This post explains bicycle chain compatibility – which chains can be combined with which number of “speeds.” Firstly, basic facts about the chain will be explained. Then compatibility and possible mixing will be given per the number of speeds a chain is designed for. From one to 12 speeds.
Before you start, to avoid any misunderstanding:
please take the 5 minutes needed to read the compatibility articles use instructions.
Table Of Contents (T.O.C.):
- Basic bicycle chain facts
- Single-speed chains
- Five, 6, 7 and 8-speed chains
- 9 speeds
- 10 speeds
- 11 speeds
- 12 speeds
- Symmetrical vs asymmetrical chains
- Chain width standards table
All the bicycle chains share the same pitch of half an inch.
Where chains differ is the width. The more speeds, the narrower chain. Single-speed chains are the widest, both on the outside, and the inner roller width. They have a roller width of 1/8″ (3.175 mm).
The inner roller width of all the multi-speed chains is almost the same, being:
- Single-speed chains have an inner width of 1/8″ (3.175 mm).
- Multi-speed chains, from 5 to 8 speeds have an inner width of 3/32″ (2.38 mm).
- Multi-speed chains from 9 to 12 speeds have an inner width of 11/128″ (2.18 mm).
- An “exotic” standard for freight bicycles is a chain width of 5/32″ (4 mm).
Where they differ significantly is the outer width.
A detailed overview of dimension standards is in the post: Bicycle drive chain standard dimensions.
Post giving full view and explanation of bicycle chain construction (parts): Bicycle chain wear (elongation).
How to connect and disconnect chains, with or without using quick links, video demonstration:
Single-speed chains are the widest of all. Both by the outer and the inner roller width: 1/8″ (3.175 mm) wide, compared to 3/32″ (2.38 mm) multi-speed ones. Since single speed chain is by far the cheapest, there is no need to experiment with multi-speed chains. However, 6 to 8-speed chains can fit some single speed bicycles – depending on the chainring width.
A 7.1 mm wide 8-speed chain* will fit all the other systems (5, 6 and 7-speed ones). Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo all use the same chain with 8 speeds. The chain for 7 speeds is a bit wider – 7.3 mm, while a 6-speed one is substantially wider – 7.8 mm. That is why the reverse is not the case and a 7-speed chain and especially a 6-speed one will not work very well on an 8-speed system.
* Based on my most recent measurements, 8-speed chain widths vary from 7 mm (SRAM PC-830), to 7.3 mm (KMC X-8). Also, some manufacturers (like KMC) make their 6, 7, and 8-speed chains using the same width of 7.3 mm. This leads me to conclude that 7.3 mm wide chains work fine for 8 speed cassettes. Also, as noted in this article, using a narrower chain works fine in practice (hence, the 7.3 mm wide chain runs fine on a 6-speed cassette). However, don’t let this “fool you” into using any 6-speed chain on an 8-speed cassette, since you might run into a 7.8 mm wide chain (i.e. “a proper 6-speed chain”), which won’t work very nice on an 8-speed cassette (haven’t tried it on a 7-speed one, but generally, extra-wide chains don’t fare very well, while narrower ones usually run without any problems).
Of others, 9-speed chains can work. They’re a bit narrower than optimal, but can be used. The reverse is not wise, since a wider 5 – 8 speed chain can get stuck between narrower 9-speed sprockets.
Going further narrower, like a 10, or 11-speed chain on an 8-speed cassette can and often does work.
I’ve had good results even with running a 10-speed chain on a 7-speed cassette and cranks.
However, especially with older 6-speed cassettes combined with 11, or 12-speed chains, there is a risk of the chain getting stuck between the cassette sprocket teeth and/or poorer shifting.
The chain width is about 6.7 mm. In a pinch, a 10-speed chain can be used. Still, the narrower chain is more expensive, doesn’t last as long and might cause a bit slower shifting… but it will work. Problems generally occur at the rear – on cassettes. Front chainrings are less sensitive to the thickness of the chain used.
Otherwise, all the 9-speed chains will work well, regardless of the manufacturer: Campagnolo, SRAM and Shimano.
The chain width is 5.88 mm. Same as for 9 speeds: all the manufacturers can be mixed and a chain for one speed more can be used in a pinch – an 11 -speed chain in this case.
The chain width is 5.62 mm. 11-speed chains of all the manufacturers are mutually compatible.
Since 10 and 11-speed chains (as well as cassette teeth) have almost the same widths, a 10-speed chain can be used instead of an 11 speed-one, without it jamming between the sprockets. However, this will still not work perfectly and will cause premature sprocket wear, so better to avoid it.
The exception are Shimano Hyperglide+ chains, which work only with Hyperglide+ cassettes, whether they are 11, or 12-speed (the same chain is used) – according to Shimano, haven’t put that to the test.
Chain width is 5.25 mm. Made by SRAM, and (from mid-2018) by Shimano for their 12-speed MTB groupsets (for now), and Campagnolo (who only make road groupsets). They generally work with fewer speed systems, with two “catches:”
- SRAM Flattop chains might skip on cassettes that are not SRAM AXS road cassettes (they have a bit larger diameter rollers and can skip on “normal” cassettes, including SRAM Eagle MTB cassettes).
- Shimano Hyperglide+ 11 and 12-speed chains work nicely only with Hyperglide+ chainrings and cassettes.
Shimano is, as far as I know, the only manufacturer that makes asymmetrical chains (as well as regular, symmetrical ones). The advantage of an asymmetrical chain is easier and quicker shifting from the small to the large front chainring and vice versa.
The picture above shows how the asymmetrical chain doesn’t have the same outer plates for the “outer” and “inner” (towards the bicycle) side.
When Shimano first introduced asymmetrical chains for road double chainrings, it was recommended not to use them on triple chainrings. They still, however, work well on triple chainrings as well.
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9. Chain width standards table
Table of chain outer widths:
(this table is for the readers’ convenience – an up-to-date table is in the article about bicycle chain standards)
no. of speeds
|All 8-speed||7 ~ 7.3 *|
|All 9-speed||6.5 – 6.7|
|10-speed old Campagnolo||6.2|
|All other 10-speed||5.84 – 6.1|
|All 11-speed||5.46 – 5.74 **|
|SRAM 12-speed MTB||5.25|
|Shimano 12-speed MTB|
and 13-speed chains
|See the table in the article about|
Bicycle chain standards
(it’s more accurate when updating info in one place only)
** Related to 11-speed, see the two comments by Klaus here (thanks for the valuable feedback),
until I double-check and confirm.
Compatibility posts are also available in eBook (printable and Kindle) and paperback editions on Amazon: