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We ask Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo and FSA whether running the chain at extreme angles is a crime against cycling

Generations of cyclists have known that cross-chaining is A Bad Thing. It's one of those rules you get taught very early on. Ride with the chain on the small chainring (on the chainset, the component your pedals are attached to) and the smallest sprocket on the cassette (the cluster of cogs attached to the hub of the rear wheel) – as in fig 1 above – or on the large chainring and the largest sprocket – as in fig 2 – and anyone you're riding with is likely to alert you to the fact in seconds. People love to point it out.

Cross chaining - 27.jpg

Cross chaining - 27.jpg

But is cross-chaining really all that bad, or does it just get a bad rap? We asked some of the biggest component manufacturers for their views. You might be surprised at some of the things they said.

Read more: When should I replace my chain?

Shimano

The most efficient chain line occurs when the chain is running in a straight line. This minimises friction. When you run big-big you're pushing an uneven power transmission to the rollers, plates and bushings, especially at the points where the chain line alters (the points where the chain meets the sprocket and the chainring). This uneven load causes extra friction which increases the wear on the chain and longer term leads to less than optimum gear shifting. 

For these reasons Shimano recommends avoiding extreme gear positions. 

Ben Hillsdon, PR Officer, Shimano Europe

Cross chaining - 8.jpg

Cross chaining - 8.jpg

Shimano says you should avoid running the chain in this big-big combination (above).

Campagnolo

Cross-chaining is a practice to be avoided as it is less efficient than a straighter chainline (increased friction, less free motion of links etc).

We all might find ourselves cross-chaining during the heat of the battle during a race. However, we shouldn't make a habit out of it as there is generally a similar metric development gearing position available on a larger/smaller chainring. 

New group   - 27.jpg

New group - 27.jpg

Extreme chain crossing can add wear and tear on chainring and cassette teeth as the severe angle of the chain brings the external or internal part of the chain in direct contact with chainring/cassette teeth as opposed to a straight chainline which keeps friction to a minimum and limits contact to the rollers located on the axles of each chainlink.

Joshua Riddle, Press Manager, Campagnolo

Read our guide to understanding gears.

SRAM

At SRAM we love big-big. Amongst mechanics on the NORBA and Mountain Bike World Cup circuit (many years ago!), we called big-big the 'pro gear’, because professionals would ride it all the time, no matter what their mechanics told them. The same applies to pro road racers. They'll stay on the big ring as long as possible.

There are very good reasons to stay on the big chainring, even as far as the big sprocket:

• Chain management on rough terrain.

• Access to tallest gears without have to shift in front.

• Front shifts are slower than rear and much harder on the chain.

So we would encourage your readers to ride big-big if they like, as long as they don’t experience chain rasp on the front derailleur cage. SRAM 2x11 drivetrains, specifically the Yaw front derailleurs, are designed to accommodate this. 

SRAM RED eTap FD (1).jpg

SRAM RED eTap FD (1).jpg

Very little efficiency is lost when cross-chaining. And in the case of big-big, minuscule efficiencies lost to cross-chaining are offset by efficiency gained because of larger bend radii for the chain. Better chain management and easier access to tall gears certainly outweigh any efficiency loss.

A few words on efficiency measurements. There are enormous differences between the efficiency measured on a loaded drivetrain and an unloaded drivetrain (what your hand feels when spinning the crank on a bike in a workstand). The sluggishness that cross chaining sometimes appears to cause on a bike in the stand disappears when the drivetrain is under load. It’s analogous to lubes in loaded and unloaded mechanical systems. Light oil generally feels better than heavy grease when a system is worked by hand, but when the system is loaded the heavier lube will be more efficient.

Similarly, cross-chaining is not a concern for premature component wear ­unless of course your chain is wearing through your front derailleur.

JP McCarthy, Road Product Manager, SRAM

Check out our beginner's guide to groupsets here.

FSA

In the last decade cross-chaining has become increasingly common with many people running the chain in the big chainring and big sprocket, especially with the advent of electronics which is much more permissive regarding cross-chaining.

This means that today's chains are subjected to much higher stresses than in the past. That’s why we decided to invest in the development of much stronger chains.

