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41949 Views 54 Replies Latest reply: Sep 18, 2009 11:11 PM by Road Bike 1 2 3 4 Previous Next
omabikeryder Legend 289 posts since
Jul 9, 2007
Currently Being Moderated

May 27, 2009 10:59 AM

How often do you need to change your bike chain?


My bike shop wants me to change it every 1,000 miles.  Seems a little excessive to me, but they have a little tool which "shows" excessive wear.  How tough is it to change myself?  Do you have to adjust the deraileur if you install a new chain?  They also wanted me to change my rear cassette after going through two new chains.  Do they really wear out that quick?  (I still have the original cassette with over 5,000 miles on the bike). 



If I have them do it the cost is about $150, new chain and deluxe tune-up.  They remove the chain for the deluxe, thereby "saving" an additional labor cost. 



I have close to 1,000 miles on this chain, going to ride across Nebraska in two weeks (about 500 miles) and not keen about giving the bike up for several days.  This is the last weekend I have to get some miles in before leaving. 



  • applied_gravity Rookie 2 posts since
    Jan 25, 2008


    Hey oma, you don't say what you're riding,  but here's my comments - 



    1) Chain life depends entirely on how dirty it gets and how well you maintain it.  I typically get 2~2.5k miles on mine - 9 speed, road use, mostly good weather, lubed excessively, at least every hundred miles or so - but have had them last much longer on a trainer, where they get no dirt at all.  If you were not conscientious about cleaning/lubing, or rode a lot of wet/dirty roads/trails, it could definitely be going at 1k; also smaller chains don't last as long - 10 spd wears faster than 9 spd, I shudder to even think about what the new 11 spds are like. 



    Get yourself a chain gauge (I like the Park, 20 bucks if I remember), then you can monitor chain wear on a continuous basis - my experience is that they show almost no wear for most of their life span, then go very quickly (i.e. in a couple of hundred miles) once they do start to show wear on the guage, so I change them once they start that steep decline.  Once a chain does wear, it will start to wear out the cogs, and eventually the chainrings as well, to the point that they will not work with a new chain ("not work" means they start skipping under load, like riding hard up a hill), and you'll be looking at much more expense than just a new $20 chain.  With good drive train maintenance I get 56 k miles on a steel 9 spd cassette, so you could easily be ready for a new cassette, and 15~20k miles on alloy chainrings - 10 spd cassettes wear faster, as do the high end Ti cogs.  Note that if your cassette is already worn, it will definitely eat your chain faster, and together they will go to work on your chainrings.



    2) Changing a chain yourself is trivially easy if it has a master link (sram, wipperman), slightly harder if it doesn't (shimano, campi - you'll need a chain tool), although you will get your fingers dirty (latex gloves work great!) - I'm quite fond of the SRAM chains, which have a master link, and dislike the shimano chains, which have that annoying little pin you need to replace every time you pull the chain for a good cleaning.   The campi chains have the tightest tolerances and seem to give the longest life (I haven't tried the quite pricey Wipperman stainless), but require a chain tool for installation/removal, and I like to pull the chain after an exceptionally wet or dirty ride and give it a good gasoline bath.



    SRAM has a confusing variety of chain choices,  but anything above the bottom level seems to wear just about as well, and since they've started doing their own drive trains they seem to have tightened up the chain tolerances quite a bit, maybe not quite as good as a new campi, but close, and substantially cheaper.  I give a new chain a soak in a can of gas to clean off the factory grease, then lube well after installation.



    3) Lube often - I've tried most of em, and am presently using the Prolink Gold (on Lennard Zinn's rec) - supposedly it was originally developed to lube chains on mining equipment, and is aimed at cleaning the grit out of the chain links before it causes excessive wear



    4) Stuff does wear out, and on your bike this can lead to getting stranded out in the middle of nowhere and walking/hitching home, or crashing out and getting hurt - both have happened to me.  Most bike shops aren't trying to hustle you for extra repair work, they're typically in it for love not money, and are trying to take care of you and your bike - if this is not the case in your case, you need a new shop, but it sounds to me like you're not the most maintenance-anal rider, hence a major tune could be a good idea before a 500 mile ride across Ne, and $150 sounds quite reasonable including a new chain - I'd tip 'em at least a 6 pack for looking out for you!



