Monday, August 13, 2012

How Much Technology can go into a Chain?

   Maybe you don't often think about the chain on your bike, but the truth is that they are pretty neat little pieces of technology. A basic chain is made up of links, but a roller chain is a bit more complicated. A modern roller chain is made up of an inner plate, an outer plate and a pin.

Outer Plate
Inner Plate

   With some older designs, the inner plates were one solid piece, known as a block chain. It's easy to see how one evolved into the other.

Outer Plate
Inner Block

   From a weight standpoint, they're not very efficient. Jump forward a few decades, and we've got chains that are far more advanced. Chains now are specific to the kind of bike you're riding. With a BMX bike, chains are thick and strong, not made to shift at all. You run a more narrow chain on an 8 speed than a 9 speed, and an even more narrow chain on a 10 speed. Some cool technology in modern chains are hollow pins and cutout sideplates:

Typical 10 Speed Chain

   Removing material in these places makes the chains lighter without compromising strength. Even now, you're saying to yourself, "Surely there can be no more improvement on this technology." Well, prepare to be amazed! Shimano has a Dura Ace chain with some really cool features. For starters, they are making it even lighter by cutting out both the inner and outer sideplates. Normally, it's just the outer plate. Second, they have designed the chain asymmetrically, to improve the shifting. Pretty important to put the chain on in the right direction in this case. 

Shimano Dura Ace Chain

The side plates are beveled to climb to higher gears faster and more smoothly than other chains. The neat thing is that these chains are still not super expensive at around $50. Consider yourself educated in chains!

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