SRAM takes a stand on narrow/wide chainrings

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Competition, patents, and system integration

It’s all in the teeth.
Or is it?

When SRAM released the 2013 XX1 group, it was a revelation.  Though some riders have been running single-chainring drivetrains for years, the addition of a massive cassette range (10-42t) made single chainrings feasible for those of us looking to spend full days on varied terrain.  Add in the clutch-type Type II rear mech and narrow/wide chainring tooth profiles and XX1 became one of the simplest, quietest, prettiest, and most secure drivetrains going.

Over the ensuing months, many companies have come to market with their own variations on the narrow/wide chainring theme.  Wolf Tooth, Works, e*Thirteen, RaceFace, and others have adapted what they claim is existing technology to meet the demand for secure single-chainring drivetrains.  Like SRAM’s X-Sync models, these ‘rings work with clutch-type derailleurs to allow for chainguide-free single ring setups; be it 1×10 with Shimano or SRAM cassettes and clutch-type mechs or 1×11 with wide range SRAM XX1 or X01 cassettes and mechs.

“Over the last two years SRAM has filed many patent applications on narrow-wide / thick-thin tooth geometry. Our engineers invented narrow-wide / thick-thin chain retention and we continue to improve on it. As soon as our patent applications are granted we plan to enforce them.”

SRAM official statement

As the company that introduced narrow/wide teeth to the modern mountain bike and (cost aside) truly made the 1×11 drivetrain feasible for many riders, we asked SRAM to weigh in on these alternative chainrings.  Given the time and effort that SRAM’s Schweinfurt Development Center team has invested in making their drivetrains work as well as they do, it is understandable that the company plans on defending their investment if and when patents are granted.

While there is an obvious cynical interpretation of this statement, bear in mind that it is in SRAM’s, and the rider’s, best interest to ensure that their drivetrains perform as well as possible.  SRAM argues that “in SRAM 1X drivetrains, all the components, from the rings to the chain and rear derailleur, work together to provide an optimal experience. Take one of these elements out, and the performance and purpose of a 1X drivetrain are severely jeopardized.”  Not just narrow/wide when viewed from above, SRAM’s X-Sync chainrings have been developed to run quietly and securely at all chain angles and to clear mud effectively- something that alternatives may or may not do.

The appeal of simplicity

As for Singletrack, we are fans of SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain (subscribers can read our issue 81 review here), appreciating not only the work that has gone into the system but the result as well.  For their part, the alternative narrow/wide chainring manufacturers we’ve spoken with insist that their work, though certainly inspired by SRAM’s efforts, builds on existing knowledge and expired patents.  Intellectual property issues are complex (and ethical issues often more so), so as long as they are available to consumers, we will continue to report on, ride, and review narrow/wide components from all corners of the industry; enjoying the wide gearing range, light weight, simplicity, and quiet operation that SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrains have made possible.

Comments (15)

    sort of sounds like they’re going to try and patent the whole transmission. good luck with that…

    Is thick-thin really non-obvious to someone specialised in the field?

    If a patent covering this is granted, will any of the other manufacturers have the money to fight it?

    SRAM will smash the small makers into submission. Then double their already ridiculous prices. The quality has never been as good as Shimano.

    Luckily I’ve got lots of stock on N/W chainrings for myself. I’ll support the little guys for as long as I can.

    *middle finger to SRAM*

    Is this really about “the little guys” or about SRAM making sure that we don’t see a similar solution appearing on Shimano groupsets?

    I’m running XX1 cranks/chainring with Zee, and the teeth do what they claim. I wouldn’t want a front mech again. Shimano must be looking at single ring guideless options as well, something that’ll be made far trickier for them if they can’t/don’t use narrow/wide rings.

    What exactly is SRAM’s patent compared to the ones that have expired?

    This kind of patent bullshit is exactly the reason I will never buy SRAM.

    come on shimano, XT wide ratio cassette, matching mech and shifters please. I can sort out a chainring/chain guide

    Brant is already on the case

    Looks like a 30t too from the way the chain’s sat below the crank tab. :o)

    I think an alternative ‘big cassette’ eg 11-40/42 possibly 10 spd flavour would sell loads to those without the cash for XX1. I know you can get the General Lee adaptor but they are not that easy to get and you have to buy the cassette to convert

    right on Fog, hope were showing off a 10 speed 10- 32 cassette to fit their hubs a while back, I will take a 10 speed 10-42 and live with the gaps, now I bet they could make one cheaper than the £300 odd for xx1.

    Never like SRAM, too much plastic for too much money

    2 things – first may be born of ignorance but the 2nd is valid whatever
    1. Aren’t they supposed to get the patent granted before going to market?

    2. When are SRAM going to start defending their position by making Thicknthin chainrings available as aftermarket parts?

    Did they not see that people were much rather going to buy a £40 ring than a whole bl**dy groupset or even a new crank? There’s no validity to their argument if they don’t offer an equivalent. It’s simply their own missed opportunity.

    If it comes to big legals the best thing for all concerned would be for SRAM to offer a £1/ring license deal for all those “infringing” parties. Otherwise SRAM are only going to look look like the bad guys by all and it could end up significantly impacting their business.

    Oh and it’s not like they’re afraid of borrowing others patented ideas anyway – they’ve nicked enough of Shimano’s ideas over the years.

    The point of patents is not to allow greedy companies to maximise profits but to drive innovation. Innovation means better products. Imagine patents didn’t exist-would would invest thousands developing something that will just then be copied and sold at a lower price because they don’t have to recoup the investment costs? Not many. I fully support SRAM or anyone else pursuing patents as I reckon it’s better for consumers in the long run.

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