Whenever a bike comes in our shop for even the most minor repair or service one of the first things we do is to check the chain wear. We don’t do this solely for the opportunity to sell you a chain (although we certain don’t mind selling chains), we do this to save you money. You see, if the chain wears out bad enough it can easily ruin the cassette (the set of cogs on the rear wheel), and a cassette can cost a lot of money. On most bikes a cassette can easily cost at least $50 and on some bikes over $100 or more, so it’s really important to make sure that you don’t use the same chain too long.
There’s another money saving benefit to checking your chain regularly: how often have you replaced your chain simply because “it’s been a while”? Checking your chain will save you money by keeping you from replacing your chain too soon so you get all your money’s worth out of your chain. (And while good quality chains aren’t as expensive as good quality cassettes, they’re still not exactly free either.)
Which brings up the obvious question: how long is a chain good for? Unfortunately, bicycle chains aren’t like the oil in your car: they don’t last a set number of miles. How and where you ride your bike greatly affects the lifespan of your chain. The only sure fire way of knowing that you chain is okay is to actually check the chain by measuring it.
So does that mean that you have to bring your bike in to the shop every couple weeks just to have the chain checked? Well, as much as we like it when you drop by (even if it’s just to say “Hi”), checking your chain is something you can easily do at home using a “chain checker”.
We sell two types of chain checkers, both made by Park, a company that makes really good quality bicycle tools: the Chain Checker 2 and the Chain Checker 3. The Chain Checker 2 ($30) tells you not just if you chain is worn out, but even if your chain is still good it gives you some idea how much longer till it needs replacing. The Chain Checker 3 ($12) is simpler but just tells you if your chain is bad or not, giving you sort of a “yes or no” answer. Although we prefer the more information we get from the Chain Checker 2, the Chain Checker 3 will do a very good job of simply making sure you aren’t ruining your cassette providing you use it regularly.
No matter how you go about it, whether at our shop or at home, it’s really important that you regularly check your chain. We consider a chain checker one of those “must have” tools, like tire levers and allen wrenches, that every cyclist should have in their toolbox.