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The Birzman Chain Wear Indicator II is designed to measure wear in traditional 3/32in chains across the board, from singlespeed to 12-speed. This caters for most scenarios, save for track and some hub transmissions. It's nicely engineered and pleasant to use, and though digital gauges may have the last word in accuracy and precision, they're a good bit more expensive, too.
Looking to do your own bike fettling? Check out our feature on the six essential tools for cyclists who do their own bike maintenance, as well as our beginner’s guide to bike tools.
Birzman has gone for CNC machined 6061 aluminium for this model. The anodised finish and laser-etched graphics are beautifully applied, and will protect the aluminium from oxidisation.
Look closely and you'll see a dial integrated within the head, with increments of .25, .5, .7, .8 and 1; this is the wear indicator, which gives a very precise account of chain health. Some have just three figures, .5, .75 and 1.
There's plenty of debate about pensioning times for chains. I've traditionally replaced 9/10-speed chains at the 0.75 point, and left 6/7-speeds a little longer (depending on whether I was using stainless steel rings, quality of cassette/freewheel and so on). According to Birzman's chart, 11/12-speeds should be switched at 0.5; 9/10-speeds at .7; 5 to 8-speeds (yes, a few of us still run these) at .8; and singlespeeds at 1.0.
You can use a cheap and simple gauge to check chain wear, but it's a more approximate guide and could be costing you money in the long run if you're scrapping a chain prematurely. Likewise if you just go by average mileage.
In many respects, this is preferable to allowing a chain to chomp through expensive components, but costs can mount up, especially if you're running an already pricey 11 or 12-speed groupset.
I'm told that the Birzman measures a combination of pin and roller wear. To use it, simply drop the pins into the chain and gently rotate the top-mounted dial anti-clockwise until the figures align. Gently is key here; you don't want to force anything – it's bad practice and will also give a false reading.
Top-mounting the dial might seem a simple thing, but it makes a world of difference ergonomically. Sure, reading a gauge side-on is neither here nor there if you've got the bike in a workstand, but it's a pain if you're just in 'while I'm thinking about it' mode. Besides, if something's nice and user friendly, we're more likely to use it.
I've tested the Birzman on 11, 10, 7 and 6-speed chains, some nigh-on packet fresh, some closer to the knacker's yard. Cross-referenced with a digital KMC unit, it seemed perfectly accurate.
None of my chains needed replacing, although a 6-speed Sachs, fitted to my 1991 road bike (a quaint, but much-loved sunny days plaything), was creeping close to .6; by contrast, a cheap and cheerful nickel-plated gauge suggested it was nearer to .7. Okay, hardly the biggest thing in the world, but it illustrates my earlier point about otherwise serviceable parts being scrapped prematurely.
I'll preface this by saying much will depend upon how many bikes you have and their drivetrains. If you're running 5 to 10-speed setups then something simple like the £5.99 Torque Chain Checker will suffice.
Comparing like with like, though, the Birzman is well priced.
Park Tool's Chain Checker CC-2 is £29.99. It caters for up to 12-speed chains and has a 'fan type' analogue gauge. It's a perfectly accurate benchmark in my experience but, for me at least, it's less intuitive/user-friendly than the Birzman.
Unior's Pro Chain Wear Indicator seems very similar to the Birzman, but it's more expensive at £31.99.
Of the more traditional gauges, the Pedro's Chain Checker Plus II is a three-point model featuring a laser-cut design, and capable of isolating pin and roller wear. The chain hook and chainring wrench are nice touches, and it's also a little cheaper than the Birzman at £22, but won't be as pleasant or convenient to use as the Birzman with its top-mounted dial.
Ultimately, the Birzman Chain Wear Indicator II is an effective and accurate tool that's pleasant to use. Don't lose it, drop it or lend it to casual acquaintances and it should repay its investment many times over, especially if you have a fleet of bikes, with 11 or 12-speeds among them.
User-friendly precision tool for checking chain health
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Birzman Chain Wear Indicator II
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Birzman says: "Compatible with derailleur chains from single to 12 speed, the Chain Wear Indicator II quickly and accurately checks the degree of chain wear.
Constructed from CNC machined 6061 aluminium, the tool will ensure it does the job and lasts the long years in your tool box."
It's a compact, accurate, and user-friendly means of checking chain health.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
CNC machined 6061 aluminium
0.25 / 0.5 / 0.7 / 0.8 / 1.0%.
single - 12 speed chains (3/32 only)
Light, tactile, and nicely engineered.
Accurate and pleasantly intuitive to use.
Little reason to think it won't lead a long and productive life. Finish and build quality seem of a very high standard. Two accidental drops onto a concrete floor have made negligible impression on the anodised finish.
Feathery but feels solid.
Small but comfortable in the hand.
There's lots of choice around if you're looking to gauge chain wear. Something like the Torque Chain Checker might be the most cost-effective solution if you weren't requiring absolute accuracy and/or ride bikes with older groupsets. However, there are pricier options too, such as the Unior Pro Chain Wear Indicator at £31.99.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Overall, I've found the Birzman intuitive, quick, and accurate to use.
None of my chains needed replacing, although a 6-speed Sachs was creeping close to .6. By contrast, a cheap but cheerful nickel-plated gauge suggested it was nearer to .7. Hardly the biggest thing in the world but illustrates how otherwise serviceable parts can be scrapped prematurely.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Nice ergonomics, quick and accurate to use.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
If you're running 5 to 10-speed setups then something cheap and simple like the £5.99 Torque Chain Checker will suffice.
Comparing like with like, though, the Birzman is quite well priced. Park Tool's Chain Checker CC-2 is £29.99. It caters for up to 12-speed chains and has a 'fan type' analogue gauge. It's a perfectly accurate benchmark in my experience but, for me at least, is less intuitive/user-friendly than the Birzman.
Unior's Pro Chain Wear Indicator seems very similar to the Birzman but it's more expensive at £31.99.
Of the more traditional gauges, the Pedro's Chain Checker Plus II - a three-point model capable of isolating pin and roller wear, with a chain hook and chainring wrench - is a little cheaper at £22, but won't be as pleasant or convenient to use as the Birzman with its top-mounted dial.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, particularly if running bikes with 11 and 12-speed drivetrains.
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's surprisingly pleasant to use and very accurate. Those with older drivetrains may find a less precise model will fit their needs, but overall I'd say the Birzman is very good.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rough Stuff Tourer Based around 4130 Univega mtb Frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)