What Material Are Bike Chains Made Of?

Although the bike chain may not be the most exciting bicycle component, it is one of the most critical. Without a functioning chain, your bike won’t move. The bike chain connects the pedals to the wheels and drives the bike forward. Understanding what material bike chains are made of is essential when selecting the right one for your bike.

Traditionally, bike chains are made from steel, which offers optimal durability and ensures that the chain runs effectively on your bike. However, supplemental features in the construction of bike chains can impact their durability and prevent rust accumulation over time. It’s important to consider these factors when selecting a bike chain to ensure optimal performance and longevity.

What Material Is Bike Chains Made Of

To gain a deeper understanding of bike chain construction, it’s important to examine the materials used and their properties. Most bike chains are made from steel, as it offers high strength and durability. The specific type of steel used may vary depending on the manufacturer and intended use of the chain.

In addition to the materials used, coatings can also play an important role in chain construction. Some chains may be coated with materials such as zinc or nickel to improve corrosion resistance and extend the life of the chain. Other supplementary factors, such as the shape and size of the chain links, can also impact chain performance.

Ultimately, selecting the right bike chain for your bike will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of riding you plan to do and the conditions you will be riding in. Understanding the construction of bike chains and the materials and coatings used can help you make an informed decision when selecting a chain for your bike.

What Are Bike Chains Made Of?

The traditional bike chain is typically constructed from steel, which is compatible with other components to ensure smooth performance. Alloy steel is commonly used for bike chains, as it is lighter and more flexible than other types of steel. However, pure steel construction may have some drawbacks.

Bike chains are typically made from one of two types of steel: carbon steel and alloy steel. While both materials have similar properties, many riders prefer alloy steel due to its lighter weight and increased flexibility. When considering the differences between these two types of steel, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of each.

  • Alloy Steel: While alloy steel may not be as durable as carbon steel when it comes to constructing bike chains, it is significantly lighter in weight. In addition to its lighter weight, alloy steel is also naturally corrosion-resistant, which makes it a more functional option in a variety of conditions.
  • Carbon Steel: Carbon steel is a material that contains higher amounts of iron and carbon than other options, making it less flexible overall. It may also be more susceptible to corrosion than other materials. However, one of the primary reasons riders may choose carbon steel for their bike chain is the added strength it provides.

The choice of chain material will depend on the specific riding conditions and performance needs of the rider. For those seeking more flexibility, a chain constructed with a higher proportion of alloy steel may be a better option. In addition, alloy steel chains tend to perform better than carbon chains in adverse weather conditions. As a result, many riders may recommend opting for an alloy steel bike chain.

Most Important Variables Of Bike Chains

While bike chains can be made from the best possible materials, there are often many variables that you need to account for. These variables often include things like weather conditions that could potentially cause rust. Numerous other factors are also important to consider when you are buying a brand new bike chain for your bike:


When selecting a bike chain, it’s important to consider the coatings that may be applied to the chain to protect against rust and other elements. A variety of materials can be used to coat bike chains, including alloys and nickel. However, modern bike chains may include titanium as the primary coating material. Titanium can help prevent rust while also making the chain lighter in weight, making it an appealing option for many riders.

Bike chain coating

It’s worth noting that titanium is often one of the most expensive materials used in bike chain construction, which can significantly increase the price of the chain. KMC is one brand that uses titanium carbon nitride as a primary coating material, resulting in a black chain that can help reduce friction. Other brands may offer different coating options, which we will break down below.

  1. KMC: As mentioned earlier, KMC uses titanium carbon nitride (TiCN) for their high-end chains. This coating provides superior hardness, low friction, and excellent wear resistance. The black finish not only adds to the aesthetic appeal but also improves the overall durability of the chain.
  2. Shimano: Shimano offers a variety of chains with different coatings, including their Sil-Tec surface treatment. Sil-Tec is a low friction, smooth coating that reduces wear and enhances overall performance. Shimano chains with this coating have a distinctive silver or gray appearance.
  3. SRAM: SRAM’s top-tier chains use their Hard Chrome™ plating, which provides a hard, durable surface that reduces wear and increases the lifespan of the chain. This coating appears silver or chrome-like and is known for its corrosion resistance and low maintenance requirements.
  4. Campagnolo: Campagnolo’s high-quality chains feature their Ultra-Link™ system, which uses a special Ni-PTFE (nickel-teflon) anti-friction treatment. This coating ensures smooth operation, reduces friction, and prolongs the life of the chain. Campagnolo chains with this coating have a slightly gold hue.
  5. Wippermann: Wippermann is known for their Connex chains, which often come with their proprietary stainless steel or Black Edi coatings. The stainless steel coating provides excellent corrosion resistance, while the Black Edi coating is designed to minimize friction and wear, resulting in a longer-lasting chain.
  6. YBN: YBN offers their SFL (Super Feather Light) and DLC (Diamond Like Coating) coated chains. The SFL coating is lightweight and provides low friction, while the DLC coating is known for its hardness, wear resistance, and self-lubricating properties. YBN chains with these coatings can come in a variety of colors, including black, silver, and gold.

