26 December 2022

Do E-Bikes Need Special Chains?

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E-bikes are usually built to last, but even parts that appear robust don't escape the wear and tear of everyday use. The bike chain is particularly vulnerable to this strain due in part to its responsibility for transferring power from your pedal motion through the wheel drive.

After some time, it's generally advisable you replace your e-bike's chain when approximately 1200 - 2400 miles have been covered; while more mileage can be added before a full replacement is necessary, taking proactive maintenance steps like this will help ensure an optimal level of performance throughout multiple trips!

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. 

https://newatlas.com/bicycles/the-lightest-bike-motor/

Picture credit: https://newatlas.com/bicycles/the-lightest-bike-motor/

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 it comes to cycling with electric assistance, mid-drive motors can unleash some serious power.

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! 

Hub-drive Motors

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. 

Hub-drive Motors

Picture credit: https://electrek.co/2018/06/07/electric-bicycle-hub-motors-vs-mid-drive/

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? 

If 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. 

Shimano chains

How Do You Maintain Your Bike Chain? 

Keeping your bike's chain in optimal condition is essential for proper performance and durability. To ensure it works as well as possible, set aside some time to give the chain regular maintenance - this includes cleaning with degreaser before applying a lube of choice.

Aim to deep clean around every few months given the hard-to-remove grime which can build up over time.

Also keep an eye on when you're lubricating depending on weather conditions; thicker lubes should be used if rain or cold temperatures are expected while dry products work best under hot/dry days.


Conclusion

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!


About the author

Daria was born and raised in the Ukraine, studied in Barcelona (where she discovered her passion for e-biking), and is currently living in Barcelona. Her main passion is cycling and digital marketing, that's why she is always looking for an amazing new e-bike to make her journey even more unforgettable!


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  1. I have a recumbent tadpole bike with rear 20 inch wheel so it has two front 20 inch steered wheels
    I want to convert it to an E-bike. It must be free spinning motor.
    What would be a good kit to do this. I think a 48volt battery 1500ah
    Do. you sell such a kit? please sent info and price. Thanks

  2. I usually clean an lube my chain every 50 miles. I have a mid drive. It makes shifting far smoother. I clean and lube my chain while on the bike. I use wd40 chain cleaner and use motorcycle chain lube. All good after 900 miles on original chain.

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