Bike Mechanics for Newbies: Chains and Cassettes

Image result for sram red cassette

I like to cycle to and/or from work these days. Good because it wakes me up in the morning/ winds me down after work and it means I get to avoid traffic, buses and all that grossness. The downside of it is – well there is no downside, if you ask me.

That is, except for the incredibly rare occurrences of mechanical issues. And gross winds… but let’s shove those aside for now.

Punctures are a giant pain in the ass. I apologise for the vulgarity but there’s no real way to get around that point. Changing the tube of a bike tyre is challenging for me at the best of times but I have never got a puncture out on the road when it hasn’t been pouring rain or bloody freezing. Adding numb fingers or wet hands to the equation is just ridiculously unfair. But that’s life so you get on with it.

But actually, annoying as it may be at the time, a puncture is not the worst thing that can happen to you when you’re out on a long ride.

Your chain snapping on your way home from work is definitely worse. Particularly when you’re a solid 20km from home. In the countryside. With 10% phone battery.

Aw, crap.

The good news is that at least it wasn’t raining when it happened and it was also on the way home from work rather than on the way TO work. Now that would have been more crazy than my little head could take.

Diagnosis

I’m not sure why the chain broke open in that moment. I’d just crested a long climb and was just starting into the descent, clicking up the gears when it went pop! It seems that the cotter pin (the pin that joins one end of the chain to the other to make it one complete loop) broke off. I initially thought the chain had just come off and thought no problem, I’ll just whizz down to the bottom of the hill and pop it back on. So I indeed whizzed all the way to the bottom of the hill and realised oh right, there’s actually no chain on my bike.

Aw, crap.

Dope that I am, I then walked all the way back up the hill to search for my lovely bike chain. Long story short, the bike dudes in the bike shop said that my bike chain actually isn’t very good and had a poor locking mechanism (pin) in place keeping it together. They put a new Sram Powerlock link onto my existing chain so it’s working fine again now. However, they said I’d probably need to get a new chain and cassette before the summer and recommended a Sram chain. Apparently, the chain and cassette wear down at the same rate. Who knew?

The bike shop dude was quite adamant that Sram were the only chains they sell/ install on bikes, although he said Shimano were okay too. Otherwise he said he didn’t rate any other bike chains.

I’m fairly new to all this cycling tech so I thought I’d see about doing some research and putting up here for discussion or to help anyone else out there wondering about the same wonderings.

Bicycle Chains – What You Need to Know and What Are the Differences?

I’m going to cover this as a standalone topic in in the next couple of weeks so check back shortly for a run down on everything you need to know on chains.

Bicycle Components – What You Need to Know and What Are the Differences?

You can spend a LOT of money on bike components but is there much difference between them?

The Basics – Sram and Shimano (and all other manufactuers!) have a tiered system when it comes to the different ranges of components available. I made you a chart just cuz I like you 😉

ShimanoEssentially, as you move up the tiers, the quality increases, as does the price. Significantly.

At the bottom you have Shimano Tiagra which is an entry level groupset and retails for about 550 euro. Next up, you have Shimano 105 – more expensive than Tiagra at 660 euro (ish) but quite a difference in performance if you’re looking to improve on the Tiagra but are operating within a tight budget.

The next jump up is quite a jump in terms of price. Ultegra  –This level is usually bought by cyclists who’ve gone past the stage of being a beginner and are looking for something significantly better but yet aren’t fully ready (or don’t have the funds) to go bananas and commit to buying the Dura Ace set. Ultegra brings a lighter weight and noticeably more refined system than the lower levels. This 11-speed group has the same design features as the range topping Dura-Ace and offers all the performance most riders will ever need, but is 258g heavier than Dura-Ace.

Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2 11 Speed Groupset

The Ultegra groupset retails at 1180 euro. The Ultegra Di2 groupset retails for 2361 euro.

At the tippy top of Shimano’s choices is the Dura Ace range. You have the Dura Act Di2, which incorporates electronic gear shifting or just Dura Ace, minus the Di2 electronic shifting. Many professional bike teams use Shimano’s Dura Ace Di2 system. But it comes at a very high price so you really need to be someone who can appreciate the subtleties of gear change and the finer points of bike mechanics to justify the splurge. Features superb design and lightweight materials such as high-grade alloys, carbon fibre, and titanium.

Shimano’s Dura Ace Groupset retails for 2200 euro (ish) and the Di2 Groupset retails at about 3658 euro.

Sram’s Entry level groupset is Apex, on a similar level to Shimano’s Tiagra. Next up and comparable to Shimano’s 105 range is Sram’s Rival 22 range. The Rival groupset will costs 303 euro (approx)

Going up in price to Ultegra-level, SRAM’s Force group uses lightweight materials such as high-grade alloys and carbon fibre to be a very competitive gear setup. The Force groupset retails for 1109 euro (approx)

Moving up again, SRAM’s Red range is on a level with Shimano’s Dura Ace and is also used by many pro bike teams. “E-tap” is as you might have guessed, electronic gear shifting  – same idea as Shimano’s Di2.

Image result for sram red groupset

Sram’s Red 22 groupset retails for 1300 euro (approx). The Red E-tap Groupset retails for 2500 euro (approx)

Summary

As you can see there’s quite a lot of difference in terms of price between the various different groupsets available. I have tried not to bamboozle you with too much detail in this post and just to keep it simple. I know myself that research and reading on this topic tends to lead to brain saturation and utter confusion.

It also carries the danger of the more your read, the greater the higher end gear sounds and the more convinced you become that you really do need Shimano’s Di2 set on your bike. But the truth is that I don’t and you probably don’t either.

Decide how much you want to spend or can afford to spend and then look at the options within that range. This gear is very, very expensive and unless you can really feel the differnce between a subtle gear change or are racing at the pinnacle of the peloton, then I really don’t think riding with Shimano’s Di2 range or Sram’s E-tap system is going to make any bit of difference to your ride. And given the jaw-dropping difference in price, my opinion is it’s that it’s far too much to spend and absolutely not worth it.

Now if I won the lotto tomorrow, the first thing I would to is install Sram’s Red E-tap system on my brand new bike. No doubt. But that’s all it is – a luxury when you have lots of extra money lying around looking for something to spend it on. Any in reality, who has that?

Be smart.

I’m going off to research and find out everything I need to know about Bike chains and cassettes and I’ll be posting on both components in the next couple of weeks.

 

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