    So when was the last time you replaced your cables, or tubes/tires, or trued your wheels or cleaned/tweaked your de-railers, or adjusted your brakes?  I do all of this before a major ride, and still carry spares - but then I have broken down way out in the middle of nowhere, and have also crashed out when a drive train failed and locked up on me (still don't know what went first, but by the time it was over the broken chain had wrapped the mangled front de-railer into the chainrings, after having dragged the rear one into the wheel, taking out all the spokes on the drive side...)



    Have fun on that big ride (uh, take chain lube...), and I hope you are going with the wind - my memory of riding the other way was that there were lots and lots of fields of corn and soybeans to stare at all day long while grunting into a killer head wind.....



    best - Bill









  • applied_gravity Rookie 2 posts since
    Jan 25, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    3. May 28, 2009 12:30 PM (in response to omabikeryder)
    Re: How often do you need to change your bike chain?


    I'm surprised your bike shop can't schedule you in/out in a day, if they've got an opening in their schedule before your big ride anyway - even a "major" tune-up shouldn't take more than 2~3 hrs of shop time, especially on a newer bike, maybe a bit more if they are putting on a new cassette and chain, and doing some hub work while they're at it.... but if you bought the bike from them, they should be eager to keep you happy, and even if you didn't, most bike shops are moderately hungry - and of course time spent off the bike before a big ride is usually time well spent!



    I'd agree that 1k is a bit short for chain life if you took care of it , unless worn cogs were eating it up.  Gauging cassette wear is tougher, they do make cog gauges, but I've found the old "sprint up a hill" stress test to be much more definitive - if you can do this with a tight new chain in all your gears (when in doubt, I use a new campi), then the rest of the drivetrain is fine (It also works quite well to evaluate the condition of the motor!) 



    You could just make your own call on the chain, and slap a new one on for your big ride if it measures sketchy, to avoid drivetrain wear - or if you are going to do a new cassette anyway, just do them both after the ride.  If both your cogs and chain are worn now, then they''ll work well together (while increasing the wear rate on the chain rings), but a new chain will just cause problems. 



    As to other issues to be addressed by the major tune-up, probably your ride has mechanical support if you snap a cable or need a wheel trued or something, you'll just be one of those poor losers standing by the side of the road waiting for rescue while the rest of the pack motors on by.  I would think about throwing on some new tires though - at 5k, you should be pretty much through your second set, and a little extra rubber really cuts down on flats.



    FYI, most of what they'll be doing on your bike as a "major" is pretty straightforward, and worth knowing how to do yourself for roadside repairs - I highly recommend "Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance" for guidance.  



    Enjoy that ride, and when you're ready to find out what "not flat" really means, check out for next memorial day - just got back from that one, quite amusing!






  • MotiveForcer Community Moderator 448 posts since
    Jul 9, 2007


    Hi Oma!



    My take is a little different.  I don't ride a chain till oblivion, that is 5000 miles or more because that puts unnecessary wear on the cassette. Think about changing your chain as you would the oil in your car.  In fact I change my chain way more diligently than I do my oil and shame on me. But the philosophy is the same. Change your oil to minimize wear and tear on the engine. Change your chain to minimize wear and tear on the chain rings and  cassette.  If you wait a long time you will have to change your cassette as the chain stretches, strange but true, and then there is uneven wear on the teeth. If you or anyone else has already waited big miles then I might suggest to just keep riding both the chain and cassette until it skips and you don't like the way it rides then start over with new stuff.  Or if you have big miles on the chain change it and see if the chain skips. If not, lucky you. If so, get a new cassette or possibly just a couple of those rings that seem to skip. There your shop can help you.



    So, yes, clean your drive train frequently. You are knowledgeable enough that I bet you already do this and buy a chain checker. I like the Park product too.  You might freak out that a relatively new chain comes in at 0.5 but I'd say when it pushes 0.75 it is time to change it.  I start checking at about 1250 miles or 1500.  But I probably go about 2,500 and on my current main ride, my Felt, I have not worn out a cassette yet. I do swap cassettes around or use different wheels but the cassette that came with the bike, an 11-23 Re: How often do you need to change your bike chain? is still fine and my bet is that it has over 10,000 miles on it.  Some other time we should discuss gear ratios. Even the "expert" fellow I work with sees it way differently than I.I like a straight block if I can get it and he's interested in the range it will go.  I like smoother shifting gear to gear.  Compact drives vs. doubles and Triples is the discussion we shoud have.  



    So, I can tell you that I don't trust the guys at your shop. Changing a chain every 1,000 miles and your cassette every other time you change your chain is patently absurd.