We have a stable supply of raw materials allowing us always to offer a product with a very high level of reliability and performance.

FSA adventure chainset - 1 (1).jpg

FSA adventure chainset - 1 (1).jpg

Here at FSA we understand well the importance of cross-chaining. Our latest introduction in this field is the 48/32 Adventure chainset. This is a new super compact standard that allows combination like 48/21 – 48/18. It’s a possible solution to avoid crossing because the chain works more linearly.

We will have this new range of chainsets available in 2017, from the carbon SL-K to our entry level Vero Pro.

Maurizio Bellin, General Manager, FSA

There's a range of views from the big brands, then; what do you think? Is cross-chaining perfectly acceptable? Or do you avoid it because of greater inefficiency and component wear and a higher chance of dropping your chain? Let us know your thoughts and experiences.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

114 comments

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sethpistol [87 posts] 6 months ago
5 likes

I cross chain 53-29 all the time, can't say I ever intentionally 39-12 though. Doesn't seem to have done any damage to my Campag Record (10s) but maybe 11s is a bit more fragile. For me the little ring is just too much spinning, feels like I am wasting energy. From working in bike shops for a while it also seemed to depend a lot on how long your rear stays are - short stays really seemed to result in some bad angles.

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Yorkshire wallet [1075 posts] 6 months ago
5 likes

Dirty crosschainer here. Since I stuck a 32t on I'm always at it. It's easier to crosschain for small hills. Anything steepish I have to settle into I'll try and get it setup properly but quick bursts I'll just crosschain.

Anyone who's pointing out your crosschaing whilst riding need to look where they're going instead.

 

 

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esayers [44 posts] 6 months ago
15 likes

So the older companies say 'no, don't do it' and the younger companies go with 'it happens, it's our job to make sure it's not a problem'

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cyclesteffer [258 posts] 6 months ago
2 likes

I'd say, it depends, if i'm on undulating terrain, for example, about to crest a hill, and powering along quite nicely, then i'll keep in in Big-Big to get over the top of the hill. I don't do it all the time, rather to keep momentum up.

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step83 [30 posts] 6 months ago
1 like
esayers wrote:

So the older companies say 'no, don't do it' and the younger companies go with 'it happens, it's our job to make sure it's not a problem'

Seems to be the case, I do Cross Chain with a SRAM Yaw mech, its never given me cause for concern or any noise, you know in the back of your mind its meant to be bad but it works flawlessly for me.

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psling [229 posts] 6 months ago
4 likes

Given the latest MTB fashion of 1x12 it seems to be positively encouraged these days (which may help explain Sram's views above).

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davel [1242 posts] 6 months ago
3 likes

I like SRAM's response so much - they've scored big PR points on me there. angry

No idea how accurate it is, but it's massively in tune with my riding. For my next groupset, they can Take My Money.

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Acm [33 posts] 6 months ago
1 like

While this is potentially a simplistic view, I've always thought that wear would only occur when parts are moving past each other. Therefore, the wear on a chain would occur when the angle between successive links changes (around the jockey wheels, at the start and end of contact  of the chain with the chain rings and sprockets). When cross-chaining, the chain appears to bend laterally after it has left the sprocket at before it reaches the chainring, which would imply that the efficiency wouldn't change much. This theory also explains why big-big is more efficient (each link on the chain doesn't have to bend through such a large angle at the chainring and sprocket), but it doesn't take into account the fact that there could be more stress on the chain which could increase the risk of breakage.

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Polocini [23 posts] 6 months ago
7 likes

As someone who organises cycling events I'm constantly warning riders about cross chaining. It may not be bad for the gears etc but a lot of frames have lightweight frame hangers. I've seen six examples of this at events this year. Sometimes it's a straight break, others it puts the mech through the chainstay or into the wheel.  Speak to any carbon frame repairers and they can back this up. 

AL

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Mungecrundle [705 posts] 6 months ago
49 likes

No gentleman of breeding would be caught cross chaining. I say it is symptomatic of the general decline in the standards of modern society.

