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Buying the right chain for your bike can be tricky.
The number of gears on your cassette, the kind of bike you’re riding, and the make of your groupset, are just a few of the things you need to consider. What’s more, compatibility between chains and groupsets has never been more confusing.
If you’re not sure about the compatibility of your bike’s cassette and chainring please refer to our Buying Guide at the end of the reviews.
If you are sure then read on and take a look at 10 of the best bike chains currently available.
- Top 10 Best Bike Chains To Buy In 2021 Reviews
- 1 KMC Z-72 7-8sp Chain (Silver/Gray)
- 2 SHIMANO Unisex’s CNHG95116 Bike Parts, Other, One Size
- 3 SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain
- 4 SHIMANO CN-HG53 9-Speed Bicycle Chain
- 5 SRAM PC 1071 10-Speed Hollow Pin Bicycle Chain
- 6 KMC Z410 Bicycle Chain (1-Speed, 1/2 x 1/8-Inch, 112L)
- 7 KMC X8.93 8-Speed Bike Chain
- 8 KMC 710SL Single Speed Chain
- 9 KMC Z51/ Z8. 1 Bicycle Chain (6 & 7 & 8 Speed , 1/2 x 3/32-Inch)
- 10 Schwinn Bicycle Chain
- Best Bike Chains Buying Guide
- Before You Go
- Final Thoughts On The Best Bike Chains
Top 10 Best Bike Chains To Buy In 2021 Reviews
1 KMC Z-72 7-8sp Chain (Silver/Gray)
KMC is the largest manufacturer of bike chains in the world.
Very fitting therefore that we start a review with a chain from KMC. The company was founded in Taiwan in 1977. At the time they were the world’s smallest bicycle chain manufacturer. In just over 40 years, they have reached a point where they now dominate the industry.
The fact is that KMC now accounts for 70% of all bicycle chains manufactured. That’s truly staggering. Less surprising is that they got there by producing outstanding and innovative products at very affordable prices.
Whether you’re a pro peloton rider competing in the Giro d’Italia or going for a ride in your local park, the chances are you’ll be using a KMC chain.
Of course, it is. This is a workhorse of a chain designed for some heavy use. The KMC Z-72 chain is most likely to find its way onto a mountain bike, city bike or hybrid. This chain, like all KMC chains, is compatible with almost all of Shimano, Campagnolo and Sram groupsets.
Generally speaking, compatibility across different chains and groupsets is a bit of a nightmare. But a KMC chain will thankfully work with most cassettes and cranksets.
This is an all-steel 116 link chain. It weighs 315gms with 7.1mm links. The weight is a reflection that the chain is built for strength more than speed. You do however still get some reasonably smooth shifting.
The chain comes with its own proprietary master link that they call the Missing Link. The Missing Link is the same as Shimano’s Quick Link and Sram’s PowerLock Link. These kinds of links are essentially a connecting link that can be used to easily connect the chain with a pair of pliers.
They are much easier to use than having to use a chain breaker to break and re-install your chain. Why all chains don’t have a Missing Link we don’t know. One advantage of a Missing Link over Shimano’s Quick Link is that it’s a multi-use link.
The KMC Z-72 is suitable for use with 7 and 8-speed cassettes.
- Uses a quick link.
- Factory lubricant too thick and heavy.
2 SHIMANO Unisex’s CNHG95116 Bike Parts, Other, One Size
Shimano has an even longer history than KMC. Shimano dates back to 1921 in Japan. They started as an ironmonger but quickly began making single-speed freewheels. Fast-forward to today and, like KMC, they too have a 70% worldwide market share, but in bicycle gear and brake-related products.
The SHIMANO Unisex’s CNHG95116 is a 10-speed chain. It has 114 links and weighs 273gms.
This is designed for mountain bikes. Consequently, it’s tough and will stand up to plenty of abuse. The pins are engineered with a mushroom shape to improve endplate strength. This reduces the chance of chain breakage. Additionally, the inner links have an open design to inhibit the unwanted build-up of mud.
The Hyper Glide series of chains are now well-known for producing both smooth running and smooth shifting. The inner plate has a unique design that provides exceptional contact with the gears. Shifting under load, common amongst mountain bikers, is smoother. Better still, there’s less resistance when pedaling and less noise too.
The great thing about this chain is that the performance is not at the expense of chain life. SHIMANO Unisex’s CNHG95116 chain has zinc alloy plating on the outer links to protect against corrosion. It also has a range of other treatments and coatings to all the components to ensure longevity.
