angle = 26° − (92° ÷ N)
If the Grim Donut ends up being better than current bikes, we will literally never stop crowing about it. Promise.
THANKS FOR ASKING.
I JUST RIDE IT FOR A YEAR AND LEAVE IT AT MY FRIEND'S HOUSE AFTER A BRAKE BLEED AND HOPE HE DOES THE JAGGAJAGGA SHOWROOM TEST AND DECIDES ITS TIME TO OPEN UP THE FORK. AND WE'LL WATCH YOUTUBES AND CHANGE IT.
OR I'LL JUST HAVE A NEW BIKE BY THE TIME THE SUSPENSION'S SUPER CLAPPED OUT. IS REALLY WHAT HAPPENS. I WILL GO THROUGH A DRIVETRAIN BEFORE THAT.
I'LL WIPE THOSE STANCHIONS WITH A TSHIRT THOUGH. I GOT THAT.
You might think that vibration is coming from the trail, but really it's the sound of thousands of dirt particles laughing as they make it past the last line of defence that is your dry worn out foam rings.
The dirt in your fork is laughing at you @owl-X . That sound should haunt your dreams and echo through your nightmares.
You'll long for the days when your worst problem was a mucky chain.
ONE THING THOUGH: THE MUCKY CHAIN ISN'T MY WORST PROBLEM, IT'S JUST ONE I CAN CONFIDENTLY REMEDY. (IN LIFE AND ON A BIKE)
SUSPENSION? I QUIT LOCKING OUT MY SHOCK'N'FORK ON CLIMBS BECAUSE I'M EMBARRASSED HOW MANY TIMES I GOT TO THE BOTTOM WITHOUT OPENING IT UP.
AND WENT FASTER.
My forks are particularly simple though. The lowers are grease lubed so they don't even use foam rings. Not sure how much tlc these review-worthy forks require.
THIS A FEATCH NOT BUG
FEELING MORE RELAXED NOW? I SAY, ARE YOU FEELING RELAXED? ALRIGHT, KEEP BREATHING. IF YOUR COMPUTER DOESN'T COME WITH A CAPS LOCK KEY, YOU CAN USE THE SHIFT KEY. THIS HELPS WITH DEXTERITY TOO.
DO YOU HEAR THAT SLIGHT RINGING IN YOUR EARS? THAT'S TINNITUS. IT IS BAD. IT COMES FROM UNPROTECTED USE OF THE CAPS LOCK KEY. BUT YEAH SOMETIMES IT DOES HELP TO BLOW OFF SOME STEAM. THAT'S YOGA. ASK ABI. SHE'S ALL ABOUT STAYING RELAXED. WE'RE NOT QUITE THERE YET.
Also DH bikes would be much smaller casings & would give a much better advantage than any air tunnel testing
I know it works as have run cover all winter with out maintenance, on full sus bike so can be done
You telling me that no one else can get it to work?
but do not have equipment to do it so looks nice
But as for as performance does not need look nice!
We all take it for granted.
Shimano-?-1989-Because old setups were shit
Am I wrong? Good luck with Shimano !
Ya momma loves em.
1 horsepower = 745 Watts
This means that if you ride around 200W averagely, your average output is only +- 1/4 horsepower.
Either way, power (max or average) matters little here.
If I could pedal along a 2000-5000 watts I wouldn't mind losing a few extra in drive train losses. At 200w I need everything I can get.
Tore the flange off the hub and the chain was fine.
Hope did credit me for a pro 4 trails hub saying that they have never sen that before.
@mikelevy I don't think it's impossible to break a new chain, at least when 2x and 3x is used :
22t (88mm diameter) chainring and 175mm cranks, makes for 3,93 ratio : 200kg on the pedal means about 800kg on the chain.
Is is very possible to achieve the 200kg (440lbs), and the mentioned chain tensile strength is in lab condition, so maybe a (brand new) chain working a bit sideways would fail at 7000-9000N..? That's the 800kg
For those wondering: cogs directly interact with each other, while sprockets are connected via a chain, belt, or similar. These different types of interactions result in different tooth profiles.
