The Bicycle Chain, 35 Years Later


(We got a good thing goin’)

The bicycle chain is a wonderful piece of engineering! For a more information on this see my article from 2015.

Your bicycle chain has multiple hard jobs to do. It must turn your feet’s rotational motion into your wheel’s rotation.  For all bikes with derailleur shifting it must move from cog to cog, shifting your gear ratio.  We would like this to happen quietly, without friction, and never breaking.

Regular readers will remember from the 2015 article that your chain is composed of hundreds of parts.  Since we want the chain to do its job with low friction, chain maintenance is critical to a happy bike.  After inflating tires, chain lubricating is the second most frequent maintenance your bike desires.Suntour Ultra 6: 1981 State of the Art

In 1981 there were two primary sizes of bicycle chains.  The wider 1/8” was, and still is used for most non derailleur bikes. This is slightly wider, therefore stronger than derailleur chains.  Back then, most derailleur chains were the same width and one could easily interchange brands on a friction shifting bike. The future of chains was being hinted at with Suntour’s Ultra series.  This required a narrower chain which allowed us to put six cogs on a five speed bike.  No change was required in the shifters or derailleurs, as it was friction shifting.

In 2016 there are a myriad of chain sizes and types on the market.   We are currently up to eleven cogs on the rear wheel.  Eleven, ten, and nine speed systems all require a specific chain.  Eight, seven, and the rare six speed indexed systems take the same chain.   Friction or non-indexed chains are still available. Most drivetrain manufacturers say that their system requires their own brand of chain.  My experience is that shifting quality is best when you follow this recommendation; however I have successfully mixed brands up through nine speeds. If I disregard model, color, and quality it takes twelve chains to have one to fit every bike that comes in our door.

Take good care of your chain; replace it regularly and it will provide you with many fun miles of pedaling.  




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