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I have a Boardman Airpro and probably need a new chain having done about 1,300 miles with it.

The bike is used for leisure and commuting and therefore goes through all weathers. I also keep the chain pretty clean and well-oiled.

Do I need a new chain? There are so many different types. Which chains will work?

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The question doesn't ask what brands, it says which types. The answers have addressed this and not 'solicted debate'. –  Sam Dec 5 '12 at 18:51
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Thanks @Sam - I edited the question a little to get away from the shopping, "which is best" type of question and reopened it. –  Gary.Ray Dec 5 '12 at 19:53
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Remember: a worn chain will make new cogs wear faster; worn cogs will make a new chain wear faster. Replace them before they get bad. If both are bad, replace both at once. –  Jay Bazuzi Dec 6 '12 at 3:20
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Why do you think you need a new chain. What symptoms are you experiencing that make you think it's time for a replacement? –  Kibbee Jan 28 '13 at 16:11

5 Answers 5

As a general rule you get about 2000 miles out of a chain, but this depends on the chain, it's maintenance, and the use and storage conditions.

It's not out of line for certain brands of chains to need replacement in 1300 miles, since some are either cheaper (and hence more poorly constructed) or more expensive (and hence lighter, with less "meat"). And the more aggressively you ride the faster the chain will wear.

But the real test to see if a chain should be replaced is "chain stretch", using a chain wear indicator. Generally a chain should be replaced when "stretch" exceeds 0.75%, as measured by the tool.

(In a pinch you can crudely check a chain by measuring against a ruler. Links are exactly 1" apart when new, and if 10 links are more than 1/10th inch longer than 10 inches then that's 1% wear.)

One thing you definitely don't want to do is to run a chain beyond the point that it's "too worn" -- this causes damage to your sprockets and can cost you several times the price of a chain.

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Replacing a chain after just 1300 miles suggests it's not the chain but your care of it that's the problem. I get upwards of 10,000km out of mine (and that's in a wet climate).

Clean your chain 'regularly', not just to prolong it's lifespan (along with your cassette, chain-rings and dérailleurs), but also to have a much smoother ride.

When do I need to clean my chain?

  1. it's been very wet and all the oil has washed of your bike
  2. you've been riding off road a lot and can see a build up of grime on your chain.
  3. you live in a wet/snowy climate where gritters spray salt on the road : clean your after each five-ten bike rides - irrelevant of ride length.
  4. You've rode over 500 kilometres, dry or wet.
  5. you never went for a ride after cleaning it last, and it's been over a week - all that fresh oil will suck up all the dust in a ten kilometre radius and turn to grime

How do I clean my chain?

  1. Use a plastic pointed cleaning brush (not a bristle brush or cloth) and scrape all the dirt of the cassette, jockey wheels, and front gears.

  2. Use a bristled brush to dry clean the chain, knocking off any grime.

  3. Using a lint free cloth degrease the chain, running it through all gears.
  4. Again with a link free cloth, apply grease to the chain going through all gears
  5. Same again with oil
  6. Use a small brush (toothbrush is perfect) and lightly brush the chain while cycling it stationary to remove excess oil (this would otherwise cause the chain to jump while remaining on the same gear)

Every ten cleans or so you could use a chain cleaner (if you have one), do this between steps one and two.

If you must replace your chain...

There are basically two differentiators with chains. How many links does it have, and how wide are they.

  • The number of links correspond to the kind of bike (road or mountain).
  • The width corresponds to the number of gears on your rear cassette. You will usually see 'overlapping chains', like a 7/8/9 chain, which means the chain can be used on bikes with 7, 8 or 9 back gears. The more gears on a cassette, the thinner they have to be to fit on, so the chains get thinner too. A ten speed will usually have a skinnier chain, and most of-the-shelf bikes use a 7/8/9.

I use Shimano HG53s with 114 links which I've found to be both cheap and very performant. I've been through six and get between 10,000 and 16,000 km depending on the climate of the countries I've ridden them through.

You'll see other metrics relating to the side link quality like 'hyper-glide' chains, but this is just nonsense trying to get you to spend more money. Your chain will stretch out from lots of cycling and need replaced, before it needs replaced due to side links wearing down, so don't worry about these things too much.

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Before you consider replacing your chain, make sure you actually need to. If it's not rusty, feeling stiff, or making noise then use a tool to check the wear of your chain like this park tool one.

If it's not worn past the .5% mark then I would keep using it, if it's past the .75% mark then definitely replace it, but you can use your own judgement if it is somewhere between. You can probably have them do a quick check for free if you stop by any LBS (and then you can buy a new chain if you need one). Keep your chain clean and your drivetrain lubricated and you should get quite a lot of life out of a single chain.

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+1 for chain tool checker. The only reliable way to tell the chain is due a replacement. –  trailmax Jan 30 '13 at 12:13

In my experience, 2000 miles out of a 9/10 speed chain is pretty typical. Some brands do seem to be objectively better than others (see page 44 and onward), however, so your mileage may vary.

Regarding measuring the wear of a chain, a steel ruler is highly effective. Some would argue that chain checkers are made to sell chains, not really measure the wear on them, but they are generally conservative in that they typically factor in roller/bushing wear.

I have read claims of longer life from 9/10 speed chains, and I'm actually in the middle of testing a couple of new "treatments" to see if they extend chain life. First, I switched lubricants. Previously I had been using various teflon-carrying oils, wax based lubes, even ATF (automatic transmission fluid). Now I'm using Dumonde (review here), and I also bought an ultrasonic cleaner which I have used to clean my chain.

I'll be happy to come back here and post an update when the time is right. Currently my new chain (lubed with Dumonde lite and cleaned with the ultrasonic cleaner after 800 miles of riding) is at 900 miles and counting.

One thing I will mention regarding the Dumonde, it does help me to have a very clean drivetrain, which I appreciate (and never really seemed to achieve with other lubes).

BTW, this shows when I replace my chain, when it has "stretched" by 1/16." That particular chain was lubed with wax lube, mainly, and lasted 2000 miles:

Chain stretch

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I see no exact match for "AirPro" on the Boardman website, (the Pro Carbon possibly?) but certainly every model that is listed has a "spec" tab in which the chain is listed. By and large the groupsets seem to be Shimano with a couple of SRAMs, and lots of the chains coming out of the factory appear to be KMC. So, as regards what chain to get you should be able to look it up.

If you can't find your bike (old model?) on the site do you know what groupset it has? Certainly Shimano offer a chain for each of their ranges (105, Ultegra etc.) so you should be able to identify the chain that way. But check the number of cogs on your rear cassette because the chain will be dependent on this.

So as regards what chain to get, that should be straightforward.

There are some good answers on here regarding how to tell whether your chain actually needs replacing, I would simply add that if you look at the cost of replacing the chain on its own is not too expensive. The most recent chain I bought was for my fixie (a KMC at less than 10GBP, which also happens to be less than the cost of a bottle of Park chain cleaner!) a couple of months ago but I think even the top of the range Shimano Dura Ace chains are only something like 25GBP. So if you have your doubts, I would say just do it.

But as other people have said, you sometimes need a new cassette as well and these can be more expensive - I bought a new wheel in the summer and put an Ultegra cassette on it, think it cost about 50GBP.

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