Going 1×9

In typical all-mountain MTB style, I dutifully ran a double-chainring (2×9) drivetrain on my main bike, a Yeti 575. Over time, given my riding style and Singapore’s relatively flat trails, I came to realize that I spent most of the time in the larger chainring. So many, many times I contemplated switching to a single-chainring (1×9) set up, but never had a good enough reason to invest in a chain guide – mainly because I’d also have to install a bottom bracket-mounted adaptor for the chain guide as my bike frame lacks ISCG (International Standard Chain Guide) mounts. It just seemed like too much hassle so I continued riding around with a granny gear I never used, and a nagging feeling that I was carrying deadweight in the form of an extra chain ring, a front derailleur, shifter, cable and housing.

When SRAM’s XX1 groupset was announced, I considered replacing my drivetrain. However, as appealing as XX1 was, it meant having to spend a small fortune and felt kind of drastic for what was essentially a weight-loss program for my bike. The additional range of the XX1 group would’ve been awesome, but I was looking for a simpler, cheaper yet equally reliable solution.

Well… all that waiting (or procrastinating, depending how you look at it) has paid off! Wolf Tooth Components (WTC), a group of engineers / hardcore cyclists / geeks out of Minneapolis have introduced single-speed-specific chainrings designed to work with any existing 9, 10 or 11-speed drivetrain. Some other companies have been showing off prototypes, but I guess WTC beat them to the punch!

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WTC’s Drop Stop chainrings feature taller, alternating width tooth profiles, similar to SRAM’s X-SYNC technology. They are made from 7075-T651 aluminum and come in various Bolt Circle Diameters (BCD), mounting options, flavors (MTB, Cyclocross) and tooth choices. I wanted a 104 BCD, 4-bolt, MTB, 34T chainring, but had to settle for a 32T option instead as the 34T were sold out.

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The first thing I did was to remove my drivetrain and strip my cranks (Shimano Saint M810) of all the now superfluous bits – goodbye bash guard, chainrings and chainring bolts! Next to go were the front derailleur, shifter and associated cable and cable housing. I’m not a weight-weenie, but I reckon all that junk came close to half a kilogram.

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Next I shortened my chain. Big-big plus four, without going through the rear derailleur. For those riding bikes with heaps of rear suspension travel, it is advised that you size the chain with the suspension compressed to take into account chain growth due to rear axle movement. Doing this will further reduce the possibility of chain drop. In fact, WTC claims that when paired with a clutch-equipped rear derailleur, such as Shimano’s Shadow Plus or SRAM’s Type 2, most XC and trail riders will be able to successfully run a 1× drivetrain without a chain guide. If you plan to ride a lot of rocky alpine downhills and feel very strongly for chain security, get a top-guide; and if you are on a budget, simply keep your front derailleur on to act as a chain guide – just be sure to adjust the limit screws accordingly.

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I’ve been riding with my new 1× setup for a couple of rides each week for the last two weeks and I am super pleased with the simplicity, reduced weight and easier maintenance. No chain drop. No rubbing front mech. No nagging feeling about deadweight… perhaps only the ‘spare tire’ around my waist!

Wolf Tooth Components are distributed by Unsprung. Do contact them for pricing and availability.