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Absolute Black XX1 Style Chainring

A New Narrow-Wide Ring

Words by Kaz Yamamura. Photos by Kaz Yamamura.
September 23rd, 2013

With a number of manufacturers offering chainrings in alternating narrow-wide tooth configurations, the idea of a drop-resistant chainring should be no stranger to our readers. As the big boy companies crunch out these products in their high-end lines, an increasing number of smaller companies are starting to offer affordable, yet functional counterparts. Absolute Black is one such company; I’ve been testing their XX1 style chainring in 104 BCD.

Absolute Black, Narrow Wide, Wide Narrow, chainring, chain, ring, XX1, xx1 style, Kaz Yamamura

The test subject: the town bike. The Monk had become Morgan’s loaner and had ongoing issues with chain drop.

Based in the UK, Absolute Black offers the XX1 style ring in 32, 34, 36 and 38 tooth configurations in 104 BCD – and a 30 tooth in 64BCD – with the price ranging from $56 to $64 USD. Beveled edges between the teeth create a nice, smooth look, while the wide tooth hangs out asymmetrically to provide maximum chain-grip (can we use that term now?). The plain black design looks sleek, although Absolute Black does offer more colour options for riders looking for some spice.

Absolute Black, Narrow Wide, Wide Narrow, chainring, chain, ring, XX1, xx1 style, Kaz Yamamura

The bike’s got a blown out bottom bracket and a well-used Saint M820 derailleur.

To test the ring, we went to a bike with an existing problem – Morgan’s Chromag Monk set up for trail riding – that a narrow-wide ring could potentially solve. The original chainring, which was an admittedly well-used 9-speed RaceFace 32 tooth, was having a hard time keeping the chain on, dropping at least once every ride. Whether this was strictly the chainring, a worn chain, a completely blasted bottom bracket, or the Saint derailleur’s clutch mechanism becoming worn – Morgan did try tightening it to no avail – an intervention was necessary and this was a good test subject. I installed the Absolute Black ring with the same settings and chain to ensure that the drivetrain conditions were ideal for chain-dropping.

Absolute Black, Narrow Wide, Wide Narrow, chainring, chain, ring, XX1, xx1 style, Kaz Yamamura

This is the 32T 104BCD ring. A wide variety of other options are available.

The Monk spent the most time under me on the chunky technical trails of Mt. Fromme, in conditions ranging from dry to muddy. During the test period, the chain did not fall off at all. Even in slippery conditions the chain hung on, whereas with the original chainring dropping was inevitable.

Absolute Black, Narrow Wide, Wide Narrow, chainring, chain, ring, XX1, xx1 style, Kaz Yamamura

Used drivetrain, new ring, and a successful outcome.

The ring responded well to power input, shifting from the lowest gear to the highest gear and vice-versa on the ride down Mountain Highway. There were a few times where it felt as though the chain was on the verge of dropping completely, but the chainring brought the chain back on track. In an effort to see what the chainring could take on, I rode a couple days with the clutch off, and while more noise was noticed even this was not enough to make the chain fall. In the end, we all win; the chain did not drop, and I rode away without chain-grease on my hands.

Absolute Black, Narrow Wide, Wide Narrow, chainring, chain, ring, XX1, xx1 style, Kaz Yamamura

Considering how many new bikes are being spec’d without chain guides, it seems we’re living the future now.

In addition to the 104 BCD ring, Absolute Black also produces a SRAM direct mount rings from 28 to 34T and 110 and 130 BCD rings for cyclocross – all available directly through their website HERE.


Are you a convert to the alternating width chainring? Ready to lose your guide?

  • one23

    If it was the old chainring that was the source of the problem, then this test doesn’t prove anything. To validate your findings, you should replace the chainring with a new but not a narrow-wide style, and make sure that you can reproduce the problem. Then you can conclude that switching to a narrow-wide solution solves the chain drop problem.

  • Cheez1ts

    Nice one Kaz! Good to hear it works as advertised and actually solved a problem you were having.
    If these style rings had come out just a bit earlier than they did I probably could have saved some money on a 32 tooth specific guide.
    The ring looks so naked without anything else around it, but the look is starting to grow on me.

  • Bradical

    I’m dropping chain on my Bronson thats equip’d with an XTR clutch deraileur and the Race Face narrow wide (both brand new)…..It didnt start dropping until @ 2 months in (about 25 rides).

    MRP AMg guide is on order, better to be safe than sorry.

    • Bryce

      Its a 10sp chain? Probably if you’re already on a Bronson. Cuz a 9sp chain like the setup above leaves a little more room for bouncing off the ring. The inner spacing is roughly .012″ wider on 9sp.

      Ima install one of the RF rings soon but I’m definitely keeping the taco part of the bash. And I’m not hacking off the top guide until I’m satisfied that the chain is secure.

    • morgman

      This is a 10 speed Ultegra chain and a 2013 M820 Saint derailleur. The ring was a 9 speed RaceFace. Bradical, have you tried tightening the clutch tension? It’s actually quite simple.

      I still think top guides are value even in the ever-improving world of sticky chainrings.

    • scotttoluvit

      When you put new parts of the drivetrain on your bike like the chain especially you should get it reajusted after a couple rides as stuff will wear in and therefore strech causing slower action

  • Bradical

    Just did some looking into…apparently (hopefully) my clutch derailer needs some TLC which is required every 50K or so , which I’m well over. Hopefully some Service from my LBS will stop the chain drop and the need for an AMg guide.

  • PUNKY

    Check out the new Blackspire TrailX guide for clutch and single ring setups. Taco bash and top guide. Looks to be the same as the Der Guide I’ve been running on my Surface for 1yr+ now.

  • Bradical

    Thanks Punky,
    Unfortunately I’m running single chain 104bcd w/ 30T, the only set up non compliant with the Blackspire TrailX.
    AMg on order direct from MRP, local shop can’t acquire thru distributor? Or is forever on back order

  • Vikb

    Service every 50K on a derailleur is crazy talk. That would be every 2nd or 3rd ride.

    My Shimano Zee has several hundred wet gritty KMs under its belt and it’s going strong. Not planning on servicing it anytime soon.