This is a great chain but it comes at a price. Priced at around 3 times the cost of a standard all-steel chain, you’re going to have dig deep in the wallet for this one. But we’ve no doubt whatsoever that it’s worth every cent.
- Strong and durable.
- Smooth running.
- Smooth gear changes.
- Zinc alloy anticorrosive covering.
3 SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain
This is another Hyper Glide chain system from Shimano. This time it’s one for road bikes. We can tell you, hand on heart, you’ll love this chain. This is one of the best road bike chains you can buy.
The packaging indicates that you can also use this Ultegra chain with a 105 or Dura-Ace groupset. The reality is it would fit with a Tiagra groupset too. Though you may feel reluctant to put such a high-end and expensive chain together with such an inexpensive groupset.
The SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain has compatibility across other manufactures. It will play nicely with Sram cassettes and gears. However, expect a big fight and bust up if you put it anywhere near Campagnolo.
The Hyper Glide system is the same as used on the previous Shimano chain we reviewed. You get the same zinc-alloy plating on the outer links. The same unique design to the inner and outer plates. Thereby giving smooth running, shifting and reducing the dreaded chance of chain suck.
In the real world, this all translates to a super smooth shifting and riding experience. If all your drivetrain components are properly cleaned and maintained, riding with an Ultegra chain is a serene experience. Make no mistake, this is a quality chain so you can expect the very best in performance.
The chain uses a Quick Link so you won’t need a chain chain-splitting tool other than for initially sizing the chain. This makes it easy to install or to take off during routine maintenance.
The great price and performance make the SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain an excellent choice regardless of if you’re riding with 105, Ultegra or Dura-Ace groupsets. We’re sure you’ll agree that the Ultegra chain is probably the best in their entire line-up.
- Anti-corrosive zinc-alloy coating.
- Quick Link.
4 SHIMANO CN-HG53 9-Speed Bicycle Chain
The SHIMANO CN-HG53 9-Speed Bicycle Chain is a good everyday, inexpensive chain.
This is an inexpensive chain that has a lot of the same Hyper Glide (HG) technology as its more expensive counterparts. One of the main differences is that the hollowing out of the endplates is missing. This means the weight is a little higher.
That’s just over 30gms more than the Ultegra chain.
The chain has the same chamfered inner plates as all HG Shimano chains. This helps for smoothing shifting even under force. It also has the same hardening treatments to its rollers for strength. Plus, it has zinc-alloy outer plates to prevent corrosion.
It is primarily aimed at middle-tier groupsets. However, it will work equally well on either a road bike fitted with a Tiagra groupset or a mountain bike fitted with a Deore groupset.
Like most 9-speed chains you can also put it on an 8-speed setup. So, if you’re using Shimano it would fit an on-road bike fitted with a Claris groupset. Alternatively, you could fit it on a mountain bike with an Alivio groupset.
The SHIMANO CN-HG53 9-Speed Bicycle Chain is also compatible with similar 9-speed Sram cassettes and cranksets.
The only thing that we don’t like about this chain is that it doesn’t use a quick link. The SHIMANO CN-HG53 uses a master pin. Consequently, you’re going to have to root around and find your chain splitter for any reinstallations. Unless you want to go all old-school and use a punch and an old pair of pliers. Always fine in an emergency but not recommended!
If you need to take the chain off for repair or maintenance, another master pin is included. Any further repairs and we’d advise you to use a new link. You can buy master pins very cheaply and they’re readily available.
- Uses Shimano’s Hyper Glide technology.
- Suitable for all Shimano 9-speed groupsets.
- Heavier than other Shimano HG chains.
- No quick link.
5 SRAM PC 1071 10-Speed Hollow Pin Bicycle Chain
Sram are often considered as the third player for bike brakes and gears. There’s no doubt that in terms of sales they’re behind Shimano and Campagnolo. But when it comes to quality, they make some outstanding products, including chains.
The SRAM PC 1071 10-Speed is a 114-link chain. It features chrome-hardened pins and nickel outer plates.
The outer plates are highly chamfered. This ensures beautifully quiet running and smooth gear changes. It’s well-engineered and finished to give one of the smoothest rides you can experience.
The chain uses its trademarked HollowPin technology to reduce the weight to new lows. The SRAM PC 1071 10-Speed chain weighs just 259gms.
