# Compatibility [01] Chains

This article explains bicycle chain compatibility – which chains can be combined with which number of “speeds” (cassettes and cranks). From one to 12 speeds.

If you have any questions (or additions and corrections), please use the BikeGremlin forum’s compatibility section:
https://www.bikegremlin.net/forums/bike-compatibility/

Before you start, to avoid any misunderstanding:
please take the 5 minutes needed to read the compatibility articles use instructions.

TL/DR

## TL/DR

Briefly put: you can use chains for more speeds with fewer-speed cassettes (and front chainrings), but not vice versa (at least not with cassettes – front chainrings are more forgiving for any mismatch).

For example: an 11-speed chain works fine on a 9-speed cassette (and cranks), but a 9-speed chain won’t be OK on an 11-speed cassette.

I’ve also explained the chain pitch, construction, and brielfy discussed symmetrical vs asymmetrical chains and added a table with chain widths depending on the number of “speeds.” You can use the table of contents to skip to the parts of interest.

– T.O.C. –

## 1. Basic bicycle chain facts

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.

How to connect and disconnect chains, with or without using quick links, video demonstration:

– 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 (and my personal experience with 7.3 mm wide KMC chains) 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 *1 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.

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## 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.

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## 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.

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## 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). They generally work with fewer speed systems, with two “catches:”

1. 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).
2. Shimano Hyperglide+ 11 and 12-speed chains work nicely only with Hyperglide+ chainrings and cassettes.

– 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.

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)

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

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

If you have any questions (or additions and corrections), please use the BikeGremlin forum’s compatibility section:
https://www.bikegremlin.net/forums/bike-compatibility/

– T.O.C. –

1. I did a bicycle chain durability test and concluded that, in practice, chain durability depends on its build quality, not on its number of speeds (i.e. its thickness). ↩︎

Last updated:

Originally published:

## 74 thoughts on “Compatibility [01] Chains”

1. Nice article, compliments … but one thing I want to add: in the instructions (PDF viewable at Campagnolo) are the 11-speed chains with a width of 5.5mm specified! I belong to these exotics which have been driving Campagnolo for years and demount any Shimano or SRAM to build a Campagnolo on, I know the advantage when driving. I have this chain dimension also already measured on my wheels and can confirm the 5.5mm. a 5.65mm chain from KMC does not jam and is also really good, but you have to readjust the rear derailleur for this to meet the exact center. A Campagnolo chain with 5.5mm is much easier to assemble and adjust on a Campagnolo cassette.

• To better explain the adjustment: with an 11-speed KMC/SRAM/Shimano chain (5.65mm) on a Campagnolo cassette, you have to readjust the adjustment screw in eighths of a turn when fine-tuning on the first kilometers. With a Campagnolo chain with 5.5mm width you can work with half turns.
I could imagine that it works with a Connec-Wippermann chain (5.6mm) in quarter turns …

2. I have an 8-speed 232-link chain still new-in-bag from y2006. I can’t see whether it came with a “pop-link”/”snap-link”. I’m hoping to replace the timing chain on our 1992 Santana tandem. I’ll have to use the rivet tool anyway to pare the new chain down. I have a spare 9-speed snap-link. Will it be possible to use that to connect the 8-speed chain’s ends? There’s no derailler action with a timing chain. Alternatively, is there an issue or a caution about using the rivet tool to re-rivet an 8-speed chain?

3. Because I am very stubborn, I have used every trick so to keep my old 9-speed drivetrain running for 20 years in spite of the bike industry trying to force me to “upgrade”. My setup is a “Frankenstein’s Monster” with Microshift Derailleurs, Miche Cassette, Sugino Cranket, and Campy 11 speed Shifters (old version) that somehow work together as a Shimano 9 speed.

However, they might get me this time if I can’t find a solution… I have a Sugino compact double crank originally fitted with 9 speed rings, but they no longer make 9 speed replacements at Sugino; just the 10/11sp version. I need a little advice about my options: *1) Get TA Zephyr rings that are 9/10 sp, but I heard TA rings don’t work with Sugino _triple_ cranks… I’m not sure if this applies to compact doubles. OR *2) Get the 10 Speed Sugino rings and use 0.4mm spacers (assuming the space difference is 6.7-5.88 = 0.82mm; 0.82/2 = 0.41mm).

