Wolf Tooth CAMO Review: Gear Swap.
In the bike industry’s ever-evolving world of standards — if there is such a thing as a standard nowadays — it appears that 1x drivetrains are here to stay. But, chainring mounting standards are all over the place. So Wolf Tooth went and created another one. After we had a chance to put some miles on their promising new CAMO chainring system, hear why it might be of particular interest to bikepackers…
As 1x drivetrains have gained a foothold in the bike industry, so have direct mount cranksets (those with chainrings and/or spiders mounted directly to the crank arm). This is understandable given their selling points, lighter weight and cleaner lines. The problem is that each brand uses a different mounting interface (SRAM, Race Face, Cannondale, FSA, E-Thirteen, and the list goes on). Multiply these by the various chainlines created by a dizzying array of hub widths and bottom bracket spacing, and then create an algorithm to figure each in a variety of teeth count sizes. The options number in the thousands. This creates a massive problem for companies making chainrings. Meanwhile, these same companies have been busy fabricating products to tweak the narrower gear range of 1x, address cog wear, and deal with all those different chainlines.
Based in Minnesota, Wolf Tooth Components is primarily a manufacturer of chainrings, having hit the 1x market hard with their narrow-wide Drop Stop chainrings. They have also been on the front lines of the gear range expansion effort, introducing adapters that allow rear derailleurs to fit wide-range cassettes, and cog replacement systems for bigger cassette granny gears. And recently they introduced CAMO, an interesting new modular direct mount chainring system that takes on a few of the aforementioned issues…
Less is more
Ask Wolf Tooth and they’ll tell you that one of the main motivators behind CAMO was ‘material optimization’. Actually the name CAMO stands for Chainline And Material Optimization. What that means for them is they can create a range of direct mount Spiders for several standards – see options below — and manufacture corresponding chainrings in various sizes that will fit all of the spiders … out of less metal. In essence they can create fewer spiders and a lot of rings, greatly improving stock flow. And because they can increase the production of chainrings using less material, that means us consumers save money when replacing chainrings. Right now a Wolf Tooth CAMO 30t aluminum chainring costs $45, versus a $60 Race Face Cinch ring or a $70 SRAM XSYNC chainring. Moreover, Wolf Tooth Material Optimization means their engineers designed the system in a way to produce a lighter weight component as a whole. For comparison, the CAMO with a 30t aluminum ring weighs in at about 60g, versus the 123g 30t SRAM XSYNC direct mount ring.
In addition, they released a line of stainless steel rings for the system — particularly interesting for long distance bikepacking. Stainless steel rings can far outlast their lighter aluminum counterparts. And where steel might be eschewed by some for the weight penalty, Wolf Tooth claims a stainless ring with their aluminum spiders are half the weight of a full SS chainring. For comparison, we weighed the CAMO system with a 28t Stainless Steel ring against the 30t SRAM XSYNC direct mount ring. The CAMO/SS ring combo weighs in at abut 95g; 28g less than the 30t aluminum ring.
The perfect gear
Most people would argue that if you have some mountain biking experience and ride trails that are average — or even reasonably above average — in difficulty, the gearing range provided by a 1×10 drivetrain should be more than sufficient; and 1×11 is even better. However, throw in the added circumference of plus or fat tires, the additional weight of a bikepacking load, and insanely steep pitches, and you might wish for a 3×9 XT drivetrain from the days of old. Point being, the same 1x gear range doesn’t always work for every style of riding, on every bike. And if your bike doubles as a trail bike and a bikepacking rig, this further muddies the water.
