Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like :The Dirty Kanza". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

11sp chain life on gravel?

Old 06-17-19, 08:46 PM
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11sp chain life on gravel?

Or, what am I doing wrong?
I've got 650 miles on my Warbird since last fall. I bought it new and it has the factory 2x11 SRAM Rival components.
My riding is 95% unpaved surfaces, mostly dirt roads around home. The bike does get dirty on a regular basis but I clean it when I get back and clean/relube the chain with fresh oil.

After a very wet ride this past weekend, I decided to pop the chain off and throw it in the ultrasonic cleaner. After taking the chain out and drying it, I'm now measuring a solid 0.75% chain stretch on my Nashbar chain measuring tool.

So, 650 miles seems awfully early to have this kind of chain wear to me. Is this an exception? I know many people talk down SRAM chains, but it seems like I'm heading toward less than 1000 miles before this chain hits the magic 1% wear mark. Please tell me this isn't usual on 11sp gravel...
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Old 06-17-19, 09:08 PM
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Throw away your chain measuring tool and buy a 18" steel ruler. Per Jobst Brandt:

The best way to determine whether a chain is worn is by measuring its length. A new half inch pitch chain will have a pin at exactly every half inch. As the pins and sleeves wear, this spacing increases, concentrating more load on the last tooth of engagement as the chain rolls off the sprocket, thus changing the tooth profile. When chain pitch grows over one half percent, it is time for a new chain. At one percent, sprocket wear progresses rapidly because this length change occurs only between pin and sleeve so that it is concentrated on every second pitch; the pitch of the inner link containing the rollers remaining constant. By holding a ruler along the chain on the bicycle, align an inch mark with a pin and see how far off the mark the pin is at twelve inches. An eighth of an inch (0.125) is one percent, twice the sixteenth limit that is a prudent time for a new chain.
I have a couple bikes that I ride 95% singletrack or gravel and they're at 12 1/8" (worn out) within 1000 miles. That's just the nature of how chains wear and what grit does to them + individual rider characteristics. Hot waxing the chain will extend the life considerably but the maintenance is a nightmare. I got 1800 miles out of a chain but I was waxing it before every use, I'd rather just buy more chains/cassettes.
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Old 06-17-19, 09:42 PM
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+1 on using a steel ruler.

I'm happy if I get 1200 miles out of a chain on mixed gravel/pavement.

As @Spoonrobot mentioned, it takes lots of care and attention to get that many miles. I just buy 105 chains on sale and recycle when they are done.


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Old 06-18-19, 06:39 AM
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Isn't a chain checker just a ruler that's easier to use? I have a Park Tool one, figured it would be accurate being a good brand.

I got a velocare package when I bought my gravel bike that will cover chain and cassette replacements, sounds like it'll be a good investment.
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Old 06-18-19, 07:15 AM
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Some people report that their chain checker has measured a new chain as significantly worn. I don't doubt their experience but mine is different. The simple Park checker is metal and isn't going to wear from use. After all these years, if mine measured a new chain as worn, I would suspect the chain. Lots more chance for variation with all those little pieces. As mentioned above, chains are consumables and not prohibitively expensive. There are explanations on the internet about checkers measuring this but not that, etc, etc. These all "sound good to me" when read, but I don't think there is any consensus among those who actually are equipped to understand these things. Even Shimano offers a simple checker tool. TL;DR, It's like chain lube. Any method is better than none.
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Old 06-18-19, 07:27 AM
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Wow thats a shockingly short chain life.

I would be annoyed if I had to change a chain that frequently.
...but at the same time, i think the last time I checked any of my chains was last year, so they all could be worn for what I know.
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Old 06-18-19, 07:57 AM
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There is consensus, the vast majority of chain checker tools are not reliable: http://pardo.net/bike/pic/fail-004/000.html

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Old 06-18-19, 08:13 AM
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I found waxing my chain will dramatically increase chain-life (as well as cassette and sprockets). Sand in gravel + non-dry lube = grinding paste
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Old 06-18-19, 09:24 AM
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I don't think I've ever made it to 1000 miles on any of my gravel chains. The dirt just chews through them.
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Old 06-18-19, 01:41 PM
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Some of the most vicious arguments I've seen on BF have been chain checkers vs. rulers. That's even more polarizing than 1x vs. doubles vs. triples, rim vs disc, or tubeless vs. tubes.

ANYWAY, regardless of what method you use to measure chain wear...

650 miles might be on the low end but I find that gravel wears out chains (and cassettes and chainrings and brake pads and rims) SHOCKINGLY faster than on pavement. I'd say about 3-4x as much wear.

And on wet gravel? Forget about it. Might as well take a sandblaster to your drivetrain.

That's the main reason I don't ride my geared bike on gravel much in the winter any more. I got tired of constantly replacing parts.
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Old 06-18-19, 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by ksryder View Post
Some of the most vicious arguments I've seen on BF have been chain checkers vs. rulers. That's even more polarizing than 1x vs. doubles vs. triples, rim vs disc, or tubeless vs. tubes.
And here I am seeing it for the first time ever. And then I go home for lunch and find an 18" ruler on the ground that I didn't know we owned. It's like the twilight zone around here today
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Old 06-19-19, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Spoonrobot View Post
There is consensus, the vast majority of chain checker tools are not reliable: http://pardo.net/bike/pic/fail-004/000.html
Thanks for that link, and the explanation makes sense. We've got other measurement tools at home, I just used the checker because it's quick and easy. Perhaps SRAM just uses looser rollers on the chain. I hope? Since I lack many paved roads near home, my riding is primarily on dirt of some sort.


