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I would like to use a Shimano Deore XT Chain CN-HG94 on my road bike. Are there any differences between roadbike chains versus mountain bike chains that prohibit this?

Sample Road Bike Chains:

Sample Mountain Bike Chains:

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The vendor High on Bikes seems to think so, if you go by the product title. But if you read the description the HG94 certainly seems optimised for a MTB setup. – PeteH May 3 '13 at 21:10
I found a German vendor that states exactly the opposite: "nicht mit anderen, für Rennräder konzipierten 10-fach Schaltungen kompatibel" - "Not compatible with other gearshifts designed for road bikes" I guess vendors have an interest in selling specific parts and can therefore not be quoted as a reliable source. – Bengt May 6 '13 at 9:34

Using the "approved" chain is probably better if all else is equal, and it may be worth a slightly increased cost for more peace of mind. If you already have the mountain-specific chain, there's no harm in trying it. And if the mountain-specific chain is far cheaper and you aren't picky about shifting performance, it will probably be adequate (but no guarantees).

The "mountain bike specific construction" of the HG-X chains seems to be as follows (quotes from Performance Bike, High on Bikes, Amazon, and Competitive Cyclist):

  • "Dyna-Sys chains have 4 different types of outer plates that facilitate shifting up & down on the cassette or between chainrings."

  • "HG-X Chain uses a directional design with specifically shaped inner and outer plates to optimise shifting over the chainset and cassette. Outer plate design has been developed to reduce the chance of chain suck. The inner plate has been developed for better contact with gears providing smoother shifting under high load, giving efficient pedalling, increased rigidity and near silent running."

  • "Open design of inner links increase mud shedding ability."

  • "Mushrooming of the pins gives unsurpassed side-plate retention, enabling the chain to far exceed the BS/ISO standard for breaking force."

  • "Chain is optimised for Shimano 10-speed HG-X MTB drivetrains only."

  • "Advanced pin riveting technology yields same strength as 9-speed Hollow-pin technology for lightweight Mud-shedding, off-road-specific design."

  • "Since the action of climbing up the ramps and pins from one chainring to another is slightly different from climbing up one cog to the next, Shimano chose to shape the left and right side plates differently to optimize the chain for each specific purpose."

Given the prevelance of the words "optimized performance" in product descriptions, I would conclude that using the "wrong" chain may affect performance, but it wouldn't cause failure. This conclusion is bolstered by this report from a user who switched from HG-X to a non-Shimano chain (the opposite direction of what you're intending):

  • "Shifting under load up hills with the Connex is slightly less smooth than with Shimano's HGX chain, but it works just fine. I'd say it's the same as Shimano's non-HGX chains or any other good top end chain. This is for sure a nit-picky difference." (Cris LaBossiere)

Of course, you'll never know for sure until you try it on your own bike and judge it by your own standards.

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Your answer is much more well-researched than I would have been able to. I will see, to what extend the mentioned aspects reflect in performance in the next days. – Bengt May 9 '13 at 14:32

The chain compatibility will depend on your cassette.

I have two road bikes, one is a 9-speed Shimano, the other a 10 speed shimano. I also have an MTB. The MTB chain is considerably thicker and the cassette on the MTB considerably more spaced out allowing room for it.

My MTB chain would not fit either of my road bikes for that reason, it could not sit on a single cog on the cassette.

I would not buy a chain unless it was specifically compatible with my cassette.

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Does your MTB have an 8-, 9-, or 10-speed cassette respectively chain? – Bengt May 9 '13 at 11:31
9-speed cassette on my MTB I think, from memory. – THEMike May 10 '13 at 8:10

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