How Many Miles Should a Bike Chain Last? What to Do About It ?!

One of the most important parts of any bike is the chain. Not only is it important to maintain a good chain to increase your efficiency on a bike, but it’s also critical for preventing major malfunctions along the way.

A lot of riders wonder, how many miles should a bike chain last?

Your bike chain should ideally last you anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 miles As the exact amount is difficult to pin down the range could be as great as 1,000 to 8,000 miles depending on the style of riding of the rider and how well the chain is maintained through the duration of its life.

How Do I Know if My Bike Chain Is Worn?

One of the first noticeable signs of a worn chain is poor shifting. If you’ve changed your cables and have them tensioned properly but still experience sloppy shifting, your chain may be the culprit. This can feel like the chain is taking its slow, sweet time to actually shift up or completely skip gears.

However, there are also ways to measure a worn chain before you can even feel it. This is an important part of your general bike maintenance because a bad chain can wear down your cassette, costing you way more money in the long run.

You can measure your chain using an accurate tape measure or a specialty bike chain measuring tool (Amazon Link)

A new bike chain will be 12 inches long across 12 links, measuring from the middle of the pins. You’ll know it’s time to replace the chain if it’s stretched to 12 and 1/16th inches. If it’s any longer, you’re probably going to need to replace your cassette.

If you want to get even more specific, you can use a chain checker. There is a lot of debate about which chain checker is most accurate, but they can all provide useful readings. If you really want to dive into the merits of different types, you can check out this classic review of various brands. Generally speaking, the average rider won’t need to get too in the weeds with this.

Does My Bike Chain Need to Be Replaced?

Yes, you should expect to replace your bike chain fairly regularly. New chains aren’t terribly expensive, and it’s absolutely worth it to avoid having to shell out the big bucks for a brand new cassette.

While it’d be nice to have an easy schedule to follow for replacing a bike chain (like once a year or every 1,500 miles), it, unfortunately, isn’t that simple. Your chain will wear out faster or slower depending on a variety of factors including the conditions you ride in, your style of riding, how often you need to shift gears, and so on. One chain might last you a full year while another needs to be replaced after a long race.

Your best bet is to continually monitor your chain length by using the methods above and to build good bike maintenance habits.

Also, find out How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Bike Derailleur? (Maintenance Tips!)

What Can You Do to Make My Chain Last Longer?

The most important thing you can do to increase the life of your bike chain is to regularly clean and lubricate it. You can do this every time you wash your bike or make a set schedule depending on how often you ride (like once a month).

We’ll go over three different cleaning methods, from easiest to most involved (or as I like to call them “lazy cleaning” and “real cleaning”),

Wipe & Go (Easiest)

This is the “done is better than perfect” method of cleaning off your chain. All you need to do is wipe the chain down with a lint-free cloth. Make sure you go through a full rotation of the chain to get everything off. You’ll still need to put some lube on when you’re finished, so don’t be so lazy that you skip this crucial step.

You won’t want to make this the only method of cleaning you do, but it’s great when you’re pinched for time and still want to take basic care of your bike.

Chain On (Medium Effort)

This method is still fairly easy because it involves keeping the chain on your bike. You can buy a chain cleaner to make this process go even smoother. You can even use a “dummy hub” or chain keeper in the place of the rear cogs to help prevent degreaser from getting in your rear hub (Source).

You’ll need to put your bike on a stand or flip it upside down so you can pedal while you run the chain cleaner over the chain using a degreaser. Once you’ve finished that, you’ll follow up with a second wash using warm, soapy water.

We also highly recommend that you check out our post ” How to Dispose of Bike Degreaser ? What You Must Know !

More of a visual learner? Check out the Pro Tools video below on how to clean and lube your chain using this method.

Chain Off (Most Involved)

If you’re able to safely remove your chain, you can get the most effective clean by putting it in an ultrasonic cleaning machine. If you’re unable to get one of those, you can simply put the chain into a sealable container with a solution and shake it vigorously. You may need to do a few cycles of this to get it completely spotless.

As with all options, you’ll need to lube your chain once it’s clean.

Can I Use WD40 on My Bike Chain?

Many cyclists use their handy bottles of WD40 on their bike chains. It can act as both a cleaner and a lubricant (though it’s primarily the latter). In general, though, it is better to use a lubricant specifically made for bike chains. WD40 can come off quickly in wet conditions, unlike standard bike lube. Keep in mind that WD40 will ultimately remove any other lubricant on the chain.

So be sure to thoroughly clean it off if you’re going to be switching to a different product. (Source)

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Bike Chain?

A chain can range anywhere from $10-$90, depending on the brand and quality. Generally, you’ll want the quality of the chain to match the quality of your bike. Basic commuting bikes can get away with a cheaper chain, while a $7,000 triathlon bike deserves something on the higher end. The more expensive chains generally last longer and are less susceptible to wear, but all chains will need to be replaced eventually. (Source).

If you’re doing a lot of training rides, you can feel comfortable getting something in the $30-$50 range and replacing it as needed.

Final Thoughts

Your bike chain is the key to an efficient ride so it’s important to make sure you’re not wearing it out too quickly. Taking care of your bike chain will keep it in solid working order and save you money and energy down the road.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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