WickWerks Road Ultra Wide chainrings

September 2016 Product Picks — Ritchey, WickWërks, Topeak, Scott, MilKit, and Sako7

by James Huang

September 19, 2016

September signals the start of autumn for CyclingTips readers in the northern hemisphere, but on the flip side — literally — it ushers in the beginning of spring for those south of the equator. In either case, it’s also time for some of the best riding conditions of the year.

In this edition of Product Picks, CyclingTips U.S. technical editor James Huang reviews a few items to check out before you head out on the road — a set of super wide-range chainrings from WickWërks, some higher-end alloy clincher wheels from Ritchey, Topeak’s cleverly compact torque wrench, Scott’s racing-focused RC road shoes, a novel approach to tubeless valve stems by MilKit, and last but not least, hard-to-miss socks from Sako7.

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WickWerks Road Ultra Wide chainrings

WickWërks Road Ultra Wide chainrings

by James Huang

There are essentially three primary schools of thought when it comes to choosing double chainring sizes on road bikes: 50/34T for climbing; 53/39T if you mostly spend time on the flats; or the increasingly popular 52/36T “mid-compact” setup. But what if you like to maintain a higher cadence on the climbs and also like to hammer down the descents, and don’t want to resort to the larger ratio gaps of a wide-range cassette?

To that end, WickWërks offers the 53/34T Road Ultra Wide chainrings.

These promise an unusually large variation in drive ratios while maintaining good shift performance, as well as fewer duplicated ratios. Both rings are CNC machined from 7075-T6 aluminum.

Actual weight for the 53T outer ring is 130g; the 34T inner ring weighs 34g.

Our Take:

As someone who lives in mountainous Colorado, the idea of ultra-wide range chainrings certainly appeals to me; the climbs are often punishingly long, and while the downhills are equally lengthy, many aren’t so steep that you don’t need to pedal. Just as promised, the WickWërks 34T inner chainring provided all the low-end gearing I love about compact while retaining the top-end speed of a full-sized crankset — all without having to give up the relatively tight ratios of my preferred 11-28T cassette.

When paired with my usual 11-28T cassette, the WickWërks 34T inner ring provided ample low-end gearing for comfortably scaling my favorite walls, while the 53-11T combination afforded as much top-end speed as I wanted without fear of spinning out — exactly the goal WickWërks was trying to achieve.

WickWërks proudly boasts about its so-called Bridge Shift Technology, which uses a series of machined-in ramps instead of more traditional steel pins designed to help lift and guide the chain from the inner to outer chainring. I’ve previously had great luck with the company’s more tightly spaced cyclocross chainrings, but I found the shift performance here to lag well behind that of the gold standard established by Shimano’s latest cranksets. The outer ring is reluctant to grab the chain under even moderate loads, and even when it does, it rarely actually uses those ramps to which WickWërks draws so much attention. Shift performance is even more affected by chainline than usual, too.

WickWerks Road Ultra Wide chainrings

WickWërks doesn’t use conventional steel pick-up pins on the backside of the outer chainring, instead using machined-in ramps that are designed to grab and lift the chain from the inner ring to the outer one. I’ve had very good luck with this system on the company’s cyclocross rings, but not so much this time around.

On the plus side, downshifts were consistently reliable with smooth transitions (even under load) and no dropped chains, even without the benefit of a supplemental chain catcher.

Even if you can live with so-so shifting, drivetrain performance isn’t just about total range, and that 19-tooth jump up front doesn’t come without some downsides.

While it’s nice to have fewer duplicated gears, shifting between WickWërks’ Ultra Wide Range chainrings requires more shifting out back than usual in order to maintain a smooth cadence. If you typically compensated for shifting into the big ring by downshifting three cogs out back, for example, you can count on having to move the chain across four cogs with the WickWërks set.

That 19-tooth jump also technically exceeds the capabilities of most short-cage rear derailleurs. For example, both Shimano and Campagnolo list a 33-tooth total capacity (calculated as the difference between the chainring teeth, and the difference between the biggest and smallest cassette sprockets, added together). With the WickWërks Road Ultra Wide set and an 11-28T cassette, that total comes out to 36.

I was still able to use a standard short-cage Dura-Ace rear derailleur for testing purposes but it wasn’t ideal, and chain length was absolutely critical — any longer and it would have sagged in some gear combinations, and even one fewer link could have torn the derailleur and hanger right off.

That said, a mid-cage derailleur would do the job nicely, and if you’re in search of more range and are willing to put up with the other quirks, the WickWërks Road Ultra Wide chainring set is a uniquely capable solution.

Price: US$180-189 / AU$TBC / £TBC / €TBC (depending on size)