Bike chains (a very key part of your bike system) are made by many different brands which use a variety of materials to make them, even gold. They also have different prices due to several reasons, and this would make you wonder whether the quality is tied to the higher prices of some chains.
Of course, the materials and number of cogs on the back cassette in the bike chain are key to the pricing of these chains. You can get very cheap and very expensive bike chains, with a price range of $16 to $100, and even more for some chains, such as the gold chains.
In this article, we examine whether expensive bike chains are really worth the cost, what the difference is (when compared to cheaper chains), we also recommend a reasonable price for these chains and some of the best expensive bike chains.
Are Expensive Bike Chains Worth It?
A general answer would be NO, expensive chains are not worth it. To be specific, there are two major things cyclists use to judge the worth of bike chains, and that is the lifespan of the chain and its functionality in the bike.
The main advantage that expensive chains usually provide is the reduction in chain weight and fancy plating, which is not necessary to make a chain good.
What You Get from Expensive Bike Chains?
So, if you do really want to buy a high-end, expensive bike chain, here are some benefits and perks that come with it;
1- Expensive bike chains are usually lighter in weight than other chains.
2- They are made with materials that have a higher resistance to rust, damage, and corrosion.
3- The materials of these chains are usually harder and tougher than cheaper chains, making them more resistant to damage or wear and tear. The higher quality coatings also help in this regard.
4- The higher quality of the materials is likely to increase the durability of the chain and usually give a better appearance to the chains and the whole aesthetic of your bike.
5- These expensive chains usually have improved peening of the pins. This reduces the likelihood of a pin falling and the chain breaking.
Expensive vs Cheap Bike Chains (What’s the Difference)
Here is a comparison table on expensive and cheap bike chains, stating key factors of any bike chain and the position of the two chains on these factors. This can help you decide which chain pricing is better suited for you and your bike.
|S/N||Key feature||Expensive chains||Cheap chains|
|1.||Functionality||This tends to have smoother rolling, higher tolerance to damage, improved engineering and structure, and a tighter chain build that can reduce the noise of the drivetrain. However, this is not the case for many of these chains.||The simplified engineering of these chains can produce lesser performance than other chains (although this is not fully proven), and the chain has a reduced tolerance to damage|
|2.||Durability||The higher quality materials should make the chains last longer (4000km plus). However, there is no proof that it is more durable.||These can last longer depending on the care and maintenance that you put in. Many cheap chains can go 2000 to 3000km.|
|3.||Weight||The lighter materials used for these kinds of chains make them super light while still very strong.||These have lesser quality materials and a simple structure, making them weigh more as a whole.|
|4.||Ease of maintenance||The higher quality coatings and materials make them more delicate to clean. However, they are easier to maintain as they usually are quick links that are simple to remove and reattach. They are also expensive to replace.||These are usually simple to clean and maintain, they may require more time and effort to remove and reattach but don’t usually have any intricacies in their maintenance.|
|5.||Appearance||Has a better appearance due to the higher quality of materials and fancy plating, but in the long term, it will fade and reduce in terms of appearance.||Simple and plain in appearance. These chains do not add any beauty or bling to your drive train and bike.|
What to Keep In Mind When Buying an Expensive Chain?
If you are going to spend that extra cash on your bike chain, you might as well make sure that you select one that is well worth the price. So here are some pointers on what to look out for when picking an expensive bike chain.
1- Coatings & Material
You should go for a chain with very high-quality coatings and material. A higher grade of steel/silver and material can make all the difference in quality, performance, and price.
The higher quality coatings can also improve the rust resistance of the chain.
2- Design & structure
The difference between several high-end chains can be the design, such as where the links of the chain are structured to assist in gear shifts or where the chain houses the roller pins in the links to aid lubrication.
This can improve the flexibility and power efficiency of the drive chain.
Even for expensive chains, weight can still be a factor. These are already light chains but can be lighter due to structural modifications such as hollow pins, extra peening, and slotted links, which can also make the chain tougher.
4- Number of Gears
This is an important factor that applies even to cheaper chains. The number of gears required in the rear cassette will help you determine whether you will need a 7,8,9,10,11, or 12-speed chain that is high-end.
Are Gold Bike Chains Better?
If you wish to simply have a good chain, a standard silver/steel chain is good for you, but if you want to add some flair and finesse to your drivetrain, then why not? Spend that extra cash and bling up your bike.
Firstly it is important to mention that gold chains are usually just normal steel or silver chains with a gold coating. It is difficult to find chains that are made purely from gold itself, many manufacturers do not offer the gold-coated chains, much less pure gold ones.
A chain of say 250g steel would weigh over 600g in solid gold, which is highly impracticable for a bike. It would also make for a weak chain due to the soft nature of the metal.
This means that solid gold chains are truly not worth it as they do not have a positive impact on chain performance or durability.
Gold-coated chains have a slightly better rating. The coating does not add any protection to your chains and there is no evidence that they improve chain functionality and lifespan but they do weigh less than their counterparts, as a result of a difference in design (such as slotted chain links).
They uplift your chain, making it look cleaner and well maintained, and also, the gold surface provides low friction that will improve how the chain glides.
Whether you wish to install a solid gold or gold plated chain, you now have more information to make a choice.
How Much Should I Spend on a Bike Chain?
With the wide variety of chains, chain brands, and prices accorded to these chains, what exactly is the standard amount you should spend on a bike chain.
Here is my recommendation on the bike chain costs you should incur:
If you are a normal cyclist with an average, not too expensive bike, you should budget between $15 to 40$ for a decent, somewhat cheap chain. There are cheaper chains than this but these are usually trash and will not last long at all on your bike.
If you are a professional cyclist or you use a high-end road or mountain bike, you will likely prefer a more expensive bike chain. This can cost you between $40 to $100. Gold chains range between $40 to $70 and can go higher depending on performance and specifications.
This can help you to budget for your bike chains and know the pricing for future bike chain replacements.
Recommended High-end Bike Chains
There are several brands that sell a variety of high-end, expensive bike chains.
After determining the speed you need for your chain, you can then browse through the catalogs of these brands to select your chain. Some of these brands are; Shimano, Campagnolo, SRAM, KMC, Wipperman, Dura-Ace, etc
Also, in no particular order, here are some of the top recommended high-end bike chains;:
1- Shimano XT 10-Speed CN-HG95
This is made of zinc-alloy and is treated with a special treatment called Sil-Tec, this allows them to easily pivot around the cogs and chainrings.
It also makes for a smoother ride with the reduced friction of the inner and outer links.
2- Izumi NJS V Track Chain
This chain has 116 links, a connecting pin and is compatible with single-speeds, fixies, BMX bikes, etc.
Its gold-coated outer links and black inner links are made of Chromoly steel that is stretch resistant, reducing noise production and increasing its durability.
3- KMC X11SL DLC 11-Speed Chain
This has a diamond-like coating that gives an extra hard chain and undergoes a heat treatment to increase chain strength and durability.
The pins are also hollow and riveted for increased support, and there are hollow inner and outer plates for improved weight support.
4- KMC x10sl Gold
This gold-plated chain has titanium nitride in its coating, which contributes to the durability of the chain. It also weighs 243g, making it a very light and tough chain.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of expensive chains and what they have to offer, you can decide for yourself if these chains are truly worth the price as compared to cheaper chain alternatives.
If you do decide to forge ahead on this path, you also have a price estimate on the different chains and know what to look out for when selecting the best high-end bike chain to bring that bling and good functionality to your drive train and bike.