By Zack Vestal
Kristin Armstrong is famous for both her success in bicycle racing, and the “type-A” attention to detail that keeps her climbing the podium at critical races every season. After a dropped chain in 2006 nearly cost her a gold medal at the world time trial championships, she resolved to never let the same mechanical malady derail another performance. She used a custom machined aluminum chain catcher in Beijing to help win gold. Now, after demand from both ProTour team mechanics and the public, a new K-Edge Chain Catcher has been refined for retail sale.
K-Edge and AceCo Manufacturing kick into gear
The K-Edge Chain Catcher is a chain guide that bolts to the front derailleur braze-on and arcs toward the chainrings to guide the chain back into place if it slips off the small ring. The current version has been through several iterations to fit as many chainring/front derailleur combinations as possible, and weighs only 10 grams.
Armstrong’s mechanic at the Olympics, Nick Legan, also works for Garmin-Slipstream, and his request for 45 units in time for Paris-Roubaix got the ball rolling. After a few late nights of final design changes, test fitting, and production, the first batch of custom blue and argyle anodized K-Edge Chain Catchers rolled off the line.
While Garmin did not wind up using a K-Edge on every bike, the team’s Bradley Wiggins used it, while other team bikes used a variety of methods to keep chains in place (including 3rd Eye Chain Watchers and closely spaced chainring combinations), the order spurred AceCo to bring the product to market.
Bred of Beijing necessity
Having reconnoitered the Olympic course, Armstrong knew there was potential for a dropped chain. “There was this screaming fast descent, then a 180-degree turn at the bottom, right into a steep climb,” she said. “I was using a 54-38t chainring combination, which doesn’t always shift as well.”
Most chain catchers clamp around the seat tube, but on a bike with aero tube profiles or oversized bottom bracket junctions, products like this won’t work. At a pre-Olympic party four weeks ahead of the event, Armstrong’s husband Joe Savola and his older brother came up with the idea for a chain guide that would bolt to the front derailleur hanger.
He approached Eric Jensen, owner and VP of AceCo Precision Manufacturing in Boise, Idaho, with the concept. “Joe called it a chain catcher and sketched his idea on a napkin (yes, a napkin),” said Jensen. Within a day, Jenson and engineer Larry Rupe created a rough prototype, cut by waterjet from plastic. After several refinements over the next week, a final version was CNC-machined from 6061-T6 aluminum, then gold anodized, and installed on Armstrong’s bike. Two days later, she packed up and shipped out for China, with the new chain catchers on both road and TT bikes.
Finding a niche and filling a need
Elite racers created the demand to spur AceCo into production. But the product is also meant for everyday cyclists. “A lot of people with $10,000 carbon fiber bicycles don’t race,” said Jensen. “But another big benefit of this product is that it protects the frame from damage by a dropped chain.” And as Armstrong pointed out, the proliferation of mismatched crank, chainring, and front derailleur combinations makes a dropped chain more likely.
For now, the business model is basic. “We’re doing it for fun, it’s a side thing,” said Jensen. “We have a partnership (with Kristin and Joe) for the marketing, and AceCo will handle production and sales.” The K-Edge is branded and endorsed by Armstrong, but it’s an AceCo product. “If we happen to make a little money, then that’s great, too.”
The company has not decided on retail pricing. It will be available May 1. More info: www.aceco.com