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Chain and Cassette Maintenance

Bicycle drivetrains appear to be very simple machines, and they are. But in today's world of 9/10/11-speed drivetrains, these simple machines are engineered with very tight mechanical tolerances that allow us to have bikes that offer 20+ gear choices and buttery smooth shifting on a bike that weighs less than 15 lbs.

Chains and cassettes are carefully designed to work together. As the only way to transfer the energy from your body into forward motion, they probably take more abuse than the rest of your bike combined. Even on the most casual afternoon ride, your chain is being constantly stressed laterally (when pedaling) and being raked over jagged gears (shifting).

As the miles pile up, the chain and cassette basically wear each other out of shape. After about 1,000 miles, the chain will no longer meet the tolerances that your drivetrain was designed to work with. If you continue to ride with a worn chain, the cassette will begin to wear itself into shape to function with the worn chain. Shifting performance of a worn drivetrain will slowly decline over time, until one day it just won't work. Many cyclists see this as the sign that they need a new chain. Upon installation of a replacement chain, though, they will often find that the the new chain will not engage with the worn cassette, and the $50 routine maintenance has just turned into a $150+ problem.

By regularly replacing worn chains, you will increase the lifespan of your cassette. Manufacturers would advise changing cassettes ever 5,000 miles or so. If you're maintaining a top-end race bike, those guidelines are best followed. For those without a top-of-the-line, brand new race bike, you might as well run cassettes for as long as possible. If the chain is regularly replaced, cassettes can last years, though shift quality will slowly diminish even on a properly maintained cassette.

A few tips for maximizing chain and cassette life

  • CLEAN YOUR CHAIN! - Water, road grit, temperature fluctuations and general neglect will drastically decrease the life of everything on your bike, especially your drivetrain. Wipe the chain clean after every ride, thoroughly clean it with plenty of high quality chain lube at least once a week.
  • Use the same brand chain as your component group - Run Shimano components? Use a Shimano chain. Same goes for Campagnolo and SRAM. These companies employ talented engineers who do very good work. Using the proper chain with the proper drivetrain, will improve performance and durability. If you run a mixed component group, choose the same brand chain as cassette.
  • Replace your chain before you need to - Most manufacturers advise you to change your chain every 1,000 miles. While most of us probably get 1,500 miles out of a chain, going much further than that is pushing your luck. A chain checker will let you know when it's time.

Feel free to contact us with any questions regarding drivetrain maintenance at 1-800-651-4050 or [email protected]. We have a staff of experienced cyclists and mechanics to keep your bike riding like new.