Your bike chain has worn down. Yes, the bike chain. The chain is wrapped around your bike wheels and the pedals. You know, the chain that sets the wheels in motion — literally — when you pedal your bicycle.
That chain has been damaged and needs replacement. How much does it cost? What things should you keep in mind when buying another? Get all your answers here in this writing
How Much Does a Bike Chain Cost to Replace?
Let’s start with the featured question about price. The average bike chain replacement cost can go anywhere from $15 to over $100.
The range is high for a number of reasons. First, low-performance bike chains can be bought starting from around $15. These are normally heavy and add to the overall weight of the bike.
They are also less durable. On the other hand, you can buy higher-tier bike chains starting from $25. These are lightweight but more durable.
This is just the buying cost. For the actual replacement, installation costs are typically charged from around $15 to $40 by local bike shops, though this can obviously spike in premium shops.
If you want to go the DIY approach — if you want to do it yourself — get yourself a chain tool and teach yourself the process. The chain tool costs anywhere from around $10 to $100.
Worried about ‘Bike Brake Pads’? See the comparison here to get effective brake pads for your bike.
Things to Keep in Mind before Replacing a Bike Chain on Your Own:
Do you want to learn to replace your own bike chain after buying it? Sure, why not? We admire the gusto. And it will also make you appreciate the mechanics of your bike more. But there are two things to keep in mind before going the DIY route:
First, the chain tool. You don’t need to buy a high-end chain tool for $100. A low-budget one will do. HOWEVER, most chain tools are not multi-chain that can work for all bike chain sizes. Rather, each chain size has a dedicated chain tool. We will talk more about how to choose a bike chain in a later section.
Secondly, keep in mind that while it is economical and good practice for you to replace your own bike chain, you will most likely need more time to do it. A bike shop mechanic can get done with the job in 10 to 15 minutes, whereas for the beginner it might take an hour.
So, only proceed if you have the time and passion. This will minimize your bike chain replacement cost.
Chain Wear and Chain Stretch:
Let’s talk about the gradual accumulation of stress that leads to bike chain damage.
As the chain wears out, it stretches. It stretches not only in terms of overall length, but also stretches sideways. In other words, its side plates are also being worn out.
What happens if the chain wears out and stretches?
One thing it does is that the chain can no longer shift sharply, meaning that it no longer works as seamlessly as before. Not only does its efficiency decrease, but it also causes major harm to other bike components such as the drivetrain. More on that later.
How Do You Know if Your Chain Is Worn?
As we just said, one symptom of a damaged chain is reduced performance. You may also hear more noise due to the compromised state of the chain. A worn-out bike chain is normally also quite dirty and even rusty.
Worst case scenario: the chain skips when shifting gears, climbing a slope, or when sprinting. If any of these happens, injuries are imminent. Replace the bike chain ASAP.
How to Measure Bike Chain Wear:
By the time the bike chain has been damaged and is in need of replacement, the chain must have stretched significantly. You can measure the increase in length by measuring the new chain length and comparing it to the original chain length.
What measurement tools to use? Well, an everyday ruler would do the trick, but there are specific tools to measure bike chain wear. A budget option is the Park Tool CC-3.2 Chain-Wear Indicator.
How to Measure Bike Chain Wear with a Ruler or Tape Measure:
Suppose you would rather not pay extra for a chain-wear indicator and instead want to use a standard ruler or tape measure to measure the bike chain wear. What are the steps?
Well, a standard ruler or tape measure can do a serviceable job. However, please ensure that the ruler or the tape measure is in tip-top shape so that it can trace any minimal elongation of the bike chain.
Remember that metals don’t stretch much under normal circumstances, so it is important to pick up on the slightest changes.
Step 1: Take a 12-inch ruler or a measuring tape and hold it up along the length of the chain.
Step 2: Align the starting point (at the zero marks) of the ruler or the measuring tape to the center of any of the chain’s pins.
The distance between each pin should be an inch long. But since it is very difficult to see minimal changes when considering just an inch, we have to take into account a long distance to be clearer if any stretching has occurred. A good length to consider is 12 inches.
Step 3: Notice where the endpoint of the 12-inch ruler (or the measuring tape’s 12-inch mark) touches the chain. If it touches the center of a chain’s pin, then your chain is as good as new. However, there may be an elongation of about one-sixteenth of an inch or more.
If the next pin is more than one-sixteenth of an inch farther away, then it is time to get a new bike chain.
What if You Wait Too Long to Replace Your Chain:
Let’s get back to the consequences of neglecting bike chain damage. Besides decreased performance, more noise, and skipping under tension, the compromised bike chain can also compromise its surrounding bike parts. And we are not only talking about potential injury either.
