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Reviewed: KMC X10SL Chain

There is a fair amount of discussion as to what a chain should do. For some, it’s a disposable small part, and as such, you should buy on price alone. For others, it’s an indispensable part of a bike’s shifting performance. Others still see it as moving mass that should be minimized. KMC’s X10SL chain hits on two of the three points. It’s designed for easy shifting at a light weight to compete with the best chains on the market. At 5.88mm wide, it works with all 10-speed systems.

Ever heard of KMC before? We’ve seen KMC chains around for years, but never gave them much mind. For some reason, we assumed it was a small company that produced low-end chains. We were wrong. KMC is a huge maker of chains. They make something like 80 million chains a year, with clients like Shimano, and also make chains for motorized applications. So even though they have a bare-bones website (as of this writing, the latest catalogue available on the site is from 2011) and little in the way of support from the importer when we called, know they’re big.

There’s a fourth consideration to us. Maintenance. Shimano does us all a disservice with their single-use pins, making it impossible to easily remove a chain for cleaning and easily re-installing it. Wippermann, SRAM, and KMC all have “master link” closures that allow you to install and remove the chain multiple times. The Wippermann can be used over and over, while the SRAM is only recommended for one-time use. KMC is in the middle, with their representative telling us it can be used ‘two to three times.’

This particular KMC chain edges closer to Shimano in that the hollow pins used to minimize weight can’t be pushed out and back in. So measure thrice, cut once. If you make it too short, you won’t be able to lengthen the chain unless you put in a second missing link.

In terms of weight savings, KMC has definitely figured out how to shave grams. Between the hollow links and the perforated side plates, the chain we opened weighed 257g uncut with their Missing Link. Cut down to size and the chain is an airy 236g. It replaced a 264g Wippermann chain that we bought with cost as the main consideration. 28g is not a big weight difference, but if you’re trying to build the lightest possible ride, every component choice should be selected for weight. It’s possible that the hollow pins and lightened side plates reduce drive train stiffness, but how much we have no idea; probably only matters if you’re putting out ProTour sprint watts and are already under the UCI weight minimum.

KMC has gotten a pretty good rep for their Missing Link master link. It differs from Wippermann in that it takes considerable force to lock into place and unlock for removal. There are tools for both installation and removal: we first attempted without. For installation, we installed the chain, installed the link and pushed down on the crank. A hard push and the link was locked. We read we should be able to remove the link by hand. Couldn’t do it without instructions. A call to the importer yielded little, so we went with some online advice we found: just squeeze the side plates and then squeeze the link and it should come loose. We couldn’t do it by hand, not surprisingly, and we couldn’t do it with a re-purposed wire hanger squeezing the rollers while two fingers were squeezing the side plates. We ended up buying the Park tool for the task, the MLP-1 (Master Link Pliers). With this tool, it’s easy.

The chain’s distinctive color and shaping are meant to help with the shifting. The color is blingy, but there’s a purpose behind the flash. Titanium Nitride is supposed to make the plates more slippery by allowing the surface to hold lubricants better. When you get the chain, the rollers appear to have the same finish, but that wears off in a few rides. The X shape on the side plates, which highlights the chamfering (beveled edges) on both the inner and outer plates, is likewise supposed to speed shifting.

While this has been a fairly dry summer for us, the chain does seem to hold lube. Hard to say if its better than other chains, but the chain went through a few rains and several rinsings before we lubed for the first time. And that was after about 1,000 miles of use. We’ve ridden in the rain a few times since, but it seems to be holding, though we lubed it again, just to make it appear a bit cleaner.

When lubed, the shifting seems crisp and quiet, and we’ve used several different cassettes with the chain and shifting was good on all of them. The only problem was finding out that two cassettes were worn out and in need of replacement.

It appears that there was some concern that earlier iterations of this chain did not last long. We’re at around 1400 miles thusfar and figure it will probably be ready for replacing in 600 miles or thereabouts.

The bling is something we noticed the first few rides, and after that, largely forgot about it. But people do notice it, and comment on it, approvingly.

The KMC X10SL chain has proven itself to us. This one works as advertised and is a chain that should put KMC on your map as a high-quality option when you wear out your current chain. It’s light and shifts well. And the good looks certainly don’t hurt.