** Note for Full Race Optimisation Prep see separate ZFC Fully Optimised Race Chain product here ***
NOTE: SRAM AXS ROAD drivetrain MUST RUN SRAM AXS FORCE OR RED CHAINS – NO AFTERMARKET / OTHER CHAIN TYPES ARE COMPATIBLE – Axs road is a much more narrow chain and has oversize rollers – you MUST run axs road chains, YBN / CAMPY / Shimano 12spd chains are NOT compatible with AXS Road 12spd.
You do however have go fast options for sram eagle / sram axs eagle – ie the YBN 12spd is a brilliant plug n play many watts faster chain vs sram eagle chains – both are an 11/128 standard chain of same width etc.
All 12 speed chains below are ultrasonically cleaned and treated with mspeedwax. Some chains have an additional option to be Ceramic speed UFO treatment / Rex Black Diamond / Silca Hot Melt prep.
*Lead time for Silca Hot Melt approx 3 days, Rex Black Diamond, 3 to 5 days due to needing time time slot for its specific ultrasonic application.
**LATEST UPDATE ON FULLY OPTIMISED RACE CHAIN PREP OPTION – up till 20/11/20 this was done with mspeedwax and race powder (after controlled chain break in, many ultrasonic cleaning rounds, ultrasonic wax with fresh wax, controlled wax break in run – then the race powdering application would occur). As recent data release with UFO drip v2, it has shown Silca Hot Melt is around 1w faster than race powdered msw chain, as such FULL RACE optimised chains now undergo all the same steps but will be waxed with Silca Hot Melt and not race powdered after wax break in run).
12 Speed chains have seen manufacturers in many cases look to lock consumers back into their own brand in a closed system and remove aftermarket options. This is fine in cases where all aspects of the drivetrain work brilliantly, less so if it is the case that one brands chain has much higher efficiency losses vs other brands. For some systems there are options, for other systems your best option is simply to ensure you are running the best possible lubricant choice & maintenance.
Also note that many 12 speed drivetrains tend to have very expensive drive train components. So even if not concerned re friction losses for racing – it is important to remember that higher friction losses due to an average / poor lubricant & maintenance will correlate directly with drivetrain wear rates. This makes your lubricant choice critical with regards to running costs (as well as low friction for those who do race).
Campagnolo – 12 Speed record
At this time ZFC does not have outright efficiency test data for record 12 speed, however to date all efficiency testing for previous campy chains have shown them to be a top performing chain and this is not expected to change for their 12 speed.
Their 12 speed record chain did test with a measurably lower lifespan vs their 11spd chain however, so ensure keep a regular check on chain wear due to cost of Record 12 speed components.
Very handily, the Record 12 speed chain is same dimensions as Sram Eagle 12 speed chain so for those looking for best possible performance and longevity, you can use mspeedwax simply by using Sram eagle master links to pop chain on and off.
Sram AXS Road
AXS wireless in a very impressive system in many ways, however ZFC has to be a straight shooter here – the move to 10t cog and smaller chain ring sizes is a step backwards regarding drivetrain efficiency. Ceramic Speed testing showed a 6w increase in efficiency losses for a 48x10t vs 53×11 due to greater chain link articulation as well as higher chain tension with smaller rings. For the same reason Oversize pulley wheel systems save chain watt losses due to less chain articulation, going smaller Rings and correspondingly smaller cog size for given gear inches increases losses. You may not ride around in the 48×10 much, so maybe it is only an average of 2 to 3 watts being lost vs running larger rings / larger cogs – it is still a move in the wrong direction with regards to drivetrain efficiency.
Compounding the above issue, like all sram chains tested to date the AXS road chain is not a fast chain. Long lasting, but not fast – being around 2w+ higher loss vs top 11spd chains.
There are no aftermarket AXS road chains on the market at this time, and none are on the horizon that we are aware of.
The very high cost of AXS road chain rings with integrated spider (especially integrated power meter spider) as well as cost of cassette – lubricant choice and maintenance is critical for on both the efficiency front as well as parts lifespan.
Whilst Sram AXS rings / cassettes are indeed impressively hard wearing, it will still only take a poor lubricant choice (there are plenty of powerfully marketed, mainstream lubricants that are not that great, at all) as well as being lax on chain wear checking – and in short order you will cause considerable wear to these expensive components such that they will not accept a new chain.
If not careful an AXS road bike can have running costs similar to a Ferrari, or with a top lubricant choice / maintenance and chain wear checking the hard wearing AXS components will last a very very long time, and you will be getting some watts back.
*Note – testing has shown that AXS Force level chains are around 0.5w faster than AXS Red level chains.
**ZFC does not have comparative longevity for AXS road chains at this time as test machine does not have AXS compatible parts + needs a different chain wear checker due to larger rollers. Stay tuned it will get done, in the interim ZFC is certain it will a very long lasting chain as claimed – however do not take this a green light to be lax on lube selection / maintenance as the cost penalty and watts loss penalty for doing so will be very high indeed.
