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Sprocket Chain is the type of chain drive most commonly used for transmission of mechanical power on many kinds of domestic, industrial and agricultural machinery, including conveyors, wire and tube-drawing machines, printing presses, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. It consists of a series of short cylindrical rollers held together by side links. It is driven by a toothed wheel called a sprocket. It is a simple, reliable, and efficientmeans of power transmission.

Construction of the chain

There are actually two types of links alternating in the bush roller chain. The first type is inner links, having two inner plates held together by two sleeves or bushings upon which rotate two rollers. Inner links alternate with the second type, the outer links, consisting of two outer plates held together by pins passing through the bushings of the inner links. The "bushingless" roller chain is similar in operation though not in construction; instead of separate bushings or sleeves holding the inner plates together, the plate has a tube stamped into it protruding from the hole which serves the same purpose. This has the advantage of removing one step in assembly of the chain.

The roller chain design reduces friction compared to simpler designs, resulting in higher efficiency and less wear. The original power transmission chain varieties lacked rollers and bushings, with both the inner and outer plates held by pins which directly contacted the sprocket teeth; however this configuration exhibited extremely rapid wear of both the sprocket teeth, and the plates where they pivoted on the pins. This problem was partially solved by the development of bushed chains, with the pins holding the outer plates passing through bushings or sleeves connecting the inner plates. This distributed the wear over a greater area; however the teeth of the sprockets still wore more rapidly than is desirable, from the sliding friction against the bushings. The addition of rollers surrounding the bushing sleeves of the chain and provided rolling contact with the teeth of the sprockets resulting in excellent resistance to wear of both sprockets and chain as well. There is even very low friction, as long as the chain is sufficiently lubricated. Continuous, clean, lubrication of roller chains is of primary importance for efficient operation as well as correct tensioning


  • Roller chains are used in low- to mid-speed drives at around 600 to 800 feet per minute; however, at higher speeds, around 2,000 to 3,000 feet per minute, V-belts are normally used due to wear and noise issues.
  • A bicycle chain is a form of roller chain. Bicycle chains may have a master link, or may require a chain tool for removal and installation. A similar but larger and thus stronger chain is used on most motorcycles although it is sometimes replaced by either a toothed belt or a shaft drive, which offer lower noise level and fewer maintenance requirements.
  • Chains are also used in forklifts using hydraulic rams as a pulley to raise and lower the carriage; however, these chains are not considered roller chains, but are classified as lift or leaf chains.
  • Chainsaw cutting chains superficially resemble roller chains but are more closely related to leaf chains. They are driven by projecting drive links which also serve to locate the chain onto the bar.
  • A perhaps unusual use of a pair of motorcycle chains is in the Harrier Jump Jet, where a chain drive from an air motor is used to rotate the movable engine nozzles, allowing them to be pointed downwards for hovering flight, or to the rear for normal forward flight, a system known as Thrust vectoring.

Chain standards

Standards organizations (such as ANSI) maintain standards for design, dimensions, and interchangeability of transmission chains. For example, the following Table shows data from ANSI standard B29.1-2011 (Precision Power Transmission Roller Chains, Attachments, and Sprockets) developed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). See the references for additional information.

ASME/ANSI B29.1-2011 Roller Chain Standard Sizes



Maximum Roller Diameter

Minimum Ultimate Tensile Strength

Measuring Load





0.250 in (6.35 mm)

0.130 in (3.30 mm)

780 lb (350 kg)

18 lb (8.2 kg)





0.375 in (9.53 mm)

0.200 in (5.08 mm)

1,760 lb (800 kg)

18 lb (8.2 kg)





0.500 in (12.70 mm)

0.306 in (7.77 mm)

1,500 lb (680 kg)

18 lb (8.2 kg)





0.500 in (12.70 mm)

0.312 in (7.92 mm)

3,125 lb (1,417 kg)

31 lb (14 kg)





0.625 in (15.88 mm)

0.400 in (10.16 mm)

4,880 lb (2,210 kg)

49 lb (22 kg)





0.750 in (19.05 mm)

0.469 in (11.91 mm)

7,030 lb (3,190 kg)

70 lb (32 kg)





1.000 in (25.40 mm)

0.625 in (15.88 mm)

12,500 lb (5,700 kg)

125 lb (57 kg)





1.250 in (31.75 mm)

0.750 in (19.05 mm)

19,531 lb (8,859 kg)

195 lb (88 kg)





1.500 in (38.10 mm)

0.875 in (22.23 mm)

28,125 lb (12,757 kg)

281 lb (127 kg)





1.750 in (44.45 mm)

1.000 in (25.40 mm)

38,280 lb (17,360 kg)

383 lb (174 kg)





2.000 in (50.80 mm)

1.125 in (28.58 mm)

50,000 lb (23,000 kg)

500 lb (230 kg)





2.250 in (57.15 mm)

1.460 in (37.08 mm)

63,280 lb (28,700 kg)

633 lb (287 kg)





2.500 in (63.50 mm)

1.562 in (39.67 mm)

78,175 lb (35,460 kg)

781 lb (354 kg)





3.000 in (76.20 mm)

1.875 in (47.63 mm)

112,500 lb (51,000 kg)

1,000 lb (450 kg)




Chain and Sprocket Wear


When a new chain meshes with a new sprocket, every roller that is in contact with the sprocket is pressing more-or-less equally against the corresponding tooth of the sprocket, so the load and stress are shared out equally, among 10-11 rollers/teeth, in this case. From the center of each roller to the center of the next is exactly 1/2" (12.7 mm). This dimension is known as the "pitch" of the chain. The sprocket teeth are made so that the center the curve that makes up each "valley" is 1/2" from the next. The diameter of the sprocket is determined by the pitch and the number of teeth.


This chain and sprocket have worn together. You can see daylight under the chain in some places. The worn cha