Taiwanese manufacturer KMC is a big deal in the chain business, producing riveted goodness for numerous third parties including, among others, groupset giant Shimano. It also makes an own-branded line of products and the 11-speed-compatible X11SL DLC chain sits at the top of the tree, a piece of functional bike jewellery that could be the finishing touch your exotic steed demands.
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Weighing just 242g for 116 links thanks to hollow pins and slotted outer plates, this piece of drivetrain bling is KMC’s most technologically advanced offering, employing a so-called “diamond-like coating” (hence DLC) for smooth, rapid shifting. Coloured inner plates are the icing on the cake and the chain is available in a range of colours to match your ride.
Part of the appeal of KMC’s own chains is that they use so-called Missing Links (i.e. a master or joining link), so there’s no faffing around with special pins and, if you’re comparing to Campagnolo, no need to shell out for special tools. You simply shorten your chain in the usual way, fit the Missing Link together and then snap it shut — job’s a good un.
On the part-worn drivetrain we fitted it to our first impression was that it was a tiny bit noisier than the chain it replaced, but that may have just been because the lube needed to distribute a little, as it soon sounded entirely normal, and shifting was as good as ever.
After a few hundred kilometres of riding, including some properly wet outings, there was no measurable stretch and we found that unless you’re a complete filth-wizard, the coloured inner link-plates do actually continue to show off their hue in normal use. (A clean-running lube — not the winter wet stuff — will help here.) The DLC coating was showing the first signs of wear on the side of the chain facing inwards, however, likely from contact with the front derailleur.
We’re very much on the fence as to whether the X11SL DLC represents a performance upgrade, especially given the considerable price premium over its non-DLC counterpart. There’s no question however that it looks extremely cool — it’s perfect for cake stop posing with your ‘Sunday best’ bike.
What is Diamond Like Coating?
DLC stands for Diamond Like Coating, which is KMC’s way of saying it’s covered the inner and outer plates of this chain in a really hard substance. The DLC process involves depositing an ultra-thin, carbon-based protective layer on the chain’s surfaces. Although it didn’t invent DLC, KMC is the only company currently applying this technology to bicycle components.
While the X11SL DLC is designed to be extremely hard-wearing, DLC doesn’t affect durability per se. Rather, it’s intended to produce smoother, quicker shifting and keep the chain looking good by reducing “abrasive wear”, i.e. that which occurs from metal-on-metal contact. According to KMC, DLC doesn’t accelerate wear to the rest of the drivetrain as the rollers themselves aren’t coated and so are no harder than on KMC’s standard offerings.