Having a big 40 or 42 tooth chainring is necessary when bikepacking with a 1x drivetrain, but the size of the front chainring can make a big difference too. For example, to get the desired gearing in Kyrgyzstan on a SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain with a full bikepacking load, and the massive circumference of 29+ wagon wheel tires, I replaced the Direct Mount 32 tooth chainring with a 26 tooth. A 28 would have been fine, but I knew that for 20 days straight we’d be either churning up steep passes, or coasting down them. Even when coupled with the giant tire diameter, this minuscule ring paired with a 42 tooth rear cassette cog resulted in a pretty easy granny gear, about 18.9 gear inches worth. However, when I got back and wanted to take the Woodsmoke out on a few afternoon unloaded trail rides, that range was way too high. So I pulled the crankset, unscrewed the three mounting bolts on the direct mount ring, and replaced the 26t chainring with the 32t that was shipped with the bike. Then I had to torque the mooting bolts, put the crankset back on and tighten it all up. Not an effortless task. Once in a blue moon it would be fine, but quite an annoyance when this exercise becomes frequent or even semi-occasional. The CAMO system is perfect for these scenarios. Situations when you want a bigger ring on your bike for everyday riding, but the ability to quickly swap to a smaller ring for a weekend bikepacking trip.
Another benefit is in the engineering of the Wolf Tooth CAMO spider. Instead of having a bolt with a fiddly threaded nut on the other side, the spider uses threaded extruded studs that hold the ring in place. These bear the load of the ring and allow smaller T25 alloy bolts for easy chainring switches. Due to the spacing of the studs, chanirings can only be installed at a particular rotation. Wolf Tooth added a dot on both the spider and rings to make lining it up effortless.
Wolf Tooth offers elliptical and round chainrings in a variety of sizes, in both 415 Stainless Steel and 7075-T6 Aluminum:
- 415 Stainless Steel (Round) 28/30/32 tooth ($99)
- 415 Stainless Steel (Elliptical) 30/32 tooth ($99)
- 7075-T6 Aluminum (Round) 28/30/32/34/36 tooth ($45)
- 7075-T6 Aluminum (Elliptical) 30/32/34 tooth ($45)
Wolf Tooth currently sells CAMO Spiders machined for three mounting standards; SRAM XSYNC, Race Face Cinch, and Cannondale. However, they will be releasing additional interfaces including E-Thirteen and FSA. Each CAMO spider retails for $27.95 is offered in several different dished offsets for standard, BOOST, and fat bike chain lines:
- SRAM M8 -8mm / 135/142mm standard
- SRAM M5 -5mm / 52mm chainline BOOST
- SRAM M2 -2mm / 49mm chainline BB30
- SRAM P2 +2mm / 190/197 Rear Spaced Fat Bikes with 100mm spindle
- Cannondale M9 -9mm / standard dish towards the frame
- Cannondale M4 -4mm / AI offset
- Cannondale M1 -1mm / dished towards the frame
- Race Face Cinch M8 -8mm / dished towards the frame / 49mm chainline
- Race Face Cinch M5-5mm / dished towards the frame / 52mm chainline
- Race Face Cinch P2+2mm / 190/197 Rear Spaced Fat Bikes with 100mm spindle
- Stainless Steel rings are available.
- Quick and easy chainring changes.
- Cheaper replacement chainrings.
- Wide variety of chainline options.
- Drop Stop technology.
- 28 tooth is the smallest ring available.
- Lack of FSA, E-Thirteen and other spiders; but that will likely change.
So how does it perform? Swapping chainrings is quick and easy, and there are no two piece chainring bolt assemblies to worry about. The Drop Stop design of the rings do as they are designed, keep the chain in place. In terms of long term durability, we’ve only been using it for a month or so now, granted there have been a couple big rides in the mix. There haven’t been any issues to speak of, bolt loosening or otherwise. Wolf Tooth has a history of making pretty nice components — particularly narrow-wide Drop Stop chainrings — so my guess is that CAMO is well tested and fairly bombproof, but we’ll definitely keep this updated should something change.
Overall, CAMO makes a lot of sense. Keep your 1×10 or 1×11 drivetrain. Get cheaper replacement rings. Shave a little weight. Add some color with blue or red spiders. Have the ability to easily swap rings and fine tune your gearing… on multiple bikes if you wish. Dial in your chain line. Use stainless steel rings. And, if you are in the USA, you’ll be happy to know that you are buying a USA made product. Pretty slick.