Dropping your chain off of the chain ring when you are out on the trail is never a good thing. The chain could jam in between the chain ring and the frame causing you to crash or the chain could scratch and damage your bike. There are a few different ways to keep the chain running smoothly on the chain ring, mounting a chain guide being one of them, and we are here to walk you through if that makes sense for you and your mountain bike.
Mounting a chain guide on your mountain bike gives you an extra sense of security, hopefully ensuring that you won't ever drop your chain. When you are flying through rough sections of trail, the chain will jump up and down and can sometimes work its way off the chainring. The chain guide's job is to keep the chain inline with the teeth on the chainring so that as you continue pedaling, the chain will continue to fall in to place. The chain will be getting thrown in every direction between the chainring and the cassette, but as long as the chain guide is doing its job, you can keep putting out power.
Another major benefit to running a chain guide is having the option of mounting a bash guard. The bash guard lives right on the backside of the chain ring and is there to protect both the chain and chain ring from potential strikes to the bottom of the bike. The chain ring is usually the lowest hanging component of the bike between your front and rear wheel and is what comes in contact with the ground when you do "50-50 case" something on the trail. If you were to come up short on a jump, or land directly on top of a tall rock, the bash guard is there to protect your drivetrain and keep your bike rolling. There are plenty of chain guides to choose from with some of our favorite brands like OneUp Components, E*Thirteen, and MRP that give you the option to either assemble your chain guide with or without a bash guard.
So why add more components to your bike if they aren't necessary? Why mount up a chain guide if you haven't ever dropped a chain? Well, there isn't really a wrong answer here. The truth is, you might not need a chain guide on your mountain bike. For starters, if you are someone that has your mind made up on not using a chain guide, you will definitely want to use a narrow wide chain ring. A narrow wide chain ring is exactly what it sounds like; each of the teeth around the chain ring alternate from narrow to wide to help secure the chain. The narrow and wide alternating teeth are designed to mesh with the chain and help prevent the chain from coming off the chain ring.
Another reason not to use a chain guide is because of the additional weight. If you are serious weight weenie, this could be a legitimate concern. This is becoming less and less of a concern now a days, because there are some chain guides out there like the OneUp Components Top Chain Guide V2 above that only weigh 40 grams.
Check out below some of our favorite narrow wide chain rings. You will see Sram's X-Sync 2 Eagle Direct Mount chain ring with its unique hook design. RaceFace is also bringing something to the table, and they have a narrow wide chain ring specifically designed for Shimano's new 12 speed group sets. Wolf Tooth is another one of our favorites, and they have a narrow wide chain ring suited for just about any bolt pattern and standard available. All the brands below offer these chain rings in multiple mounting options for both direct mount and standard 4 bolt patterns as well as some oval options for specific sizes.
As technology continues to improve, dropping your chain has become less and less common. Chain rings are much more advanced, and chain guides have continuously improved. Before you decide if you should mount a chain guide to your mountain bike, first think about what type of bike and what type of riding you are doing.
No matter if you are riding a world cup capable cross country race bike where every ounce of weight counts or if you are building a Rampage slaying downhill bike, there is a chain guide out there to suit your needs.
Max Morgan is 27 years old, and lives in Brevard, North Carolina. Max grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and started racing downhill at the age of 15. He has now been racing professionally for the last 10 years, competing in the UCI World Cup series and U.S. Pro GRT series. To learn more about Max, check out Max's rider spotlight here!