• Hi Chan,

Briefly put:
If it were my money, I’d give it a go with 9/10 double chainrings – but it’s not my money. 🙂

A longer explanation:
There are two things to consider here (stating them just to be on the safe side, so there’s no misunderstanding, I believe you’ve checked the first one already):

1) Chainring mounting standard
It should fit the cranks. Whether it’s a 5-bolt, or a 4-bolt mounting system, it should be matched, along with the proper BCD.

2) Chainring spacing
Provided a chainring fits, there’s a concern about the teeth profile, ramps, and the chainring width.
In my experience, going “one size” more, or fewer speeds compared to the chain’s width (“number of speeds”) doesn’t cause any problems. Maybe shifting will be slower for a fraction of a second, or a quarter of a pedal turn, sure. But I’d expect it to work, even without using any spacers.

My experience has mostly been with mix-matching Shimano cranks and chainrings. I’m not sure about the Sugino. So take this with a grain of salt:

I would expect a double chainring to work, even if it is for 10 speeds. My order of preference would be like this(considering that a matching 9-speed chainrings aren’t available):

1. 9/10 speed double chainring.
2. 10/11 speed double chainring.

P.S.
Concerning triple vs double chainrings:

Middle chainrings for triples have different profile compared to double chainrings, or outer chainrings on a triple crank. For example:
53a-39a-30a vs 53b-39b.
You can’t switch the 39 a and b – even if the mounts fit, the teeth profile would be all wrong.
But you can switch 53 a and b without any real problems (again, if the mount’s number of holes and BCD are matched, of course).

Relja

4. Relja,

Thanks for your quick reply. I have a follow-up questions. I received a reply from another source that the TA rings won’t work, but the person got my crank model wrong, so I had to write back to see if it makes a difference. If I get the same answer, I’ll probably go with the Sugino 10 sp.

I noticed that there are 0.6mm and 0.4mm spacers available. They’re cheap, so I’ll get both… any thought on which spacers to try first?

• As I like to say: “one good measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.” 🙂
I’d measure the spacing on the current setup, then try to get that spacing with the new chainrings. Middle-to-middle distance is what matters most.
In case the new chainrings are measurably thinner than the old ones, I’d aim for the-same-distance-or-slightly-less, instead of the-same-distance-or-slightly-more.

Getting two spacer options is probably a good idea – I’m definitely not sure which spacer thickness will get you there.

5. Relja,

After doing more “research” (Google), I have come to agree with you. The signal-to-noise ratio out there is pretty bad. I wrote directly to Sugino about using 10sp rings on Sugino 9sp crank and they replied, “…You can install EV110S chainrings to your Mighty Tour crank. However, you have to upgrade your components to 10/11 speed.” Wut? I can’t even get good advice from manufacturer! Next, I found out the 0.4mm spacer listing was on an archived version the old Brandford Bike website; for some reason, a fan ripped the old site and hosted it, catalog and all!

Anyway, I found a couple of other aftermarket chainrings that are 9sp, so I’ll look into those. The thinnest spacer I could find was 0.5mm… not sure if there is a functional difference between 0.5mm and 0.6mm (the most common size). I might have to swallow my pride and seek aid from a professional bike mechanic.

• As far as manufacturers go, there are two problems:
1. They need to make a profit.
2. They must protect themselves from liability (lawsuits, product returns etc.).

So it makes perfect sense for a manufacturer to give rather “conservative” advice.
Just as it makes sense for us to try different things and share our experiences. 🙂

On a more philosophical note: zeitgeist is shifting from owning to renting. I.e. more and more stuff and services are being pushed into pay-by-month/annum area, from being just bought and done with it. That way we have to spend money every month (and work a lot to earn it), hence corporations are slowly ending up owning us. This happens wherever I look. Spare parts for a 3 years old vacuum cleaner? Discontinued, “the guarantee was only for two years, buy a new one.” PHP version this website runs on was 7.4 – introduced in 2019, planned to be obsolete in November this year. It felt as if I had “upgraded” yesterday, yet today I had to test it with version 8.0, that will be obsolete itself in 2023 (not a very distant future). Related to the topic – when one says they are running a 20-year old bicycle (or drivetrain) and need help with it, a widely acceptable response has become “buy a new one.” Without giving it a second thought. Instead of trying to figure it out, get it fixed and rolling.
OK, rant over. 🙂