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Compatibility [01] Chains

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.):

  1. Basic bicycle chain facts
  2. Single-speed chains
  3. Five, 6, 7 and 8-speed chains
  4. 9 speeds
  5. 10 speeds
  6. 11 speeds
  7. 12 speeds
  8. Symmetrical vs asymmetrical chains
  9. Chain width standards table


1. Basic bicycle chain facts

All the bicycle chains share the same pitch of half an inch.

One hole link - outer with the inner is exactly one inch long.
One whole link (one pair of outer with one pair of inner plates) is exactly one inch long.

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.

R - outer chain width C - outer width with at the joining link (for single speed chains)
R – outer chain width
C – outer width at the joining link (for single speed chains)
From left to right: Campagnolo 11 speed, SRAM 10 speed, Shimano 9 sp, SRAM 6/7/8 sp, old 5 speed, 1/8" single speed chain. Note how rollers of all the multispeed chains are of the same width.
From left to right:
Campagnolo 11 speed, SRAM 10 speed, Shimano 9 sp, SRAM 6/7/8 sp, old 5 speed, 1/8″ single speed chain.
Note how rollers of all the multispeed chains are almost of the same 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:

Connecting bicycle chains (quick links, pins etc.)
Connecting chains using pins or quick-links

– T.O.C. –


2. Single-speed chains

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.

– T.O.C. –


3. Five, 6, 7 and 8-speed chains

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.

An exception is SRAM 1x systems, for DH MTB bicycles – they have 7 rear sprockets, but use an 11-speed chain!

– T.O.C. –


4. 9 speeds

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.

– T.O.C. –


5. 10 speeds

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.

– T.O.C. –


6. 11 speeds

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.

– T.O.C. –


7. 12 speeds

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).

Not sure how it works with other systems, waiting for user input and a chance to test it.

– T.O.C. –


8. Symmetrical vs asymmetrical chains

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.

Assymetric Shimano chain.
Asymmetric Shimano chain.

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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– T.O.C. –


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)

Chain
no. of speeds
Outer width
in mm
All 6-speed7.8
All 7-speed7.3
All 8-speed7 ~ 7.3 *
All 9-speed6.5 – 6.7
10-speed old Campagnolo6.2
All other 10-speed5.84 – 6.1
All 11-speed5.46 – 5.74 **
SRAM 12-speed MTB5.25
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)
* See chapter 3 for details
** Related to 11-speed, see the two comments by Klaus here (thanks for the valuable feedback),
until I double-check and confirm.

Related post – How to shorten a new chain to size when mounting:

Optimal chain length for bicycles with a derailleur (multi-geared bicycles)
Optimal chain length for bicycles with a derailleur (multi-geared bicycles)

Compatibility posts are also available in eBook (printable and Kindle) and paperback editions on Amazon:

Bicycle drivetrain compatibility book
Bicycle drivetrain compatibility book

– T.O.C. –

72 thoughts on “Compatibility [01] Chains”

  1. ok guys,did some more digging,the kmc re-usable quicklink that is 7.3mm pin width fits all these chains,kmc X8,kmc Z8.3,kmc Z7,kmcZ6 and shimano CN-HG40 chain,all these chains are all 7.3 mm pin width,but with any chain you buy its often wise to buy chain first and measure pin width with a digital gauge then go buy your re-usable quicklinks,still doing more homework on other chains and should be able to get you all quicklink models for 8 speed chains

    Reply
  2. CLR73R kmc reusable link fits X8,Z8.3,Z7,Z6 chains,CL57R EPT reusable link fits,X8,Z8.3,Z7,Z6,CL573 EPT not reusable link fits,el,X8,Z8.3,Z7,Z6,CL573 not reusable fits,el,X8,Z8.3,Z7,Z6,CL573RB not reusable fits,X8,Z8.3,Z7,Z6,CL571R reusable link fits,Z8.1,CL571R EPT reusable link fits,Z8.1,CL571RB not reusable fits,Z8.1,now this next link is the one shimano sells with their CN-HG40 chain,sometimes shimano just ships this chain with one single black joiner pin that you put through the chain and break it off and yes this link was on kmc website,its CL373 and they clearly state pin width 7.3 mm it fits these chains,kmc,shimano and all other 6,7,8 speed chains,CL371 fits kmc Z8.1 and Z1 narrow chains.in older shimano listings on shimano website they do list their older IG chains as being 7.1 mm width and their newer CN-HG40 chain as being 7.1mm width,i personal thinks that is a mis-print,but it may be correct for their older IG chains,so far i can only determine some chain pin widths by some quicklinks but on all kmc quicklink packets they allways say what chain it is for and usually the chain pin width,its a bit hard to find the actuall pin width with manufactures specs,readers on this site might like to measure their own chains with a digital guage and send that info to Relja,i cant see any other way,cheers guys

    Reply
    • Mike, thank you very much for the info. 🙂

      I’ll hopefully be able to re-measure my current stock and do a run around the local shops with my callipers in September, to confirm this and try to see if there’s some average value, or the exact 7.3.

      As it seems by this data, manufacturers just went with 7.3 for 6, 7 and 8 speeds, probably to cut costs (making only one chain size practically). 6-speed cassettes don’t mind it for sure, and, apparently, 7.3 is not too wide for the 8-speed cassettes either.

  3. Hi Relja,yes its seems they did just that but just like everything else to do with bicycles they keep changing stuff and keep creating problems that did not exist in the first place they are very clever marketing gurus cheers.

    Reply
  4. Hi Relja hoped you enjoyed my bed spilling i am one of those humans too,only googles dont do bed spilling,mr googles is also very good with mathematic

    Reply

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