Selecting the best bike chains for your bikes can be difficult. Things that need to be considered include the number of gears on your drivetrain, the type of bike you have, your riding style, and your make of groupset.
We’ve kept things simple, as we’ve reviewed each chain, but we’ve also included a short Buyer’s Guide at the end of the reviews to clear up any confusion or possible questions hopefully. So, before you start, if you have any specific questions relating to chain compatibility, jump to the Buyer’s Guide now.
If not, then let’s get started and take a closer look at the ten chains on our list…
- 1 Best Bike Chains In 2021 – Top 10 Rated Review
- 1.1 1 KMC X10SL DLC Bicycle Chain – Best Lightweight Cross Compatible Bike Chain
- 1.2 2 KMC Z-72 7-8sp Chain (Silver/Gray) – Best Strong Cross Compatible Bike Chain
- 1.3 3 SHIMANO Unisex’s CNHG95116 Bike Parts, Other, One Size – Best Mountain Bike Chain
- 1.4 4 KMC X8.99/X8 Bicycle Chain (1/2 x 3/32-Inch, 116L, Silver) – Best Affordable Hard Wearing Bike Chain
- 1.5 5 SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain – Best Easy Install Smooth Shift Bike Chain
- 1.6 6 SRAM PC1071 10 Speed Chain w/Connector – Best Light Weight Bike Chain for High Performance Rides
- 1.7 7 KMC Z410 Bicycle Chain (1-Speed, 1/2 x 1/8-Inch, 112L) – Best Affordable Single Speed Bike Chain
- 1.8 8 KMC 710SL Single Speed Chain – Best Lightweight Single Speed Bike Chain
- 1.9 9 KMC Z51/ Z8. 1 Bicycle Chain (6 & 7 & 8 Speed , 1/2 x 3/32-Inch) Packing may vary – Best Value Versatile Bike Chain
- 1.10 10 SRAM PC 1170 11-Speed Hollow Pin Bicycle Chain with PowerLock Chain Connector – Best Power Lube Bike Chain
- 2 Best Bike Chains Buying Guide
- 3 Need Something For Your Car Or Motorbike?
- 4 So, What Are The Best Bike Chains?
Best Bike Chains In 2021 – Top 10 Rated Review
1 KMC X10SL DLC Bicycle Chain – Best Lightweight Cross Compatible Bike Chain
KMC is, by a very long way, the largest bike chain manufacturer in the world. They are a Taiwanese company that was founded back in 1977. Starting from small beginnings, they have gone on to dominate the bike chain segment of the cycling industry—an incredible achievement in such a short space of time.
Incredibly, KMC currently accounts for 70% of the bicycle chain market…
Whether you’re a professional or an amateur rider, the chances are that right now; you’ll have a KMC chain on your bike. With all this history, therefore, it seems fitting that we should start our review with one of their chains.
So, how about the KMC X10SL, is it any good?
Frankly, this is one of the best chains they make.
DLC in the description stands for ‘Diamond Like Coating.’ This is a thin, super hard carbon-based protective layer that’s been coated onto the chain’s surface. It’s there to protect the chain from wear and increase its longevity.
So, does it work?
In a word, yes. Rider experience points to increased durability and less wear over time. No official figures are coming out of KMC, but anecdotal evidence suggests you can reasonably expect anywhere up to a 50% longer chain life.
The chain has hollow links and hollow pins. Despite this, it doesn’t affect its longevity or durability. Because of this, it also pushes the weight down to just 236 g.
Smooth and light…
This is the lightest of all the chains in our review. It’s also possibly the quietest and delivers the smoothest gear changing too.
The chain is available with a few different color options if red links are not your thing. They’re without a doubt, not ours! You can also get an 11-speed version. Very useful.
The KMC X10SL DLC Bicycle Chain is compatible with Shimano, Sram, and Campagnolo…
The price of the chain is high, very high. Even compared to the more expensive chains from both Shimano and Sram, you can still expect to pay a premium. If a handful of grams saving, a potentially longer life, and some possible performance advantages are worth, the cost is hard to say.