This is a direct competitor to Shimano’s Dura-Ace and Ultegra chains.
This Sram chain is every bit as smooth and tough as other high-end chains. It’s also every bit as expensive. Though we think it’s definitely worth the price.
You can use this across the range of Sram’s 10-speed groupsets. You can also use it across Shimano’s 10-speed groupsets. Unfortunately, it won’t work with anything from Campagnolo.
One last thing we like about Sram’s chain is that it uses its own proprietary PowerLock connecting link. This can only be used on Sram chains. It works very much in the same way as a Shimano Quick Link. Honestly, they’re a great way to save a lot of time and effort. They also make emergency chain repairs at the side of the road so much easier.
- Very lightweight.
- Smooth running.
- Compatible with Shimano.
- PowerLock connecting link.
- Not compatible with Campagnolo.
6 KMC Z410 Bicycle Chain (1-Speed, 1/2 x 1/8-Inch, 112L)
We had to include at least one fixie or single-geared chain on our list.
Single gear chains are wide and heavy. The KMC chain is exactly both of these. The links measure a beefy 9.2mm and this 112-link chain comes in at a heavyweight 399gms.
You can get a single gear that’s lighter than this but honestly not by much. Maybe 50gms or so. Conversely, they’re unlikely to get too much heavier either. Again, by maybe around 50gms.
This is a strong and durable chain. It has a heat-treated, thickened outer plate. This makes it more tensile and resilient against wear.
The chain also has a wider beveled plate. This helps to add stability and also helps to prevent chain-drop during your ride. A nice couple of benefits to keep you riding and feeling safe.
A lot of single speed bikes are modded in ways you’ll never see on a road or gravel bike. Chain manufacturers recognize this so invariably make their chains in a range of colors.
KMC produces their Z410 Bicycle Chain in no less than 9 different colors. These include purples, reds, yellows, and blues. There are some great color choices and all a far cry from the ubiquitous dark or silver chains you find on most bikes.
The chain comes with a master link that’s nice and easy to install. However, you’ll still need a chain splitter to size your chain in the first instance. Unlike Shimano’s Quick Link, KMC does not recommend that you have to use a new master link every time you need to break the chain. That’s great.
- Hard wearing.
- Wide beveled inner-plate.
- Good choice of colors.
- Color fades quickly.
7 KMC X8.93 8-Speed Bike Chain
This is a nice chain for not a lot of money.
The KMC X8.93 8-Speed Bike Chain has 116 links. The links measure 7.2mm and the chain weighs a slightly hefty 315gms. This is just over 10gms heavier than The SHIMANO CN-HG53 9-Speed which weighs 304gms.
When we consider that an 8-speed chain will always be heavier than a 9-speed chain, of the same quality, the KMC chain looks even better.
The X8.93 8-Speed Bike Chain has plenty of engineering and design features to keep change gear shifts smooth and predictable. These features include a double X bridge shape and also chamfered links.
This is a durable and hard-wearing chain. It has mushroom-ended rivets and a stretch proof treatment to help with longevity. It also has nickel-plated links to keep rust at bay.
Finally, the fact is, that although this chain is an 8-speed you’ll be able to use it just fine with a 6 or 7-speed setup. On the whole 6, 7 and 8-speed chains are interchangeable. If you can get the same 6, 7 or 8-speed chain for the same speed cassette and crankset, it’s preferable. But it’s unlikely to make much difference.
- Hard wearing.
- Smooth running.
- Has a Missing Link.
- Dull finish.
8 KMC 710SL Single Speed Chain
This is the second of our single speed chains again from our friends at KMC.
The KMC 710SL chain is a lightweight 100 link chain. It weighs just 349gms compared to 399gms for the KMC Z410 we reviewed earlier.
The biggest weight saving has been by manufacturing the chain with hollow pins. Although the pins are hollow the good news is the hollowing out does nothing to reduce the strength. You’ll get every bit of wear and reliability from this chain as one constructed with solid pins.
Notice anything different? Well, you should! The endplates have been shaved off at the tips into a kind of angular shape. Another clever weight-saving exercise, and again, something that in no way affects the chain’s performance.
The KMC 710SL has all the resilience and tensile strength of its heavy brother. It also has the same wide beveled plate to aid stability and prevent chain drop.
Yes and no.
This is undoubtedly one of the best single-speed bike chains. Box ticked. The only real downside is all the machining to give you that 50gms saving is going to cost you about 4 times the price of the heavier version.
