Gear: Shimano’s Ever-CHAINging Nomenclature

With the plethora of “standards” in the modern day bike industry, things can get a bit confusing. Also not helpful is the endless variety of parts ranging from 5 to 11 speed drivetrains, cantilever to hydraulic brakes, and more bottom brackets than anybody knows what to do with. In this article, I’ll be going over the ways in which Shimano names their chains to give you a bit of clarity as well as a basic understanding of chain/drivetrain compatibility.

The two main criteria in selecting a chain are: 1) how many speeds you have, and 2) how “nice” of a chain you want. The first portion of the equation is not quite as malleable as the latter because it requires much more time and money to upgrade or change the number of gears on your bike. However, as chains get better, “better” tends to mean lighter, smoother shifting, and longer lasting. In this regard, Shimano organizes their chains in the same way as their groups, starting from the top and going Dura Ace/XTR, Ultegra/XT/Saint, 105/SLX, and finally Tiagra/Sora.

Shimano’s 8/9 speed chains used the same names for both ROAD and MOUNTAIN.

8/9 Speed Road/Mountain Chains
Dura Ace/XTR/SaintCN-7701

Shimano’s 10 speed chain line-up is complicated. You will need to discern between a ROAD or MOUNTAIN chain. If it’s a road chain you need, your chain selection will be dependent on whether you are running a double or triple crankset.

10 Speed Road (Double/Directional) Chains
Dura AceCN-7901
10 Speed Road (Triple) Chains
Dura AceCN-7801
10 Speed Mountain (Directional) Chains

Shimano first released an 11 speed road bike drivetrain in 2012 (about 3 years before an 11 speed mountain bike drivetrain would arrive), warranting a category of chain all its own.

11 Speed Road Chains
Dura AceCN-9000

Now it’s 2015, and Shimano’s road and mountain groups are both 11 speed. This means that, once again, Shimano is able to use the same chains for both the road and mountain groups.

11 Speed Road/Mountain (HG) Chains
Dura Ace/XTRHG-9000

For the record, Shimano is not releasing any new standards or renaming for any of their old (8/9/10 speed) chains. So if you need any of the older chains, you can simply purchase the same one you have  before, or refer to the charts above to find the one that you will need. If you are on the new 11 speed goodies, just keep in mind that the chains go as follows: HG600 = 105/SLX, HG700 = Ultegra/XT, and HG900 = Dura Ace/XTR.