You don't clean chains mate. They're part of a bike, which you also don't clean.
Also, I'm an engineer.
In German it's clearer I guess, noone would say "die Kette dehnt sich" as it sounds wrong - at least to me it does, dialects and regional differences may come into play - "längen" (elongate) is used.
Why am I typing this on a Canadian bycicle forum though.
I think that colloquially, we associate "stretch" with like yoga pants and roadie shorts. But I still fail to see the offense of the term "chain stretch". It's semantics. If you're so offended, chain WEAR would be the most accurate term - since the precise physical mechanism is material being ground away - not inelastic deformation.
But anyhow, if you are upset by the term "chain stretch", there is a reason that you don't have a girlfriend. Just sayin'.
This is super cool and I love the context that you built into this. I think there are so many cool opportunities to understand overlooked parts of the amazing machines we call bicycles. I also think spokes and nipples, and wheel systems generally are amazingly overlooked. We all pay attention to tires, and they can so dramatically change a ride, but I cant say I fully understand everything at play with modern tires. Or how about just understanding the thread pitch and grading of bolts, tons of cool history there too.
Thanks Mike. Good things to know and understand about chains. What about the debate of cleaning your chain full on with degreasers vs just wipe it, oil it, wipe it again and ride. I’m in the school of fearing some degreaser lingers and only breaks down the oil vs leave it alone and the oil will take care of it...
Maybe if they make that claim they should tell us about some of those "Science Reasons"
"1976: Shimano briefly made their own 10 pitch Dura-Ace track-specific system with 10 mm (3⁄8 in) (approximately) pitch from about 1976 to 1980—called Shimano Dura-Ace 10 pitch. The Shimano 10 pitch system is incompatible with ANSI standard #40 (1/2") e.g. chains, sprockets and so on, and was outlawed by the Japan Keirin Association, helping in its demise"
@mikelevy Cover some suspension! What's the difference between damping and dampening and which one does your suspension do? What side is the spring in a traditional current for in? Why?
There's a bunch of really good surface questions about suspension that most people I found in 10+ years in a bike shop don't understand. Without getting into the realm of this vs that the way that many on the internet do.
"You're not stretching a chain"
Anybody that's ridden trials can EASILY tell the difference between say, a Z610 and a K710. The K710 is a MUCH stiffer chain. Hell, on my new bike I can definitely tell you a Shimano XTR 21 speed chain is ALOT springier than a K710 when you go to put power down from a dead stop. Sure, there's significantly more material in the K710 than the XTR chain, but it's pretty misleading to say "you're not stretching one."
And yes, you can be strong enough to break a chain. It's basic material science and repetition. I've had and seen plenty of single speed chains break straight down the middle of the inner/outer plates. Mostly on trials bikes and track bikes, but they're more likely to break a plate than they are to break a pin....in those instances/applications.
by the way, I had no idea, that we aren't supposed to re-use these speed links.. been using some of them for years already.. never had an issue....
also belts like a v-belt have 95%-98% max efficiency and generally hold it longer than chains. do better research.
Ceramic speed has done probably more testing than any other brand in terms of finding drivetrain efficiency. Chains are only as efficient as possible in a straight line, the more angle put on the chain, the more friction and the less efficient it becomes. This is why the 2x drivetrain still exists in the road market, it keeps a straighter chainline than a 1x setup. As cogs/rings get larger that a chain is in contact with, friction also increases as there are more rollers of the chain moving.
That driveshaft on the other hand is ceramic speeds answer and pet project to maintain a 99% efficient drivetrain in all gears. Less points of contact on each cog creates less friction. And since the points of contact remain the same across all gears, the amount of friction created in each gear is the same. Ceramic speed actually succeeded in their goal of making that drivetrain 99% efficient. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it trickle into the road market in the next 5 years. They have experimented with it on a MTB, but we’ll see how that ends up being developed.
