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More US CX Nats race tech: Single or nothing

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AceCo intends for its standard-version K-Edge chain catcher to be used with a two-ring crankset but here it's been adapted for single-ring use.

AceCo intends for its standard-version K-Edge chain catcher to be used with a two-ring crankset but here it's been adapted for single-ring use.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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AceCo's new two-ring K-Edge chain watcher features an adjustable chamfered aluminum plate to prevent the chain from derailing to the inside.

AceCo's new two-ring K-Edge chain watcher features an adjustable chamfered aluminum plate to prevent the chain from derailing to the inside.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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AceCo's dedicated single-ring setup includes a machined aluminum outer guide plus an adjustable inner watcher with an additional stub to keep the chain from ejecting out the top. This one should ideally be placed lower and closer to the chain but the position is restricted by the vestigial mount for the front derailleur cable pulley.

AceCo's dedicated single-ring setup includes a machined aluminum outer guide plus an adjustable inner watcher with an additional stub to keep the chain from ejecting out the top. This one should ideally be placed lower and closer to the chain but the position is restricted by the vestigial mount for the front derailleur cable pulley.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Amy Dombroski's (Schlamm p/b Primus Mootry and Clement) AceCo K-Edge single-ring setup is more properly adjusted but still allows enough vertical movement for the elliptical Rotor Q-Ring.

Amy Dombroski's (Schlamm p/b Primus Mootry and Clement) AceCo K-Edge single-ring setup is more properly adjusted but still allows enough vertical movement for the elliptical Rotor Q-Ring.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Giant riders Adam Craig and Carl Decker use MRP's downhill-inspired 1.X guide, which uses a composite box guide to secure the chain on three sides. No additional outer guard is necessary here.

Giant riders Adam Craig and Carl Decker use MRP's downhill-inspired 1.X guide, which uses a composite box guide to secure the chain on three sides. No additional outer guard is necessary here.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Clamps are available for different seat tube diameters and the box guide is laterally adjustable for chainline. This chain isn't going anywhere.

Clamps are available for different seat tube diameters and the box guide is laterally adjustable for chainline. This chain isn't going anywhere.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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These dual carbon fiber guides comprise one of the lightest single-ring setups available. But the chain can jam in between the ring and inner guide if the chainline or spacing isn't set just right - or if the wrong kind of chainring is used - and again, there's nothing to secure the chain up top.

These dual carbon fiber guides comprise one of the lightest single-ring setups available. But the chain can jam in between the ring and inner guide if the chainline or spacing isn't set just right - or if the wrong kind of chainring is used - and again, there's nothing to secure the chain up top.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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This was one of the more popular single-ring setups seen at the US cyclo-cross national championships, comprising an outer plate-style guide and an inner chain watcher - but with nothing to keep the chain from being ejected out the top in bumpy terrain or during a crash.

This was one of the more popular single-ring setups seen at the US cyclo-cross national championships, comprising an outer plate-style guide and an inner chain watcher - but with nothing to keep the chain from being ejected out the top in bumpy terrain or during a crash.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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This setup probably works but seems rather excessive in light of more elegant - and lighter - options now available. The chain is kept from jumping to either side by a Salsa outer guard and a Third Eye chain watcher, and is secured up top by a dummy front derailleur.

This setup probably works but seems rather excessive in light of more elegant - and lighter - options now available. The chain is kept from jumping to either side by a Salsa outer guard and a Third Eye chain watcher, and is secured up top by a dummy front derailleur.
(Image credit: James Huang)
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Garmin-Transitions team mechanic Tom Hopper crafted this solution for Mafia Racing 'cross star Jake Wells. The N-Gear Jump Stop is mounted upside-down on the seat tube and the extra tab of metal - which now sits up high instead of down low - is bent in a vise to keep the chain from jumping off the top of the ring. In combination with the Salsa outer guard, this setup looks very secure and is still fully adjustable.

Garmin-Transitions team mechanic Tom Hopper crafted this solution for Mafia Racing 'cross star Jake Wells. The N-Gear Jump Stop is mounted upside-down on the seat tube and the extra tab of metal - which now sits up high instead of down low - is bent in a vise to keep the chain from jumping off the top of the ring. In combination with the Salsa outer guard, this setup looks very secure and is still fully adjustable.
(Image credit: James Huang)

Cyclo-cross racing's often relentlessly muddy conditions and brutal treatment of conditions have some riders adopting a single-chainring drivetrain to reduce the chance of mechanical failure and debris buildup plus dropping a few grams in the process. Yet as riders aim to simplify their machines, they often make some compromises to save weight and not every method is as effective as others.

Single-ring setups at last weekend's US cyclo-cross national championships ran the gamut of possibilities. The simplest configuration was merely running dual plate-style guards on either side of the ring (not unlike what you see on some children's bikes), closely followed by a similar option that included an outer guard plus a seat tube-mounted chain catcher such as those from Third Eye or N-Gear.

Both of these setups are light but neither incorporates any provision for retaining the chain from above - both the Third Eye and N-Gear bits were originally designed to work in conjunction with a conventional front derailleur to prevent multiple-ring drivetrains from overshifting to the inside. As a result, it's still very possible to lose your chain during a particularly bumpy section or in a crash.

Cyclo-cross's surging popularity has prompted better solutions of late though, with component manufacturers finally starting to figure it out. Just as in downhill racing, the key is making sure the chain is restricted from excessive movement in <i>any</i> direction, not just to the inside or outside.

AceCo's latest K-Edge Single - as used by second-place finisher Amy Dombroski (Schlamm p/b Clement and Primus Mootry) is similar to the N-Gear with a mostly flat inner plate to keep the chain from falling to the inside but it also features a small tab up top to secure the chain from above.

When paired with a suitable outer guard (from AceCo or otherwise), it's nearly impossible to lose the chain even in a crash and in the unlikely event that it comes off the bottom of the chainring - say if back-pedaling during a rough section - you can simply pedal forward and carry on.

Mafia Racing's Jake Wells didn't wait for AceCo however, and cooked up his own similar solution. Wells discovered that mounting an N-Gear Jump Stop upside down and bending the upper section of plate down over the chain provided the same end result.

Given its background, it's not surprising that Grand Junction, Colorado-based MRP's 1.X range takes the downhill racing theme most literally with an adjustable full box-type guide that envelopes the chain on both the inner and outer sides and the top. Though bulkier in appearance than other options, MRP's option looks ultra-secure and doesn't require an outer plate-style guide at all to be effective. This was the choice for Giant riders Adam Craig and Carl Decker.

Whether you decide to run two chainrings or one yourself is obviously your own decision and mountain bikers should note that these solutions will work in that discipline as well. But if you opt for just one ring, newer solutions mean you no longer have to make compromises in your quest for simplicity and it would behoove you to do the job correctly since there are no longer any good excuses not to get it right.

As many riders who use insufficient single-ring setups can attest, it takes just as long to get a chain remounted as it would with a two-ring drivetrain and it feels just as frustrating.