Joel Harwood Testing the Wolf Tooth Components Drop Stop Chainring

Interview: Wolf Tooth Components & Their Narrow/Wide Chainring

Wolf Tooth Components is a small company based in Minneapolis, MN. Three individuals that love riding and racing their bikes; collectively between them over 50 years of mountain bike experience, and 40 odd years of racing history. Mike Pfeiffer, Brandon Moore and Dan Dittmer are mechanical engineers in high tech industries who have taken their 9 to 5′s, mixed them with cycling components and started their own company!

Founded in January, 2013, the three started working on narrow wide chainring designs for their fat bikes, which they are resigned to for some time each year, thanks to the harsh winters in Minneapolis. With front derailleurs not dealing to well in the cold weather, the 1x system leaves less room for problems and cold fingers away from danger. They haven’t stopped at the 1x narrow/wide chainring though, with a number of other projects in the works, though the demand for their chainrings has temporarily slowed the production of these products.

Obviously the recent take off of the 1×11, and for some, 1×10 drivetrain, thanks to the creation of clutch type derailleurs, has lent itself perfectly to aftermarket narrow/wide rings like these from WTC. Lets face it, the front derailleur sucks and always has. Removing the need for a guide with a Drop Stop ring makes for an even simpler setup and does away with a substantial amount of drag in the drivetrain (we were surprised by just how much!). And while Wolf Tooth Components may be a less known name, the product comes off with the quality and confidence of an industry veteran. Each generating more questions than answers in our curious minds, about this high end, little company out of Minneapolis, and so ensued our discussion with Brendan Moore.

The Drop-Stop chainring was the product that initiated WTC. Why jump into the bike components industry, starting with a product such as this?

A few things. We have been running 1x drivetrains for years but were very frustrated by chain-guides. We also really wanted wide/narrow rings for our 104 BCD cranksets on our fatbikes. We spend 4+ months a year riding fat bikes in MN and most days front derailleurs don’t work (ice up) so we were running 1x already with chain guides. Finally, we are just passionate about bikes and love the mechanical aspect of bikes. This was an opportunity to break in to the bike component world.

The Drop-Stop ring is designed to work with a 10 or 11 speed drivetrain. What chainline did you run with in order to function well with both?

50 mm +/- 2mm chainline (depends on the ring). Remember that the pitch between gears is about 5mm so 2 mm doesn’t really matter that much (and you can barely see it on your bike!). What you want to avoid is chainlines off by 5mm or more which is why BB30 and GXP rings are different (BB30s need to have about 5mm less dish).

What is different about the Drop Stop rings that prevents the chain from coming off while riding?

Ha! That is top secret! We actually do have a proprietary tooth profile that is different from all the other Wide/Narrow rings. Other than the fact that it is wide and narrow the design is all our own (created by Mike). The other thing is tolerancing. We have (and pay for) very high quality machining with very tight tolerances.

How does the profile of the teeth differ from the XX1 version?

Our tooth design is unique and does not copy XX1. We did a lot of research before jumping into this and we believe our design falls within what is described by the expired Gehl patent 4174642. We are also aware of a number of recent patent applications by SRAM that attempt to cover additional aspects of the narrow/wide concept.

Were there any additional elements of the Drop-Stop ring that were focused on purely to aid in the retention and longevity of such qualities of the chainrings?

One of the reasons that a narrow/wide chainring with tall teeth works so well is that it has a lot of contact with the chain—this can also lead to more visible wear, especially in muddy conditions. We have compared the wear of ours to other brands and they all have similar wear for similar riding conditions. That said, people need to be aware of 3 things on wear:

  1. Smaller rings wear out much faster (e.g. 26T, 28T)
  2. Single rings wear out faster than 2x or 3x (only using 1 ring!) and
  3. Our drop stop rings may have more visible wear when compared to a standard non-ramped ring but they will continue to function well and should provide similar life to a standard non ramped ring.

We’ve been quite impressed with the wear of the rings finish. Are there any attributes in the finish that resist excessive wear, or is it the design of the tooth profile that assists with the longevity of the rings and their retention properties?

It is the very tight tolerances, propriety tooth profile, and expensive high quality material we pay for. We have also tried some different coatings but the steel chain and trail grit wears through any surface coatings very quickly.

WTC has covered pretty well every BCD/chainring attachment configuration on the market currently. Can we thank the small size of the company or is there more to this?

Yes, we are nimble, small and with 3 of us decisions happen quickly. We can go from a “lets do this ring” to shipping rings in about 3–4 weeks. We love this aspect of running a small company!

WTC have a rather unique bash-guard designed to work with the GXP mounted cranks. How did this idea come about?

That was Mike’s idea (he does all the ring design). He figured that a lot of 1x All Mountain riders would want a bash and no other company currently offers a direct-mount chainring with a bash ring option. We also wanted a high quality, lightweight one (ours is 7075 Al just like the rings vs most bashes that are 6061).

What materials are being used in the WTC chainrings?

We use exclusively 7075 aluminum for its low weight and great strength. We have discussed making some smaller chainrings from stainless steel and will do some experimenting with that as soon as we have time.

Whats next for the chainring, or are we quite close to as good as it gets?

Oh, I think shifting on ramped chainrings can be tweaked and improved. For 1x this is about as good as it gets although we certainly intend to continue experimenting and improving where possible.

What are your thoughts on the state of the current drivetrain? Do you see this design sticking around for a while longer, especially with the new technologies that have developed recently, or will gear box bikes (or something similar) continue to be pushed as a potential norm in the future?

I do think there may be some new developments there, but if you look at the mechanical complexity of any gear box, it will be difficult to match the weight, functionality, and serviceability of the derailleur drivetrain system (current rear derailleurs work very well).