Summary of the differences between Shimano's 7-speed to 11-speed chains
Posted at: Jun. 11, 2021
This is a summary of the differences between Shimano chains for road and cross bikes, from 7 to 11 speeds. It also compares the different chains for each speed range and how much the maintenance costs vary.
Table of contents
Shimano’s Chain Lineup
First, let’s look at Shimano’s main chain lineup.
6th, 7th, and 8th gears share the same chain, and the actual price of the chain is very cheap, less than $8. The reason why 8-speed is called “the most cost effective” is because of the low price of consumables.
For 9-speed chains (SORA for road, AVIVIO, ACERA, and ALTUS for MTB), the standard number of links is 118, two more than other chains, and the price is around $18.
For 10-speed (TIAGRA for road, DEORE for MTB), there are 116-link and 118-link models, which cost around $27, or about $8 more.
For 11-speed, which is the standard number of steps for the current higher grade of road components (DURA-ACE, ULTEGRA, 105), the price is $25 to $37 for 116 links, which is about the price of a sprocket for the chain alone.
Differences in chains for different speed levels
Different width (thickness) of the chain frame
The width (thickness) of the chain frame differs depending on the number of speed changes.
The reason for this is that the distance between the sprockets needs to be narrowed when increasing the number of gears in the narrow space of a free cassette. This is because the spacing between the teeth of each sprocket is narrowed or widened to match the number of sprocket steps, and the width (thickness) of the chain is changed accordingly.
Since the spacing between the teeth of the sprockets is the same for 6th to 8th gears (the thickness of the sprocket increases as the number of steps increases), the chain can be used as is if the sprocket is upgraded.
On the other hand, if you are upgrading to a 9-speed or higher, the width (thickness) of the chain will be different, so you will need to change the chain to match the number of gears.
Also, the front chainring and rear derailleur may not be compatible with some products even if the same number of gears are used, so it is best to check the Shimano compatibility chart carefully.
Where does the number of links make a difference?
As we saw in the list earlier, Shimano chains have 116 links and 118 links.
Whether these links are enough or not depends on the gear ratio of the bike. The larger the number of teeth on the front chainring and the sprocket, the more links you will need.
You won’t know this until you actually fit the chain, but 116 links are generally enough, so don’t be too nervous about it.
According to Shimano’s official manual, the length of the chain should be determined by “the point where the pulley cage of the rear derailleur is perpendicular to the ground when the front outer x rear top is set” or “the front outer x rear low + 1 link”.
If you are not sure if you have enough links, try using the same bike you are using and count the number of links.
Speed Steps, Shimano Chain, and Cost Performance
Shimano’s official opinion is that it is time to replace the chain after 4,000km.
As you can see, the price of a chain can range from around $8 to $37, so the more distance you ride, the more it will affect the cost.
For example, if you ride a bicycle for commuting to work or school, and you ride 5km each way every day, you will ride “10km x 245 days = 2,450km” in a year, so it will be time to replace the chain in a year and a half.
On the other hand, a serious driver who drives more than 100km every weekend will drive “100km x 52 = 5,200km” and will need to replace it every year. In this sense, the running cost is higher for serious users who require high specifications, while the cost is better for light users such as those who commute to work or school.
To make it easier to understand, here is a table.
Cost per 100km
Annual cost for commuting to work or school
Annual cost for serious riding
A single choice of component can make a difference of up to $37 in annual chain costs.
However, if you use your bike for commuting to work or school, the difference in cost between different grades of chains is small, so you can choose the one you like.
If you are a serious rider who rides more than 4,000km a year, you are likely to spend more money on your bike than just the chain, and you may not care about the price of the chain.
In particular, those who ride 105 or higher race (or race-ready) grade road bikes tend to choose expensive chains for their performance and durability.
If you want to do some serious riding, but want to keep the running costs as low as possible, you can reduce the running costs by going up to 8 speeds.
On the other hand, in terms of cost performance, the annual cost of a 9-speed or faster bike is only about $8, so the running cost of a chain is about the same for 9-11 speed components.
We have looked at the differences between 7 to 11 speed chains.
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