How To Choose A Mountain Bike Chain (2023 In-Depth Guide)

We Are An Affiliate: We hope you love the products we recommend. Just so you know, we may collect a small share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Thank you for using our links. We really appreciate it!

A chain is an integral part of a mountain bike.

It is essential to know how to choose a mountain bike chain, to get the best performance out of your mountain bike.

A bad chain could lead to a less enjoyable experience as it could make your ride rough and noisier.

If you are a newbie, there could be several questions bothering you regarding buying a good mountain bike’s chain.

With countless brands, manufacturers, sizes, and other features, it could become an arduous task to get the right chain.

With this guide, I hope to make your decision easier.

3 Key Factors That Determine MTB Chain Type

How To Choose A Right Mountain Bike Chain
Right MTB Chain

The four critical factors that determine the type of chain that your mountain bike requires are mentioned below

1. MTB Drivetrain Manufacturer

Find out who made your mountain bike’s drivetrain. A specific brand’s MTB chain may not be suitable for another brand’s drivetrain.

You need to be sure of your mountain bike drivetrain’s manufacturer before you go about purchasing the chain.

You should be able to find the drivetrain manufacturer’s name and the gearing mechanism on the rear side.

2. Length of Your MTB Chain

Essentially, the length of your mountain bike’s chain would largely depend on the size of your bike’s gear.

Every bike is built for different purposes, and the gear size would determine the style it is intended for.

For instance, typically, downhill bikes have smaller gears that spin faster.

A fast-spinning gear would facilitate the rider to go more quickly downhill.

So a downhill bike will have shorter chains when compared to an uphill one.

3. MTB Chain Material

Even though steel alloy chains are the popular choice, mountain bike chains are available in different materials and plating.

Titanium, chrome, and nickel plating are used for added durability and sometimes aesthetic purposes.

Unless you plan some heavy rides, the normal steel alloy would be sufficient to get you going. Carbon chains are also available in the market.

3 Types of Mountain Bike Chain

Types of Mountain Bike Chains
Mountain Bike Chain Types

Mountain bike chains are available in three types, as follows:

  • Regular
  • Hollow-pin
  • Half-link

1. Regular Mountain Bike Chain:

As the name suggests, these are the most commonly used type of chains.

There is no marked difference in the efficiency and strength of the regular chain when compared to the other two.

2. Hollow Pin Chains:

These chains are favored for their light weightiness.

When used in every link, hollow pins help in saving a significant amount of weight while riding your bike without any compromise on functionality and performance.

3. Half-Link Chains:

Used in single-speed mountain bikes, half-link chains are unique in appearance.

Half-link chains have a link with the small end and larger end, which reconnect with each other, making each link identical.

As a result, single-speed bikes achieve optimal chain tension with the use of a half-link chain.

2 MTB Chain Types Based On Gear

Mountain Bike Gear Repair
MTB chain type based on gear

MTB chains are of different types, based on the number of gears or speed.

1. One-Speed or Single-Speed Chains:

Single-Speed chains are designed for single-speed mountain bikes with only one gear.

Single-speed bikes come with a large sprocket in the front, which is joined to the pedal, and a tinier one that appears on the rear wheel hub.

Typically, single-speed chains have a rivet-to-rivet length of 9mm and 3.3mm in width.

However, don’t be surprised to find chains that are wider than those mentioned above.

Such chains are also made to use in extreme conditions, where pedaling can causes heavy friction between the sprockets and the chain.

2. Multi-Gear Chains:

Also known as derailleur chains, these chains are used in bikes with multiple gears or speeds.

Please find out the number of gears that your bike has by looking at its rear cassette.

Count the sprockets, and the number would be equal to the number of gears on your mountain bike.

Pay attention to how many sprockets the rear cassette of your mountain bike has.

Most bikes today have a minimum of 11 sprockets, whereas older mountain bike editions used to have 5 or 8 sprockets and gears.

The number of chains determines four standard sizes of derailleur chains, namely, single-speed, 6/7/8 speed, 9-speed, and 10-speed, and 12 speed.

  • 6/7/8 gears: Bikes that fall in this category typically have a chain with a width of 7 millimeters.
  • 9 gears: A 9-gear mountain bike will have around a 7mm wide chain.
  • 10 gears: A chain width of 6mm can be found in 10-gear mountain bikes.
  • 11 gears: A chain width of 5.5 mm can be expected in an 11-gear mountain bike.
  • 12 gears: A 12-gear mountain bike will have a chain width of 5.3 mm, the narrowest of all.

To determine the width required for your chain, you must also have a look at the front sprocket, which will be connected to the pedal, besides the rear cassette.

Technically, when gears are shifted, the chain shifts from one sprocket to the other in the front crankset.

Hence, the space between sprockets must also be considered while determining the chain’s width.

This is to ensure that the chain does not get stuck in between sprockets while shifting gears.

The same is applicable to the crankset in the front as well.

17 FAQs On How To Choose A Mountain Bike Chain

1. Should I replace sprockets and cassettes while changing the chain of my MTB?

Unless the sprockets and cassettes have started showing signs of wear, you don’t have to replace them.

Look at the teeth to see if the sharpness has started disappearing, as it could be an indication of wear.

It is recommended to replace the sprockets in case of wear, as otherwise, it could cause further damage to the drivetrain.

2. Who are the major players in manufacturing MTB chains?

The leading makers of mountain bike chains are Shimano and SRAM. SunRace, Whippermann, and KMC are also sought after by mountain bikers these days.

