Mountain Bike Chains: Everything you need to know

You may think that mountain bike chains are all the same, but this is not the case. Mountain bike chains differ in quality, which has an effect on how your power is delivered. The best mountain bike chains make your ride smoother and ultimately more fun.

Mountain bike chains of higher quality last longer, and even come in different colours. This can be important for those who want a certain look to their bike. Low end, cheaper mountain bike chains don’t last as long. They are also louder when changing gear.


All bike chains are made from alloy steel, no matter what type of bike you are riding. This is because it is an inexpensive and durable material. However, higher end chains are nickel plated, making them more resistant to corrosion.


When buying mountain bike chains, you need to make sure the one you choose fits. The determining factor of the chain length is the gearing of your bike. For example, if your bike goes up to 11 or 12 speed, you will need a longer chain than if it went up to 10 speed.

The gearing of your bike will depend on the type of bike you have and what type of riding it is designed for. If you are a downhill rider your gears will be relatively small, enabling you to pedal faster on descents. Alternatively, if you spend a lot of time on terrain that has lots of climbing, you will have big gears to help you get up those hills. Larger gears also help you pedal over rough and rocky sections.

Choosing Mountain Bike Chains

There are different mountain bike chains for the different disciplines of riding. As with the length of the chain, choosing one will depend on your bike.

You need to look at the gears on the cassette. This is because the distance between the gears will vary. For example, the gap between the gears on a 9 speed cassette is bigger than the gaps on a 12 speed. Therefore, the thickness of your new chain needs to be correct.

In general, you can use chains and cassettes from different manufacturers


How to know when to change mountain bike chains

Mountain bike chains are strong and durable, but they won’t last forever. When you think about it, they are under constant strain, and are rubbing on another metal surface. This, coupled with the dirt and grit that gets stuck in them, it is amazing that they last as long as they do.

Mountain bike chains also stretch over time. You will notice this when your chain slips over the gears, rather than meshing with them nicely. This is your indication that you need to replace your chain, or even your cassette too, if the teeth have worn down.


When you change your chain, you obviously need to remove the old one. To do this you need a chain tool. You can buy these from most online shops, however, it is best to get a multi-tool that has an integrated chain tool. This is because, you won’t need to break your chain very often, so you may as well buy a tool that can do multiple jobs, and you can carry it with you in your pack.

=>Click here for the tools every mountain biker should have<=

Alternatively, your chain may have a QuickLink. This (in theory) will allow you to break the chain without any tools. However, they can be stiff and you my need some pliers. Or you could use this clever bike hack.


It is essential to lubricate mountain bike chains. A well lubed chain will run smoothly and with less resistance. It will also stay clean for longer.

There are a few different type of chain lube, but in short the main two, are wet and dry lubes. Which ever one you choose, will be determined by the conditions you ride in.

Wet lube can be used in all conditions but, obviously it is designed to be used in wet conditions or winter riding. This type is water resistant, therefore, it won’t be washed off in the rain, or when you splash through a puddle.

Only use dry lube when the conditions call for it. It is applied as a solvent that evaporates, leaving the lubricant on the chain. Using this will mean that you need to apply the lube more often, but cleaning isn’t as important, as the dirt won’t stick to it.

Click here to learn all about mountain bike chain lube


Cleaning your chain is important, as dirt will wear out your drive train. To clean your chain, it is best to keep the chain on the bike. This is because, you should only remove your chain when it is really necessary. Taking it off repeatedly can cause weaknesses, and you don’t really need to do it.

The best way I have found is to use a chain cleaner. It is really effective, and doesn’t take long to do. Click on the image below to buy yours from Chainreaction.

mountain bike chains

=>Click here for my review of the Kärcher OC3 Cordless Pressure Washer<=

Now you know

Choosing mountain bike chains isn’t difficult, you just need a little bit of information to get it right. In conclusion:

  • Know the length you need
  • Know the thickness
  • Spend a little bit more to get a good one
  • Get the tools
  • Keep it clean

Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments section below, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

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