BTW, for the wax fans, since I had the chain totally cleaned off I actually did choose to relube the chain with a bottle of Finish Line Ceramic Wax lube that I had been trying on my road bike. For road use I found the lube short-lived with the chain squeaking after 150-200 miles. I agree that the concept of a dry lube for gravel sure seems good and maybe the short life won't be so much of an issue when I have to clean the chain more often anyways. We'll see.
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Old 06-19-19, 11:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Caliper View Post
Perhaps SRAM just uses looser rollers on the chain. I hope?
Loose is loose, regardless. If a chain has a wider than optimal distance between pins, it will not align properly with the teeth of your chain rings and cassette, and will gradually wear away at them.
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Old 06-19-19, 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by ksryder View Post
That's the main reason I don't ride my geared bike on gravel much in the winter any more. I got tired of constantly replacing parts.
Do you ride a single speed or fixed gear or IGH bike on gravel instead, during winter?
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Old 06-19-19, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by HarborBandS View Post
Loose is loose, regardless. If a chain has a wider than optimal distance between pins, it will not align properly with the teeth of your chain rings and cassette, and will gradually wear away at them.
Hmmm, somebody clearly didn't read the link... Loose *rollers* are cited in the link as a cause for a false stretch reading in most chain stretch measurement devices. Essentially, the clearance at the rollers adds to the wear reading from the pin wear despite that the roller clearance does not come into play when the chain is loaded as on the bicycle. I'll see what a pin-to-pin measurement shows later...
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Old 06-19-19, 02:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Caliper View Post
Thanks for that link, and the explanation makes sense.
Yep, that's the point I was trying to make. We can read any of the half dozen explanations of chain elongation and think "sounds good to me." For my part, I have no education that would equip me to competently evaluate any of these theories. Maybe others do. Perhaps there is info from Shimano, KMC, SRAM or Campy that would put this to rest and I'd be happy to learn of it
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Old 06-19-19, 02:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Caliper View Post
Hmmm, somebody clearly didn't read the link... Loose *rollers* are cited in the link as a cause for a false stretch reading in most chain stretch measurement devices. Essentially, the clearance at the rollers adds to the wear reading from the pin wear despite that the roller clearance does not come into play when the chain is loaded as on the bicycle. I'll see what a pin-to-pin measurement shows later...

I see what you're saying. You're thinking that the loose rollers are not indicating that your pins have moved further apart. I'm assuming your chain wear indicator uses the rollers for measurement, in that case. I think the older one I had 25 years ago in the shop used a roller location on the back, and a pin location on the front.


Is it really okay to have a chain with play in the rollers? If power is applied to a chain roller and there is some play in the system, the roller will move forward. The next roller to engage the tooth will then be in a more backward position when it engages the tooth. If it has the same amount of play as the roller in front of it, it will move forward without a lot of resistance and the pin-to-pin distance will be fine, but doesn't this additional "gnashing" of parts just create more grinding? Or maybe less?

Last edited by HarborBandS; 06-19-19 at 02:55 PM.
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Old 06-19-19, 02:57 PM
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Originally Posted by HarborBandS View Post
Is it really okay to have a chain with play in the rollers? If power is applied to a chain roller and there is some play in the system, the roller will move forward. The next roller to engage the tooth will then be in a more backward position when it engages the tooth. If it has the same amount of play as the roller in front of it, it will move forward without a lot of resistance, but doesn't this additional "gnashing" of parts just create more grinding? Or maybe less?
The answer is yes, but not in bicycles as the power transmission is low enough and the pedal stroke, derailleur spring serve to provide enough preload (see below). The issue with bicycle chains is always being directly exposed to a constant stream of metal/steel and silicon dioxide particles directly from the front tire, bicycle chains running in a full chaincase or oil bath will last 10x an exposed chain, easily. As noted in this thread, gravel bicycle chains will last 1/4 to 1/2 as long as road chains due to the grit slurry that is created. True dry lube or hot waxing helps but does not entirely resolve the issue as even dry sand/metal is a polishing agent.

https://www.diamondchain.com/understanding-wear-life/
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Old 06-20-19, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by ColonelSanders View Post
Do you ride a single speed or fixed gear or IGH bike on gravel instead, during winter?
A cheap beater SS CX bike is on my wish list but it's pretty low on the order of priorities, especially since the introduction of Zwift.
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Old 06-22-19, 12:38 AM
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I must be lucky I get thousands of miles out of a chain. I don’t use a ruler I just pull the chain if it stretches too far off the ring I change it. Or if shifting becomes crummy. I use White Lightning dry wax chain lube. Sometimes I will put degreasers on the chain and power wash it. I know you are supposedly not to power wash a bike but I have done this for years and never ruined anything. But I’m careful with the spray at the BB and other bearings.
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Old 06-22-19, 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Hondo Gravel View Post
Sometimes I will put degreasers on the chain and power wash it.
Please reconsider washing grease and oil into the environment.


-Tim-
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Old 06-22-19, 03:57 PM
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Here is The issue; now every derailleur chain is bushingless , the edges of the roller rides on a flange

made by punching the holes in the inner link plate .. one coming in partially from both sides..

Pin tides around inside..

steel side plates have been made thinner in order to make a denser stack of cogs, 'speeds' in a limited width..

so a thinner piece will wear through where a thicker one will take longer..


this is an idealized diagram ..
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Old 06-22-19, 11:10 PM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH View Post
Please reconsider washing grease and oil into the environment.


-Tim-
No worries I use citrus degreaser and I water my lawn at the same time I wash my bikes. Being in the farm and ranch industry my whole life Iím the worse abuser of the environment as agriculture goes but the best conservation to the environment. Not saying you are a hippy But to all Hipsters welcome to the party rookies,
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