How Much Should You Spend On A Bike Chain? Cheap Vs Expensive Chains Explained

Pro bike mechanic and endurance racer Robbie Ferri shares his experience finding value for money with bike chains

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

The humble bike chain is among the components cyclists are likely to replace most often.

Given you’ll find yourself buying bike chains again and again, it’s essential to find the sweet spot in the budget between value, performance, and durability.

As an ex-Shimano ambassador with years of experience as a pro bike mechanic and ultra-endurance racer, I’ve had more than my fair share of time riding, working on, and owning bikes with chains across a wide range of budgets, from high-performance options costing upwards of $70 to cheap and not so cheerful $10 offerings.

From the off, I would argue that the sweet spot for most fairly serious amateur cyclists will lie around the middle of that range, between around $25 to $40.

At that price point, you’ll find high-quality, durable chains from reputable brands that won’t make you wince every time you need to replace them.

However, that’s a very subjective judgment, and the right amount to spend on a bike chain will depend on your budget, the type of riding you want to do, whether you intend to race your bike in competition, and any specific technical requirements you need.

With that in mind, this guide will be covering:

Shimano bike chain on a road bike.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

How Much Should I Spend On A Bike Chain?

So, how much is a bike chain? Well, it comes down to many factors. Here’s my advice if you are looking for different types of bike chains. 

Make Sure The Chain Is Compatible With Your Groupset

Ensure it is the same amount of speeds (gears) and whatever brand you are using is compatible with the groupset you have.

I have always found matching brands is the best way to go, but if going for something different, ensure they’re cross-compatible first.

Performance Chains – High Price ($40-$60)

If you want a chain for performance and racing, and every second counts, you’ll need to spend top money. Chains like Shimano Dura-Ace are light, amazing under heavy load, and shift quickly and smoothly. They make a difference, but it shows in the price tag.

High-performance chains can often wear out quickly, so it’s good to understand that you might not get huge mileage out of these, especially when you will be going full gas most of the time you’re using them.

Unless you’re racing competitively and need to extract every last percentage of performance, I’d argue that most amateur cyclists are unlikely to need to spend this kind of money on a bike chain.

Performance And Durability – Mid Price ($25-$40)

If you want a mix of performance but are also looking for durability, then you might want to consider a performance chain but one that isn’t racing level. These are typically made to be smooth and light, but also very durable.

A good example of a chain like this might be a Shimano 105 chain. It will offer a mix of performance and durability and is much cheaper than the high-performance chains. It costs around $25-$40, giving you some great miles.

Like all bike components, you’ll get diminishing returns as the chain gets more expensive. In other words, the difference between a $10 chain and a $40 chain will be much, much greater than the difference between a $40 chain and a $70 chain.

That’s why I’d argue this mid-range is the sweet spot where you’re getting maximum value for money, and every dollar you spend is contributing to a real improvement in quality compared to budget options.

Durability And Budget – Low Price ($10-$25)

If you are looking for a new chain on a bike, you are not too worried about performance, and you don’t use it much, then you might just want to buy a cheap chain from a well-known manufacturer.

Some chains in this price bracket are going to be poor quality, particularly if they’re a very cheap knock-off from an unknown brand (Amazon is full of these) or a counterfeit of a major brand (also surprisingly common), but there are reputable brands that will do a decent budget chain at this price.

For example, a fantastic budget chain that is not just going to work well but offers great durability and is nice on the wallet would be a KMC chain. They come in all different speeds, are very durable, and great value for money.

White gravel bike with a silver bike chain.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

What’s The Difference Between Cheap Vs Expensive Bike Chains

Now for the exciting part. Let’s discuss what you can expect from cheap and expensive chains. This has all come from my experiences of using many different options.


Chains made for bikes that have fewer speeds (cassette gears) tend to be cheaper. You’ll find an 8/9/10 speed bike chain to be as little as 30% of the cost compared to 11/12 speed chains.

