A little while ago we posted a brief blurb on the new Race Face Narrow/Wide chainrings. While we’re still wondering how Race Face came up with the blandest product name in the industry we can now say assuredly and after some good testing that these rings work really well.
The idea behind the rings is simple enough: The teeth alternate in a narrow/wide pattern so that each tooth fills the inner space of each chain link entirely (because the chain links inherently alternate narrow/wide as well).
This is only possible to use when running a single chainring up front because if you used it with multiple chainrings and tried shifting the chain between rings there’d be no guarantee that the chain would end up shifting with its narrow/wide links matching up against the narrow/wide pattern of the chain itself. Further, the chainring’s teeth are tooled with deeper grooves and tapered near the top in a way that best discourages the chain from slipping off, as opposed to conventional rings that are actually designed to be better at shedding the chain as the front derailleur shifts it from one ring to the next.
When the narrow/wide chainring is combined with a clutch drive rear derailleur (which is designed to add more tension to the chain) the result is a drivetrain with just one chainring up front and without any sort of chain guide (or front derailleur of course) that still operates without fear of the chain falling off. Previously this was unheard of – if you wanted to run just one ring up front you had to have a chain guide to prevent the chain from hopping off periodically.
The theory is sound, but we needed to test it in real world conditions, and in this case that meant doing 40-50km of Falcon Ridge in the Whiteshell with a Race Face Narrow/Wide ring up front and an XTR clutch drive rear derailleur in the back (an XT shifter, cassette, and chain filled out the group, though any compatible components would have sufficed).
The result? After some grinding gravel road ups and downs, some rocky technical stuff with a lot of small hopping up and down, a few rocky and bouncy fast descents, and one major crash we did not experience a single chain drop. Not once.
Given time we’re sure a chain drop isn’t completely unavoidable, but so far we haven’t had one, and we’re thoroughly impressed with this set up. It’s also worth noting that with a conventional 11-38 10 speed cassette and a 32 tooth chainring we were never in need of more gears. If we were really hammering on flat hard pack (we weren’t) we’d likely spin out in even the fastest gear, but that’s not usually what we’re doing on our mountain bikes so we think that a conventional 2×10 set up converted to a 1×10 by going with the narrow/wide chainring is an awesome way to save some weight and simplify your ride. The chainring also works with a 1 x 9 or 11 set up.
So there you have it. At the time of this posting we still have 1 or 2 Narrow/Wide chainrings in stock (32 tooth), and we can always get more in the size (i.e. tooth count) of your choosing. All rings are 104 BDC, 4 bolt pattern, and come in red, green, blue, and black, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38 teeth.