ringsWhether you believe in the death of the front derailleur or not, narrow-wide chainrings are one of the most shopped-for aftermarket upgrades. With various colors, tooth counts and designs, riders can customize their drivetrains to suit nearly any preference. SRAM released the first narrow-wide ring back in 2012 when it launched its XX1 drivetrain and set the standard for this style of ring. Since then, other companies have released their own iterations in hopes of improving on an established design.

We tested chainrings from 10 of the most prominent companies on the market on 11-speed SRAM and Shimano drivetrains with KMC X11 chains. Our testing included aggressive cross-country racing, enduro and all-mountain riding. We focused on chain retention, ring stiffness and drivetrain noise. Most of our rings were a 104-BCD pattern, but we did use some direct-mount rings depending on what we could get our hands on.


Just in case you haven’t seen this style of chainring, a narrow-wide model uses alternating tooth sizes to help hold the chain in place. In relation to the front chainring, the chain is pulled back onto the ring by the spring in the rear derailleur and held there by the clutch mechanism. Some companies still recommend running a top guide for extra insurance, but that will depend on rider style and preference. We tested all of our rings without guides.


Tech info:

The Wolf Tooth Drop-Stop comes in multiple BCD options, but for testing we used a 104-BCD ring that was the first ring Wolf Tooth produced. This ring retails for $64 (other mounting options range in price) and is made in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Drop Stop will work with 9–11-speed drivetrains.rings_wt2

On the trail:

The Drop-Stop was a staff favorite during our testing. Our testers were surprised at the level of grip it had on the chain. The chain seemed almost glued to the ring at times and provided us with plenty of confidence. The extra retention did cause some noise from the drivetrain but didn’t give us anything to worry about, especially with how stiff the ring was. The Drop-Stop was one of the best rings we tested and delivered solid performance.


rings_sramTech info:

SRAM started the game with 1x drivetrains and has created a whole new segment of the bike market with the introduction of narrow-wide rings. The XX1 X-Sync is available in a 76-BCD or direct-mount option for SRAM cranks. Sizes range from 28–38 teeth, and
the rings have a retail price of $90.rings_sram2

On the trail:

If there is one ring that we have countless hours on, it’s this one, considering just how many bikes come stock with SRAM rings. The chain felt secure on the ring and was quiet during our testing. If you’re not looking for extra flair on your rig, this ring is more than adequate to keep you riding confidently.


rings_hopeTech info:

Hope is best known for its handcrafted brakes, and now chainrings, cassette and even wheels. The Retainer ring is CNC-machined from 7075-T6 aluminum and is available in a handful of mounting and color options. This ring is made in the UK and retails for $90. Like some of the other options, the Retainer is compatible with 9–11-speed drivetrains.rings_hope2

On the trail:

Another strong contender in our testing, the Retainer was a staff favorite. The quality of the ring stood out over several others we rode, and the hard-anodized finish seemed to show virtually no wear. This was one of the stiffest rings we tried, and it gave us a quiet drivetrain with no dropped chains.


rings_koreTech info:

Kore has a solution for almost every application on the bike, and its new Stronghold rings come in seven different colors with plenty of mounting options. The Stronghold uses a hooked- tooth design that balances retention and release through the cycle of the ring and is made from 7075-T6 aluminum. The rings range from $59 to $75 depending on the specifications.rings_kore2

On the trail:

The teeth on the Kore are a little taller than on some of the other rings tested, but the design and application were effective. The taller tooth profile did create a little extra noise during testing, but with the chain properly lubed we didn’t have any serious issues. In the end, the design worked, as our testers didn’t experience any dropped chains and were impressed with the stiffness of the ring.


rings_gamutTech info:

Companies based out of Canada have a sense of what will work on rowdy trails, and Gamut is one of those companies. The TTR ring made its appearance in 2014 and is machined out of 7075- T6 aluminum in Canada. Gamut made the TTR with a taller tooth pro- file to increase mud shedding. This hard-anodized ring retails for $50 and is 9–11-speed compatible.rings_gamut1