That's a road bike. So when you factor in rear suspension and the conditions mountain bikes are subject to, it is a long ways off...if ever. How long have we been waiting for gear boxes?
Fact is, the chain driven drive train is fairly efficient and well established. It will take something major to unseat it. Look at the Trust forks...certainly some upsides, but too many compromises to have it, or and linkage fork unseat telescopic forks.
@audioshnoll: sorry if that was too long.
There’s lots of variables, but setting aside all ideas of type of bike and wear, my argument still stands. Levy mistakingly chose the one driveshaft example that was created and proven to be more efficient than the conventional design, in an attempt to claim that it’s less efficient.
Maybe partly true but not the only reason. You cant really get a functional cassette with less than 10 or 11 teeth, so if you want to be able to climb at a reasonable cadence up a steep hill, and also have something left to push against going downhill at 30mph, you need a way other than smaller cassette rings to get that harder gearing. If you put a 1x drivetrain on a proper road bike with any wide range cassette and any size cog up front, you will be "missing" gears somewhere, most likely bottom of range. We can always make gears bigger on the cassette to go up hills easier, that only depends on the derraileur and a few fixable problems, but there are some basic constraints on that small cassette gear, namely, a chains ability to roll properly around a tighter curve, without a full redesign of a chain.
I do agree that ceramic speed has some neat stuff in the works, and it is worth paying attention to. Christ, look at cars, transmissions and gearing have happened thousands of different ways, from horrible "slush box" transmissions and wildly complicated planetary gearing to electronic sequential race gearboxes and CVTs. One of my new favorites is a partially paper driven manual CVT from a 1913 Metz. www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn32nYsGRZM. Not actually entirely different from the ceramic speed contraption.
That Metz is totally wild, eh? you can literally remake it with toothpicks, ritz crackers, and marshmallows.
To my knowledge, there is one snippet of a dude on a track bike riding some version of the ceramic speed drivetrain. However, it doesn't look like that bike actually has their "cassette" on it. Regardless, the quality of that video is so low that I don't think we can draw reasonable conclusions about it from the footage. Cycling Tips covered it back in September if you want to check it out.
Either way, the shifting version of it appear to have metal driveshafts. While this might be for ease of prototype development, it bears consideration that torsional load on a carbon shaft might cause problems, since carbon is really only strong in a tensile setting. Maybe there are some clever layup tricks that will fix that, but it's still an uphill battle to make a weight-conscious driveshaft that doesn't drop to 80% efficiency when a rider drops the hammer during a sprint.
Not matter how you slice it, there are major design issues to be resolved before this is viable on a hardtail, and that will only compound if you want to fit it on a 140mm 29er. It's doable, and I hope they pull it off, but I don't think it will go mainstream in the next 10 years due to the amazing price:performance ratio offered by the current XT and GX setups. So...cool? Sure. Amazing even. Coming to a Yeti near you? Not in this generation of mtbers.
Force on the chainring then depends on the chainring diameter. If he were on a 30 tooth ring then it would be around 3 times as much, so ~600kg, which will probably be enough to destroy a predamaged chain or bend a chainring.
Interesting. A year ago after I bought my bike new off the "showroom floor", I broke the stock chain on my first big climb despite doing nothing abnormal. I thought I simply overpowered an inferior stock chain, so I soon upgraded it to my usual brand/model.
Now I see that was unlikely, and there's a much better explanation: I'll bet one or more previous test riders of my bike did some sloppy shifting, priming the system for failure. That makes much better sense at explaining the mystery and serves as a good warning if you're not the first rider of a bike out of the box.
I am running E13 9-46 11 speed cassette with eagle chain.
LOL, "than ever"... Hope my first mtb in 1997 had a 12speed chain!!!
Call it Magic & burn the witch!
SingleSpeed 4 ev'z!
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