Narrow Wide Chainring: What Is It and Why You Need It

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A narrow wide chainring is a type of bicycle chainring that has alternating narrow and wide teeth to improve chain retention and reduce chain drops. It is also known as a single ring, 1x, or one-by chainring because it is usually used in a single-chainring drivetrain without a front derailleur.

In this article, we will explain what a narrow wide chainring is, how it works, what are its benefits and drawbacks, and how to choose and install one for your bike, to help you get a better understanding of this type of chainring. Let’s get started.

What Is A Narrow Wide Chainring and How Does It Work

A narrow wide chainring is a type of chainring that features teeth of different widths. The purpose of these varying tooth widths is to match the inner and outer links of the chain. The narrow teeth of the chainring fit into the inner links of the chain, while the wide teeth fill the gaps between the outer links.

narrow wide chainring

The main goal of a narrow wide chainring is to create a tighter fit between the chain and the chainring. This tighter fit helps to reduce the chances of the chain falling off or skipping over the teeth, especially when riding over rough terrain or changing gears.

By comparison, conventional chainrings have teeth of uniform width, which may not match the links of the chain perfectly. This can create gaps between the teeth and the links, leading to the chain bouncing or slipping off when subjected to lateral forces or vibrations. 

On the other hand, a narrow wide chainring eliminates these gaps by having teeth of varying widths that fit snugly into the links of the chain. This snug fit prevents the chain from moving sideways or jumping over the teeth, providing a more secure connection between the chain and the chainring.

Narrow wide chainrings come in different variations to suit different preferences and riding styles. Here are a few key variations to be aware of:

1. Material: Narrow wide chainrings can be made of various materials, including aluminum, steel, or carbon fiber. Each material offers different benefits in terms of weight, durability, and performance.

2. Shape: Narrow wide chainrings can have different shapes, such as round, oval, or elliptical. Oval chainrings, for example, are designed to optimize power transfer and reduce fatigue by providing a more efficient pedaling motion.

3. Size: Narrow wide chainrings are available in different sizes, measured by the number of teeth (T) or the bolt circle diameter (BCD). For example, a 32T chainring has 32 teeth, while a 104 BCD chainring has a diameter of 104 mm. The size of the chainring you choose depends on your riding style, terrain, and personal preference.

What Are the Benefits of a Narrow Wide Chainring

1. Better Chain Retention: One of the primary benefits of a narrow wide chainring is its improved chain retention. By providing a more secure fit, it reduces the risk of chain drops and skips, which can be especially useful when riding on rough terrain, through mud, or in sandy conditions. This not only helps to maintain momentum but also prevents potential damage to your bike and minimizes the risk of injury.

2. Lighter Weight: Another advantage of a narrow wide chainring is its potential for weight savings. By eliminating the need for a front derailleur, shifter, cable, and extra chainrings, you can save up to 500 grams of weight. This reduction in weight can make your bike more agile and responsive, allowing you to enjoy a more dynamic riding experience. Additionally, the reduced weight can also help to alleviate fatigue on longer rides.

3. Simpler Maintenance: With a narrow wide chainring, you can simplify your drivetrain and reduce the number of components that require maintenance. By eliminating the front derailleur and extra chainrings, you’ll have fewer parts to clean, adjust, or replace. This not only saves you time and money but also increases the overall reliability and longevity of your bike.

4. More Versatility: Despite having a single chainring, a narrow wide chainring can still provide a wide range of gears when paired with a wide-range cassette. This allows you to tackle various terrains and gradients with ease. With a well-chosen combination of chainring and cassette, you can achieve a similar gear range to that of a double or triple chainring setup. Moreover, the simplified shifting system enables faster and smoother gear changes, giving you more control on the road or trail.

What Are the Drawbacks of a Narrow Wide Chainring

1. Less Gear Options: One of the main drawbacks of a narrow wide chainring is the limitation it imposes on the number of gears available to the rider. Depending on the size of the chainring and the cassette, you may find some gears too easy or too hard, or experience gaps between gears that are too large or too small. This can affect your cadence and overall efficiency, especially when facing varying terrains and gradients.

