The zombie chain: Wippermann Connex 11sX chain review
Unfortunately, I don’t often get to ride any one particular bike (or component) enough to truly evaluate its long-term durability. One notable exception, however, has been the Wippermann Connex 11sX chain on my Yuba Spicy Curry e-cargo bike. I’ve inadvertently tried to kill it time and again, through years of neglect, day after day of hauling heavy passengers and cargo, and the unusually high drivetrain loads created by the power mid-drive motor. Yet despite 10,000 kilometres worth of that sort of all-weather abuse, every wear gauge I’ve put on that chain thinks it’s practically as good as new.
Call it a zombie chain if you will. Or maybe the Terminator. Perhaps the Wolverine? Whatever you want to call it, it’s the chain that just won’t die.
Oh so shiny
Back in December 2015, I set out to put together what I playfully dubbed the “ultimate” e-cargo bike — basically a souped-up version of a Yuba Spicy Curry longtail outfitted with a laundry list of high-end bits that no one would consider to be remotely financially sensible for such a beast of burden.
Custom wheels built with Chris King hubs, DT Swiss butted spokes, and hand-polished Velocity tubeless rims? Check. An XTR Di2 electronic transmission? Yep. Gleaming silver SRAM Guide RSC hydraulic disc brakes with hand-polished caliper adapters? Of course. All sorts of ridiculous accessories like a leather saddle, custom wooden fenders, and leather fender flaps? Naturally.
A master woodworker friend of mine even made for me a lovely deck for the rear rack out of a scrap of African hardwood called paduak.
I also had to fabricate a spiderless driveside crankarm out of a gorgeous old Sugino 75 forged aluminum road crankset I’d been holding on to for more than a decade as a glorious symbol of a time gone by. There was lots of sawing. And lots of sanding. And lots of metal polish. And definitely lots of swearing.
Basically, anything that was aluminum that could have been stripped and polished, was stripped and polished, purely because I had a vision for what I wanted this thing to look (and feel) like, and because I was incredibly stubborn.
When it came time to choose the chain, there was only one option that would do, if only based on reputation: the Wippermann Connex 11sX.
Wippermann makes some bold proclamations about its chains, perhaps the most important being pins and inner link holes that are supposedly far rounder than the norm. As a result, Wippermann says that loads are distributed more evenly since there are no “high” spots that can concentrate stress. The pins are also boronized to give them an ultra-hard surface that’s more resistant to wear over time, and they’re radially riveted to decrease the likelihood that an outer link will peel off under load.
On the flagship 11sX model (US$80 / €65), those inner links are made of stainless steel for even longer wear, while the outer links are treated with a “high-grade” nickel coating, all of which make for Connex’s most corrosion-resistant chain model.
That’s all well and good, but truth be told, what I mostly cared about at the time was that the Connex 11sX was super shiny, and would supposedly stay that way. Because #steez.
Shameful neglect, but an incredible result
Over the next 52 months, that chain saw haphazard (and sloppy) applications of Squirt wax-based chain lubricant whenever the drivetrain sounded dry and rattly; otherwise, it saw no other regular maintenance, and certainly no cleanings.
Since it was my daily-driver around town, it also saw an awful lot of use. It was what I primarily used to get my daughter to and from school, the library, birthday parties, and various other activities. It was my vehicle of choice for grocery shopping. I used it to lug bike boxes to UPS and FedEx. And because I always prefer to pedal instead of drive, I even loaded it up one day with 90 kg (200 lb!) of sand for a sandbox I was building in our backyard.
Throughout it all, the TransX mid-drive motor was hard at work. Most mid-drive motors have a nominal output rating of 250 watts, but this one churns out a healthier 350 watts — and given the idiosyncrasies of e-bike motor ratings, the reality is that I was regularly asking it to put well north of that when carrying a lot of weight or when I needed to get somewhere fast (I’m notorious for running late).
In short, the bike — and the chain, in particular — has not exactly been babied, but I’ve given it the love it needed when truly necessary.
Two cassettes. Two sets of brake pads. A new rear rotor. A new rear tire. The occasional brake bleed. Regular sealant refreshes for the tubeless tires.
Still a hard life.
And so it was to my surprise that when I finally gave the bike a long-overdue major service the other day, the wear gauge showed that the chain is only just now about due for a replacement — and that’s using the conservative 0.5% wear figure generally reserved for performance drivetrains. Surely that couldn’t be right, I said to myself, so I checked with another one. And another one. And then I ran out to get a replacement battery for my Feedback Sports digital chain checker, and that, too, showed the same result.
Had someone snuck into my garage and installed a new chain when I wasn’t looking? Nope. My god, this thing might actually be as tough as Wippermann says it is.
More than four years after I first installed it, I finally put the chain through an ultrasonic cleaning cycle, and aside from a bit of surface corrosion on the outer links around the pins, it once again looks like new. Every outer link is still as securely riveted as it was when it left the factory in Hagen, Germany. There’s not a kink or nick to be found.
And yes, it’s still enviably shiny.
In terms of longevity, I’m not sure I’ve ever come across another chain that’s as impressively durable. My anecdotal data is also supported by objective results from Adam Kerin of Zero Friction Cycling (although his testing suggests that a lesser-performing chain lube might adversely affect the Connex’s roller wear).
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say the Connex 11sX chain would be my first pick for a performance road, gravel, or mountain bike. It doesn’t shift quite as well as top models from Shimano or Campagnolo, for example, nor does it run as quietly (and if you’re concerned about that sort of thing, it doesn’t set any efficiency records, either). It should also be noted that, as impressive as the durability is, it’s not in direct proportion to its premium price as compared to other options that cost a lot less.
But that all said, the next time I’m in the market for a chain where durability and longevity are absolutely my number-one concern, I know what I’ll be picking.