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A Guide to Mountain Bike Chain Guides

Updated on September 26, 2012
Having an agressive riding style means you want a serious chain guide to keep you on the trail
Having an agressive riding style means you want a serious chain guide to keep you on the trail | Source

Mountain bike chain gudies are a sector of the market in biking that seems to me minimal yet nearly every biker has dropped a chain and had the heart in their throat moment where the pedals don't work and keeping their line is near impossible. At this time nearly everyone of these bikers has wished for some device to keep their chain on the bike. Yet when looking for a chain guide the choices seem endless, complicated and often expensive. If you don't know what you are looking for, finding the right cahin gude for your bike is a task that many people tend to avoid.

The main issue that coems up with chain guides is that of price. Many bikers feel that spending more than a few dollars on a chain guide is ludicris yet, the drivechain on a bike is one of the most important aspecgsn of biking and keeping it intact, fucnctional and dialed in will make your ride infinetly more enjoyable. Implementing a chain guide will also keep your bike running smoother with less mainenance, keep your frame less likely to have nicks and wear from chain slap. When riding, the security of knowing your chain will stay on is invaluable and having a quality guard means that it can last through your dumps, crashes and even on to the next frame.

There are few things to consider before you start seriously looking to buy a chain guide. You must to consider your actual drive train setup. Do you run one chainring in the front, or do you have a double and triple chainring setup? There are a number of chain guides designed to work with single chainring setups only. Such guides are more 'heavy duty' and designed for more aggressive mountain bike riding styles.

Do you already have a bashguard? If you do, then you may want to consider a guide that does not incorporate a bashguard into it as many high end setups will include a guard in the system that you buy. Finally, do you have ISG or ISG-05 tabs on your frame? If you do its best to use a system that attaches to these tabs as opposed to a bottom bracket setup for a chain guide. Using the ISG tabs makes sure the system stays in place and eliminates the need for bottom bracket spacers and bottom bracket removal to install the chain guide.

Smaller chain guides and tensioners are not designed for keeping your chain on during extremely rough patches
Smaller chain guides and tensioners are not designed for keeping your chain on during extremely rough patches | Source

The Little Guides

There are a number of small, inexpensive chain guides available on the market that are designed to keep your chain on the bike when going over rough patches on the trail. These guides include products such as the N-Gear Jump Stop, K-Edge products, and the Deda Dog Fang.

However, the smaller chain guides are not designed to keep your chain tensioned, or on the chainring over serious technical sections or when blazing downhill on the trail. These guides clamp to the seat tube and basically keep the chain from 'hopping' when you hit a bump. In all honesty, while relatively inexpensive, these guides are mostly unnecessary if you have a front derailleur and a properly tensioned chain. Likewise, you can still loose a chain from it hopping off the bottom of your chainring with these guides. Yet any serious riding will generally overwhelm these small guides and you can still lose your chain

Even if you run a single speed, or single ring chain setup, these guides have the same effect, minimal benefit for minimal price. If you drop a chain once in a blue moon these might be the right guide for you however, the next setp up in price and functionality makes guides such as these almost obsolete.

Eveyrthing Else Under 100 Dollars

Some middle of the pack mountain bike chain guides will be a top down seat tube mounted style. We are talking about guides that are under a hundred dollars. These style of guides often set up to cover the top of the chainring to keep the chain on the 'top' of your chainring no matter what. This means that even if the bottom portion of the chain falls off the top will remain secure keeping your chain from dropping. The problem with this is that these guides are often only setup for 1X drivetrians, which means you can only run a single ring up front. Such guides include the Paul Components Chain keeper, the MRP 1.X Guide and the E.13 XCX guide. They work well for what they do but they will not prevent chain slap, and do not keep the bottom of your chain tensioned.

There are also other mid range guides that work to tension the bottom of your chain, such as the Blackspire Stinger, or the K-EDGE MTB Dirt ACS Antichainsuck guide. These provide tension on your chain from the bottom and with a front derailleur pretty much make sure that you can ride everything but serious downhill without a serious chain guide setup. They not only secure the chain to the bottom of your bike but provide tension keeping the bounce of the chain down and keeping it secure to the top of your chainring as well. This means these style of guides are perfect those riding more than one chainring, and for XC or All-Mountain Styles of riding.

If setup with a top mounted chain guide they provide the same effect as an expensive guide, yet, for the price it is worth it to move up to the next level of chain guides if you are considering this option.

The High End Chain Guides

There are dozens of high end chainguides on the market, ranging from just under a hundred dollars up to two hundred dollars. When looking in this category there are two basic types of guides, roller guides which use rollers on the top and bottom to retain the chain on your chainring, and usually incorporate a bashguard into the system. Ther other kind are the caged guides which usually include a lower sprocket and a top cage to keep the chain in place, often these are not compatible with a bashguard, so if you want a basguard make sure to read the product description carefully.

In reality, there is little to separate the performance at this level, between and within the two types of systems. They are designed to keep your drivetrain rolling even in the roughest of conditions, and that's exactly what they do barring a catostophic collision or failure. In reality there is some performance improvement at the very top of the price range but what you are going to be primarily concerned with is material composition, weight, and lets face it, looks. Polycarbonate, aluminum, and steel are all used for mounting plates, rollers and the actual guides. Obviously, aluminum and steel components will be more durable but polycarbonate will decrease the weight of the chain guide. Many poly guides will be in at under 150 grams while aluminum and steel guides will come in from 200 grams to 300 grams. As you can see, there isn't much to separate the guides in terms of weight. If you are racing crosscountry or cyclocross then of course you will look to the lower weight guides, but for downhill ridning a few grams is not a big sacrifice for durability. In terms of reliability, most all guides have replaceable rollers and bottom sprockets, meaning that if the component breaks or fails replacing the piece is cheap and easy. In terms of value a metal plated guide with policarbonate rollers or cages is

Most commonly guides are chosen on the basis of looks and price, what can I get in my price range that will look good on my bike. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it allows you to have some freedom and ad some style to your machine, with colors and logos. However, be sure to read customer reviews, and make sure the installation process is fairly easy, as you should be able to put a guide in and adjust it by yourself, and not have to take it to a shop.


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    • charlesspock profile image

      charlesspock 5 years ago from Vermont

      I agree the deda dog fang or n-gear jump stop products aren't exactly guides, but they will prevent granny gear overshifting quite effectively.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      From experience you're most likely to ship your chain on the inside. I'd recommend a cheap and chearful deda dog fang for about 10 dollars. Not a guide but more to stop the chain dropping.