By Seb Kemp
Photo by Anthony Smith
Straitline Silent Guide
I love this product for the same reason I hate It. You see, I put one on my bike 14 months ago and in that time it did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not once did I have to care for it, pamper it, spend time in the garage alone with it or on the side of the trail fiddling with its bits. I put it on and forgot about it. Simply put, this is the only chain-retention system I will ever recommend without a single hesitation.
I could end the review there because it is that simple. This is possibly one of the best products on the market. Not just the chain retention market, but the whole high performance mountain-bike market. Sure, there are products out there that have more complex knobs and dials, make you a better rider (debatable) and are imbued with a certain radness that only substantial financial means and marketing genius can justify, but none of them are quite so brilliantly simple and effective.
The Silent Guide does what it says on the box. Plain and simple. It's silent: the elastomeric guides—replaceable and color-coordinated if you require—unlike traditional jockey wheel designs, really don't make any noise.
It's carefree. It's very smooth across the full cassette and doesn't have the alignment issues of a fixed-pulley design. It also works when the conditions are cruddy; I've found guides with jockey wheels tend to jam up and add resistance to the drivetrain, which is definitely unwanted when you are already trying to push through winter's muck and grime.
It's tough. I've tested this sucker by bouncing the chainring off the knuckle of a large drop and nothing moved or bent. The sliders have also outlived many chains without developing much of a groove in the lower slider. Although it's also reassuring to know that they are, in fact, replaceable.
It's light. Considering it has a full bash ring, this thing is remarkably light—only 205 grams, including bash ring and hardware, is entirely worth it for the smooth-running reliability. There are other, lighter guides out there, but they don't provide the same level of strength and protection. Consider that a weight lifted from your mind knowing you won't have to ever fiddle with it after installation.
If you think chain-retention devices are for downhillers and freehuckers, then you are missing out on some of the vital leaps in technology that have occurred in recent times. The recent jump to 2×10 systems was kinda neat, but not because of what happened at the front end of them, but rather what happened out back. A 36-tooth cassette gives riders the climbing gear they need and anyone that has thought this through has probably realized that they can now dump the front mech entirely. A 1×10 setup is much more manageable than many riders realize. [Editor's Note: This review was written and published prior to the release of SRAM's XX1 single-ring drivetrain system, which makes it a very prescient bit of writing and, yes, Seb is still all about the single ring on his trail bikes.]
For the past year and a half I have been sans front derailleur and I have no intention of going back to having multiple chain rings up front. Why would I? It's simpler, there is less to go wrong or wear out, I never have to drop a chain ever again, it's lighter, less chain slap makes things quieter—and it's faster. Yes, faster. A granny ring doesn't make things easier, it just prolongs the time you spend on the climb. Just try the 1×10 setup and you might surprise yourself with how little you miss grinding little Ms. Granny.
It is only a matter of time until the front derailleur becomes a niche item—or perhaps entirely redundant. Chain guides are going to be appearing on a lot more bikes and the Straitline Silent Guide should be gracing yours. It might not be the sexiest product out there, but the time it will free up will allow you to focus on your own physique instead.