Of Chains and Cassettes


In general, commuting by bike saves me money.  The truck is rarely driven, and it takes $50-$60 dollars to fill it with gas these days, so the savings as well as the reduced wear and tear on it add up.  That’s not to say, however, that bike commuting is free.  There’s actually quite a bit of wear and tear inflicted in what I call the “consumables” of the bike.  Things like tires, tubes, brake pads, chains, and cassettes really take a beating and costs for those do add up, albeit not as fast as gasoline.

Because I’m naturally frugal (bordering on being a tightwad), I like to get as much use out of a part as I safely can.  For example, I replaced my rear tire after about 4,700 miles not too long ago and chose not to replace the front because even though it had the same number of miles, it appears to have additional useful life.

Chains, however, are one I item I don’t like to overuse.  I use my chain-checker every time I clean and lube, which is generally every 250-350 miles.  When it starts getting close to that .75 mark on the Park Tool Chain Checker, I order a new chain and put it on.  The reason is that an overly worn chain will cause unnecessary wear on the cassette, forcing you to replace it at the same time.

Years ago, I had a grumpy old bike mechanic tell me you might as well replace the cassette every time you replace the chain.  His contention was that a 2nd chain on the cassette will never shift as well as one that was mated with a new cassette at the same time.  That can get kind of expensive!  Based on my less than empirical research (i.e. experience), I’v found that it is overkill, especially if you’re diligent about replacing that chain when it is nearing .75  My findings are:

New Cassette / 1st New Chain = perfect shifting

Same Cassette / 2nd New Chain = acceptable to near perfect shifting

Same Cassette / 3rd New Chain = mostly acceptable shifting, but it might border on unacceptable

I replaced my chain last weekend.  This one is the 3rd I’ve used on this cassette, so I was a little concerned about the shifting.  I had kind of a hard time getting it dialed in on the workstand, so I wasn’t sure how it would behave under load.  The real test was the ride I took on Monday.

Happily, I think I can live with the performance.  I’ve noticed a few upshifts that I missed because I hit the lever kind of lightly, so I don’t think it is quite as responsive as it used to be.  The longer I ride (I’ve ridden about 75 miles at this point), the less noticeable it has become so I’m probably getting used to it and compensating slightly.  I’ve not made a final decision about replacing the cassette yet, but at this point I’m bordering on not.

How about you?  What has been your experience/practice in regard to chains and cassettes?

God bless…



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5 Comments on “Of Chains and Cassettes”

  1. My experience is similar to yours and I wrote about it at:


    In general, if you change when the wear is between .5 and .7, you’ll be OK.

    And yes the older stuff (thicker cogs) lasted longer!

  2. bgddyjim Says:

    My practice? Take it to the shop, do what they say do. Not frugal, but pain free.

  3. Steve A Says:

    Eight speed cassettes last a LOT longer than ten speeds!

  4. Michael Says:

    Not sure on the milage, but my shop replaces my chain and cassette about every year-and-a-half. At that point the chain’s past due for changing, but I’ve never too much of an issue with shifting and I’ve never broken the chain. I have the shop do a big tuneup at the same time, repack all the bearings, replace brake pads, and so on.

  5. Alberto Says:

    Interesting post.

    I agree with you and tend to use all my “consumables” (i.e. chain, chainrings, cassette, cables, tyres etc) until they become unusable. Bike and component manufacturers (and bike shops to that extent!) want you to replace stuff constantly. If I did that by their standards, given my current addiction to audax/brevet riding, my chains etc would not last more than a month. To be honest, I have barely noticed a problem with shifting or chain slipping ever, even with well used systems.

    Similar stuff applies to tyres. I can get 6-7000 km on my Gatorskins, if not more. Then I put them on the commuter! Cables are the same, just lubbing them every now and then gives you pretty much new cables.

    I’ve not replaced the cassette on my mtb for 14 years and more than 15.000 km, and still, shifts as pretty much brand new. Same for the chainrings. Never had a broken chain either.

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