Are Bike Chains Directional?

A bike chain has to endure an incredible amount of stress over time. Moreover, it gets exposed to various damaging elements. As a result, it will eventually wear out, and you will have no choice but to replace it.   

If you’re replacing your chain or reinstalling it for the first time, a question will inevitably arise; Are bike chains directional?

While some bike chains are directional, most aren’t. For instance, Shimano chains tend to be directional while SRAM, KMC, Campagnolo chains are non-directional. Directional components usually have logos facing outwards on one of the side plates.

Which Bike Chains Are Directional?

The majority of bicycle chains are non-directional. This means for most of these chains, you can install them any way you want. Only a few of them are directional. 

You have to be careful when you are installing a directional chain. It must be installed in a specific manner. Otherwise, it may not perform as effectively. You will figure out everything you need to know by checking the user manual. 

Here are some of the directional chains that you can find on the market for your bikes:

  • Shimano HG-X
  • Shimano CN-HG900
  • Shimano CN-HG901
  • Shimano CN-7900

As you can see, Shimano is the most popular directional bicycle chain manufacturer. Their components often offer lots of benefits like optimized movements of the chain, smoother and faster gear shifting, etc. 

For instance, the HG-X features precise beveling on each of its outer plate to facilitate movement. Thanks to the asymmetrical beveling on the inner plates, the chain drops to the smaller cogs and rings with ease.  However, the chain’s direction alone doesn’t affect the performance much. 

How to Know If a Bike Chain Is Directional?

It’s pretty easy to find out if a bicycle chain is directional or not. The easiest way is to check the manufacturer. If your component is made by Shimano, you can confidently say that it’s a directional chain. However, SRAM chains are directionless; only SRAM quick link isn’t. 

Shimano and SRAM are among the most popular chain manufacturers, but they aren’t the only ones. What if yours comes from a lesser-known manufacturer? 

There is another reliable way of identifying this type of chain. All you have to do is check if the printed letters or logos are facing outwards, away from the bicycle. If it is, then your chain is a directional one. 

Here’s how you can tell which way a Shimano goes:

You can also check the instructions manual or the writings on the packaging for more information. If you’re still confused, you can even ask the manufacturer directly.

What If You Install a Bike Chain the Wrong Way?

If you’re installing a new chain, the direction won’t matter. Even if you put your recently bought chain in the wrong direction, the performance won’t be affected at all. There won’t be any noticeable difference. 

There may be a small impact if you have a high-end chain, but even that will be too low for most cyclists to notice. 

However, if you’re installing an existing chain after taking it apart and cleaning it, it must be facing the same direction as before. It can’t be the other way around. 

You won’t be able to shift the smaller and larger cogs as smoothly as before. Besides, this will also drain the chain life, causing it to break sooner. 

That is because the chain adjusts to a specific direction after being used that way for a long time. If you change that direction abruptly, the chain struggles to cope with the sudden shift. As a result, its performance reduces significantly. 

Moreover, if you reinstall a worn chain in the wrong direction, you may end up causing your ride to wear out faster. 

So, chain direction only seems to matter when it comes to installing worn or used bicycle chains. Don’t worry about the direction if you’ve got a new one to install. Just make sure it’s installed correctly. This goes for any bicycle, be it a mountain bike or a road bike.