The mountain bike chain is the powerhouse of the bike that allows it to move forward. To the untrained eye, all bike chains might look the same, but not all are created equal when it comes to trail and competitive riding. Having the best MTB chain can help make your ride more smooth and more fun.
Higher end chains last longer and come in a variety of colors for a clean ride and stylish look. Cheaper chains tend to be louder when shifting and are less durable, but offer a rider on a budget a more affordable option.
THE BEST MTB CHAIN – QUICK ANSWER
- SRAM 10 Series
- KMC X9L
- SunRace JuJu (CNM99)
- Connex 11s0
- Shimano Tiagra HG-53
- KMC K810
- Connex 11SX
- KMC X10SL
- FSA SL-K
- Connex 108
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FIND THE BEST MTB CHAINS
MTB CHAINS 101
6 THINGS TO CONSIDER TO FIND THE BEST MTB CHAIN
Just as there are different levels of mountain biking, there are different chains designed for the various terrain you may face.
BMX biking comes in a variety of forms, not just the stunt events you might think of when you first hear BMX. There are long trail races as well. Both of these styles need rugged chains to withstand the force you’ll put on the bike.
Trail riding tends to be more individual. Depending on where you live and/or ride, bikers can face terrain from light trails to mountainous regions, and even deserts.
This is where bikes differ the most. The type of frame, chain, and tires all depend on what terrain you’re riding on. You don’t want to use a fat bike (a mountain bike with large tires), meant for snow out in the desert. The wheels just aren’t meant for it, and neither is the chain.
Alloy steel is the standard bike chain material, no matter if it’s a road bike, mountain bike, or racing bike. This material allows for less-expensive bike chains, but ones that hold up in many conditions.
Higher-end bikes often feature nickel-plated chains, both for aesthetic purposes and because they provide even more corrosion resistance. Nickel-plated chains also sometimes vary in color, while steel chains tend to be your typical gray.
3. CHAIN LENGTH
The length of your bike chain determines the number of speeds the bike is capable of (i.e. 9, 10, 11 speed).
Some mountain bikers swear by single speed bikes for a variety of reasons. First, it’s definitely the most challenging way to ride, because you can’t shift to a lower speed when you’re pedaling up a difficult part of the trail—-instead you’re pedaling full speed and at full strength the entire time. For those people that like to build or repair their own bikes, whether for cost saving reasons, or just for fun, a single speed bike means less equipment to deal with.
If you’re a beginner, or just like to make things a little easier, having multiple speeds on your bike lets you coast on those difficult uphill climbs and preserve energy.
Again, the speed your bike is, depends on the kind of riding you’re doing. Long-range trail riding with a few different terrains require a variety of speeds, but not as many as you might need if you’re rising windy, rocky mountains that are throwing a huge number of obstacles in your way.
4. REPLACING THE CHAIN
TOOLS TO USE
Certain chains don’t require the use of tools to remove and replace the chain, but most do, especially those with longer chains. For these bikes, you’ll need a chain tool that allows you to push the pin out of the chain so you can remove the chain and make the new one the correct length.
There are videos on Youtube and Urban Velo offers a tutorial on how use a chain tool and remove and replace your chain. If you’ve got an expensive bike and buy an expensive replacement chain, it’s best to just take you’re bike to a shop and have a professional replace it.
CLEANING THE CHAIN
Cleaning your bike chain is something you can easily do on your own and something you should do every once in a while. If you’re riding in mud or storing your bike outside (something you should avoid) you’ll have to clean your chain more frequently to make sure the moisture doesn’t rust out your chain.
The chain tool can help you remove the chain if it’s particularly dirty and needs a more thorough cleaning, but you can also leave your chain right on the bike. You can use bike lube or oil specifically designed for chains, but this can be expensive. You can also use vinegar or degreaser soap. Using a toothbrush, simply scrub your chain clean, rotating the pedals to rotate it.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/wavebreakmedia
MTB CHAIN REVIEWS
1. BEST MTB CHAINS FOR OVERALL USE
BEST FOR: Those looking for the most reliable chain brand that’s easy to replace
BIKE SPEED: 10 speed (the same brand offers similar chains for a whole range of speeds)
PROS: Shifts cleanly, high-end, which means durable
CONS: When shifting, the chain tends to make a fairly loud noise
BEST FOR: Those who like faster, more difficult riding.
BIKE SPEED: 9 speed
PROS: Can be removed and cleaned easily, can handle any terrain.
CONS: Slightly pricey, about $35-$40
SUNRACE JUJU (CNM99) 8, 9, 10 SPEED
BEST FOR: Budget riders
BIKE SPEED: 8, 9, 10 speed bikes
PROS: Lighter chain that is easy to replace, smooth shifting
CONS: Cheap chain so it will wear quicker than high-end chains
2. BEST MTB CHAINS FOR BUDGET RIDERS
BEST FOR: Bikers on a budget that still want a somewhat durable chain
BIKE SPEED: 11 speed
PROS: Cheap, but adaptable to nearly all bikes
CONS: Not rated the best in corrosion resistance
SHIMANO TIAGRA HG-53
BEST FOR: Someone looking for a cheap chain, but that will still last
BIKE SPEED: 9 Speed
PROS: Durable for what the price is
CONS: It is cheap, so it won’t last as long as some other chains
BEST FOR: Someone looking for the cheapest chain possible
BIKE SPEED: Single Speed
PROS: Can buy for as low as $8, easy to remove and clean, comes in gold
CONS: This is a very cheap chain, so what you see is what you get
3. BEST MTB CHAINS FOR HIGH-END BIKES
CONNEX 11SX CHAIN
BEST FOR: Bikers with looking for a chain that will last the longest
BIKE SPEED: 11 Speed
MATERIAL: Stainless Steel
PROS: Durable for any condition, high grade material
CONS: On the pricey end, simple look
BEST FOR: Someone who wants a bike chain that is durable, but also stylish
BIKE SPEED: 10 speed
MATERIAL: Steel, titanium coated
PROS: Extremely durable, come in a variety of colors including: green, blue, pink, and gold, very light
CONS: These are very pricey chains, at around $170, mostly because of the style
4. BEST LONGLASTING MTB CHAINS
BEST FOR: Bikers looking for a silent, excellent shifting chain
BIKE SPEED: 10 Speed
PROS: Similar to SRAM chains, which are one of the most frequent chains used, durable, smooth shifting
CONS: Only comes in 10 speed
5. BEST MTB CHAINS FOR SINGLE-SPEED BIKES
BEST FOR: BMX riders
BIKE SPEED: Single Speed
PROS: Weather and wear resistant in any weather
CONS: For long-trail riders, this chain isn’t the best