O-Ring Chain VS Roller Chain: Which Chain Is Better & Which One Will Work For You?

If you’ve ever visited a dirt bike, motocross, or another motorcycle-based forum for any significant amount of time, you’ve more than likely encountered multiple threads where the following question was asked: Which chain should I use – an o-ring chain or a roller chain?

o-rings chain diagram
O-Ring Chain

This debate has been waging for years, and there will always be those who sit on either side of the fence. I don’t seek to give you a definitive answer on the matter with this article; however, I would like to explain why I feel one is ultimately better than the other.

In this article, I’ll share with you what an o-ring chain is, the key advantages of using o-ring chains over a roller chain, and which occasions warrant the use of each type.

What is an O-Ring Chain?

If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle (or any other form of manual transportation that requires a chain), you have undoubtedly encountered a roller chain. That’s because a roller chain is just another name for a standard chain.

However, it’s possible you might not have heard of an o-ring chain before (especially if you’re new to dirt bikes). And for that reason, I’ve included a brief introduction below.

The O-ring chain operates the same as a roller chain except for in a couple of very significant areas. First, the o-ring chain consists of o-shaped rubber fittings (o-rings) placed in between each link of the chain. These fittings are filled with a manufacturer-installed lubricating grease that forms a protective barrier over the entire chain.

In addition to protecting the chain, the fittings also help prevent dirt and other particles from making their way inside the chain and its links, thus drastically reducing the amount of wear on the chain.

O-ring chains have increasingly gained popularity over the years with motorcyclists. This is due to the elements that bikers are exposed to daily.

The Key Advantages Of Using An O-Ring Chain

O-ring Chain vs. Roller Chain
O-ring Chain (top), Roller Chain (bottom)

While each chain has its strengths and advantages, the O-rings advantages win over roller chains in almost all instances. Below are just a few of the main benefits of using an o-ring over a roller chain.

  •  O-ring chains have a longer operational life than roller chains, especially under off-road conditions. In some cases, they will last as much as three times longer than a standard roller chain.
  •  O-ring chains are virtually maintenance-free after installation. The only maintenance required is the occasional application of lube to the chain. However, roller chains need a lot of attention in the maintenance department (and are replaced much more frequently).
  •  O-ring chains stretch less than roller chains and require less adjustment. Roller chains are prone to stretching and need to be adjusted accordingly.

Do The Benefits Justify The Price?

What the one significant advantage of a roller chain has over an o-ring chain is its price. Roller chains are much cheaper. And as a result, some riders feel the benefits provided by the o-ring chain are not worth the significant price increase. However, when you step back and compare the two types of chains, there are several reasons why an o-ring chain is worth the investment (and might, in some cases, prove cheaper than roller chains).

For starters, standard roller chains have no built-in lubrication. This leads to two major disadvantages. The chain not only has to be maintained more diligently than an o-ring chain but also is more susceptible to dirt and other particles getting within the links of the chain, thus causing accelerated wear and tear.

O-Ring Chain Abuse
O-Ring Chain Abuse

Due to the reasons listed above, the roller chain has a much shorter life expectancy than the average o-ring chain. In some instances, the o-ring will last as much as three times longer than the roller.

Because of their longevity, O-ring chains often end up being cheaper than roller chains in the long run. If you purchase an o-ring chain at triple the cost of a roller chain, but you have to go through six roller chains before you have to change just one o-ring chain, you’re saving money.

So yes, an o-ring chain is almost always a better option than purchasing a roller chain. Not only do you get the increased protection from the o-ring, but you also get a longer lifespan, which can lead to significant savings over time.

However, there is one instance where a roller chain might prove to be a better option.

When Is A Roller Chain Recommended Over an O-Ring Chain?

Most bike enthusiasts tend to agree that if you’re running a Motocross bike or a smaller capacity bike, then a roller chain might be your best option due to its lightweight, minimal friction, and its cheap price point. While you’ll always have those that feel o-ring chains are an excellent investment and others who think they’re overpriced, what’s important is that you make the decision you feel the most comfortable with.

If you decide to go with a roller chain, then embrace that decision. Sure, you might have a little more maintenance and upkeep. You’ll more than likely have to replace it more often, but there are plenty of bikers who still use roller chains with great success.

And if instead, you choose to take the o-ring chain route… well… then you’ve just made a wise choice.

If you have any questions or anything to add, please leave them in the comments or on our FaceBook page!

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