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part_robot [198 posts] 6 months ago
4 likes

My rule for my Di2+SRAM Red setup; small-small makes a racket so don't use that; big-big doesn't make a racket so that's fine; don't sprint in big-big as it doesn't seem to like that but hills are fine. I don't do it deliberately but neither do I panic and switch the front derailleur part-way up a misjudged hill which - due to the force Di2 can apply - is probably far worse. Almost 10,000km on the same cassette now and it looks alright. Chains are lasting me about 5,000km. No busted hangers 

Nonissue for most modern 11 speeds I bet.

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64spokes [4 posts] 6 months ago
5 likes

I see a trend to undermine the long-liveness transmission of a bike.

Very narrow chains (for >8 gears), thin gears, single front chainring, and now cross chaining.

Less reliable is good for the producer, because it means you buy more stuff just for the maintenance of the bike. 

That's why I stopped to 8 gears, and would never use less than 2 front chainring. It also means my chain works on most non-pro bikes and any shops stocks it.
Sometimes when you have perfection, you look for any reason to run away for it just because you want "innovation", when in fact you are going backward.

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kevinmorice [142 posts] 6 months ago
2 likes

None of them answered about small-small. Commuting gear of choice as it allows me to easily down-shift for slowing traffic, and I rarely get up to big-ring speeds through Aberdeen rush hour. I realise there is an added complication of gemoetric clearance to avoid catching the big-ring as well as avoiding deraillleur interference but is there any other good reason not to?

 

PS Matters of personal taste because you don't like it are not a good reason.

 

 

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ktache [524 posts] 6 months ago
3 likes

xtr drivetrain, 3x9, top end sram chain, small amount of noise near the extremes, more at the extremes, noise bad.  No noise good.

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stevie63 [74 posts] 6 months ago
4 likes

What I'm pleased to see is FSA making 48/32 available across their range. Shame that they are not doing it for 46/30.

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Barraob1 [19 posts] 6 months ago
5 likes

Cross chaining is incredibly noisy, I don't do it and I wont be starting now. It never looks right either, the chain at angles it doesn't look like it was designed for.

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Nick T [1050 posts] 6 months ago
4 likes

Of course cross chaining a SRAM drivetrain would be OK, you'll have to replace the rest of the group set before that wore out anyway

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SoBinary [52 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes
davel wrote:

I like SRAM's response so much - they've scored big PR points on me there. angry

No idea how accurate it is, but it's massively in tune with my riding. For my next groupset, they can Take My Money.

 

Of course when they are pushing 1x12 systems its not in their interest to suggest that a cog offset is a problem.

That said I'm a 1x convert so I don't disagree.

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VeloUSA [170 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

I do the same as cyclesteffer, not always but when needed. SRAM's comments backs their 1x drivetrain.

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joules1975 [454 posts] 6 months ago
2 likes
psling wrote:

Given the latest MTB fashion of 1x12 it seems to be positively encouraged these days (which may help explain Sram's views above).

Bit different, as 1x12 chain line wise is the equivilent of riding everywhere on the middle ring of a triple.

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Yorkshie Whippet [597 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

I guess it's a case of depends.

Sram Force or Etap 2x11 with Yaw front yes occasionally as there is no rattle.

Sram Apex 2x10 not intentionally as chain rattles around.

Shimano XTR 2x10 yes as that was Dyna-sis sold on.

Shimano XT/XTR 3x9 certainly not for sale of ears and wear.

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smithron99 [1 post] 6 months ago
1 like

I've only ever ridden Shimano, but intrigued by SRAM.  The SRAM response is kind of what I expected they might say, and what I hope to be true. Life is best lived on the big chainring!

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brooksby [2230 posts] 6 months ago
2 likes
joules1975 wrote:
psling wrote:

Given the latest MTB fashion of 1x12 it seems to be positively encouraged these days (which may help explain Sram's views above).

Bit different, as 1x12 chain line wise is the equivilent of riding everywhere on the middle ring of a triple.

I *do* ride everywhere on the middle ring of a triple!

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IanEdward [97 posts] 6 months ago
8 likes

Eew, have never liked it, think I have a fear of a dodgy link or bad join (back in the day when I split/rejoined a chain by half pushing a pin out then pushing it back in) getting pushed beyond its limits and the chain snapping, i.e. cross chaining perhaps being the straw that broke the camels back sort of thing.