What we can’t argue with is that this is a darned good chain.
- Super lightweight.
- DLC on the chain.
- Long chain-life.
- Smooth-shifting and running.
- Compatible with Shimano and Sram.
- High price.
2 KMC Z-72 7-8sp Chain (Silver/Gray) – Best Strong Cross Compatible Bike Chain
The KMC Z-72 7-8sp Chain is made for heavy use. It’s suitable for most 7 and 8-speed cassettes and is most commonly used on mountain bikes, city bikes, and hybrids. It’s compatible with the majority of Sram, Campagnolo, and Shimano groupsets.
Another excellent cross-compatible chain from KMC…
One of the great things about KMC chains is that they can talk nicely with the majority of different manufacturer’s groupsets. Compatibility between chains and groupsets can be complicated. In this respect, KMC keeps things nice and straightforward.
Other chain manufacturers, please take note!
The KMC Z-72 7-8sp Chain is a 116 link all steel chain. It has 7.1 mm links and weighs in at a rather hefty 315gms. To a large extent, the weight is down to it being built predominantly for strength rather than speed. However, despite this, you still enjoy a high degree of smooth shifting.
As strong as it is, you still don’t need a chain splitter…
The chain features KMC’s proprietary master link. They call it the Missing Link. It’s the same kind of design and technology found on Sram’s PowerLock and Shimano’s Quick Link. Essentially these are all a connecting link that allows the user to split a chain with just a pair of pliers and without the need for a chain splitter.
It’s a mystery these days why all chains don’t use one.
- Missing Link system.
- Overly thick factory lubricant.
3 SHIMANO Unisex’s CNHG95116 Bike Parts, Other, One Size – Best Mountain Bike Chain
Shimano has an equally illustrious and an even more extended history of bicycle component manufacturing than KMC. In fact, Shimano goes right back to 1921 in Japan. Shimano was initially an ironmonger, though they began making single-speed freewheels very soon from their inception.
From these very humble beginnings, like KMC, they too have a staggering market share in their field. Again, 70% to be precise. Shimano’s success is in the manufacture of all things drivetrains and groupsets.
The CNHG95116 is a 10-speed chain, with 114 links, and weighs a competitive 273gms. It’s principally designed for use on mountain bikes. Consequently, this is a robust chain that’s more than capable of withstanding some heavy abuse.
The pins are mushroom-shaped to help improve endplate strength. This effectively decreases the chance of chain breakage. Plus, all the inner links are openly designed to help reduce the unwanted build-up of mud — both great qualities for a mountain bike chain.
Smooth as silk…
The SHIMANO Unisex’s CNHG95116 is part of the Hyper Glide series of chains. These are renowned for producing smooth running and super-smooth shifting. This is also a unidirectional chain which helps to further improve shifting while at the same time reducing the likelihood of chain suck.
The inner plate, through its unique design, provides excellent contact through all of the gears. This helps to facilitate smoother shifting under pressure, which is commonly undertaken by mountain bikers. We’re sure you’ll agree that even better, resistance is lower and there’s less noise too.
Super durable zinc alloy plated…
Happily, all this first-rate performance doesn’t come at the expense of longevity, because it’s zinc alloy plated for corrosion protection. Additionally, it has further coatings to prolong use and increase durability.
There’s no argument that this is a high-quality chain. Unfortunately, though, there is the rather large matter of cost. All this quality and technology doesn’t come cheap. The truth is you can expect to pay up to three times the price when compared to a typical all-steel chain.
- Smooth gear changes under load.
- Made from zinc alloy.
- Low resistance.
4 KMC X8.99/X8 Bicycle Chain (1/2 x 3/32-Inch, 116L, Silver) – Best Affordable Hard Wearing Bike Chain
The KMC X8.93 8-Speed Chain has 116 links with each link measuring 7.2mm. It weighs a somewhat heavy 315gms. However, considering its affordability and durability, we can’t overly criticize it for being no supermodel.
Even at its affordable price point, it’s beautifully crisp and predictable…
KMC’s X8.99/X8 has double X bridge contours together with chamfered links. This combination ensures crisp and predictable gear changing along with smooth running too. Two key components and features on every cyclists’ wish list.
