I made the change to a single chainring quite a few months back. But due to preferring to ride rather than sit inside blogging I didn’t get around to discussing it on here! But it’s a topic of conversation for quite a lot of riders these days so I finally decided to write this post!
My bike came with a triple up front, as did the majority of bikes at the time and that was only back in 2010, not exactly a long time ago. How things have changed since then, with the introduction of 10 speed cassettes, SRAM pushed 2×10 as the new must have option and then when moving up to 11 speed cassettes, are now pushing 1×11 as the new top standard. Of course I haven’t forked out on expensive latest ‘must haves’, preferring to just drop the rings from the front and make do with what’s at the back. So I now currently run a 1×9 setup.
My decision to change to a single ring setup came from the fact that I was using my smaller ring of my previous double setup less and less often. Because I was using it less often, when I did come to drop into it I’d often find that the front mech wouldn’t shift anyway because it would be clogged up with mud and hadn’t moved for ages. So instead of having the 24/36 combination I decide to fit a single 34T ring instead.
If you buy a full SRAM 1×11 setup then you don’t have any fitment considerations to worry about, but if like me you switch to a single ring on your existing setup then you will. Single chainrings for 9 or 10 speed setups are essentially ‘downhill’ rings, as this is where single chainrings have been run mostly in the past. These have the same fitment design as the outer chainring of a triple i.e. how the tabs for the bolts are placed/shaped. It will of course vary depending on the design of your crankset but you’ll likely find that a downhill single will only fit to the outer position of your crank. You can do this but of course you’ll then be running a far from ideal chainline, especially as you will now need those larger sprockets of your cassette more often. I tried this for a while and although it works it really is less than ideal and I wouldn’t recommend it.
So the solution is to either file down the excess material from your crankset to make the ring fit as a middle-ring or to invest in new cranks designed for running with a single ring which is what I did. I picked up an SRAM X0 set from ebay for a good price and fitted these. The other important consideration is whether the size of ring that you pick will fit your frame. You’ll be mounting the chainring in the equivalent of a middle ring position so you may find that the clearance allowed for by the shape of your frame’s chainstays isn’t sufficient. This will soon become very apparent if you fit a large single ring and find that the teeth on the left side of the ring catch on the chainstays! Fortunately I’ve since found that MuddyGoose will easily take a 38T chainring and possibly even one a bit bigger! The ring shown below is the 38T that came with my X0 cranks, so now I have a 34T option and a 38T option.
…but what about a chain guide? If you are up with the latest talk then you’re probably thinking “do I need a chain guide?” or “should I fit a narrow/wide chainring?”. Good questions and ones that I also thought about when doing this modification. I prefer not to have a chain guide because I wanted simple and clean and to remove the front mech just to fit a mud catching guide seemed silly. As for the narrow/wide question, lets just say “I didn’t have a spare £40 lying around!”. I’m sure narrow/wide is great and does what it’s supposed to but the Raceface rings cost upwards of £40, whereas the FSA 34T ring I bought cost only £15.
So, does my chain stay on? Yes, it does. Well it does now anyway. At first I did have a couple of occasions when I lost the chain but further investigation showed that my chain was beyond it’s wear limit. This meant that it didn’t sit on the teeth properly and so was more prone to coming off. Once I’d fitted a new chain the problem of losing the chain disappeared completely on both my 34T and 38T rings. Of course this is my personal experience on my bike, riding where I ride, you may find that you have more issues and need to fit a guide or use a narrow/wide chainring. If you have a full suspension bike then it all changes and I’m pretty sure a guide or narrow/wide teeth would become a necessity but for a hardtail like mine it’s not.
So the final question is one of whether or not this is a setup that I’m pleased with and am going to stick with? And the answer to that is a resounding, Yes. I have two chainring options and can switch between the two in a matter of a few minutes, it’s just four bolts and the cranks don’t need removing. So if I’m riding in severe hills like when I did the Peaks Challenge then I can put my 34T on, whereas if I’m riding flatter routes or on the road I can use my 38T ring. And best of all I have eliminated the front mech completely, no more mud clogging mess. So I’ve gone from a triple to a double and now from the double to single – don’t worry I won’t go any further and drop anymore chainrings!