How a Worn Out Chain Damages More Expensive Consumables:
As we know, the bike chain is connected to the pedals and the wheels, and it is strung around a disc. The front gears are called cassettes and the rear ones are called chainrings. There are other important parts including derailleurs. All these parts form the drivetrain.
If the bike chain is worn out and stretched, the other parts of the drivetrain also bear the burden by having to withstand extra pressure. In other words, the harmony of the bike chain with the other parts is lost if the bike chain is damaged.
How does this happen, actually?
The bike chain actually sits on the ends of the cassette, which is a disc with ends shaped like sharp teeth. Therefore, there is every possibility that a worn-out chain, in turn, wears out the cassette teeth.
The teeth’ shape is distorted, and so the cassette may not be able to hold the chain-like before.
In other words, the teamwork between the cassette and the chain is lost if either malfunction. Whether it is the chain that gets damaged first, or if it is the cassette that is worn out first, the balance is lost and the bike (not to mention the rider) suffers.
Therefore, if you wait too long to replace your worn-out bike chain, then you may have to spend even more money by being forced to replace the damage done to the other parts of the drivetrain due to the damaged bike chain.
For your information, the price of a cassette can go up to $300 for high-end bikes, though lower-tier ones can be bought for as low as $25. The point is, replace your bike chain as soon as you see symptoms; otherwise, you would have to spend even more.
What a long section on the effects of a damaged bike chain! Fortunately, you can avoid the consequences by making timely replacements.
The bike chain replacement cost is discussed above if you read from the start.
Another thing you can do is to stretch out the lifespan of your bike chain by doing some maintenance.
All you need is lube. Yup, just clean and oil the chain from time to time. Beware, just any oil won’t do the job. Do not use motor oil, okay?
Here’s how you should apply the oil:
Take a generous amount of oil and apply it all over the chain. Turn the cranks of the chain so that you do a thorough job. Though you ought to be thorough, don’t overuse the lubricant to the point of wasting it. Actually, take a piece of cloth and clean the excess oil dripping off the chain.
This is also a good opportunity to clean the chain during lubrication. Yup, cleaning and lubing at one go! Neat! Pun intended, by the way.
Sometimes, especially if you don’t take much maintenance, you might find the chain excessively dirty, and the dirt may not come off with the above steps. In that situation, you might want to go for a degreaser.
We suggest using a biodegradable citrus-based degreaser. If you do use a degreaser, hold off on applying the lubricant. First, wait a few minutes for the degreaser to really set in before cleaning the bike chain. Then use the lube.
How Long Do Bike Chains Last?
Even with the best of maintenance, any and every part will wear out in time. When it comes to the bike chain, the lifespan really does depend a lot on how you treat it. It may wear out after just a handful of rides if you use the bike in extreme conditions. But generally speaking, it can give a mileage of over 3000 miles.
However, it is worth mentioning again that the bike chain will serve you only as long as you let it serve you. If you are an avid cyclist and also a daring one, trekking slopes and rough terrain, then you’ll get much lower mileage. Even regular terrains can be hazardous to bike chains under harsh weather conditions.
How Often Should a Bike Chain Be Replaced?
As often as you need. It totally depends on your needs. If you have covered over 3000 miles on the bike chain and still it is giving you solid performance, then don’t change it. Safely rack up the miles up to 4000 and even more on a well-maintained bike chain.
On the other hand, if you feel like you haven’t even covered 1500 miles or even 1000 miles yet, but you are still seeing a dip in performance, then it’s time to check the condition of your bike.
Take it to a bike shop, or just simply check the drivetrain components such as the cassettes to see if the teeth have become deformed. As mentioned, damage caused to other components can cost you more than just the bike chain.
How to Choose the Right Bike Chain:
Remember that bike chains are of different sizes? Choosing the right size is of utmost importance. If you choose a different size, then the chain will not fit. Let us discuss how to choose the right bike chain in terms of size.
Heads up: it is not mandatory for you to have a thorough knowledge of this section. You can simply ask any bike shop mechanic to see which bike chain you need and then he will install it for you.
However, if you want to install it yourself, or if you want to buy it separately — such as on Amazon or from other online stores — and then have it installed at a bike shop, then you definitely want to know which bike chain is the right one for your bike.
The variable which is really important here is the width. The width of a bike chain determines whether or not it is compatible with your bike. Another significant variable is the number of gears your bike has.
The chain width and the number of gears need to be in harmony with each other.
So, what combination of chain width and number of gears do you need to strike that balance?
The right bike chain will fit the largest cassettes on both sides — meaning that it will comfortably connect with the largest front chainring and the largest rear cog.
|9||16/64 — 18/64|
|10||14/64 — 18/64|
The above table illustrates the required bike chain width in terms of the number of gears you have on your bike. If you notice, the higher the number of gears, the smaller the width of the chain.