The chain also scores well for being hard-wearing and durable. This, in part, is achieved through the inclusion of mushroom-ended rivets together with a stretch proof treatment. What’s more, it also has special nickel-plated links to prevent premature corrosion.
The chain uses KMC’s proprietary Missing Link to keep it together. One of the benefits of this system, over alternative quick link systems, is that the link is multi-use. Most other chain manufacturers recommend their quick links to be used only once. Not that we pay much attention to that, of course!
Finishing on another positive, although this is an 8-speed chain, the good news is that it will still work perfectly well with either a 6-speed or a 7-speed cassette and chainring.
- Crisp gear changing.
- Uses KMC’s Missing Link.
- Mushroom ended rivets.
5 SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain – Best Easy Install Smooth Shift Bike Chain
This is another beauty of a chain from Shimano featuring its superb Hyper Glide system. This chain is designed primarily for road bikes. If you have a 10-speed road bike, we can honestly tell you that bicycle chains don’t get much better than this.
The SHIMANO Ultegra has 116 links and tips the scales at a very respectable 267 g.
The chain can be used with Dura-Ace, Ultegra, or 105 10-speed groupsets. However, if you want to treat your bike and have a Tiagra groupset, it will fit perfectly well on there as well. Ultimately, you’d be putting an expensive chain on a relatively inexpensive groupset, but hey, why not?
Best kept apart…
The SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain is compatible with Sram and FSA drivetrains. However, it won’t play well at all with Campagnolo. A bit like oil and water, it’s always best to keep virtually anything from Shimano and Campagnolo well apart.
We should also warn you that anything Shimano on an Italian bike is liable to prompt a call to the Mafia!
Hyper Glide system…
The Shimano Hyper Glide system on this chain is identical to the one on the SHIMANO Unisex’s CNHG95116 we reviewed earlier. That means that there’s the same zinc plating to be found on the outer links. There’s also the same trademark design on the inner and the outer plates.
All of this guarantees smooth running and shifting through the gears. It also reduces the chances of suffering from chain suck. From a practical standpoint, this chain will give you a very smooth and pleasant riding experience. There’s no doubt that this is through and through a quality chain.
Easy installation too…
The chain has Shimano’s proprietary Quick Link. Happily, you, therefore, won’t need to use any form of chain-splitter to size and fit your chain. Installing or re-installing your chain is a breeze.
The pricepoint of the SHIMANO Ultegra CN-6701 Chain makes it a great choice regardless of the groupset you’re using. If this chain is compatible with your bike, we have no hesitation in recommending it to you.
The bottom line is that this is one of the best bike chains in their range.
- Quick Link.
- Smooth running.
- Super smooth shifting.
- Fits multiple groupsets.
6 SRAM PC1071 10 Speed Chain w/Connector – Best Light Weight Bike Chain for High Performance Rides
Let’s get started by saying that this is a premium-priced and premium quality chain. As a manufacturer, Sram is the third-largest player in the supply for bicycle groupsets. But although they don’t have the volume of sales when compared to Shimano and Campagnolo, they are certainly their equal in terms of quality.
Undoubtedly Sram makes excellent chains, drivetrains, and associated products.
Quiet and buttery smooth…
The SRAM PC 1071 10-Speed is a lightweight chain. It has 114 links and features their proprietary chrome-hardened pins combined with nickel outer plates. These outer plates are contoured with highly chamfered edges. The upshot is a chain that delivers quiet running together with buttery smooth gear changing.
It’s is a well-engineered and manufactured chain that produces a superbly smooth ride.
Lightweight for high performance…
Sram utilizes its HollowPin technology to bring down the weight to one of the lightest in its class. It weighs only 259gms. For high-performance riding, very few chains can be found any lighter. It’s safe to say that The SRAM PC 1071 10-Speed chain directly competes with Shimano’s all-conquering Ultegra and Dura-Ace chains.
