Abnormal chain wear - what could be the issue?

I somehow produce crazy chain wear.

I bought a used road bike with a completely new groupset and chain last December. By April, I was frustrated about why I couldn’t shift right on the cassette with DI2 - I thought it was a calibration issue. I brought it to a shop and was shown the chain was past .5 (not sure what tool was used) on the chain wear indicator.

I got a new Shimano HG-701 11 Speed chain installed at the local shop (I normally do it myself) and about 3 months later, my new chain is at .5 (I use a Park Tool CC-3.2) again! I can still shift fine, however.

(Edit: reading a guide Chad posted below, I realized that while I can push the tool into the chain at .5 it does not yet drop in there automatically - thus, assuming the tool is accurate, I have not reached .5 yet)

Some background - I don’t ride in the rain. Roads are fairly clean. Most of my rides are indoors with TR (3 rides per week on low volume, 1 per week outside if I can get to it). My bike is always very clean.

I’ve been using Bike Medicine Purple Extreme for the lubricant, suggested by the bike shop. I applied it for the third time today. I’ve never had issues with a super noisy chain since installing the new one.

My guess is I have done the equivalent of 12 weeks * 4 hours per week * 15MPH per ride = 720 miles equivalent combining indoors + outdoors on this new chain. I don’t think there’s any way I’ve done more than 1K.

I don’t think there’s anything special about my indoor setup, nor do I have crazy power (I don’t sprint, and even when I do I put out max 800W).

My cleaning process with this new chain is a combination of WD40 for degreasing, Park Tool Chain Cleaner with Simple Green/Water mix for scrubbing and brushes/wiping down the chain for further scrubbing before applying lubricant. I’ll wipe through the rear derailleur jockey wheels too. I put a drop of lubricant on each link, spin the cranks, wipe everything again later, but I don’t ride that day. As I said, the bike is never really that dirty.

How can I be so abusive on the chain?

The chain length is fine, there’s no position that causes extreme forward pull on the pulley; the bike shop set up the chain the exact length I do.

Photos of the setup:


Could the cassette on your trainer/trainer-wheel be very worn? It’s my understanding that a worn cassette will wear down a chain faster, and vice-versa.

Have you verified your chain checker tool’s accuracy?

The cassette shown at the top is the for the only wheel I use. Indoor trainer is in-wheel (Kinetic Rock and Roll).

That is a good question…I guess I have not. I use a Park Tool chain checker.

You can always measure the chain with a quality ruler or tape measure. Then look up the length tolerance for wear.

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Or just try to pull the chain straight away from the big ring in the front. If there’s a lot of slack, it’s worn. If not, it’s not worn.

That is a quick and easy test, but also subject to influence from sprocket wear.
It’s not isolated to the chain condition like the other methods above.

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I second this question. As a former professional mechanic I can testify that the park tool chain checkers can be wildly inaccurate. I’ve measured brand new chains at .75… Looking at the pics of your rings and cassette I would say those look to be in great shape. I simply replace my chain based on KMs ridden and I never even bother to use a checker.

So if you are still having shifting issues I would look to other places such as your derailleur hanger alignment. Please describe the shifting issues you have in more detail so we can help diagnose.

Based on my Park CC-2, the label says new chains .25 - .5, replace at .75

Also, I find with Dura-Ace 11sp chains I get about 2000-2500 miles until I start noticing wear through less crisp shifting. I clean my chain weekly (or sooner if caught in the rain) with the Park chain scrubber and Simple Green aircraft extreme solution, then lube with Tri-flow PTFE lubricant.

I feel like I notice quicker wear on my Fuji Transonic (aero road bike) than my Cannondale Evo. I attribute that to the shorter chainstays on the Fuji (the rear wheel is tucked into the seat tube).

Any chance you are frequently cross chaining?

I do not frequently cross-chain, the DI2 setup avoids those shifts for me.

My apologies, allow me to clarify: the first time (a four month time frame, Dec-April), I did have shifting issues that I couldn’t figure out by calibrating DI2. I didn’t even bother measuring the Ultegra chain then because I estimated around 700 miles on it at the time, and I thought chains were supposed to last 2-3K miles.

The shop couldn’t figure out the issue other than it stemming from an elongated chain (measured at over .5 on their checker, not sure what brand it was). Switched out the chain, problem solved.

On this new chain, I have similar mileage again but no shifting issues yet. I was shocked when the Park Tool checker would fit in the chain at .5 and have these nightmares ($$$) that I’m thrashing the cassette, chainrings, and chain due to my “abusive” riding behavior. (Reading the guide Chad linked earlier, I also realized that the chain checker fits into .5 if I gently push it in, but won’t drop in on its own. I guess I am ok for now)

What distance do you set for switching out chains assuming no obvious issues like shifting?

How often do you clean and lube the chain and do you lube between cleans?

Hey @fasterthanever have had the same issue, food for thought: I too used to clean my setup super thoroughly for fun and use WD40 on the reg (plus the yellow muc-off stuff) and I too had crazy chain wear (but it looked good!)

This is the story I was told by my experienced mechanic: he suggested I was basically stripping all the lubricant from the inside of the chain linkage and not replacing it effectively. He said I shouldn’t be using WD40 (I loved using this and getting everything super clean).

He basically suggested that I stop cleaning the crap out of my bike all the time and simply wipe down the chain/jockeys with a more light-weight degreaser and re-lube as needed. I don’t know if the technical story is exactly right but I do know my chain / cassette lifespan issues have gone away.

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You could move over to waxing your chain, reported to make the whole drivetrain last longer. Certainly with 2 chains per bike, this evens out wear as the chains get swopped over every week or so. Also wax doesnt pick up any dirt and thus avoid undue wear. For those with OCD - there will be little black spots on the chain if you use Molten Speed Wax.

Slightly off topic, but Ray, how long does the wax last in our rubbish conditions here? I only wax my cross chains, on the road bike I’ve found I can’t do more than 60 miles with wax, but that was with squirt and not proper hot wax. Is it worth waxing properly to make it last longer?

How can I make this clear? WD40 is NOT a lubricant!!! WD means Water Displacement. The 40 is formula #40.


Been trying for 300 miles (equivalent) or so, will lube after cleans, but not between. Just going by mileage estimate on Purple Extreme.

I can definitely imagine stripping out the grease in the rollers by hyper-cleaning could be an issue. First that immediately lengthens the chain slightly, but will also increase the wear and tear at the rollers. And it’s hard to get a robust lubricant back in there once gone. It seemed like a never ending stream of gunky lube would come out of my chains before I switched to waxing. Bonus: super clean chain.

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