On the trail:

Gamut claims this ring can be run on either side of the spider, and after trying this out we were pleased to see that they were correct. The shifting and chain retention were competitive from either side, although we did notice a little extra stress when mounting on the outside of the spider. Our testers didn’t experience any dropped chains during their testing. Gamut does recommend running a top guide for riders who are looking for a little extra insurance.


rings_praxisTech info:

Praxis Works is known for its bottom bracket solutions and has developed a chainring for 1x drivetrains. The Praxis ring has a tooth design similar to that of the SRAM and Wolf Tooth rings and is made from 7075-T6 aluminum with a hard-anodized finish for increased tooth life. This ring retails for $50, and Praxis offers other mounting options at different prices.rings_praxis1

On the trail:

The Praxis ring boasted impressive quality (especially considering the price range) that transferred over to the trail. The hard-anodized finish was appreciated, especially when cleaning the bike. Through rough terrain the Praxis ring held the chain well, although we did experience some slapping. Praxis recommends running a top guide for extra insurance, but we didn’t experience any dropped chains during our testing.


rings_e13Tech info:

E*13 has been in the single-ring game for quite some time, with its previous generation Guide rings used on enduro and downhill bikes. The new versions use a narrow-wide tooth profile and a direct-mount option for TRS cranks. E*13 does offer this ring in a 104BCD option. Our ring retails for $55 and is also 9–11-speed compatible.rings_e13-1

On the trail:

The Guide ring was one of the burliest and stiffest rings out of the bunch with an impressive tooth profile. The teeth have a taller shape for added mud clearance. Our drivetrains were quiet, and the ring delivered solid chain retention with a stiff and supported platform.


rings_renthalTech info:

Renthal makes some pretty sweet bits for your bike and, honest- ly, we are fans of Renthal’s products. The 1XR was a new ring for 2015 and has been used by some of the fastest racers in the world. Renthal designed the 1XR with taller teeth and deep channels to allow for mud and other muck to be pushed away from the chain for better retention. In a 104-BCD pattern, this ring retails for $60 and works with 9–11-speed options.rings_renthal1

On the trail:

The Renthal ring was another test-rider favorite out on the trail. The taller teeth gave us a unique expe- rience in contrast to some of the other rings we used. The teeth of the 1XR glide smoothly into the chain, which forces riders to focus heavily on proper chain length. We heard a little noise from the ring throughout testing but were pleased with the performance and the overall quality of the ring.


rings_rfTech info:

Race Face offers one of the most recognizable aftermarket rings available and was one of the first to offer a range of anodized colors after XX1 made its debut. The Narrow Wide is available in a few different mounting options in six different colors (in the 104 options) and retails for $50. Race Face made the Narrow Wide out of 7075-T6 aluminum, and it is only compatible with 10- and 11-speed drivetrains.rings_rf2

On the trail:

Considering just how many bikes come stock with Race Face cranks and rings, we have spent quite a bit of time on this ring. In comparison with some of the other options tested, this ring isn’t quite as stiff as we would like but does a good job with chain retention. This ring was the thinnest out of the bunch and did wear out a little quicker than some of the others.


rings-_cdaleTech info:

Cannondale has a reputation for taking matters into their own hands and developing their own products. The SpideRing is their take on a narrow-wide with an incredibly sleek and lightweight design. This ring is currently only available as a direct mount to Cannondale Si cranks and has an offset suited for 11-speed drivetrains.rings_cdale2

On the trail:

We have ridden a couple Cannondales using this ring and were impressed at how well it paired with the whole design of the bike. The ring itself is lightweight and stiff with a reinforced spider, along with having teeth that aren’t oversized like other brands. We didn’t experience any dropped chains during our testing and found that the drivetrains were quiet and smooth during testing.


Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun. Start a subscription by clicking here or calling (800) 767-0345.

Available from the Apple Newsstand for reading on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

Subscribe Here

Contact us via email at [email protected]

You might also like