It’s important to use the correct chain for the number of speeds in your groupset, as they are different widths. The more speeds in the groupset, the narrower the chain needs to be. You couldn’t use an 8-speed chain on an 11-speed groupset. 

Newer bike chains are also designed to be able to handle cross-chaining angles and typically use better materials and newer technology.


Expensive chains are generally much lighter than cheaper chains. Cheap chains are made of less advanced materials, with basic machine techniques, and must be larger for more basic cassettes.

A high-end chain such as Shimano Dura-Ace will weigh much less than a more basic chain due to having hollow pins and being made of more refined materials such as lighter alloys, which are harder to construct.


In general, cheaper chains don’t last as long as expensive chains. They break down easier and are made of materials that weaken quickly. I have personally had cheap chains last as little as 500 miles compared to expensive ones at 2000 miles. 

That isn’t always the case. There are times when top high-end performance chains have very short lives. This is because they are lighter and designed for maximum performance at the expense of durability. Tour de France riders will not be on the same chain for long. 

Top Tip: Use a chain checker regularly to ensure it hasn’t stretched more than 0.75 mm.


Then we have performance. The performance is very different if you have a cheap 11-speed chain and an expensive 11-speed chain. Although they might cover the same speeds, it doesn’t mean they will perform the same.

A good example could be a Shimano Sora and a Dura-Ace chain. Shimano Sora is a more basic groupset, and Dura-Ace is racing level. The Dura-Ace chain is lighter, shifts better, and quieter than the Shimano Sora chain. 

Resistance To Corrosion

Bike chains corrode. It’s difficult to avoid corrosion when working with metal components that are exposed to the elements with a lot of movement.

You can help reduce this by cleaning them regularly and keeping them well lubricated, but there’s a big difference when it comes to cheap and expensive models. 

Cheap chains generally come with either poor lubrication or sometimes very little at all. They also scratch and wear more easily, leaving them open to the elements. Expensive chains typically come with better lubrication and are more hard-wearing and scratch-resistant. 

Top Tip: Ensure your bike chain is cleaned and degreased regularly and always well lubricated to avoid it wearing down due to corrosion.


For years, I pretty much exclusively used Shimano or SRAM chains. Then, when there were stock issues, I had to switch to a lesser-known brand, and after changing the chain, I thought that my bike was broken as it was making a strange noise when I was pedaling. 

I checked the bottom bracket for any friction on the drivetrain, wheel bearings, and even the jockey wheels to realize the chain was making the sound. The chain was cheap, but I couldn’t quite believe how noisy it was.

Silver bike chain on a bike in a turbo trainer.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

The Types of Bike Chains You Should Avoid

Before we go into speaking about how much you should spend on a bike chain, it’s vital to know what chains you need to avoid because some will cause you problems.

Fake Chains

Chains are costly, especially high-performance chains from a top groupset. When you come across, say, a Dura-Ace chain on non-reputable reseller websites, which typically costs $50 for much less, such as $25, then it’s more than likely counterfeit. 

I have seen so many fake Dura-Ace and SRAM chains on reselling sites, and they may also have the same or very similar packaging. There’s usually a tell somewhere, such as not having hollow pins on the chain or it being a slightly different box color.

In general, if the price for a premium chain seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Unheard Of Brands

Although some lesser-known brands make a half-decent chain, in my experience, I have found most of them to be noisy, weak, and perform poorly. They are generally the same quality as the fakes, and although very cheap, they just don’t last. 

The brands to go for are the ones making the groupsets or well-known companies. SRAM, Shimano, Campagnolo, and KMC are very good. I appreciate some unknown brands might have amazing chains, but I have never heard of one being better than branded. 

How Long Should A Bike Chain Last?

Another question I am often asked is “how long should a bike chain last?” Well I expect 1500 miles on a chain. It can be less if the bike is ridden hard or in poor conditions. It can be more if the bike is well looked after and ridden softly.

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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