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Chain Shootout

By Rob Manning

Links or stinks?

Ratings:
= We'd rather eat a soggy bike sock than buy this thing. = Pretty good. Could use improvement, but functional.
= If someone gives it to you, maybe. It's a paperweight. = Sweeeeet. We'd buy it. It won't cure cancer though.
= We'd use it if we were in a bind. Maybe. = Dude, it does everything including wash your car. It rules!

In the past few months we asked our contributors and our editors what kind of chains they were using, and we got a lot of feedback on what have been the best (and worst) links out there. What you find may surprise you.

SRAM PC-951 - $24.99
Quick Connect? Yes, gold 9 speed SRAM Powerlink.
Weight? Claimed 297g
On the cheaper end of the spectrum, we've got this relatively heavy chain from SRAM. Even though it's certainly not the first choice of the weight weenie out there, it's a good solid unit that's likely to last for a while. This chain was great as an economical replacement, but wouldn't be our first choice for a primary chain. It was relatively durable, but it had a rather nasty habit of developing rust at an alarming rate if left without a good cleaning. The gold Powerlink included in the box was a major plus. Including one of these with each chain is a going above and beyond the call of duty. The Powerlink is a simple item, but it makes life infinitely easier when removing or trying to fix a busted chain. Speaking of busted chains, we had no broken 951s reported either. Another tick mark in the positive column. Still, the weight and the corrosion resistance (or lack thereof) takes away big marks.

Shimano HG-73 - $18.99
Quick Connect? No. Requires Shimano chain pins.
Weight? Claimed 304g
The cheapest chain on test was (un-surprisingly to this editor) the "worst" one in the batch. We had several failures, one of which actually involved bending the links 45 degrees out of line with the rest of the chain. We had 4 breaks, with one exploding in 2 places on a steep out of the saddle climb. While not immpressed with the durability of these chains, they were certainly cheap enough to buy two for the price of one (or more depending on the brand) more expensive chain. With no quicklink included, you have to buy individual pins to rejoin a broken chain. One thing to note is that the SRAM gold Powerlink will work splendidly with this chain, so for $3 more, you can have a quick connect chain. Poor corrosion resistance and heavy weight, on top of a lack of quick link bring this chain down to a cheap backup or a bottom of the barrel last resort, in our opinion.

Wippermann ConneX 920- $44.95
Quick Connect? Yes.
Weight? Claimed 289g
While it's not cheap, the Wipperman ConneX 920 chain is a really impressive piece of equipment. It's stainless steel construction is ridiculously corrosion resistant, with any surface rust just brushing off with some lube and a paper towel. On top of that, a teflon coating ensures easy cleaning. We love that. The ConneX link is certainly unique and is strong as hell, but we wish the chain would take a Powerlink easily. You'll have to buy specific ConneX links for these chains, at about $5 each. Durability wise, these things are built like a tank, so that spare link will sit unused in your pack for a long time. We have hammered the hell out of them and have had ZERO breakages. SWEET! The only thing that really made us cringe a little bit was the colors on those outer links. Blue, red and "champagne" are your only choices, so match well.

SRAM PC-991 Hollowpin - $64.99
Quick Connect? Yes, gold 9 speed SRAM Powerlink.
Weight? Claimed 270g
The most expensive chain here was not necessarily the best chain on test. We enjoyed the light weight and ease of installation and removal (due to the included Powerlink) that this chain offered. The hollowpin model was the lightest of the bunch and seemed to offer the best overall shifting. We were't too thrilled with breaking one of them, and they did have some issues with corrosion when not cleaned up completely at the end of a ride. The hollow pins on this model did sometimes make using a chain tool a chore though, and we're not sure if this is an across the board problem or just an isolated occurrence. The hollow pins tended to pack with grime over the long haul as well. If you're going to be racing, go ahead and give this chain the nod, but for everyday trail durability, this isn't the chain for you.

Shimano XTR CN-7701- $33.99
Quick Connect? No. Requires Shimano chain pins.
Weight? Claimed 304g
Shimano's top end offering disappoints right off the bat by not being the lightest offering here. It's beaten by the 991 by more than 30g. While this isn't enough to disqualify it from top honors contention, having 2 chain breaks helps to move it down the list substantially. The lack of a quick connect drives another nail into the XTR's coffin. Like the other Shimano offerings, this chain can make use of SRAM's Powerlink to add a quick link, but why pay another $3 for it? For this price, you should get one in the box with the chain. Shifting was very good with this chain, but honestly, if you're going to pay this much, drop $11 more and pick up the teflon coated 920.