The compatibility between a chain and a cassette depends primarily on the number of speeds that each of them is designed for.
Since chains and cassettes are considered consumables (in other words they wear out fast and are meant to be replaced) you’re probably planning to combine the newer Ultegra and Tiagra products.
Modern Ultegra chains are designed for 10//11-speeds whereas the current Tiagra cassettes are 10-speed.
Thus, we have two options:
- 10-speed Ultegra chain with a 10-speed Tiagra cassette
- 11-speed Ultegra chain with a 10-speed Tiagra cassette
Both combinations work just fine.
In the first case, the compatibility is obvious – 10-speed chains work on 10-speed cassettes even when they are designed for different bike types (road or MTB).
The second scenario requires slightly more explaining because the number of speeds doesn’t match.
Chains are characterized by two widths – inner and outer. As you may guess, the inner width is the distance between the inner plates whereas the outer width is the space between the external plates.
The inner width of 10 and 11-speed chains is the same (2.18mm). However, the outer width is different. 11-speed chains are narrower.
The table below contains the widths of most bicycle chains:
|Number of Speeds
|7.3mm (Shimano), 7.1mm (SRAM)
|7.3mm (Shimano), 7.1mm (SRAM)
As the number of speeds on a cassette increases, the chain gets narrower. This engineering is necessary because the overall width of most cassettes doesn’t change much with each gear jump.
Consequently, the cassette has to fit more cogs within the same space and thus becomes “denser”. In other words, the center-to-center distance between each cog/sprocket gets smaller.
Therefore, the chain has to get thinner because it would otherwise rub against the adjacent cogs.
The outer width difference between 10 and 11-speed chains is not large enough to make an 11-speed unusable on a 10-speed cassette.
Ideally, you would use a 10-speed chain because the 11-speed unit theoretically increases the response time ever so slightly because the derailleur has to move more to reach it.
However, the discrepancy is 100% non-perceivable if everything else is in order. If you’re experiencing issues after combining an 11-speed chain with a 10-speed cassette, chances are that the chain or the cassette is worn.
It’s also worth mentioning that some people deliberately use a chain designed for one extra gear to reduce chain noise and take advantage of the lighter weight (arguable) and better craftsmanship.
Side note: The shifting will suffer tremendously if the outer width discrepancy is massive (e.g., trying to use a 12-speed chain on an 8-speed cassette).
Older Ultegra and Tiagra
The older versions (Ultegra 6500 and Tiagra 4500) are designed for 9-speeds. Consequently, they have the following dependencies:
- 9-speed chains from any brand would fit on any 9-speed cassette (Hello, Captain, Obvious!)
- 10-speed Ultegra chains can be used on 9-speed Tiagra cassettes
- 9-speed Ultegra chains are too wide to be used on 10-speed Tiagra cassettes
Note: I realize that it’s a bit absurd to talk about Ultegra 6500 and Tiagra 4500 parts as those models are quite old and it’s unlikely to find a chain or a cassette from those sets in good condition.
That said, some people still use older parts. I have a retro old bike myself and it’s still equipped with its original Suntour freewheel from 1987.
What are the advantages of using Ultegra chains instead of Tiagra?
The first obvious advantage is the increased number of choices.
Technically, Ultegra parts are lighter since Ultegra sits higher on Shimano’s road hierarchy. However, when it comes to chains the difference is too small to matter.
The table below compares the weights of Ultegra and Tiagra chains:
|Tiagra 4700 CN-HG54
As you can see, 10-speed Ultegra and Tiagra chains weigh about the same. The 11-speed Ultegra models, as expected, are lighter because they require slightly less material.
Ultimately, the 10 grams that you save are inconsequential, to say the least.
Can I use an Ultegra chain on Shimano 105?
Yes, the following options are possible:
- 10-speed Ultegra chain + 10-speed 105 cassette
- 11-speed Ultegra chain + 11 or 10-speed 105 cassette
Don’t install a 10-speed Ultegra chain on an 11-speed Shimano 105 cassette as it’s too wide for the cassette’s cog pitch.
Will I notice an improvement in my bike’s shifting performance once I switch to an Ultegra chain?
You could notice an improvement, but it will be the result of using a new chain rather than Ultegra specifically.
If your current Tiagra chain is in good shape switching to Ultegra will not make any difference as both are practically the same quality. The main difference is that Ultegra has an 11-speed version.
Can I use an 11-speed cassette on a 10-speed hub?
This is a tricky subject that can’t be answered with a clear yes or no. I recommend reading the dedicated post.
Can I combine Tiagra shifters with Ultegra derailleurs?
Yes, Tiagra 4600 rear shifters can work with Ultegra’s 10-speed rear derailleurs whereas Tiagra 4700 rear shifters can operate with Ultegra’s 11-speed rear derailleurs (read more).