Just like in regular bikes, e-bike components also deteriorate over time. One part that is more prone to the effects of wear and tear is the chain.
Given the constant strain of transferring power from the pedals to the wheel drive, you should be prepared to replace it after using your bike for some time. Generally, a bike chain becomes obsolete after 1200-2400 miles covered.
But e-bikes are not regular bikes, you might be wondering if normal bike chains are compatible with an e-bike. So, do e-bikes need special chains?
Generally, it will depend on the kind of e-bike you're riding. If your bike has a mid-drive motor, then you’ll require a stronger and special chain compared to the chain you find on a regular bike. This is since the motor exerts extra strain that a regular chain won’t be able to handle. However, if you’re dealing with a hub-drive motor, you won’t need a special chain for the bike.
There are two main types of electric motor styles you’ll find on an e-bike; the mid-drive and the hub drive. The level of wear on the chain differs in these two types of drives as we shall see below:
Mid-drive Electric Bike Chains
The chain on an e-bike with a mid-drive has extra stress to deal with. This happens because the motor is placed directly between the pedals, hence translates the power directly to the chain for the bike to move forward.
The upside of having this style of motor is that the weight of the bike is evenly balanced, so the ride will be more comfortable to handle.
Furthermore, mid-drives are more efficient and will extend your range on a single charge cycle. You can also use lower gears when scaling a hill, which wouldn’t be possible if you were using a hub-drive motor.
Generally, mid-drive motors are more powerful compared to hub drives and will offer an output of between 250 and 750 watts.
This is way more than what human effort can produce, that's why there is extra stress on the chain of a mid-drive e-bike. Therefore, using an ordinary chain on a mid-drive will wear it down much faster.
The average rider can output around 100 watts from pedaling, and this may go to 250 watts during those short powerful bursts.
Since standard bike chains are built to accommodate human power output, they are not a good fit for electric bikes; especially those with a mid-drive motor.
When you consider that you are using both human effort and electric motor assistance in an e-bike, it will be easy for the regular bike chain to snap after a few cycles of rigorous riding.
From the above, we can conclude that electric bikes with a mid-drive motor need a special chain. While the functionality doesn’t change, the strength of that chain has to be stronger than usual to cope with the increased strain for durable use.
This also means that you’ll have to spend more on the special chain!
Unlike mid-drives, hub motors are positioned on the back or front wheel of the electric bike. This results in a slight weight imbalance, with most of the bike’s weight leaning towards either the front or back of the bike.
Furthermore, these types of motors are generally bigger and less efficient, but more powerful in their functionality. Nonetheless, they are still the most commonly used types of motors given that they are easier and cheaper to produce.
While mid-drive motors are connected to the same gear and drive chain that the pedals are connected to, hub-drives are entirely independent of the drive chain linked to the pedals.
This is to say that mid-drives work hand-in-hand with the pedals to propel the bike while hub motors function separately. As such, you can continue pedaling the bike comfortably even after running out of battery life. In the same way, you can depend on just the motor to power the bike if you don’t feel like pedaling.
In conclusion, the chain doesn’t need to be extra strong on a hub drive e-bike since the level of strain is no different from the one experienced on a regular bike.
For this reason, you don’t need a special chain when riding an electric bike powered by a hub motor.
However, you should ensure the chain you buy is compatible with the bike by checking the number of gears on your electric bike. This will also allow for compatibility with other components on the bike.
What Type of Chain is Recommended for your E-bike?
f you need to replace the chain on your hub-drive electric bike, you can either opt for a special e-bike or an ordinary bike chain. Both will get the job done, although the e-bike chain will provide you with longer service.
Ordinary bike chains are generally made out of less expensive and weaker materials that end up in a shorter life cycle compared to the e-bike specific chain.
For instance, if you were to use a basic chain like an HG40 on a Bosch mid-drive motor, it is almost imminent that the chain will snap at a certain point.
But for a mid-drive motor on your electric bike, it is recommended to go for a stronger chain specifically designed for e-bikes. Failure to do this will have you going through chains faster than you anticipated.
Some of the best options you can go for when looking to replace your mid-drive bike chain include KMC and Shimano chains. These are not only strong but will also fit all brands of electric bikes on the market.
If you want something long-lasting that won’t keep on sending you to the bike spare shop, try choosing from one of the two options. Alternatively, you can search for a heavier-duty chain that’s meatier than a standard bicycle chain.
How Do You Maintain Your Bike Chain?
Whether you have a basic chain or an e-bike specific chain, it is always important to take care of it for optimal performance and durable service. Be sure to clean it now and then, especially when you ride your bike on dusty or muddy terrains.
Allow the chain to dry and spray it with a degreaser before applying some lube. This should be part of your basic maintenance practices before you take the bike out for a spin.
For long-term maintenance, try to perform a thorough cleaning of the bicycle after every few months to get rid of the hard-to-remove grime and dirt.
When it comes to lubricating the chain, go for thicker lube when the weather is cold and rainy. Otherwise, you can opt for dry lube on those hot and dry days of the year.
So, before you buy a replacement for your broken e-bike chain, be sure to check the type of motor your bike uses.
If it’s a hub-drive, you can choose an ordinary bike chain to avoid overspending.
However, if it’s a mid-drive motor, you must ask for an e-bike specific chain when you get to the store!