    I usually use a Dura-ace chain but the Ultegra is the same weight. So what is the difference? I'm not sure. I have the fantasy that it is a little smoother and longer lasting but then again I have a rich fantasy life. Other brands, SRAM, Wipperman, etc. make nice ones too and some come equipped with easy on/off pin sets for frequent cleaning.



    My most diligent racer pal, Danny, a Cat 1/2 racer, changes his every 1,500.  One of my other pals every 3,500 which for him is once a season, though he rides about  5,000 including his other bikes.  So, I'd say, check the chain and if at .5 or less don't sweat it and ride NEBRASKA and check it again when you get home.  If you find a chain you like on sale, buy a couple!  Then you feel more comfortable changing them. Follow the instructions when you change it as the "open" end needs to be facing the correct way for strength.  Make sure you lay out the old chain next to the new one and go to the shorter link on the new one. That is because the other one stretched. 



    The stretching is dependent upon your power into the pedal. How smooth or ballistic you accelerate, how many hills you climb and how warm it is.  http://Kidding about that though warmer temps make everything more pliable.  Finally, riding with minimal cross over is important as well. Avoid the big and big rings, and the small and small.



    The only real advantage I can see for me to use an 11 tooth cassette is I can stay in my small ring in front Re: How often do you need to change your bike chain? and still shift down to the 12 without total crossover. If I had a 12-23 or 12-25 on there I would not be able to reliably use that gear. You don't want to cross over as it torques the chain and that  means more stress and premature wear. And guys, we don't like premature anything. 



    Will you be seeing the Children of the Corn?


    Have fun.





















  • MotiveForcer Community Moderator 448 posts since
    Jul 9, 2007


    Yep, consider a new shop. I forgot to mention that there is a tool that checks the cassette for wear as well. I'd say, again, put on the new chain, and if it rides well keep riding it. If not, and it is not a derailleur adjustment, then consider a new cassette. They are either trying to make a fast buck or don't know what they are talking about. Neither is a good thing. If you have used three chains in 7,000 miles that is about 2,300 miles per chain which is not obscene. I'll bet you ride well with just a chain change. And yes, while this is a busy time, for you to be without your bike for that amount of time for just a chain repair seems absurd. I'd suggest that either they hire someone else if business is so good or work beyond closing hours or set up appointments as a chain change for a good mechanic should be about 15 minutes but as my colleague above suggested, I'd say, do it yourself.  May seem a little scary for the first time but there have no doubt been other things you did for the first time and you got through it just fine!  Without asking how many miles you had on the chain but suggesting that you need a new gear set is also suspect.  If you can't trust them on something simple like this how about on something more complicated, say your bottom bracket seizes up or who knows what?  I think I am over 10,000 miles on one cassette and it still spins fine.  What did the chain measure?



    So, for how many miles are tires good for?  We've had discussions on Active on this that I think you participated in.  When I got my Felt it came with Rubinio Pro's and I rotated them, (I know, Mr Brown says not to.) but after I hit 5,000 miles, no lie and no threads, I took one off. The other lasted 5,500 miles and I finally took it off just because!  It still didn't have threads showing. I ended up over pumping those tires too and while others I know didn't like them I did win a circuit race on them.  Other tires I use I typically get  at least 2,500 miles on them. Imay not race a tire with that amount of wear but unless flats happen, I'll keep going.



    So, were these tires particularly squared off, cut or funky?  The credibility at this shop is suspect and the service speed inadequate.



























  • hellzbell Rookie 2 posts since
    Jun 3, 2009

    I don't agee with any of this advice.  A modern quality chain is going to get you 5000 miles without shifting glitches or undue cog wear.  I've biked and used Dura Ace for 22 years and the product just gets better and more durable.  I would think any of the good brands would equal this.  And yes, I put in difficult  miles, California foothills and summits.  C'mon, save yourself some money, keep your chain clean and oiled.  Stay away from bike shops and learn to service your bike.  Their are many places that offer bike maintenance classes or just obtain a book.   Of course, money grows on trees for some people.

  • MotiveForcer Community Moderator 448 posts since
    Jul 9, 2007


    Sounds like a plan!



    Do you take photos of your rides, not that I even own a digital camera!  Would like to see your tour photos.