2. Higher Cost: Switching to a narrow wide chainring setup may require you to upgrade other parts of your drivetrain, such as the rear derailleur, cassette, chain, or crankset. These additional expenses can increase the overall cost of transitioning to a single-ring setup. It’s also important to consider the compatibility and availability of replacement parts for your specific setup.

3. More Wear and Tear: Due to the increased lateral movement and tension of the chain, a narrow wide chainring may cause more wear and tear on the chain and cassette. This can lead to a reduced lifespan of these components, requiring more frequent replacements or repairs. However, proper maintenance and regular chain lubrication can help mitigate this issue.

How to Choose a Narrow Wide Chainring

When choosing a narrow wide chainring, there are a few factors to consider:

1. Bike Type: Different bikes have different specifications for their drivetrain components, such as bolt circle diameter (BCD), offset, and mounting style. It’s essential to consult your bike’s manual or a bike mechanic to determine what type of chainring is compatible with your bike.

2. Riding Style: Your riding style plays a significant role in determining the size of your chainring. Road cyclists who prioritize speed and lower cadence may opt for a larger chainring, while mountain bikers who tackle hilly or technical terrains may prefer a smaller chainring for better control and torque.

3. Terrain: The terrain you ride on can also influence the size of your chainring. If you predominantly ride on flat or rolling terrains, a larger chainring can provide more efficiency and speed. However, if you frequently encounter hilly or technical terrains, a smaller chainring can offer better control and traction.

How to Install a Narrow Wide Chainring

Now that you’ve chosen the right narrow wide chainring for your bike, let’s go through the steps to install it:

1. Remove the Front Derailleur and Extra Chainrings: Start by removing the front derailleur, shifter, cable, and any additional chainrings from your bike. This will create space for the new narrow wide chainring.

2. Remove the Crankset: Use the appropriate tools to remove the crankset from the bottom bracket. Refer to your bike’s manual for specific instructions on how to do this.

3. Remove the Old Chainring: Carefully remove the old chainring from the crank arm. Take note of how it was positioned so that you can properly align the new narrow wide chainring.

4. Install the New Chainring: Place the new narrow wide chainring onto the crank arm, aligning the wide teeth with the outer links of the chain. Use thread locker on the bolts to prevent them from loosening and tighten them evenly in a star pattern.

5. Check for Wobble or Misalignment: Once the chainring is securely installed, check for any wobble or misalignment. If necessary, adjust the position to ensure it is straight and properly aligned.

6. Reinstall the Crankset: Put the crankset back onto the bottom bracket and tighten it according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Check for any play or noise before proceeding.

7. Adjust the Chain Length: Use a chain tool to remove any excess links from the chain, leaving enough slack for shifting gears. Join the ends of the chain using a quick link or pin. Check for any kinks or twists in the chain.

8. Adjust the Rear Derailleur: Use the limit screws to set the range of motion of the rear derailleur. Fine-tune the tension of the cable using the barrel adjuster and adjust the gap between the derailleur and the cassette using the B-screw. Check for any skipping or rubbing of the chain.

9. Test Ride the Bike: Put on your helmet and gloves, and take your bike for a test ride. Start with a low gear and gradually shift up and down, paying attention to any unusual sounds or vibrations. Feel for any loss of power or efficiency. If you notice any issues, stop and check for loose or damaged parts.

Conclusion

In summary, a narrow wide chainring is a great option for cyclists who want to simplify their drivetrain and improve their performance. It offers better chain retention, lighter weight, simpler maintenance, and more versatility than a conventional chainring. However, it also has some drawbacks, such as less gear options, higher cost, and more wear and tear.

So my suggestion would be seriously taking these pros and cons into consideration before you get out to find one narrow wide chainring.

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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