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I figure the jockey wheels on my derailer will last nearly forever, but what about the rest: cassette, chainrings, and chain? How many miles, kilometers, or furlongs do they normally last?

I know that there are definite signs of worn out sprockets—what sort of mileage is typical before the point where the wear is significant enough to require replacement?

This is for a commuter/touring bike with Shimano 105 components that is reasonably well maintained. I clean & lubricate the chain every few weeks.

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    What type of bike? And what kind of riding? My commuting bike and road bike components have vastly different lifespans.
    – user313
    Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 17:00
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    Also, what kind of maintenance do you give those components on what kind of schedule?
    – freiheit
    Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 17:11
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    As commented above, it's impossible to answer this without knowing how hard you ride the bike and how well it's maintained. Whether you replace your chain regularly is of particular interest. Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 17:16
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    I was trying to keep this general, so as to be useful to others; I didn't realize that so much would depend upon the style of components. Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 17:39

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Mileage will vary greatly depending on the riding conditions and component maintenance. Personally, I've never tracked the mileage of my drivetrain components. But I do know that I replace chains far more often on my commuter bike than on my road bike.

Ok, I pulled out my copy of Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance...

Chain life: 1,000 - 1,500 miles in dirty conditions or infrequent lubrication. Lighter cyclists riding on clean, dry roads might expect 2,000 - 3,000 miles with poor maintenance and up to 5,000 miles with a daily high-quality lubrication.

Zinn also says that he gets almost infinite life out of his chainrings and cogs! He said that in the section on checking for chain elongation.

Here in Portland, commuting year round, I'm probably near the bottom end for my commuter bike.

wdy

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    I'll add that I change my chain at least once a year. Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 19:30
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    The key to the 'infinite life' for chainrings and cogs is frequently checking for chain stretch, and replacing the chain at the first sign. Running with a stretched chain deforms the ring teeth and makes it so all the components have to be replaced at the same time.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Sep 20, 2010 at 3:27
  • @Gary.Ray - In Zinn's book, the only index entry for chainring and cog lifespan is to the page/section on chain elongation. So, chain elongation is definitely the key to chainring/cog life.
    – user313
    Commented Sep 22, 2010 at 20:24
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Drivetrain components tend to wear in this order:

  1. Chain
  2. Rear cassette/sprockets
  3. Front chainrings

(and the teeth on your derailleur's jockey wheels may last, but the bearings may not)

The chain is usually the culprit for wearing out the other two. As it wears, the distance between links effectively increases, and the mismatch between the links and teeth will grind away at your gears. So the key to making your cassette and chainrings last is to change the chain before it wears too much. I use a Park Tool chain measuring device -- it slots in between the pins on the chain so it's a bit more accurate than a ruler.

Keeping the chain clean will help increase its life. Also keep in mind that 9- and 10-speed chains (and perhaps 8 as well?) are narrower than the other chains. Their construction allows more gears to fit in the same space, but it also means that they wear much faster.

I've stayed with 9-speed and my chain lasts at least 1500km with a lot of riding in wet weather. Every time I've pushed it (and ignored my chain tool's advice), I've had to spring for a new cassette afterwards. I remember chains on my older bikes (7-speed) lasting much longer than this.

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  • Do 9 & 10 speed chains really wear faster? I can see how they might be designed for weight and performance over longevity, but do you think it is just the narrowness?
    – shabbychef
    Commented Sep 18, 2010 at 20:58
  • @shabbychef: It matches my experience with 7 versus 9 speed and is also something that my LBS pointed out. It could be due to the narrower chain, less material, or perhaps the narrower cogs focus the stress over a smaller area.
    – darkcanuck
    Commented Sep 19, 2010 at 1:02
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I've heard different rules of thumb (rule of thumbs?) about how much use you can get, and remember none of them. What I do know is that not lubeing a chain often enough--actually, cleaning and lubeing--will cause it to wear such that it 'stretches'. Not stretch like taffy, but gain overall length due to the pins and bushings in the links wearing down, getting slightly more room in how they link together. Once the chain stretches it wears the teeth of the cassette and chainrings much rapidly. Bottom line: lube and clean your chain often enough and everything else will last longer.

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    and you can measure a chain with a regulat 12" ruler. Pins should line up at 0" and 12" Commented Sep 17, 2010 at 22:16
  • Rules of thumb = more than one rule of the thumb type. Rule of thumbs = one rule about more than one thumb. The first one is correct here. (The second one isn't likely to be correct anywhere.) Commented Sep 26, 2010 at 19:38
  • I heard a rule of thumb--no, wait, there were 2 of them.
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 6:49
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As darkcanuck mentions, make sure you check the chain for wear and when it gets outside of acceptable limits change it. If you don't then you'll end up having to change other components too.