It’s still not a lot of money but you will have to think carefully about exactly how much you’re prepared to spend to save 50gms.
- Wide beveled edge.
- Good choice of colors.
- It’s expensive.
9 KMC Z51/ Z8. 1 Bicycle Chain (6 & 7 & 8 Speed , 1/2 x 3/32-Inch)
This is an IG compatible chain.
This can be used wherever a Shimano Interactive Glide chain is used. It won’t be compatible with a system where an HG chain is used. As far as Sram compatibility goes, you can use it as you would with a similar Interactive Glide chain.
The KMC Z51/ Z8. 1 Bicycle Chain has 116 links and weighs 349gms. The links are 7.1mm. As is clear from the description, this all cool for 6, 7 and 8-speed cassettes and chainrings.
This is a relatively heavy chain but it does make up for it with the price. It’s relatively inexpensive which is a huge plus. Additionally, with it being suitable for 3 different cassette speeds, it’s pretty versatile too.
The KMC Z51/ Z8. 1 Bicycle Chain has most of the good qualities of the other two KMC 8-speed chains we reviewed. This chain has the same chamfered edges to give you smooth running and beautifully crisp gear changes. It also has had stretch-proof treatment and has mushroom ended rivets.
This is a tough chain that we think is a great value proposition.
We’d like to end here, but unfortunately, we have to address the elephant in the room. The color! Brown! Seriously? On a multi-speed bike?
We’re not exactly sure what KMC we’re thinking but we can’t think of too many mountain bikers, road bikers or general leisure cyclists who’ve been yearning after a brown chain. On a fixie, it would be fine. But this just seems like a strange choice of color and we don’t get it.
Otherwise, all good though.
- It can be used for multi-speeds.
- It’s tough.
- Good value.
- Chamfered outer links.
- It’s brown!
10 Schwinn Bicycle Chain
Schwinn is not a big manufacturer of chains.
The fact is that they’re better known for bikes. In particular, they’re known for introducing the world to the cruiser bike in the 1930s. Thanks for that Schwinn. It’s, therefore, apt that one of the few chains they do make are for single speed bikes.
The Schwinn chain we’re reviewing has 112 links and measures 1/2” x 1/8”. In the same range, they also make a chain for 6 and 7-speed bikes. This is also a 112-link chain but measures slightly smaller at 1/2” x 3/32”.
It’s a little heavier than some similar chains from KMC. However, this feels like a strong chain, so we’re happy with a bit of extra weight.
The single-speed chain runs smoothly. The 6 and 7-speed variants run equally as smoothly and shift easily. The gear changes are crisp with no skirting over the surface of the cassette.
It’s probably ideal for mixed weather riding, but in the dry, it quickly picks up a lot of dirt. Once the initial excess grease has been cleaned off, and a good quality dry oil lube has been applied, things are much better.
One other thing we are not keen on is the omission of an easy to fit master link. The Schwinn chain is going to require you to use a chain splitter at every install or reinstall.
It’s not difficult to do. The truth is, in the first instance you have to size the chain with a chain splitter anyway. It’s just that a decent Quick Link or Master Link is so much quicker. It’s also much easier to use in case of a mechanical.
- Hard wearing.
- Anti-corrosive plating.
- Smooth running.
- Good value.
- No easy to use Master Link.
Best Bike Chains Buying Guide
Chain Compatibility Overview
Chain compatibility is quite frankly a bit of a nightmare. What’s more, it’s a nightmare that only seems to be getting worse. We’ll cover a few of the basics, but with any chain, it’s always worth double-checking compatibility before you buy.
In 1984 most people were preoccupied with nuclear and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. However, for some of us Shimano’s introduction of index-linked gears brought in a very different Brave New World.
You see, before indexed linked gears, all cassettes, cranksets, and chains were pretty much happy to talk to each other. Sadly, post-1984 things changed. The chatter and the conversations got less frequent.
The problems arose as different manufacturers implemented different ratios to shift gears. As things moved on from 6, 7 and 8-speed cassettes to 9, 10, and 11, things have become even more strained.
The fact is that swapping chains of the same size will still sometimes work between different manufactures. However, generally speaking, the more gears you have, the less likely you are to get smooth, crisp shifting, and in some cases, they won’t work at all.
Now, with different sized chains between the same manufacturer, there’s a little bit of wiggle room.
