Integrating a Road Bike Chain In a Mountain Bike Setup The Right Way

Condensed Info: A road bike chain can be used on a mountain bike as long as it’s long enough and matches the number of speeds on the cassette/freewheel.

In general, the differences between road and MTB chains are either non-existent or too small to impede the performance of a recreational cyclist.

Compatibility Requirements

A road chain can fit on a mountain bike if it answers the following criteria:

1. Length

The chain should be of sufficient length to operate properly on the bike receiving the “transplant”.

This isn’t an issue if you’re buying new because retail chains are more than long enough for any bike.

The tables below show the number of links that different chain brands offer according to the number of speeds. The range is fairly small – 114 to 118 links.

KMC, Shimano, and SRAM 6,7,8-Speed Chains

ModelNumber of LinksWidthWeight
KMC Z8S 8S1167.3mm320g
KMC X8.99 8S 1167.3mm330g
Shimano CN-HG40 ALTUS1167.3mm335g
Shimano CN-HG711167.3mm335g
SRAM PC8701147.1mm318g
SRAM PC8501147.1mm310g
6,7,8-speed chains

KMC, Shimano and SRAM 9-speed Chains

ModelNumber of LinksWidthWeight
KMC X9-SL1146.6mm272g
KMC X9 EPT1146.6mm288g
Shimano CN-HG931166.57mm299g
Shimano CN-HG53 91166.57mm304
SRAM PC9711146.8mm298g
SRAM PC9511146.8mm297
9-speed chains

KMC, Shimano and SRAM 10-speed Chains

ModelNumber of LinksWidthWeight
KMC X101145.88mm269g
KMC DLC101165.88mm257g
Shimano XT HG951166.1mm278g
Shimano CN-67011165.88mm267g
SRAM PC1091R1145.95mm255g
SRAM PC10311145.95mm269g
10-speed chains

KMC, Shimano and SRAM 11-speed Chains

ModelNumber of LinksWidthWeight
KMC X11SL1185.65mm242g
KMC X111185.65mm266g
Shimano CN-HG7001165.62mm257g
Shimano CN-HG9011165.62mm243g
SRAM PC11701145.7mm256g
SRAM PC11301145.7mm249g
11-speed chains

If the chain comes from a kid’s bike or a bicycle that has an unnaturally small chainring and rear cogs for whatever reason, it may end up being too short for the MTB that you want to install it on.

However, this is a rare scenario. Most road bikes are running 50+ teeth chainrings requiring a fairly long chain for proper operation.

That said, it’s recommended to buy a new chain whenever you’re upgrading the drivetrain of a bike. A worn chain would eat the rest of the components (chainrings, cassette/freewheel…etc.)

2. Width

The width of the chain should correspond to the number of cogs/gears found on the cassette/freewheel.

As shown in the tables above, more gears require a thinner chain because there are more cogs on the hub’s driver.

If the chain isn’t getting thinner as the number of cogs is increasing, its outer plates would rub against the adjacent cogs.

Technically, there won’t be a need for a narrower chain if the cassettes were getting wider with every gear increase, but this isn’t the case on modern bikes. The goal is to preserve frames’ and rear hubs’ compatibility with more cassette models.

For example, a modern Shimano rear hub designed for 8-speeds can accommodate a 10-speed cassette because it has the width of an 8-speed one. However, the 10-speed cassette has its cogs much closer to one another and thus requires a thinner chain.

Note: Only the outer width of the chain is decreasing as the number of speeds is increasing. The inner width remains the same or close to it.


If a chain is long enough for the drivetrain and the appropriate width for the cassette/freewheel at the back, then it will perform fairly well whether it’s marketed as Road or MTB.

The Differences Between Road and MTB Chains

In general, the differences between road and MTB chains are small, but they do exist, especially within the high-end models.

For example, the outer and inner links on Shimano’s HG-X chains are shaped differently. The outer side is optimized for front shifting whereas the inner side is optimized for rear shifting.

For that reason, those types of chains are directional. When the direction of the chain is respected, the outer and inner links end up on the desired side.

In addition, the links have a shape reducing dirt accumulation.

Shimano also has chains with road names (e.g., Ultegra). Those models are clearly optimized for road use.

Does this signify that you can’t interchange MTB and Road chains? Not really. It just means that absolute top performance is achieved when the chain matches the style of riding.

However, most people would have a hard time noticing the difference if you replace their MTB/road chain with one designed for the opposite style as long as both chains have the same length and are engineered for the same number of cogs on the cassette.

The table below compares the technical characteristics of road and MTB 10-speed chains

Shimano Tiagra CN-4601278g5.88mmShimano Deore CN-HG54304g6.1mm
Shimano Ultegra CN-6701276g5.88mmShimano Deore XT CN-HG95273g6.1mm
Shimano Ultegra CN-6600273g5.88mm
10-speed Road and MTB chain comparison

As you can see, the difference between road and MTB chains isn’t huge when you go by stats.

Some 10-speed road chains are lighter (approx. 15 grams); MTB chains are 0.22mm wider.

At the end of the day, a bicycle is a simple machine, not an airplane. A little bit of extra tweaking here and there doesn’t result in groundbreaking performance changes.

For example, if you take a pro rider and put him on an old steel bike with downtube shifters and an MTB chain instead of the latest Road chain, he will be faster than an amateur or a recreational rider on a 10k bicycle.

Another sign that road and MTB chains aren’t all that different comes from the brands that don’t differentiate between the two but instead focus on the number of speeds.

One example of such a brand would be KMC. When you start a chain selection process on their site, you’re asked questions about the drivetrain rather than the type of bike you ride.

FAQ: Are MTB chains stronger than Road chains?

Since MTBs have thicker and stronger frames than road bikes, it’s logical to conclude that this applies to components such as the chain. In reality, however, MTB chains aren’t stronger than road chains.

To produce a lightweight component, one always has to sacrifice strength. And since the chain is a lightweight part, to begin with, there’s close to no reward for making it any lighter. Hence why road and MTB chains are of similar weight.

Also, road chains aren’t under less stress than MTB ones. One could even argue that the stress is greater because road bikes use higher gearing.

Summary What You Need To Know

1. Road and MTB chains are interchangeable when they are of similar length and designed for the same number of speeds.

2. However, if you want absolute top performance, it’s best to buy the specific chain marketed by the manufacturer as Road or MTB.

3. You can also stick to producers making universal chains designed to fit both riding styles.

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