  • MotiveForcer Community Moderator 448 posts since
    Jul 9, 2007


    OK Helz, I'm not sure what you are "not" agreeing with since several different options have been offered.  First, the bike shop said to do so after 1,500 miles. I said that is very liberal but they also said to change the cassette as well. I said, no way. DO  you think OMA and everyone else SHOULD change the cassette that frequently?  I don't think that is what you are getting at and neither did I nor the other person who commented.  I said that I thought changing tires after 1,500 miles was probably premature and that I even got over 5,000 miles on a set of Victorias but you think we should change the tires frequently?  I don't think that is what you are getting at either. I am confused... With tires you can observe the squaring of them or threads showing. You can observe easily how you are pushing your luck...  With the chain and cassette which is a little trickier you can use a chain checker and/or a cassette checker.  This is cool. If it stays less than .75 I'd say so keep it but once around there, perhaps consider changing it.  


    ,You are saying that you can get 5K miles on a chain without undo

    wear and tear on your cassette?  That if you alter your chain that

    infrequently then after your third chain the riding is smooth and

    sweet? That your cassette is not worn after 15,000 miles on it with

    infrequent changes? What was your chain checker saying at 5,000 miles?   I can tell you that when I change a chain, say

    after 2,500 miles, and the chain checker is reading about .75, that the

    ride quality of the chain going around and around and around is vastly

    better, which I can feel, than prior to the change.  If it was at .5

    still I'd not have changed it.  That is why it is interesting to note,

    as I did, that a relatively new chain might measure at a .5.  I think

    that a chain is easy to replace and suggested that OMA give it a try.

    But some folks don't wish to get their hands dirty.  So it goes.  But I

    know that I'd rather err in the direction of changing the chain a

    little more frequently but not as fast as Oma's shop. And certainly not

    as a matter of course to change the cassette.  That

    is what the checker can do for you. It actually allows you to measure

    the wear.  We often see in the store that if you change your chain

    after huge miles then when a new one goes on the chain will skip on the

    most worn gears on the cassette.  Now it is toast.  Perhaps a super

    strong chain will last longer and wear longer but, again, check it with

    the tool to be sure.  So, if I imply from the body of your letter correctly, you actually do agree what was posited. That we change things less frequently than Oma's store suggested but that we do so with some thought and empiricism. 

    As a matter of fact I almost always use Dura-ace chains myself. They stretch too.  About 1/2 cm per 2,500 miles for me I'd say.  Do they wear faster if not cleaned? For sure.  But what we wrote here was on the conservative side I'd say.  We discussed keeping things on longer than the shorter duration offered by the shops.  If the chain is getting to a 1.0 on the check scale then maybe your experience tells us that it is okay to go that far and your cassette will last but I've gotten about 12,000 miles, I think, on my 11-23 that came with my bike and it still runs nicely  and I've been probably changing it at 2,500, perhaps even 3,000 miles but keeping an eye on it starting at about 1,000.  My point about changing the chain more frequently was in fact to save money.  My concern is that to not do so is to risk wearing the cog out and the chain rings up front. Bigger bucks than just a chain.  My analogy is that changing a chain is somewhat like changing the oil in your car.  It cost a little bit but can save you a lot of  costly wear and tear in other places.  When you use a chain for 5K miles I'd be afraid of wearing out the cog and rings.  Your experience says otherwise and that is a good thing.  But help us out here with some data.  What does your chain checker say? 



    Your comment about money was directed at whom?  The shops seem to have been assuming that we should change the chain and cassette and tires for gosh sakes at 1,500 miles.  That seemed to me to be taking advantage of the customers who don't know better. They trust their shop and perhaps that is really the lesson here. Oma started off with primarily that question in mind.  We concurred that perhaps we can't always do so.  My point was if we can't trust them regarding a chain or tires, what about when it gets more technical, say if we perhaps need a new bottom bracket (or not?). How do we trust them if they say we do but they also said we need to change our chain at 1,500 miles?  Many of us don't have the time to really get into it. Changing a chain is perhaps a fairly basic maintainance skill but some folks just want to ride and are happy to pay for the service. That service should be up front and honest.  







    I am going to take a survey amongst my ride community after this regarding changing the chain.  I should hit about 1,200 folks with one email. Stay tuned.



  • hellzbell Rookie 2 posts since
    Jun 3, 2009





    Hmmm, I think the topic was a "Chain replacement discussion"



    I just say keep it simple.   Most people don't need to invest in gauges for chain and cog wear.  Keep it clean and oiled.  Eventually miles will take their toll and you will deal with the irritant.  It could be sooner, it might be later.  A chain or cog just beginning to show signs of wear will not have catastrophic failure.   If there is not a problem then just ride your bike.