The chain can be used with all of Sram’s 10-speed cassettes and chainrings. It can also be used with all of Shimano’s 10-speed groupsets. Unsurprisingly, it can’t be used with any of Campagnolo’s drivetrains.
Campagnolo is a well and truly grumpy groupset…
Finishing off on one last positive for Sram. We love their PowerLock connecting link. These quick links make emergency repairs and routine maintenance so much easier.
We wish we’d had them years ago!
- PowerLock quick link.
- Shimano compatible.
- Quiet and smooth running.
- Not compatible with Campagnolo.
7 KMC Z410 Bicycle Chain (1-Speed, 1/2 x 1/8-Inch, 112L) – Best Affordable Single Speed Bike Chain
What a beauty this single speed bicycle chain is. It’s a 112-link chain with links that measure a not inconsiderable 9.2mm wide. It also weighs a whopping 399 g. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the KMC Z410 Bicycle Chain is wide and heavy.
It’s a BBC. Big Beautiful Chain!
It’s made primarily to be strong and durable at a reasonable price…
One of the key features is its beefed up and heat-treated outer plate. It’s designed to increase tensile strength and improve resilience. It does both of these with aplomb.
Additionally, the chain is designed with a wide beveled plate. This serves the purpose of reducing the incidence of chain drop and also adding stability during your rides. These are the kinds of features that are there to keep you moving down the road whilst feeling safe. Whether you’re riding a single-speed or a fixie.
A wide range of colors…
We’re sure you’ll agree that there’s something inherently cool about these bikes. A lot of them are also heavily personalized. The chain manufacturers assist on this score and come to the party by offering their products in a wide range of colors.
The KMC Z410 Bicycle Chain is very much in on the fun and offers a choice of nine colors. Rather than the rather dull silver or dark chains found on most bikes, you can go for reds, purples, yellows, and blues.
What’s not to like about that?
Finally, the chain has a MissingLink system to make the chain easy to put on and take off. Single-speed chains can be a little more difficult to install because of their size, so this is a welcome inclusion. It’s also very welcome that the MissingLink can be re-used if needed.
- Heat-treated outer plate.
- Choice of nine colors.
- The applied color fades relatively quickly.
8 KMC 710SL Single Speed Chain – Best Lightweight Single Speed Bike Chain
It’s two in a row for single speed chains from KMC.
This might be another KMC single speed chain, but we can assure you it’s very different from the one we’ve just reviewed.
Let’s find out why…
The most obvious difference is in the weight. The KMC 710SL chain weighs in at 349 g. Now, we know, this is not exactly light, but at 50 g lighter than the KMC Z410, it’s still a significant difference. As far as single speed chains are concerned, this is honestly about as light as you can go.
So, how do they get the weight so low?
Firstly, the chain is manufactured with hollow pins. However, despite this, there’s no compromise over the chain’s strength or durability. This chain will give you just as much reliability and longevity as a chain that’s been constructed using solid pins.
Secondly, there’s been some intelligent machining to the endplates. These have been cut to almost a point, rather than being rounded, to shave off a few extra grams. Another smart idea that again does nothing to detract from the constructional integrity of the chain.
The KMC 710SL gives you the same durability and tensile strength of the heavier KMC Z410. It even has an identical beveled plate that assists stability and reduces the possibility of chain drop. So, you get excellent performance too.
Should we all rush out and buy one then?
You should. But only if you have deep pockets. The fact is that although this a premium quality single speed chain, there’s a price tag to match. Sadly, that 50 g weight saving is going to cost you four times the cost of a more cumbersome alternative.
It’s a lot of money to save 50 g, but cyclists frequently spend considerably more to save significantly less.
We’ll leave this specific weight/cost equation for you.
- Choice of colors.
9 KMC Z51/ Z8. 1 Bicycle Chain (6 & 7 & 8 Speed , 1/2 x 3/32-Inch) Packing may vary – Best Value Versatile Bike Chain
The KMC Z51/ Z8. 1 Bicycle Chain is compatible with any Interactive Glide chain from Shimano. You need to take special care that you don’t use it in place of a Shimano Hyper Glide chain. It won’t work. If you want to use it with Sram, that’s fine. It will work.
