Did Narrow-Wide Kill the Chain Guide?

Video may have killed the radio star, but did narrow-wide chainrings kill the chain guide? In a recent discussion on the Singletracks forums, many riders reported running a chain guide on 1-by drivetrains with a narrow-wide chain ring and clutch derailleur. But our recent survey of more than 2,000 mountain bikers painted a different picture: of those running a 1-by, multi-gear drivetrain, only 24% choose to run a chain guide.

SRAM says their Stylo, single-chainring crankset “is engineered for complete chain control” and with their Roller Bearing Clutch technology, “derailleur bounce and chain slap are eliminated.” So perhaps it’s not surprising that many consumers have concluded they don’t need to run a chain guide.

But not so fast! It turns out that the chain guide isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Component company e*thirteen offers dozens of chain guides and Greg Thrash, the company’s Design Director, says chain guide sales have continued to grow over the past several years.

“Historically when e*thirteen started making chain guides like the SRS and LG1, they were being used on DH and park bikes […] to prevent chain drops, but also for drivetrain protection. If you look at bikes with similar purpose today, those bikes are still using chain guides. There’s only so much narrow-wide and clutch derailleurs can do under extreme circumstances [like downhill racing].”

With chain guide sales remaining steady on the gravity side, growth is seemingly coming from the XC / Trail / Enduro market. Just a few years ago when 2X drivetrains were more popular with this set of riders, few riders felt the need for a chain guide while running a front derailleur. But now that many are moving to a single chainring up front, some (but clearly not all) riders are adding a chain guide for extra protection, particularly the riders on the more aggressive side.

Put another way, some riders are swapping front derailleurs for chain guides, which is boosting chain guide adoption overall. Greg confirms, “while the percentage of 1X bikes running guides may have decreased, it’s likely because of the widespread adoption of 1X in different categories, [that] in fact total chain guide use has continued to grow.”

Narrow-wide didn’t kill the chain guide. It actually increased the market!