Ask a Mechanic: Understanding Shimano’s Chain Nomenclature

Scott asks: “I’m looking to buy a new chain for my Shimano 11 speed drivetrain, but with all of Shimano’s different chain names, I’m not quite sure which one to buy. Can you help?

“Great question Scott. Over the years, Shimano has wavered between using the same chains for both road and mountain drivetrains. When chains were 8 and 9 speed, they were the same for both road and mountain, but once Shimano went 10 speed, things got complicated. You had to not only pick between road and mountain, but if you needed a road chain, you then had to choose between a 2x chain or a 3x chain.

One thing that is consistent across the board with Shimano is that the lower the number of the product you are purchasing, the lower the level of quality is that you are buying, meaning that the highest numbered products are Shimano’s nicest offerings.

If you are in need of a 10 speed chain, the best advice that I can offer is to simply reference our blog article about chain nomenclature and use the charts to decide what you need, rather than having me list out all of your options.

Moving forward with all of their 11 speed offerings, Shimano has finally simplified things for us all. Rather than denoting chains with a “CN” as Shimano has done for all of their 8, 9, and 10 speed chains, Shimano starts every 11 speed chain with an “HG”. From there, the only thing left to do is pick the “level” of chain that you want. As Shimano always does, the lowest numbered chain is also the lowest level chain and the cheapest. This means that Shimano’s HG6000 chain is the equivalent of a 105 or SLX chain. Going up from there, there’s now an Ultegra or XT-level HG7000 chain and a Dura-Ace or XTR level HG9000 chain.

If you’re wondering what you get in buying a better chain, you’ll enjoy weight savings, smoother shifting performance, and a longer lasting chain. Whether you’re in need of 8, 9, 10, or 11 speed parts, drop into Art’ and let us help you out.