CASCADE COMPONENTS FULL GUIDE REVIEW
Words & Photos by Dario DiGiulio
There was a moment in mountain biking when the sickest accessory you could bolt to your bike was a big, loud, wildly overdecorated chainguide and bash guard. From rock rings to full on DH-ready setups, you’d rarely see a bike without some sort of added protection down around the bottom bracket. This is particularly true in my neck of the woods – the dank dark Pacific Northwest – where skinnies and rock rolls are always waiting to taco your chainring.
That being said, like all fads in mtb, the bash guide has fallen out of favor with the crowd, with many folks running little if any protection for their drivetrain. For those of us who still want to run a guide, there are a few options on the market, mostly from smaller aftermarket outfits like e*thirteen, MRP, and OneUp. New to that scene is Cascade Components, who recently made available to the public a small in-house project that they developed for their own bikes. Simply dubbed the ISCG 05 Full Chain Guide, this unit is an elegant solution to the age-old problems of dropping chain and smashing chainrings. With its high price tag and clean design, can this new take on the classic accessory bring more to the table?
Though Cascade Components is almost exclusively known for their aftermarket suspension links, they’re always using their well-appointed machine shop to cook up new products that can improve key features of the mountain bike. Many of those projects don’t leave the realm of employee bikes, as was the case with the full chain guide, but when people caught a glimpse of it on Cascade’s social media, they were slammed with requests to do a full production run. Luckily, they obliged, and you can now purchase the chainguide in four flavors: the full upper/lower combo ($177), upper only ($90), lower only ($118), and a specifically-tweaked version for Forbidden frames ($118). I’ve been running the full combo on my Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Alloy for a few months, and it’s been a true set-and-forget component since day one.
Cascade claims that their Full Chain Guide is the lightest option on the market, and so far I can’t see any evidence to the contrary, as even the heaviest option weighs in at a scant 93 grams. That breaks the dollar-per-gram maxim that tends to rule ultralight parts, but in this case it’s also meant to endure some serious abuse.
Worth noting is the fact that this product will not fit all bikes, and they’ve made a printable template so people can check compatibility before purchase. The main factor in that lack of universal fit is the fact that these guides are made to the exact ISCG 05 standard, to which many bikes do not adhere. Part of the reason for that lack of tolerance is the adjustability of other guide/bash devices, so the slop can be taken up by end-user adjustment. In order to make their guide truly set-and-forget, and in order for the chain retention method to work, Cascade has taken away that adjustment, opting to simply hold frame manufacturers to a higher standard. The other fit factor to consider is chainring size; these guides only come in 32 and 30 tooth sizes, and will not work with any other tooth count, nor an oval ring. To switch between these two chainring sizes you can replace the plastics (available separately for $84) – they share the same backplate. This was no issue for me, as I’ve been running a small-cluster 11 speed drivetrain for a while, with a 32t ring being the heart of that micro-drivetrain beauty.
So, you’ve figured out that your bike is actually made to the right mount standard, and you’ve made peace with your chainring size – now how does this thing work out in the real world?
At risk of sounding like I’ve received a paycheck from Cascade (absolutely not the case), straight up, this is the best chainguide I’ve ever used, and I’ve tried many options over the years. As to why I love this thing so much, there’s more to the story.
- After three months of hard riding in all sorts of terrain, weather, and levels of drivetrain wear, I have yet to drop a chain. This is all with a derailleur with a less powerful clutch than the modern 12-speed options, as my little 11-speed setup runs on a clapped out GX mech with what I would call a very gentle clutch mechanism. Pedaling out of turns, shifting on rough terrain, back pedaling with sticks caught in the drivetrain, nothing has shaken my chain off yet. Of course, it could happen, but I’ll be surprised if it does.
- There’s no rub, no drag, and no noise thanks to the elegant design. Because the chain retention of the Full Guide is based on the close proximity above and below the chainring, nothing actually touches your drivetrain when pedaling, which keeps things silent and smooth through operation.
- Despite some solid hits, the bash guard is straight and unbroken. The delrin plastic lower of the Full Guide slides nicely over rocks and other obstacles, so even though the underside is scarred and abused, the guide itself is straight as an arrow. If ever you should crack a plastic piece, you can get replacements from Cascade, albeit at an eye-watering $63 for lower guide only.
- It looks really funky; no rollers, no clam-shaped plastic bits hanging over your chainring, just a bolt-on bit of hardware that does its job.
Obviously, I’m a fan, but that comes with one hitch: the cost. Nearly 180 USD is a wild price to pay for something that not everyone even considers critical at this point, but if you really want the best, this very well may be the answer. Some small value arguments could be made about the preservation of your drivetrain elements over the guide’s use, and the savings therein, but realistically it’s just plain expensive. That being said, I could be convinced to throw down, as it really is the only chain guide I’ve used that actually retains your chain no matter what, short of using a full-blown downhill setup. With minimal weight, clean looks and flawless performance, Cascade Components have really knocked it out the park.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If you’re plagued by dropping chains, bent chainrings, or simply just want the most dialed version of a component that you can get, the Cascade Components Full Guide is simply the best option we’ve tested. The cost is ludicrous, but the function lives up to expectations. Assuming one of the available options fits your bike, you’d be hard pressed to find a cleaner solution.
Weight: 92 grams