3. Can you buy a mountain bike chain from a manufacturer who has not made the drivetrain?

You can use a mountain bike chain from a different manufacturer, so long as the sizing matches.

However, it is always recommended to use a MTB chain made by the manufacturer of the drivetrain.

4. How to check for Mountain bike chain wear?

Pull the bicycle chain away from the ring and observe the amount of slack it has achieved.

If it is more than 0.5 inches, it indicates that it’s time to replace your mountain bike’s chain.

If you are not convinced with this method, you can take a ruler and measure the length. If it is more than 12 inches across 12 links, you can conclude that your chain needs to be replaced.

However, if you prefer checking your mountain bike chain’s wear using a specific tool, there are bike chain wear indicator tools available online, or ask your local bike shop attendant for it.

5. What is the most durable MTB chain?

This guide on how to choose a mountain bike chain would be incomplete without my suggestions for the most durable chains.

Some of the most durable MTB chains are made by SRAM, Shimano, KMC, and Schwinn.

6. Are mountain bike chains worth upgrading?

If your budget allows, it will be a good idea to upgrade your bike chain to a better quality one.

It could give a boost to your drivetrain.

In addition, a high-quality chain will make shifting gears easier, putting less strain on the drivetrain.

It may also delay the wear of drivetrain components such as the cassette and sprockets.

7. Can I use WD-40 on my bike chain?

WD-40 (Water Displacement- 40th formula) is a moisture disperser that helps in removing the water content from your mountain bike chain.

It can be highly efficient when used to clean the chain or to remove the excess water after you have given a water cleansing to your chain.

It is recommended to use WD-40 before applying lube to the bike’s chain.

8. Can I use WD-40 as a lubricant?

Even though WD-40 is a highly versatile product, it is not recommended to use it to lube your MTB chain.

It is not an effective lubricant.

However, for pre-lubed chains which do not require frequent lubing, it would be sufficient to use WD-40 alone.

9. How much should a mountain bike chain cost?

Basic mountain bike chain prices would start from $15, whereas high-quality MTB chains are priced between $25-$60 or even more.

High-quality ones are more durable, easy to shift gears, and typically lightweight.

If you are replacing the chain at a bike shop, it could cost you $15 to $20.

Chain tools are available in the range of $10 and $50.

If you are a DIY person, it would be a great idea to buy a chain tool so that you don’t need outside help every time you want to replace your mountain bike’s chain.

Check this video in case you manually want to replace your mountain bike chain.

10. What happens if you do not replace the bike chain on time?

If you ride your bike with a worn-out chain for a longer time, it would eventually lead to the wearing of other essential parts of the drivetrain.

This could cost a really huge sum.

For example, replacing a cassette or freewheel would cost you a minimum of $25 for low-end bikes and up to $300 for high-end bikes.

Similarly, chainrings could cost from $40-$250, depending on the bike.

Summed up with labor costs, this could lead to uncalled-for expenses.

Therefore, it is better to replace your bike chain as soon as you notice signs of wear.

11. How often should I lube my mountain bike chain?

It would be ideal for lubing your mountain bike after every hard or long ride.

Irrespective of whether your MTB chain has gotten dirty or not, after every 100 miles, or after riding in dirt or mud, it is advisable to lube your mountain bike chain.

12. Are chains available specifically for E-bikes?

E-bikes also have chains specifically made to suit the need for extra power due to assisted pedaling.

13. Should you degrease a new mountain bike chain?

New chains usually come with some grease to protect them from rusting while in the package.

The quality of the grease or the lubricant used may differ from brand to brand.

However, it is not required to altogether remove the factory grease from the chain before you install it.

If there is an excess lubricant, in most cases, there would be, you can wipe it off using a rag.

14. Are mountain bike chains universal?

MTB chains are not universal. They are not made to one size fits all measurements.

Different brands make chains of different measurements.

Also, every mountain bike may have different measurements, and hence not all chains may be compatible.

15. Can I buy a used mountain bike chain?

It is never recommended to buy a used mountain bike chain.

You never know if the previous owner has stopped using the chain because of wear and underperformance.

It is always better to buy a new chain for your mountain bike.

16. How to increase the longevity of your mountain bike chain?

Proper maintenance is the key to enhancing the longevity of your mountain bike chain.

It includes cleaning, lubing, and regular checking for wear.

This will improve not only the longevity of the chain but also the longevity of your bike’s drivetrain.

For example, an adequately lubed chain will prevent the piercing squealing sounds, helps in easy shifting of gears, and better pedaling efficiency.

17. Are mountain bike chains available in different color options?

If you like to add a bit of color to all things that you love, then you have a piece of good news.

Mountain bike chains do come in different colors, so go ahead and enquire whether your bike brand has some colored chains in store for you.

That Is All!

I hope this guide on how to choose a mountain bike chain will help you make an informed decision while replacing or buying new mountain bike chain for your bike.

P.S. If you found this resource to be helpful, we have similar in-depth resource on long and short MTB chains.

We also have resources on how to lube the chains and prevent chain slippage.

Author Avatar

Team Biking KnowHow

Rohan runs Biking KnowHow along with his team. Rohan has been a mountain biker since 2005. His mission is to simplify mountain biking for everyone. All Biking KnowHow content piece is thoroughly fact-checked. Our content is backed up with leading research and inputs from expert cyclists.