It’s about time that we at Mike’s Bicycle Shop once an for all see what this narrow-wide chainring business is all about. We are excited to have one of these on the way from Wolf Tooth Components.
If you haven’t heard of narrow-wide chainrings, I don’t know what to tell you, other than all the things I am about to tell you about narrow-wide chainrings.
The teeth on a narrow-wide ring alternate between narrow and wide, thus the name. If you look at a chain you’ll notice that the space between the plates alternates as well. The space between the outer plates is narrower than the space between the inner plates. Narrow wide rings, thus, fit the chain better. There is less slop and evidently less (some would say No, NONE, Zilch) chance of throwing the chain. Therefore no need for a chain guide, which cleans up the look quite a bit. For extra never-throw-your-chain fantasticness, you can add a clutch type rear derailleur, but more on those another day.
The narrow-wide concept was introduced (stolen) by Sram a few years ago with their XX1 drivetrain. Since then a number of smaller companies have adopted the technology and have been selling these things like cakes which are hot. And there is no sign that the cakes will be cooling any time soon. The reason these rings are so popular is because people–bike people, racers, riders, mtbers, cyclocrossers–are more and more seeing the benefits of ditching the left shifter and going with the single ring. This is in part due to the introduction of XX1. But at the same time XX1 is in part due to the increasing popularity of 1X. That is to say, Sram saw the growing trend toward 1x which was taking place in the wide world of cycling and they said to themselves “This makes sense. Let’s make one and charge way too much for it.” And they did just that. And people ate it up, still do. Why? Because it is a unique product. Despite the fact that XX1 is just a tweaked version of what cyclists had been doing for a while now, it does have two unique features. Those are 1) a narrow wide chain ring; and 2) a big ass cog in back.
Never mind that it has eleven speeds. That’s not important. What’s important is the chainring that keeps your chain from falling off and the big ass granny cog in back that gives you the same gear range that you had on your triple.
They say once you go 1X you never go back. When I got my first geared mountain bike in 2009, I went 1X because I was misguided and wanted to save weight. I soon found out that riding 1X was much more enjoyable, simpler. I’d say the biggest downside of a triple are those times when you’re climbing and you realize you’re in low on the cassette and you’re calling leg town but no one is answering. You’ve got no choice. You look around to make sure no one is looking and you go for it: you drop it into granny. There’s two ways of doing this. There’s the wrong way: you can push that lever with your left thumb and drop it into granny mode, spinning like crazy the rest of the climb, all momentum lost. On the other hand, doing it right takes a bit more thought: in order to avoid the sudden I’m-spinning-but-going-nowhere feeling, you have to simultaneously shift a few cogs higher on the cassette and drop into granny on the front. It’s not all that difficult, but with 1X I didn’t worry about it anymore. I just shifted whenever. Uphill, downhill, sitting, standing. However, I didn’t have a granny gear to bail me out if I needed it. Good for ego, not the knees.
This problem can be solved with 1X wizbob #2: the granny cog. Currently being made by Wolf Tooth and OneUp, granny cogs go for about $90. Much cheaper than a XX1 cassette. Simple put, these things are just big, dumb, stupid looking cogs you put behind your cassette. I just ordered one. To make room you’ve got to remove (usually) the 13t cog. The end result is that your range is extended while sparing your highest gear. In addition these things have shifting contours to make them shift real good.
In conclusion (you’re almost done) 1X is cool and good; Sram XX1 is too expensive; 10 speeds are just fine; so consider converting to 1x using the latest narrow-wide and granny cog technologies. In the next few weeks Mike’s Bikes HQ will have received, installed, and tested said technologies. We will let you know how goes. That is all. Have a good day.