Chains for heavy riders

Posted by SuperClydesdale on October 14, 2010 under Mountain Bikes, Road Bike Components | Be the First to Comment

I’ve ridden road bikes for many years over many tens of thousands of miles.  Over all those miles, I’ve never had a chain break.  One reason is that I’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining my chain, and replacing them when needed.    For those of you that do your own maintenance, you likely own a chain stretch meter that tells you when the chain has been stretched to the point that it will start degrading other parts of your drivetrain:  cassette, chain rings, and rear derailleur.  If the chain stretches out, and you keep riding, the chain will wear away the teeth on all three, and can make for sloppy shifting.

The chain is generally considered worn out when its stretched approximately 1% or more.   You may see even more conservative recommendations at .75% or even less.  My guess is that the people making those recommendations make chains for a living.

I’m a fast learner.  I realize that since I’ve never broken a road chain, and have twice broken a mountain bike chain — in two consecutive rides — mountain biking and road biking impart different loads on the chain.  That mountain bike chain was new — 50 miles on it.  The first time the chain broke, I was in the middle of a small creek.  No problem, wet shoes, I can deal with that.  The second time, I was on a short, steep climb.  Breaking a chain while climbing a steep hill will get your attention.  It may also drive your groin straight into the top bar of your frame, which is… what’s the word… exhilarating? No, that’s not it…

Side note:  It certainly inspires me to contact the product marketing manager at Specialized that spec’d the KMX x10 chain on my EVO hardtail 29er.  I think I’d like to offer him a hint of what the experience is like for a 230-pounder on a bike with that chain.   “Here, spread your legs a bit… just a little wider… there! “  Then I would wind up and drive my foot deep into his crotch.  “There we go!  That’s what the KMX chain feels like.  Good choice!”

But, I digress…

Oh, yeah...

At Interbike, I spent some time with Cantitou Road guys, who represent a number of manufacturers, one of which is Wippermann.  They were very excited about the Connex chain by Wippermann.  They noticed my Big Guys Rule T-Shirt, and assured me, “these chains are the most Clydesdale-proof chains on the market.”

Seeing how hungry I was for knowledge, they described the tests that Wippermann does on their chains to demonstrate their strength and durability.   I listened, but since it was after lunch, after a while my eyes kind of glossed over, and I kept thinking of the smoking hot tatted-up calendar girl at the Oneal booth…  I knew he was talking about bike parts, or something.

My chain breaking fiasco caused me to revisit that conversation.  If my initial experience on the 1×10 gearing of the 29er is any indication, I’m going to need the strongest possible chain for mountain-biking.

In typical form, I began to research chains.  The bike shops nearby are pretty much anecdotal “I hear these are great” type of recommendations.  I’m like Rainman, I need data  (I’m an excellent rider).

The only quality data that I can find is from Wippermann.  Apparently, these guys are the only ones that test the crap out of their chains against all major manufacturers and publish the results.  While I’m sure that the other manufacturers test their chains, they don’t seem to publish that data, so I am left to conclude that they are not proud of the results.  If I am incorrect, I would love to see other manufacturer’s data.

The Wippermann chain wear test results (source: wippermann.com). Click on to see full-size image.

Wippermann has done extensive testing in two areas:  chain wear, which manifests itself as chain stretch, and how much weight a chain can endure before breaking.

The Wippermann chain wear test is pretty comprehensive.  It tests with chain rings aligned, as well as at an angle sufficient to demonstrate a cross-chaining scenario, and simulates significant distance.  At various times, they stop to measure chain stretch.

The other test is the break test.  How much weight can a chain take before it fails.  The only improvement I could see on these tests is to do the break test at an angle, to simulate different gear ratio scenarios like they did on the chain wear test.  When my chain broke, I had the chain in the easiest gear on the cassette, and the front ring in the middle chain ring position.  Note: Since the EVO has only one chain ring up front, It’s always in that position.

Wippermann chain rankings based on load test. Surprise! Wippermann is #1! The "*" means a hollow-link chain.

The force required to break the various manufacturer's chains. Source: Wippermann.com, the "*" indicates a hollow-link chain.

You have to go with the data, and if the only data available is from Wippermann, then I’m going to have to go with it.  I just ordered a 10s8 chain for my Stumpjumper EVO 29er.  I’ve ordered a Connex 10s8 chain, and will report the on the success of this chain.  While this was not the king of the chain wear test, it did well on the chain break test, which is my primary concern.  For $44, that’s potentially a great deal.  It’s not much more than the KMX chain that provided such an enjoyable experience.

Wipperman's Connex connector. Comes with each chain, but a good idea to carry one of these with you in case of a chain break.

In addition to high strength, and promising better wear, the Wippermann Connex chains come with a sweet link, which is a very fast way to join the chain.  I’m also getting a Connex link to keep in my bag so that if my chain breaks again, I can quickly join it back together by removing the broken link, then inserting the Connex link to put the chain back together.    I think that whether you use a Connex link, or any other quick-link, it’s a huge timer saver to have one of these links with you.

I’ve also discovered another blogger who has some pretty good discussion on Shimano chain quality issues as well.   And the original report on Shimano Ultegra quality issues here.   He’s got a ton of other equipment failure discussions, most scary to me is the Crank Brothers Candy breakage, since thats whats on my 26er (and I have two sets still in the packaging).

Additional data:

Experimental examination of bicycle chain forces: http://www.springerlink.com/content/756433v33w114423/

Wippermann chain data:

Updates 2010 chain wear test:  http://www.cantitoeroad.com/uploads/landingpage/connex/Chainwear_Test_10_Speed_10-JUN-2010.pdf

Original 2007 Wippermann test http://www.cantitoeroad.com/uploads/landingpage/connex/Connex_Breaking_Load_Test_Results.pdf

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