Sram Eagle / AXS Eagle
This is the most fun area yet. Again the higher level eagle components are very, very expensive, and of course riding off road presents huge challenges for many lubricants. The chain is completely exposed to the dirt and dust and most are using a liquid lubricant. It is very tricky for liquid lubricants to not quickly into a grinding paste masquerading as a lubricant. Imagine removing the dust seals off your bearings and riding around – how would they feel after a couple of rides? That is the challenge for your chain / lubricant.
Yes your lubricant will claim it repels dirt / dust / grime. Yes your lubricant will claim it cleans as it lubes etc. If you wish to know how well it is actually doing that please refer to key learnings from lubricant testing round 1;
It cannot be overstated the difference in parts lifespan and running costs for mtb (and cx) for running top lube choice vs meh or poor lube choice.
Too the best chain options – hold onto your hats;
Sram Eagle XX1 / X01 / Eagle AXS – Hands down the longest lasting chain in the world by a huge margin on anything else on the market. They are astoundingly long lasting.
Alas, they are also probably the slowest chain tested to date, with efficiency testing needing to be stopped at the 2 hour mark as losses were off the scale of the machine (8.8w limit to avoid damaging a 6k usd torque sensor – this is a fully optimised race version, so as fast as an eagle chain can be made to go). In short a great training chain – not the fastest choice for racing.
*Note – the X01 chain was around 0.5w faster than XX1 chain, but doesn’t look as cool being boring ol silver.
Mspeedwax / Silca Hot Melt, Silca SS, Tru tension tungsten all weather, smoove – (wax emulsion lubricants etc) adhere well and stay silky smooth for a long stint – again making Sram XX1 / Xo1 / AXS a great training chain combination – you will attain simply astounding drivetrain lifespan if you simply stay on top of frequent re-wax / re lube vs pushing treatment lifespans.
Sram NX / GX eagle chains are a huge step down re longevity – ZFC does not recommend these chains at all. I have seen numerous customers who’s NX / GX chain is at 0.5% wear mark within 5 to 10 rides on factory grease. If you have bought an NX / GX chain equipped bike – great groupset, but swap that chain out asap.
How do I get my Eagle drivetrain running fast?
YBN SLA Titanium Nitride 5th Gen – All Colours
Despite ZFC rating YBN SLA 8,9,10 & 11spd chains as the overall rolls royce pick for those speeds, the first 4 generations of the YBN SLA 12spd did not pass testing and so there was over a 2 year delay before FINALLY the 5th gen version tested very well indeed. Whilst it is not as fast as XTR or Campy 12, it is still multiple watts faster than Sram Eagle chains at 250w load, a gap that will basically double every extra 250w. Similar lifespan to campy 12, both of which are around 1/4 of the extraordinary long lasting (but extraordinarily slow) eagle x01/xx1 chains, this is a great plug and play race day chain to save a nice handful of watts, and train on your x01 / xx1 chain.
Campagnolo Record 12 speed
Yep that’s right, Campy road chain! Your first thought is probably that’s nuts, will it be strong enough? Yes – aside from axs road, all 12spd chains have very similar dimensions so plate / pin thicknesses etc are nearly identical, as will be the tensile strength of the steel. All bicycle chains must meet industrial standard of 8000n tensile strength – depending on a few factors such as crank length and chain ring size – let us convert that to conservatively around 6000w plus. If you can put out more that 6000w, then we may need to test what chain is stronger (that’s coming anyway) if not – don’t get caught up on road chain / off road chain – sans manufacturing fault they are all plenty strong enough for any cycling application including e-bike – the main factors that vary are wear rates due to surface hardening / plating treatments and efficiency – there will be small tensile strength differences – but again sans a manufacturing error with your chain resulting in a poor rivet or brittle plate, these differences will only come into play once you get above circa 6000w power output. Yes chains snap, almost always it is due to a poor shift under load.
So, having covered that yes a supposedly “road” chain is fine for mtb work, will Campy record work on your eagle drive train?
I can’t guarantee, but it should. They work perfectly on my eagle mtb’s, and i recently obtained test data and the record 12 chain is possibly one of the fastest chains ever tested, it was a blindingly fast 2.81w in CS testing, vs Eagle chain test being stopped early as it went over 9w.
However, i have had some customer feedback that for some set ups the campy chain has not shifted as well, i can pin down and explanation for this as dimensionally it is basically identical as eagle chain, and it shifts brilliantly on my bikes. Another case showed it did not run well with aftermarket praxis works rings, but was fine with OEM sram ring, again at this time no explanation.
Also note that they only come 114 links long so check your chain length – both my mtb’s take exactly 114 links, a larger rear triangle you may be out of luck. And you will need to be ok to use an eagle master link with it as campy dont make a master link. Eagle master links appear to work fine, i have many many campy 12 road waxers user eagle links and zero reported failures to date, same with those using campy 12 on eagle drivetrain with eagle links, including myself. But you have to make the call.
Shimano XTR 12spd.
If you are already on XTR 12 speed – you have no problems. I am awaiting the efficiency test results from CS at this time, however rest assured like all top end shimano chains – it will be either very fast or very very fast.
