What is a narrow wide chainring and what are it's benefits and drawbacks?

Also, is a specific chain or cassette required?

  • 3
    I think you should roll back that edit. Now there's nothing in the title that indicates you're talking about the drivetrain. At first glance I thought you were talking about saddles.
    – BSO rider
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 15:43
  • It seems someone else already has re-edited.
    – Mark W
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 10:45

1 Answer 1


Modern chains have inner and outer links. On a conventional chainring, all of the teeth are the same width, and therefore have to be narrow enough to fit into the chain's inner links. This means that there's enough space for the chain to move about a bit from side to side on the chainring, which can cause it to fall off.

Historically this hasn't been much of a problem, since on geared bikes the front derailleur cage tends to stop it from falling off, and on single-speed bikes there's no chain slack or gear changing at the rear to cause chain-drop.

However, when you remove the front derailleur, but keep the rear derailleur (as is becoming common with single-ring setups), dropping the chain becomes more of a problem. This can happen when changing gear on the cassette, or when a bump causes the chain to go slack momentarily.

Narrow-wide chainrings have alternating narrow and wide teeth that fit into the inner and outer links respectively. This makes the chain more secure on the chainring and less likely to fall off.

enter image description here

A narrow-wide ring is only necessary if you have a single chainring at the front and a rear derailleur. They won't work at all if you have more than one chainring at the front, since you won't be able to change gear. You don't need a special cassette, but you might benefit from using a clutched rear derailleur (particularly on a MTB), which prevents the chain from going slack on bumpy terrain.

A well-established alternative to a narrow-wide ring is a chain guide, which behaves somewhat like a front derailleur in keeping the chain from falling off:

enter image description here

  • 3
    I am indeed. I've heard the term "narrow wide" thrown around a lot and assumed it referred to a chain type. Thanks for the informative answer.
    – Mark W
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 14:10
  • Nice answer. In that last photo, it looks like the chain guide is mounted on a fixie or single-speed drivetrain — is a guide really necessary on these, since the chain has far-reduced movement along the width of the bike?
    – Jules
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 14:34
  • 1
    A bit late here, but that's a front derailleur braze-on mount above the chain guide - the white bicycle frame in the bottom picture is definitely designed to be able to use a front derailleur, and I don't know of any bicycles designed for a front derailleur that don't also have a rear derailleur. Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 23:15
  • 1
    Late, but thanks +1. Nevertheless, can't resist: 1) All (roller) "chains have inner and outer links"; it's just that in many (industrial) chains the inner width of the outer link doesn't have much more usable space due to overlap. 2) It seems that a necessary drawback of this design is that the ring must have an even number of teeth. Incidentally, most chainrings I ever had had odd number of teeth, which (it can be argued) is marginally beneficial for normal rings in terms of wear. This implies that transition may produce slightly unfamiliar ratios.
    – Zeus
    Commented Sep 16, 2020 at 3:30
  • 1
    @FLHerne There would certainly be a benefit (larger contact area to start), but they require more specialized machining to get the narrow/wide profile compared to a simple and cheap stamped chainring. For a single gear bike where simplicity and inexpensiveness is key, the benefits likely just aren’t worth it.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 23:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.