This is a 116-link chain that weighs 349gms. That’s heavy!
On the plus side, though, it does make up for the weight with the price. This is a relatively inexpensive chain. What’s more, since it can be used with three very popular speeds of drivetrain, it’s versatile too.
Not only versatile…
The KMC Z51/ Z8. 1 Bicycle Chain comes with chamfered edges. This means quiet smooth running together with smooth gear changing. The chain also comes with mushroom ended rivets and a stretch proof treatment. This means increased endplate strength and improved durability.
If you’re looking for a sturdy chain with solid performance credentials, for not a lot of money, then look no further. So long as you’re happy with the weight, this is a good value proposition.
The only real negative we can level at it is the color.
What we’re KMC thinking?
Producing a brown chain for a 6,7 or 8-speed drivetrain seems a strange choice. How many cyclists are going to want a brown chain is questionable. We’re not sure why they’ve done this.
Save the colors for Single Speed and Fixie riders guys.
- Good endplate strength.
- Suitable very popular drivetrain speeds.
- It’s heavy.
10 SRAM PC 1170 11-Speed Hollow Pin Bicycle Chain with PowerLock Chain Connector – Best Power Lube Bike Chain
This chain is every bit as good as the best chains from either Shimano or KMC. If you’re rocking a Sram Red groupset on your bike, there’s every reason to use the SRAM PC 1170 chain rather than one of its competitors. We would!
A highly competitive 256 g…
It’s a 114-link chain though you can specify a 120-link version. Useful if you’re running some big gear ratios and possibly have a long gauge derailleur at the rear. If you go for the 114-link version, the weight will come in at a highly competitive 256 g.
It achieves part of the low weight by manufacturing the chain with hollow pins. This has the added benefits of higher-yielding plate retention strength and improved front and rear gear changing efficiency.
Crisp gear changes…
The chain has highly machined chamfered edges to the outer links. It doesn’t, in any way, interfere with its strength. But what it does do is increase the smooth running and assist in super smooth, crisp gear changes.
It has a PowerLock quick link system that we think is the easiest to use. Sadly, Sram only recommends it as a one-use item. Though we honestly pay little attention to this.
Another feature we like is the PowerLube coating that comes on the chain. It’s specially formulated to provide quiet and smooth running. It’s also formulated to provide high levels of protection and longevity.
There’s nothing negative to say about the SRAM PC 1170 other than the price. Unsurprisingly, all this engineering comes at a cost. However, for higher-tiered groupsets, it’s worth it. Plus, compared to chains with similar specifications, it’s priced very reasonably.
- Smooth running.
- Crisp gear changing.
- PowerLock quick link.
- Excellent PowerLube factory coating.
Best Bike Chains Buying Guide
Before we get into specifics, we want to start by clarifying the fact that there are no chains made just for mountain bikes, road bikes, or any other kind of bikes. A chain may have specific characteristics that suit a certain kind of bike.
For instance, a very light chain may be more suited to a road bike, or a very strong chain may be more suited to a commuter or a mountain bike. However, any chain that’s the right size will fit onto the gears of any kind of bike, regardless of its style.
These days 11-speed drivetrains are very much the norm on road bikes. If you have an 11-speed set-up, the fact is that you’re best to stick with an 11-speed specific chain. It’s not that it won’t work so much as it just won’t work and perform as well as it might.
With 10-speed cassettes, things are a little more relaxed…
These will work close to flawlessly with a 9-speed chain and vice-versa. That’s because the links are slightly wider than on an 11-speed chain, so the tolerances are not quite so critical.
As you move down to 6, 7, and 8-speed drivetrains, the tolerances become even greater to the point that these are all interchangeable as far as chain selection is concerned.
Regardless of the number of gears, you’re running…
It’s always worth trying to match it precisely with a chain that’s been manufactured for that number of gears where ever possible. Just keep in mind that the more gears you have, the fussier you should be when selecting your chain size.
Chain compatibility between different manufacturers can be a bit confusing. It’s not as much of a nightmare as the compatibility between bottom brackets or index gear shifting systems. However, there are still a few basics to keep in mind when selecting your chain.