Outer Chain Design

One of the most significant differences between bike chain brands is the design of the outer plates. Many bike chains feature outer plates that include some form of ramping, which can improve shifting between gears. However, this may not always be the most effective setup for a chain.

For those with the budget to invest, it may be worth considering a chain with chamfered edges on the sides. These chains offer a slightly different design and may also look better. However, it’s important to note that these chains are typically more expensive than those without chamfered edges.

Many of the best chains in the world are designed to be as lightweight as possible often require significant engineering to perfect. These chains may feature hollow pins that help maintain the chain’s strength while reducing its overall weight. However, due to the additional engineering and materials required, these chains can be more expensive than traditional options.

Different bike chain brands may incorporate unique design elements into their chains. For example, KMC often includes chamfered edges on their chains, while Campagnolo may use rounded ends on some of their bike chains. The KMC 11-speed X11 SL chain is designed with an X-shaped protrusion and outer face that makes it ideal for use with the X1 drivetrain, and it can be used for both road and off-road bikes.

Friction Reducing Compounds AKA Permanent Lubricant

Reducing friction is an important consideration when selecting a bike chain. Friction can cause the chain to move less effectively, which can impact the overall performance of the bike. It can also make it more difficult for the chain to move quickly between gears. Fortunately, incorporating various coatings into the chain’s design can help to reduce friction and improve its overall performance.

Brands like Silca and CeramicSpeed are two of the best-known brands to include these coatings. Bear in mind that the coatings do not last forever. The manufacturer will state that these pre-treated chains would do around 100 miles before the coating wears off.

You could find these chains often used in competitive situations and they are best for race-day conditions. However, they might not pack the punch you might need when it comes to wet weather conditions. When covered in water, the chain friction should already be low enough. The main issue arises when the chain needs to dry which could potentially lead to the accumulation of rust and corrosion of the metal.

The Full Titanium Chain

While titanium is a unique and effective compound, it is often associated with expensive bike chains. However, despite its advantages, titanium chains may not be as flexible as other chain components, which can limit their overall performance. As a result, purchasing an overpriced chain that does not improve performance may not be the best investment for most riders.

For those who plan on casual cycling for a few years and want a durable bike chain, titanium may be an option to consider. However, for most riders, it may not be the most effective or efficient choice.

YBN SFL-210 Bike Chain
YBN SFL-210 Bike Chain

While titanium bike chains are not as commonly found as other materials, there are still high-quality options available for those who are interested. YBN is a renowned brand in the production of titanium bike chains, and their products can be purchased separately from the bike itself. The YBN SFL-210 Bike Chain is one of the top options in the market and is compatible with all SRAM and Shimano components.

How Often Should I Replace A Bike Chain?

While bike chains are designed to be durable, they will eventually need to be replaced in order to maintain optimal performance. Checking your chain regularly with a chain checker is the best way to know when it’s time for a replacement. However, there are three main factors that can affect the lifespan of a bike chain and when it should be replaced. These factors include:

  1. Chain wear: Over time, as you ride your bike, the chain’s metal parts can wear down, causing the chain to elongate. This can lead to poor shifting performance and increased wear on the cassette and chainrings. Regularly checking chain wear with a chain checker or measuring the distance between links can help you determine when it’s time to replace the chain.
  2. Riding conditions: The environment in which you ride your bike can have a significant impact on the lifespan of your chain. If you frequently ride in muddy, wet, or dusty conditions, your chain is more likely to wear out faster. Regular cleaning and lubrication can help extend the life of your chain, but it’s essential to monitor the wear closely in harsh conditions.
  3. Maintenance and lubrication: Proper chain maintenance and lubrication play a crucial role in prolonging the life of your bike chain. Regularly cleaning and lubricating your chain can help prevent the buildup of dirt, grime, and rust, which can cause the chain to wear out more quickly. Neglecting maintenance can significantly shorten the lifespan of your chain and result in suboptimal performance.

Maintaining your bike chain is crucial to keeping your bike in the best operating condition possible. Although it may take more time to maintain the chain after each ride, it can significantly extend its lifespan. In the long run, regular maintenance is much less expensive than having to replace the chain altogether.

How Often Should I Clean A Bike Chain

How often you need to clean your bike chain depends on how frequently you ride. If you ride frequently or in bad weather conditions, you may need to clean the chain more often. However, it is generally recommended to clean your bike chain at least once a week to maintain optimal performance. Proper storage conditions and lubrication can also make a significant difference in extending the lifespan of your chain.

What Material Is Bike Chains Made Of Summary

Choosing the right bike chain is essential for optimal bike performance. While you don’t necessarily need the most expensive chain, having a functional one can significantly improve your performance and prolong the lifespan of the chain. For more information about bicycle chains, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide.

You can learn more about bicycle chains in our Guide.

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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