Difference Between Single-Speed And Multi-Speed Chain

Whether you are looking to buy a new bicycle or you already have one ready for use, you will need to be able to distinguish between a single-speed and multi-speed chain. While both work together to achieve the same purpose, there are small minute differences between each two, which makes them stand out for buyers and riders.

The main difference between single-speed and multi-speed chains is the overall width of the chain. The more speeds your chain has, the narrower the chain would be. Single-speed chains have the widest dimensions for both the inner roller width and the outside. The roller width comes in at 3.175mm in total.

To better understand these differences, we have gone into depth to find out what features make these chains different from one another. As you might have guessed, the multi-speed chain is automatically more versatile. However, there could be other additional factors that influence these bike chains.

Difference Between Single-Speed And Multi-Speed Chain

Bike Chain Speed To Size Comparison Table

No. Of Speeds Of Bike ChainOuter Width Of Chain
6-Speed Chains7.8 mm
7-Speed Chains7.3 mm
8-Speed Chains7-7.3 mm
9-Speed Chains6.5-6.7 mm
10-Speed Chains5.84-6.1 mm
11-Speed Chains5.46-5.74 mm
12-Speed Chains5.25 mm

Keep in mind that even though this table aims to take into account all the different bike chain brands, there could be many with various specifications. The latest Shimano 12-speed version and the subsequent 13-speed versions are designed for different types of bikes and this means they might not fall under the same category as the majority.

Key Differences Between The Single-Speed And Multi-Speed Chain

To understand some of these differences, we must break them down into smaller sections and look at some of the individual elements of each. The main purpose of this guide would be to ensure you can understand some of these differences between the two chains. Here is a breakdown of the different features:

Single-Speed Chains

The easiest bike chain to understand would be the single-speed bike chain. These chains serve the primary function of propelling bikes that do not have variable gears. They are the widest of all the chain groups, which is important to note for the inner roller width and the outer section at 1/8 of an inch or 3.175mm wide.

These chains are standard when you buy them and you don’t need any impressive or advanced measurements to get them fitted. They are some of the cheapest chains on the market today and easy to fit. However, I should mention that after testing the 6 and 8-speed chains, it was possible to fit these on the single-speed bikes.

Multi-Speed Chains

When it comes to multi-speed chains, it will start getting more complicated. Unlike the single-speed bike chain, there are numerous multi-speed bike chains that you could choose from. Some of them will fit one another and this will make it much easier to find the right one. To help you understand some of the differences, we have to break them down individually.

5 To 8-Speed Chains

As you have probably noticed by now, the more speeds a bike chain has, the narrower it tends to be in width. This means that starting from the reverse, we can look at the most narrow of these four chains and the 8-speed bike chain will come in first. The 8-speed bike chain (Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo) is all around 7.1mm wide. You will find that it will also fit the larger versions like the 5, 6, and 7-speed systems.

Coming in at 7.3mm and 7.8mm respectively, you will find the 7 and 6-speed bike chains. As you can see, these chains are fairly larger than the 8-speed version, which means they are not backward compatible use.

While most chain widths will vary depending on the speeds the bike has, you should note that certain brands like KMC are known for their interchangeable design of the chains. These chains can are all 7.3mm in width and they should work when you need to replace one with the other. However, this is not true for all brands.

KMC Multi Speed Chains

9-Speed Bike Chain

As you move lower down the scale, you will find the 9-speed bike chain and this is one of the narrower bike chains on the market today. The 9-speed bike chain is around 6.7mm wide. As you can see, the chain is far too narrow for you to have any functionality when you want to put it on a bike with naturally different speeds.

One of the biggest weaknesses of the 9-speed chain is its durability. Unfortunately, these chains are not as durable as their counterparts and this makes it much harder to use them for the same extended periods.

10-Speed Bike Chain

If you are looking for something with a bit more functionality, you might want to consider looking at the 10-speed bike chain. This chain is designed with a chain width that is around 5.88mm wide. As you would find with many of the previous options, they are interchangeable in specific classes. This means that each of them will be able to replace the other regardless of brand.

Many have also suggested that if you have a bike that already features a 10-speed chain, you should be able to interchange this for something more functional. You could perhaps be using an 11-speed chain on your bike if you want to.

11-Speed Bike Chain

While we have just suggested that replacing your 10-speed bike chain with an 11-speed bike chain is possible, you should note that the typical 11-speed bike chain is slightly narrower. It features a width of only 5.62mm, which is about 16-20mm more narrow than the 10-speed version and might be possible to fit on a different speed bike.

After a few tests, you can easily see that the 11-speed chain would still fit the 10-speed bike and vice-versa, which should ensure the best possible fit. We have noticed that the 10-speed does not jam in between the sprockets of the 11-speed bike, which should mean that it would remain functional and easily usable.

12-Speed Bike Chain

The 12-speed bike chain is one of the more complicated and this is due to SRAM holding the majority of the market for this chain. SRAM is responsible for this design and it is about 5.25mm in width. In 2018, the first Shimano version of the 12-speed bike chain was created, but the dimensions are more or less the same as that of SRAM.

You will possibly find other brands that have similar types of chains, but the measurements should be very close to one another. Unfortunately, it is not easy to get our hands on all these different chains. You will find that even though a brand like Campagnolo does make the 12-speed bike chain, it is only for road bikes.

What Is The Main Difference Between A Symmetrical And Asymmetrical Bike Chain?

Many hardcore cycling fans must have heard of the symmetrical and asymmetrical bike chains. The symmetrical bike chain is the traditional one that we have just discussed when it comes to different speeds. However, Shimano is currently the only brand that manufactures the asymmetrical bike chain.

You will notice that it looks slightly different when we consider how it is set up on the bike and the outer/inner plates have a different design. The main idea behind this chain is to promote the quick shifters Shimano has on the market today. These shifters will enable you to be much faster when finding the right gear.

The main construction idea for the asymmetrical chains was that they would be functional on double road bike chainrings and incorporating them on the triple chainring is something that many people speculated could be damaging to your bike. Recently, there have been numerous reports of riders using it on the triple chainrings.

About Martin

I am Martin, I am the author of this blog. My main interests include cycling. That's why this blog was created. I have always been interested in technology and how bicycles are made, so I built one myself.

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