Just before Eurobike we had a chance to visit the team behind new component company B|Labs in their headquarters at the base of the Bavarian Alps. One of the first things they were excited to show off was their new non-round/elliptical, narrow-wide single ring mountain bike chainring that they are calling B-ring OVAL. It wasn’t quite ready to ship then, so we’ve been keeping it under wraps, but now they have both 4-bolt and SRAM direct mount spider-less options available.
Hop past the fold for more details on the rings, sizing, pricing, and crankset compatibility, plus their upgraded chain retention device….
With the popularity growth of 1x drivetrains in enduro and all-around mountain riding, B-Labs saw an opportunity to develop an affordable alternative to a whole new groupset. Their OVAL ring is compatible with all 9, 10 & 11 speed mountain groups and will make a great upgrade to drop the front derailleur and save some weight and complexity when your current chainrings wear out.
Pulling one or two chainrings off the crank does have the downside of ending up with less gearing range, and usually means losing a couple of those easy hill-climbing gears. Elliptical ring shaping simulates a small regaining of that lost range, helping to limit losses. The shape of B-rings effectively adds 2 teeth above the ring size with the cranks around the most powerful ~2 and 8 o’clock positions, while effectively reducing by 2 teeth at the least powerful ~11 and 5 o’clock positions. That means the 32 tooth ring we sampled essentially pedals like a 30-28T range.
Also don’t forget that even though the rings aren’t round, they still wrap the same amount of chain in any position. So you don’t get fluctuating chain growth, making the rings single speed friendly. The elliptical shape could be great on a single speed, so we’ll see if we might be able to get ahold of one for a test.
MSRP for the 4-bolt 104mm rings is $70/50€/£45, while the direct mount (SRAM) rings are $85/63€/£55. They can be purchased directly from Bionicon’s webstore or from Amazon. Follow links from the bottom of the OVAL rings page.
One more interesting bit of news/rumor, when we were visiting in August we suggested to B-Labs about the potential for 1x oval cyclocross rings, as well. While it isn’t clear if they’ll be available immediately for current cross racing, B-Labs’ engineers were receptive to the idea and have since scaled their designs up to 110BCD and 38-44 tooth options. If that sounds good to you too, drop a line in the comments to let them see some reader interest. And we will hopefully get one to test as soon as they hit the ground.
Lastly, not to be missed in our visit with the B-Labs team was their simple, cheap, and effective chain retention device. Now in its third generation, the in-molded C.Guide simply zip ties to the chainstay to keep your chain wrapped on the chainring. Made up of a rigid upper plastic section that attaches to the stay, a flexible elastomer mid-section that pitches/twists/rolls to accommodate shifting from one chainring to the other or across the cassette, and a low-friction plastic lower section that snaps around the chain, it solves chain retention in an tidy 14g package.
No rollers keeps it simple, and the elastomer is claimed to even damp the chain vibration that is often the cause of chain drop. The low-friction glide plate should last a couple of years and can even be flipped around to double its wear life. At just $30/28€ the C.Guide ECO looks like a good buy, and would complement the OVAL rings well without the need for a clutch rear derailleur. It is intended to be used with a max 36 tooth ring, but there was talk of some success on slightly larger cyclocross ring setups too. We’ll probably strap one on a bike in the spring here in Europe when we get back to some Enduro testing.
Although the B-Labs name is new to us, the people behind it have built a name for themselves as industry innovators over the past few years with their bike building business Bionicon. B-Labs was spun off as a component engineering arm of the bike company to allow them to develop some of their ideas and get them out to consumers independently of their unique bikes. With this in mind B-Labs has also developed a lightweight crank-based e-bike motor, and is continuing to develop some other interesting projects like suspension components and valving that will probably bring some of their Bionicon performance to the OEM and after market in the future. We’ll keep an eye on them and let you know when we hear anything new.