We had a dream. Why can't we have a 1 by 9 or 1 by 10 set up on our bicycles? Why can't the chain just stay on the ring? Why can't there be world peace? Why can't I have a head start at Speed of Light?
The answers are coming, folks. We've been experimenting with chain rings from Wolf Tooth Components to make all of our wildest dreams come true. Our special team of testers put the rings on a variety of bikes on a variety of routes. We included two 29ers, a fat bike, and will be continuing the experiment on a cyclocross bike. So far, the results have been astounding.
We slapped a 36t on a Salsa Beargrease and a BMC TE03. Both riders are fast, powerful and capable of putting out a lot of power, but are pretty solid shifters. Our own Jason Whittaker was waffled a bit with his chain ring size. Jason famously rode the 2014 Salsa Beargrease in last month's X100. The carbon fat bike was certainly an ideal choice for the sandier parts of that course, though Whittaker wasn't sold on the stock 28t chain ring for that bike.
On his own aluminum ride, he went with a rather large 36 chain with his eyes on the Iceman Cometh. On last week's test ride, he found that the ratio allowed him to ride in a favorable gears, even over the steeper ascents and through the sand. The only time he needed another gear was the unnecessarily steep Anita's Hill, which isn't such a big deal. Whenever you're bouncing between rings, try to see it as what will be used the most. Having the top end for the 10 minute drag race on Sand Lakes Road is more important than having a 32t chain ring for the 30 seconds you're on Anita's Hill.
Our other tester, Sean Kickbush, initially went with a 34t chain ring on his mountain bike. However, when he opened it up on some gravel roads, he found himself spun out around the 28 mph mark. While that doesn't happen to much in a mountain bike race, if ever, he wanted to have the top end for the Iceman start and for the flat, fast open portions that kick off Peak2Peak. Positioning for both races are so important that having that extra three or four mile an hour could be the difference.
The rings themselves have performed flawlessly. Neither ride has had any problem shifting, and no chains have come off yet. Even on a rough stretch of singletrack when another 1 by 10 rider lost his, the Wolf Tooths kept the chain on and the power down. Even in the beach-like conditions of the VASA and Iceman routes, the chain rings look almost brand new. The setup did shave some grams, but the weight difference isn't nearly as important as the improvement in shifting, in wear and tear, and in making biking a bit simpler.
The next experiment will come with Cody's cyclocross conversion. He is famous as a bike destroyer, and he has now broken a total of 6 derailleurs (front and rear) in 2013. Now, we'll try to find him the perfect chain ring and see how it affects the life of his parts and chain.
We've selected a 40t chain ring for the project, which is sorta-close-enough to splitting the difference between a stock 46/36 setup. That ratio should spin out at about 32 miles per hour, which doesn't happen all that often on the trails or in a cycl0cross race. The hiccup was gravel road racing, though even that is rather rare.
We'll update this post throughout the fall with more feedback, results and reflections.
UPDATE September 30, 2013.
Cody Sovis tested out his 40t Wolf Tooth at Cross the Bay Cyclocross Sunday. The new set-up was initially met with some adjustments to the rest of the drivetrain. With so much racing left in the season, we decided to put on a new cassette, chain and pulleys to make sure all was fresh and jiving together. Some minor adjustments and it was ready to rock. The course was very rough, but the chain never came off. Even more impressive, even riding over the rough, patchy grass, the bike even shifted perfectly. Cody was impressed, saying the bike shifted better and more consistently than ever before.
Looking around the other rides, we noted that Jorden Wakeley, Chad Wells and a few other riders had also adopted the Wolf Tooth set-up, with the 40t ring the most popular choice on the 'cross bikes. It will be interesting to see if anyone else makes the change as the season goes on.
UPDATE October 7, 2013.
The Wolf Tooth revolution is growing. We've slapped 34t chain rings on three more bikes in the past week, including on a singlespeed. The SS rig was having a lot of chain issues, with multiple drops on the rough, tough singletrack. Problem FIXED. Zero drops in three rides so far, after three drops in a little over a week. We've found that setting these up to Wolf Tooth's specifications, which looks a bit slack compared to some other recommendations, like RaceFace. Well, don't soil your Spandex, 'cause it works.
The big test for the rings right now is the perpetual Out and Backs going on in TC right now. The sand is biblical right now, and the deep, long pits of loose stuff has been rained on just enough to make it sticky and destructive. The rings have certainly held up well in the past two weeks, including JW on his fat bike. He's taken on a few Out and Backs, and with no dropped chains and immaculate shifting even in the Sands of Time.