I left mine too long (much, much too long) and ended up having to buy a new cassette and chainrings. The rest of the drivetrain may survive for years but only if you look after the chain properly and and replace it when necessary.

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I clean & lubricate the chain every few weeks.

I don't know how much you ride per week, but you should lubricate the chain only when it starts squeaking. For me, that's bit over 800 km. When it does start squeaking, there's no time to wait, the squeaking and chain wear will accelerate so quickly that even when it makes the slightest squeak, you need to lubricate it at that point of time without waiting.

I have put 3675 km on my chain, and it has been lubricated probably three times apart from the factory lubrication. I just recently did the last chain lubrication out of those three.

I measured my chain with a 0.5% wear tool (Shimano TL-CN41). It didn't show 0.5% wear but was very close to it, because if I reduced the chain tension a little I managed to fit the go/no-go gauge in (it should be used with full tension). I measure it every time I lubricate it, so this means the next time the chain starts squeaking at about 4500 km, it probably shows it's worn.

So with good chain lubrication strategy, you get 4500 km out of a chain, if you use the 0.5% wear mark. Some tools also have a 0.75% wear mark but this comes with an increased risk of sprocket wear.

The reason chains are replaced is that if you replace it early, you don't necessarily have to replace sprockets and chainrings every time. But how many chains can you wear for a sprocket cassette? I don't know, maybe 2, maybe 3, maybe 4. But I expect at least 2.

My chain lubrication strategy is as follows:

  • I never remove the factory grease. It's the best lubricant.
  • I only lubricate the chain when I can hear the slightest amount of squeak.
  • Before lubricating, I check the chain with a Shimano TL-CN41 gauge. Only Shimano TL-CN40, TL-CN41, TL-CN42, Park Tool CC-4 and Pedro's Chain Checker Plus and Pedro's Chain Checker Plus II are accurate because they are the only tools that measure using three points, not two (so they tension the chain), meaning they only measure pin wear and not roller wear, roller diameter and roller clearance.
  • When it's squeaking a bit, it's almost free of oil. Then I remove the dirt by first alternately using a specially reinforced paper towel (ordinary paper towels won't work) and two stiff brushes. You can't get it fully clean this way, removing it from the bike would allow more thorough cleaning at the expense of more time needed (and maybe a new specially reinforced connecting pin needed), but the extra time would cost so much it doesn't make any sense if receiving any significant amount of salary from your dayjob, considering how cheap chains are. A on-the-bike chain cleaning machine could work, but it makes a huge mess where you use it, so using it on your own property doesn't make sense and using it on someone else's property would probably be a crime due to the horrible mess it makes. And also disposing of the environmentally damaging dirty cleaning fluid ain't nice.
  • When the chain is reasonably clean, I add thixotropic motorcycle chain lubricant in a spray can, first shaking the can before applying. I never use any other type of lubricant, in particular I never use so-called "dry" lubes. Don't fear the spray mechanism, the lubricant is so thick it doesn't ruin your rim brake tracks (if running rim brakes).
  • After the chain is fully lubricated (one run around it is enough), I remove the excess lubricant by using a clean specially reinforced paper towel. When the chain is reasonably free of excess lubricant, it's done. I never touch the chain again until I can hear the slightest amount of squeak.

It takes about 20 minutes to clean and oil a chain on a bicycle work stand with these procedures. Most of the time is cleaning, second largest time consumer is removing the excess oil, the simplest task is adding the oil.

About chainrings, I understand that Jobst Brandt had a 300 000 km 50-tooth chainring that was about worn. So you get as much life out of a big chainring as you would get from a car engine. That 300 000 km chainring though was rotated (5-bolt attachment) several times during its wear life, if using a modern ring with shifting aids this may not be possible, but 100 000 km should be possible at least. That's assuming you always replace your chain early and use the highest quality 7075T6 aluminum chainrings.

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  • Which chain and cassette are you using? A lot also depends on the circumstances (e.g. riding in rain, mud or even sand) and how much power the rider (or rider+motor in case mid-motor eBikes) is outputting.
    – Michael
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 15:47
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    Tiagra 10-speed stuff. An e-bike, that's not ridden in rain. Yes I agree that rain can more than halve the lifetime of a chain, while at the same time necessitating really frequent re-lubrication.
    – juhist
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 18:32
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    The claim that the factory grease is the best lubricant ever depends on the brand. While I have no complain about the grease that comes with Shimano chains, (some) KMC chains come with a "product" that is better at attracting dust than lubricate the chain, and that is very difficult to clean (two thinner baths from a factory new chain).
    – Rеnаud
    Commented May 7, 2023 at 9:55

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