The XTR 12 speed chain also tested as very long lasting – the next longest lasting chain behind Sram eagle XX1 / Xo1 /AXS.
Shimano chain coatings do have wax treatments go a bit drier a bit faster (but nowhere near as fast as KMC which go dry extremely quickly). They are fine for 4 to 8 hour enduro / XC marathon length. Longer than that – consider a chain swap half way or a refer to some of the longer lasting lubricant options (at a bit of a cost re friction however vs some of the fastest options such as mspeedwax).
If you are on Sram Eagle drive train:
XTR 12 speed chain MAY be a brilliant option as you have overall the best of many worlds – a fast chain that is also long lasting and gets along well enough with the fastest known chain treatments like mspeedwax / UFO.
But there is a but…….
For Eagle drive train users to consider this option you will need to swap your sram eagle compatible chain ring to a shimano XTR 12spd compatible chain ring. XTR 12 chains have extended inner link plates and will jump of sram compatible rings. They do work perfectly with sram pulleys and cassettes – in fact personally I think the XTR 12spd works better. The extended inner links were designed to provide unparalleled rear shifting performance for shimano system, it seems to improve on sram’s system too. Shimano know how to do shifting – they are often the benchmark for a reason.
Wolf Tooth and Absolute Black make great after market XTR 12 compatible chain rings to fit Sram / Race face cranks etc.
*Note shimano XTR 12 is slightly thinner than eagle chains – I would recommend using Shimano XTR 12 links for popping chain on and off if waxing / for best chain maintenance – it is unlikely the tiny difference would cause an issue running eagle links on xtr 12 chain, however I have not tested as yet.
I have been testing XTR 12 on my eagle mtb’s as well, and on mine, the XTR 12 chain shifts even better than the sram chain, however – i have had a couple of cases with bikes with small rear triangles and therefore more acute chain line angles, that in the 50t cog the longer inner plate links have rubbed noticeably on side of the cog teeth. This does not present on my bikes, i cannot guarantee it wont occur on yours, but if it does work – yeehaa, a very fast AND durable chain. The main issue is that its only boring silver 🙂
I have also been testing running eagle xx1 chain for training on the Xtr 12 compatible chain ring, and to date after approx 2000km of testing across both bikes, i have had zero chain drops of eagle chain on XTR 12 rings, just remember you cannot go the other way, you cannot run an XTR 12 ring on Sram eagle chain rings due to longer inner plate links.
What is Mr Low Friction himself running?
At the time of writing this update i have been testing a myriad of YBN 12, XTR 12 and Campy 12 on my sram eagle drivetrain and all has been groovy across the lot of them, and for most of customers field test whichever option they have tried has been great, however there have been the odd case of campy 12 not shifting well, or XTR 12 not running well on the 50t cog. The YBN 12 is the safest plug n play fast race day chain swap, but note whilst it is much faster than the eagle chain, it is still bit slower than record 12 and likely also xtr 12. Having now done a bunch of testing im settling on one bike set up with xx1 for training and xtr 12 for racing, and the other xx1 for training and record 12 for racing as I have had no issues with those chains at all on eagle drivetrain.
last note – Sram are a bit funny re running any other chain (they are bit insecure here) so if you ever have an issue and need to take to bike shop, make sure you pop your sram training chain back on.
Summary for MTB 12 speed
- If you are on shimano XTR 12 – you are sorted – just by XTR 12. If you race the smart way to go is simply have a dedicated race chain and training chain so that you are not racing on same chain that has been hammered away in training. Chains loose efficiency from wear, and the first part to be compromised is the chains low friction coating – this is one of the key reasons behind why pro teams (road and mtb) change to a fresh chain’s after very little use.
- If you are on Eagle and do not care about watts – just run XX1 / X01 / AXS and enjoy the astounding longevity. If your chain is GX / NX watch that chain wear like a hawk – literally use your chain wear checker after every ride, and transition immediately when it reaches 0.5%, or just change immediately if you do not have a chain wear checker.
- If you do race and you do care about watts being lost (and why wouldn’t you – you train hard so why throw hard earned watts away with a slow chain) then run XX1 / X01 / AXS chain as training chain, and either;
- The most dependable plug and play fast upgrade chain for sram eagle uses is the latest gen YBN 12. do not buy gold / silver ybn 12 from other places is my recommendation as they may be earlier gen which had very poor longevity. If buying elsewhere ensure get oil slick version as that only came out with 5th gen version.
- Use Campagnolo record 12spd chain as your race chain (or one for training and one for racing if you don’t like losing watts in training either). Use eagle master links if waxing or for popping on and off for best maintenance. **Note check chain length required as you only get 114 links, and note this chain has not worked perfectly for all users.
- Swap sram chain ring for XTR 12 compatible ring from Wolf Tooth / Absolute black and run XTR 12 chains – note some users with small rear triangles and acute chain line angles have had rubbing issues of inner link plates against side of cog teeth when in the 50t.
For the full data and test wrap of the chain test project refer to that tab on website or click this link here…..