We’ll take a brief look at each chain manufacturer and explain who talks and who fight with who.
KMC only make chains. They’re not involved in any way with the manufacture of drivetrains or groupsets. Consequently, it’s very much in their interest to make chains that can be used on as many different manufacturers groupsets as possible.
As far as this is concerned, it’s a job done…
KMC is compatible with all major and minor groupsets. It doesn’t matter if you have Sram, Campagnolo, Shimano, or even FSA gears on your bike, KMC chains will work.
There are some exceptions with the very latest 12-speed set-ups. Plus, it’s always worth checking before you go ahead and buy, since although the chains will work, there may be a slight reduction in performance. However, generally speaking, the principle is sound.
Shimano chains are compatible with Sram. If the Sram drivetrain goes together with a Shimano chain, designed for the same number of gears, they’ll work. However, on some of the newer 11-speed and 12-speed drivetrains, there might be a slight drop off in performance.
We, therefore, recommend not putting a Shimano chain on a Sram set-up that’s anything over a 10-speed.
Sram chains are compatible with Shimano drivetrains in exactly the same way. Follow the same guidelines as we’ve outlined in the Shimano section above, and all will be fine.
Each of the three manufacturers we’ve featured has a proprietary quick link system. KMC have their Missing Link. Shimano has their Quick Link. Sram has its PowerLock.
All of the three quick links enable you to fit and refit your chain without needing a chain splitter. This makes any form of chain maintenance, that involves its removal, appreciably easier. The cool thing is that all you need to remove the chain is a pair of pliers.
We’ve even heard of a few strong individuals being able to do it with their bare hands. Heros!
We find the Sram the easiest of the three quick links to use.
Chain Life And Maintenance
Taking care of, and regularly cleaning your chain will increase its life dramatically. You’ll also significantly increase the life of both your chainrings and cassettes. What’s more, you’ll also improve the smoothness of your shifting, and that will lead to quieter and smoother running.
Dirty chains that stay that way will quickly wear down other components on your bike…
Accumulated dirt works like a cutting compound. Consequently, if you don’t regularly clean your chain, and the rest of your drivetrain, you can expect to unnecessarily have to pay for a lot of expensive new components down the line.
Make sure you regularly check for chain wear. Chains can be swapped out quickly and cheaply. Your cassettes and cranksets and chainrings are a very different story.
Not to mention…
As well as saving yourself a lot of unwanted expenses, a clean and well-maintained chain will also give you increased power savings. A properly cleaned and greased chain can give you as much as a 20 watts advantage over a poorly maintained chain. That means a lot more speed for a lot less effort.
How cool is that?
Finally, a well cleaned and a well-greased chain will also give you crisper gear changing together with quieter and smoother running.
And that’s pretty cool too!
Need Something For Your Car Or Motorbike?
If you enjoyed this bike chain review, why not check out a few vehicle product reviews while you’re here?
We suggest taking a look at our reviews for the Best Rust Converters, the Best Car Scratch Removers, the Best Buffing Pads, the Best Bug Tar Removers, the Best Carburetor Cleaners, the Best Motorcycle Cleaners, the Best Rear View Mirror Glues, and the Best Automotive Paint Guns currently available.
Then for the latest technology on the road, head to the Best Car Compasses, the Best Double Din Head Units, the Best Bluetooth Headsets for Drivers, the Best Remote Start Systems, and the Best HUD for Cars, you can buy.
OK, back to bike chains…
So, What Are The Best Bike Chains?
So, there you have it. Ten of the best bike chains you can buy. We hope there’s one in the line-up that’s right for your bike and the kind of riding you do.
It’s challenging to select a top pick out of these 10. However, we feel the…Shimano CN-6701 chain
… has enough high quality, and at an affordable price, that’s it’s a worthy winner.
It’s is a lightweight chain that features Shimano’s superb Hyper Glide system. It delivers super smooth running and beautifully crisp gear changes. It also gives you close to silent running coupled with strong durability.
It’s a great chain.
Enjoy your rides!