Of course, I can set my gears up properly and know how to shift under load so changing at the front doesn't scare me (lights blue touch paper and runs away  )

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wellsprop [182 posts] 6 months ago
3 likes

It can be answered quite simply (depending on your perspective).

 

Gears are most efficient when there is a large difference between the diameters of the two mating gears (i.e. one big gear and one small gear).

In terms of the forces, when you cross chain, you increase the sideways component of the force on the chain.

 I can't see how cross chaining can be of any benefit, given that the optimum condition is dead straight.

Sram also would say that, seeing as they are the pioneer of 1x. Don't get me wrong, 1x systems are awesome!

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freebsd_frank [74 posts] 6 months ago
6 likes

 

SRAM marketing muppet:

Quote:

The sluggishness that cross chaining sometimes appears to cause on a bike in the stand disappears when the drivetrain is under load. It’s analogous to lubes in loaded and unloaded mechanical systems. Light oil generally feels better than heavy grease when a system is worked by hand, but when the system is loaded the heavier lube will be more efficient.

So the logical conclusion of his comments  is that we should all be using grease on our chains whilst cross-chaining.

The Shimano and Campag spokesmen got it right: decreased efficiency, increased wear so don't do it unless you enjoy spending money on replacing worn-out/broken components.

It sounds to me like Shimano and Campag asked their engineers before replying to the question and SRAM didn't (because they don't have any?)

I've always thought their componentry looked like arse compared to the big two. Their response just confirms my opinion to stay well clear of their offerings.

 

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roomservicetaco [7 posts] 6 months ago
9 likes

Campy's answer seems to be the best - it happens sometimes, but generally you shouldn't do it.

Frankly, I don't see why you'd intentionally want to cross-chain.  The whole point of having modern, precise, quick shifting brifters - and in particular electronic shifting - is that you should be able to get out of a cross-chaining position and into a more straight chainline easily and under nearly any load.

Certainly Campy knows this since their controls make it easy to jump down several sprockets with one shift (i.e. go from big ring/nearly largest cog to small ring, 3-4 cog down).  That is a better solution than to allow the derailler to twist to accommodate a big-big combination.

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davel [1242 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes
freebsd_frank wrote:

 

SRAM marketing muppet:

Quote:

The sluggishness that cross chaining sometimes appears to cause on a bike in the stand disappears when the drivetrain is under load. It’s analogous to lubes in loaded and unloaded mechanical systems. Light oil generally feels better than heavy grease when a system is worked by hand, but when the system is loaded the heavier lube will be more efficient.

So the logical conclusion of his comments  is that we should all be using grease on our chains whilst cross-chaining.

The Shimano and Campag spokesmen got it right: decreased efficiency, increased wear so don't do it unless you enjoy spending money on replacing worn-out/broken components.

It sounds to me like Shimano and Campag asked their engineers before replying to the question and SRAM didn't (because they don't have any?)

I've always thought their componentry looked like arse compared to the big two. Their response just confirms my opinion to stay well clear of their offerings.

 

So if you put out big boy watts and can afford to replace components, crack on. Thanks for the pro tip.

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DaveE128 [858 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

I noticed the job titles of the people responding and wondered if it had anything to do with the responses...

I frequently cross-chain, though mainly in small-small rather than big-big. I usually do it when going down a hill and know that I'll want low gears again shortly so I don't want to shift to the big ring. I prefer the small ring because I'm not particularly fast (perhaps I can partly blame my bike for being a commuter/gravel/adventure bike not a racing bike) and I'm most comfortable with cadence around 100 rpm.

I don't do big-big very often because for me the big ring is mainly only for decent length descents. Small ring gives me much more useful range of gears on the flat or going up hills.

I've always felt that the big ring is noisier too, (no front mech isn't rubbing) which seems odd, but I figure it must be something to do with increased chain tension.

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clayfit [92 posts] 6 months ago
6 likes

I was cycling with some friends a few weeks ago, and at the foot of a climb one of them dropped from the big ring to the small ring, so that she was crossed up small-small.  As I opened my mansplaining mouth to suggest that cross-chaining was not so good... her chain snapped.  

That may be because she was using a triple, or maybe because the chain was defective, but it sure confirmed me that cross-chaining is best avoided.

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