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I was browsing through a webshop for some replacement parts and in the "chains" section I came across "e-bike chains" - claimed to be stronger than traditional chains.

Since 11-speed chains are supposed to be replaced when the stretch reaches 0.5% I came up with an idea of putting this e-bike chain onto a traditional (thus utterly human-powered) road bike to benefit from longer life of such a chain.

Since the price difference isn't dramatic (it may be 50% more which transfers to around €10 more compared to KMC X11) I got myself into thinking:

  • isn't putting an e-bike chain the way to go when aiming for longevity of the chain?
  • or should I either replace a cheaper chain more often?
  • or buy a higher quality "traditional" chain?

Which is the way to go when looking for the most miles per dollar? The question applies to 11-speed only. With no limitations going single speed would be the cheapest option, I know that.

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    I wouldn't pay more for an E-Bike chain- E-Bike chains will either be a standard chain with special packaging and more markup, or built heavier than standard, in special packaging with more markup. For an E-bike where weight does not matter, buy mid range chains, they are cheap and reliable. An average rider can easily produce 500W, an elite over 1500W peak, so a standard chain is more than strong enough for a sensibly ridden E-Bike. (Comment, not an answer because its an opinion based purely on my cynical beliefs on how product merchandising is done) – mattnz Jul 5 at 21:18
  • @mattnz The main strength consideration for chains is not the power, but the force which it needs to be able to handle. The maximum force is only a function of rider weight (+ crank length and chain-wheel size). A 150kg rider can put a force of about 3000N on the chain, assuming the chain-wheel diameter equals crank length (typical IGH setup). There's no way an electric motor ever comes close to this force. However, E-bikes are typically ridden with a much lower cadence, and power is force times speed, so the average force on the chain is much higher than on a human powered bike. – cmaster Jul 6 at 8:59
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Chains don't stretch under any kind of normal use, even the kind of power that an e-bike can put out (which, to be fair, can be several multiples of what a fairly strong rider can put out for extended periods).

Chains elongate through wear: the combination of lube and environmental grit acts as a grinding paste between the moving parts of the chain, so that side-plate openings enlarge (or rivets wear down), resulting in a longer chain overall.

If you want your chain to last longer, keep it clean.

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I have heard of some manufacturers offering ebike drive trains on regular bikes, which do allow them to better handle more power - but I think this includes not just the chain, but the derailleur, etc. I know the chain on one of my eBikes is not symmetrical - i.e. the left and right side look different - so I don't know if it would work well on another bike. (Also note, most shifters for ebikes will only allow you to shift one gear at a time, so the chain can be more laterally stiff on eBikes than a regular bike where you might try to shift multiple gears at once).

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There are no standards for what constitutes an "E-bike" specific component, so differences compared to "standard" chains are really up to what the manufacturer sees as being e-bike requirements (i.e., manufacturer specific).

To better understand some of the general changes manufacturers might make, we could look to e-bike specific tires as he tire physical specifications are well documented on the web (e.g., tread and sidewall thickness). Most "e-bike" marketed tires are heavier, thicker and likely a little bit more robust than "regular" tires, but generally very similar to "regular" tires. That said, if you know the market you can typically find "regular" tires with these features as well, but these will be marketed for different purposes (e.g., touring).

The internal specification of chains are less well documented, so we have to do some educated guess work. Currently, the e-bike market is viewed as being more casual cyclists (e.g., many "dedicated" cyclists will still break into conniptions when the mere word is mentioned). This market segment is less concerned with weight and "performance" as getting something that is strong and reliable that they can neglect. As such, I suspect (i.e., speculation) the chains will have some sort of nickel plating or extra nickel plating to reduce corrosion, but will avoid any weight saving features (e.g., "performance" features such as hollow rivets and/or hollow plates). This might make it a little more "robust" compared to most high-end chains for shifting under load which, when considering the segment, will be a desirable feature. That said, nickel plating can also be found on "regular" chains, but these chains will also feature weight saving features such as hollow rivets and/or hollow plates (or some combination therein). Because there are tight tolerances on 11 speed chain dimensions, any differences will be largely one of material selections.

In terms of chain longevity the nickel plating will have the biggest effect, but as mentioned this feature can already be found on other high-end "regular" chains which typically cost the same or slightly less than e-bike specific chains. So I am not clear whether you will find any tangible gains in longevity by using an e-bike chain, unless you are consistently breaking chains by shifting under loads or running poor chain lines.

As an aside, if maximizing longevity is your key concern, you should consider hot waxing a chain. Typically, I get roughly twice the longevity on an 11 speed chain (scroll to the bottom figure and compare the wear rates, i.e., line slopes).

  • Another difference is often the length, ebike specific chains are often longer than normal chains. – Ives Aug 6 at 18:32
  • @Ives yes it would appear e-bike chains are typically longer as well (likely adding to the cost). – Rider_X Aug 6 at 23:23

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