11-speed cassettes seem to like 11-speed chains and don’t always go well with a smaller size…
However, for 9 and 10-speed chains you can usually go up or down a size for the intended cassette and things will work fine. This is because the difference in width is only around 0.1mm. It’s not something we’d do routinely, and we would advise against it, but it generally works.
When it comes to 6, 7 and 8-speed cassettes things are more relaxed as the tolerances are much greater. In this instance, we have much less of a problem mixing and matching cassettes. Though we’d still avoid it if we could.
Even though these configurations usually work, there is a caveat. That is that they may not be as smooth through the gears as when fitted with the exact sized chain. On the other hand, they still might be!
Let’s now look more closely at cross manufacturer compatibility…
KMC doesn’t make groupsets, they only make chains. As such it’s in their interest to be compatible with as many manufactures as they can. Which they do very well.
KMC is like your drunken aunt at a wedding. She’ll speak and dance with anyone. And so will KMC. A KMC chain can be used with Shimano, Sram, and Campagnolo groupsets. A KMC chain also can be used with lesser-known groupset manufacturers, such as FSA.
- Shimano and Sram
We’ve put these 2 together because mostly they’ll talk together except for some of the newer 11-speed set-ups. You need to check individually for this. We would, however, advise that you don’t use a Shimano 11-speed chain on a Sram 11-speed cassette and vice versa.
Both Shimano and Sram will talk with KMC but will have nothing to do with Campagnolo.
Campagnolo is a bit of a loner. This is the sullen teenage boy who tries not to talk with anyone. He does talk with KMC but only because his drunken aunty makes him.
He steadfastly will not talk to Shimano, Sram or anyone else for that matter.
The main three manufacturers all have proprietary master link systems. KMC has Missing Link, Shimano has Quick Link, and Sram has PowerLock. All of these are designed to make breaking and refitting chains quick and easy.
Once the chain is sized you only need a pair of pliers to take off your chain. This is a lot easier than having to use a chain splitter to reseat the master pin into the master link.
Of these 3 systems, we prefer the KMC and Sram master link. This is because their master links can be reused. On the other hand, Shimano’s Quick Link is recommended as a one-use-only link. Though quite frankly we’ve been using them multiple times with zero issues.
If you properly look after your chain you will extend its life significantly. You’ll also significantly increase the life of your cassette and crankset. What’s more, you’ll improve the quality of your shifting and experience less friction and smoother running.
Dirt on your chain can work like a cutting paste on the rest of your components. If you don’t keep it clean you could be in for some expensive surprises as you quickly wear through cassettes and chainrings.
If you keep your chain clean, you should be able to run 3 or 4 chains before having to change a cassette. Hopefully, it will be a few cassettes before you see the tell-tale signs of shark’s teeth on your chainring, indicating that it’s time for a change.
Keep in mind that chains are cheap. Cassettes and cranksets aren’t.
Other than saving money, other benefits of keeping a well maintained, clean and properly greased chain are in power savings and improved operating performance. A clean and well-greased chain can save up to 20 watts. That means going a lot further for much less effort. And who wouldn’t want that? Also, a well-maintained chain will shift crisply and run more smoothly and quietly. And who wouldn’t want that either?
Before You Go
Got the Best Bike Chain Degreasers?
For reviews of other bike parts and accessories, check out our comprehensive coverage of the Best Bike Brake Pads, the Best Bike Tubes, the Best Bicycle Tires for Gravel Riding, the Best Bicycle Tire Pressure Gauges, the Best Flat Pedals, the Best Bike Locks, the Best Bicycle Tool Kits, the Best Bicycle Seats, the Best Mountain Bike Saddles on the market.
Back to bike chains…
Final Thoughts On The Best Bike Chains
So, there you have it. Some of the best bike chains currently on sale. We hope you found something suitable for your bike and your style of riding. We also hope the whole process of searching for a chain didn’t cause too much confusion. Maybe we should all switch back to friction shifters!
It’s difficult to pick a favorite chain out of these 10, but we eventually decided on the…SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain.
It might not be as light as the SRAM PC 1071 10-Speed Hollow Pin Chain, but it’s still lightweight. More importantly, the Ultegra chain is just so silky smooth.
The Hyper Glide system is hard to beat and it’s honestly great to ride with. We love how it crisply runs up and down the gears. We love its almost silent running and we also love its durability. A great chain.
Enjoy your bikes and enjoy your rides.