11 Speed Chainrings:
Months of testing with 11 speed drivetrain components from SRAM, Campy, Shimano, etc. in Road, Mountain and ‘Cross environments, have yielded lots of gear changes, warn and broken parts, grease stains . . . and smiles.
Smiles? Yea! After all the analytics and shop abuse, it really boils down to performance on the bike in real situations — that means riding the bike — lots of riding — and I love to ride, so that makes me smile!
Why 11 Speed?
. . . A philosophical question for another discussion . . . but for our purposes, we accept that it is, so the WickWerks chainrings must perform to these new(er) 11 speed chainring standards. Our testing was to verify compatibility and optimize function. We want you to know when we say it works, it does.
Testing was done in a variety of ways including static and dynamic bench tests, fixtured tests, and of course, ride tests. Most testing was done with Road and ‘Cross configurations since that is where the 11 speed market is currently, but we also tested mountain stuff — like the XX1 equipment — since the market is obviously going in that direction — and because some of you have asked about “XX2”.
Tested, Certified, Compatible, Passed. Whatever word works best in the sentence, WickWerks chainrings work well with 11 Speed drivetrains and all the 11 speed chains we’ve tried. The most interesting results were not in testing to see if the chainrings worked with the 11 speed chains (because they worked well right from the start), rather, to look at the detail differences between chains of the various manufacturers and how those details played into the shifting — and not just the 11 speed differences, but compared with 9 & 10 speed too.
All the chains passed our testing, but more than passing, they are a pleasure to ride because they perform wonderfully. Shifts are smooth and quick – maybe even better than the awesome 10 speed shifting?
One possible reason for the great shifting of the 11 speed chains on the WickWerks chainrings may lie in the thinner chain plates. The 11 speed chains are narrower, in part, because of thinner chain plate material. Those thinner plates allow more of the chain joint to rest on the WickWerks radical ramps, assisting lift a little bit more – which was actually noticeable.
Additionally, the thinner chain plates allow quicker meshing with the ring teeth during a shift because the centeral portion of the link — the space between the link plates where the teeth engage — does not have as far to bridge over before the chain chan drop onto the teeth. This is a subtle difference, but it plays into the lateral flexibility equasion. The chains must flex side to side as a shift occurs, so if the link plates are narrower, the required flex is less going from right next to the tooth to the next link being on the tooth. Variations by chain manufacturer also make a difference in this area.
So why a difference in feel between chain brands?
We were very interested in understanding why each of the chains seemed to have different strengths and different shift “feel”. We’ve noted chain differences before, and I’d say the differences between the various 11 speed chains are more subtle, but fascinating nonetheless. Some differences are due to the contouring on the chain plates, some due to lateral stiffness, some due (we presume) to manufacturing variations and perhaps some due to how each chain handles contamination.
As might be expected, the Shimano 9000 series chains are a favorite. Why? We’re not completely sure since all the chains performed just as well in the tests, but there is just something intangibly different in the feel of the 9000 — perhaps saying it had a slightly more polished feel? Road and ‘cross riders should be quite pleased with the WickWerks rings as part of a Shimano 11-Speed drivetrain.
Campy has arguably the most experience with 11 speed, and in many ways that showed. We have a lot of customers that use our rings as part of their 11 speed drivetrain already – and we now understand more why they like it.
SRAM is moving the 11 speed across the disciplines with XX1 as well as with ’22’. We were impressed with the XX1 chains. Again, it’s partially the construction and “feel” of the chain, but it’s more than that. Just how to put a finger on it? We gave special attention to the SRAM because Katie Compton is planning to run some special WickWerks configurations with the ’22’ and that, of course, has to be perfect. Also, for mountain bikes, in a 2×11 configuration, the XX1 chain works great. So, for those of you that have asked, Yes, if you have an XX1, generally love the XX1, but find you’d prefer an XX2? WickWerks chainrings will do it for you.
KMC is also a winner on WickWerks 9, 10 & 11 speed chainrings. KMC is a major supplier of chains and they have a variety of appropriate chains from the weight-weenie supreme on down.
- As an unintended side effect, the narrower chains are great for large ring size deltas – like the 50/34, and 52/36. In small-small cross chaining situations, there is less contact with the larger ring. We don’t recommend riding that condition, but occasionally you do, and the 11 speed chains make that better.
- One thing we do not like in the chains we’ve tested, chains like the XX1 shown in the images here have “lightening” holes in the outer side plates. I don’t know how much weight that saves, but it’s not enough to compensate for the grief. Those are contamination traps that fill with debris from the trail or road — particularly if it’s been raining, or it’s muddy, or if the chain lube is greasy at all. Plus, they’re hard to clean, and I’d ask, If the hole is full of crud, how much of a weight save is the hole? We’ve linked chain-suck issues to holes such as these in other vendors chains. In general, I recommend staying away from chains with this feature if you can.
- As with 9 & 10 speed, the 11 speed chainrings applications also require careful attention to front derailleur setup. These chainrings shift fast, so they rely on a precisely set derailleur and a speedy rider shift action. We found no issue with setup on any of the 11 speed drivetrains. Once dialed in all of them performed awesome! Check out our technical support site for tips, recommendations, and troubleshooting.