Now, since the differences in width are oh-so small, isn’t there any possibility of using bike chains of different widths interchangeably?
The answer is mostly no, but sometimes yes. For example, you cannot use a bike chain for a 12-gear bike (13/64 inch chain) in place of a 20/64 inch one, or even a slightly smaller one.
However, an 18/64 inch chain may work in place of a 20/64 inch chain, but not vice versa. Why not? That’s because a chain suitable for a higher speed can function for a chain for a slower speed, but a chain suitable for a lower speed cannot do the job on that for a higher speed.
Tricky? Well, we recommend sticking to the exact corresponding values on the table in order to avoid confusion.
An Alternative: Enter Belt Drive Bikes
What if you totally ditch those maintenance-needing and irritating bike chains? Can you actually drive chainless? Well, it’s actually not impossible.
Chainless bikes are actually popular among racers (though not all) nowadays due to recent technology. There are bikes that function not on a chain but on a drive belt. A belt-driven bicycle obviously does not need as much maintenance as a bike with a chain.
However, there are pros and cons to riding such a chainless bike.
|Chainless Bike Pros||Chainless Bike Cons|
|Lasts around five times longer||Expensive to buy|
|No lubrication required||Expensive maintenance|
|Less cleaning required||Cannot be removed easily (Once you’ve decided to use belt drive, you cannot conveniently switch back to bike chains.)|
|More weather-resistant||Needs more tension to keep the bicycle in motion|
|Not compatible with a normal derailleur|
|Costly if you want to change the gear ratio|
|Can only be used with one gear unless there is an internally geared hub|
We’ll just say one thing here: almost double the cons! However, you may opt for belt drive technology if it suits your needs.
How Much Does it Cost to Get a Bike Chain Replaced in the UK?
Whether it be in the UK or Australia or India or Canada, the cost of a bike chain depends on the quality of the product and the brand. But on average, a bike chain would cost you about £12-£15.
How Much Does it Cost to Replace Gears and Chain on a Bike?
As for buying bike gear, it would cost you around £20 in the UK and around $30 in the US. However, the price can rocket upwards to $300 depending on quality. Therefore, considering the average cost, buying gear as well as a chain for a bike costs around £35 or $50.
However, that’s just the buying price. There’s also the cost of installation. Typically, it takes anywhere from $15-$40, which is rough £10-£30.
A Final Word:
The cost for bike chain replacement, on a monetary level, is not that high. However, you better pay attention to your bike chain, because neglecting to do so will lead to damage to the other drivetrain components.
In other words, if you do not show some lube love by doing regular maintenance, then you might end up suddenly one day with not only a compromised bike chain but also a compromised derailleur, a compromised front cassette, a compromised rear cassette — best pray that you don’t at least compromise your own health and safety.
How often should I do maintenance on my bike chain?
Quite often for the best results! We recommend once every two or three rides. The best results come when you clean the bike chain and then use lubrication.
Is there any problem if I change gears often?
Well, gears are there to give you the option to change speeds. But yes, it does take a toll on the bike chain if you switch gears back and forth.
Perhaps you already know this, but we recommend refraining from cross-chaining. Cross-chaining is when you use a big gear in both the front and rear cassette, or if you use a small gear in both.
Doing so is tremendously straining for your bike chain. Racers do use this technique, but their bike parts are top-tier.
How much does a bike chain stretch before it becomes a problem?
Actually, bike chains should not stretch. At all. It’s made of metal, after all, so it doesn’t stretch easily. Any stretching that happens is due to extreme pressure, or deformation from gradual wear.
Therefore, any stretching at all is a red flag, and so you should keep an eye on your bike chain and drivetrain to see if they are all in prime condition.
In fact, a 1% increase in the length of the chain causes damage to the cassettes. Alarming, isn’t it?
What is the pitch of a chain and how is it measured?
The pitch of a chain is a good way of measuring bike chain stretch. Here is how to calculate the pitch of a chain:
- Find the distance between three pins.
- Divide the answer by two.
Voila! Generally, the pitch of a newly bought bike chain is half an inch. The pitch increases in time with the elongation of the bike chain.
The bike chain I bought is a bit long. Is this a huge problem?
No, a slightly longer chain causes no problem. It is easy to shorten a long bike chain. However, if it is too short, you have to add more links to the chain to make it longer.
Why go for such a messy hassle? That’s why it’s so important to know what size of bike chain to buy.
Steven is a professional cyclist and his passion is cycling. He has been cycling for the last 6 years and he loves using bikes while outing as well. Based on his experiences with the different types of bikes; he is sharing his opinions about various bikes so that a beginner can start right away. Find him on Twitter @thecyclistguy Happy Biking.