    I'm sure it could be argued that you could change parts before a single glitch happens.  That could be endless and unnecessary costly.  And of course there are circumstances that require a more proactive position.  Maybe this is one of those circumstances, but I don't think so.  I would bet this rider would be fine doing another 500 miles on this chain of 1000 miles.  I agree the guy should find another bike shop if he desires to have his bike shop-maintenanced.



    To omabikerder, Wish you a Nice Trip






  • MotiveForcer Community Moderator 448 posts since
    Jul 9, 2007


    H and O et. al.,



    I want my bike and yours and my riding cohorts and my customers to ride safely and smoothly and as cost effectively as possible. I don't think it extravagant to buy a chain checker for about $20 bucks if you ride 10,000 miles a year, or even 5,000, or just pop into a store which will let you borrow one for FREE!!!  I would certainly encourage riders to come in. In the meantime, sans tool, you can measure the chain with a good straight edge ruler. Of course one would have to own one or borrow one but anyway if the chain stretches 1/16" of an inch over the distance of 12 inches to start you are getting into that gray area.  It is recommended, and this method is new to me, that you not get it beyond 1/8th of an inch. Beyond that point is where the undo wear and tear takes place on your other components which cost you money which I presume most of us are in agreement that we want to save. Now if you change your cassette yourself you may have to spend some money on a whip and nut but that cost is not so bad and then you can use cassettes that are tailored to the terrain you are riding.  The course I rode today in our race had a hill but not too steep and we were at speed so I used my 12-21 straight block.  I'll change it back to the 23 tomorrow.  



    I posed my question to the riders and I got many responses that ranged from the peculiar and bizarre to the empirical.  Here is a summary.



    Everyone agrees that keeping the chain and drive train clean is a good idea.

    Most want to save money on cogs and rings and think that by changing a chain "more often" the wear and tear will be minimized on the other components.

    The mechanic types, especially several shop owners, stress proper maintainance whether the shop does it or you do it yourself.  Nearly everyone who had what I would call an empirical approach to this question felt that the miles number was nearly irrelevant to the question and the answer should be based upon actually measuring the chain.  I understand PARK recommends, as did I and several state champion type cohorts, to change it at .75 or in that 1/8 to 1/16 range. 

    The most liberal of changers was a racer, cat 2, who changes his every 1,000 miles.  He reported that Shimano recommended every 1,200 miles. I don't have the reference but I bet Lance does it more often than that.

    The longest was one fellow who did not recommend what he did but he went 40,000 miles and changed it then because it skipped. Of course he had to change the whole drive train, cogs and rings as well.  I had suggested as an option that if a chain is really stretched and if changing it might require a new cassette at the same time but in the meantime if it is running fine than to perhaps consider doing what this fellow did and just ride it to oblivion!  But then again it would no doubt run better if the components were changed and like new!

    Several respondents go by the clock. Every spring and perhaps once during the season.  Others said they own a checker but wait until it skips. How that makes any sense is beyond me.  Once it skips the cogs are probably toast as well so that costs more than just a chain.



    My experience was not uncommon amongst the racers who attack hills and rev up speeds and torque.  I am on my original rings on my 53-42 Dura-ace crank and that is I believe at 17,000 miles. I've still got my 11-23 which I use most commonly and probably have at least 12,000 miles on it but I do use other cassettes as I did this evening in a 42 mile race at a car circuit course we have races on.  I've been able to save money I think on my cassettes by not pushing my luck on squeezing an extra thousand or so miles on the chains.  I use the checker and go from there. Results seem to be a good measure of sound practice.  One fellow, a big guy at that  and a perennial state champ says he goes 3,000 miles or every three months(!



    Heads UP!












  • msmiglew Amateur 8 posts since
    Jun 11, 2009

    Riding with DuraAce 53-42 on Trek 5.2 with 16,000+ miles and on second chain with original cassette. Every ride,clean the chain by putting the bike on the stand and drenching the chain with WD-40. I buy it by the gallon and use a spray bottle. Wipe off as much as you can with a paper towel then generously brush on Mobil-1 5W-30W. Use a clean paper towel and wipe off all you can. When the chain starts to hop a cog when you're stand-hammering up a hill, get a new one and remember you get what you pay for.

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