Friday Group Ride #466

Friday Group Ride #466

Where have all the gear inches gone? They seem to be floating around the bike mysteriously, rearranging themselves. And as a follow on question, is the front derailleur becoming vestigial? You show up for a group ride, and your friends glance furtively downward, chuckle softly to themselves, and then look away.

I still own a bike with a triple crank on it. I can’t tell you the last time it saw the big ring and largest cog at the same time. It wasn’t likely in this millennium. I talk to folks who still insist they want triples on their bikes. They sound like deranged zealots, clinging their holy books, lacing up their Nikes, and waiting for the mothership to deliver them from Modernia.

The compact double thought it was here to stay. So cute. It had arrived to save us from the big, cruel standard crank. And then someone said the word sub-compact. Someone said 1x, and the earth shuddered beneath the compact double’s teeth. Sure, wide range cassettes came to make the 34t ring seem relevant again, but our hunger for smaller and smaller gears knows no limits.

I wonder how the weight of a 46t cog compares to that of a front derailleur (and clamp). Someone with a scale should put some numbers to it for us. The parts should be group matching. Or not. It probably doesn’t matter. This isn’t about weight anyway.

This week’s Group Ride asks, is 1x the future? Even on the road? Even for climbers? How big will cassettes get? Will rear derailleurs get even more complicated, with clutches and abstract shapes beyond the fabled parallelogram? Will it one day float, untethered, at the rear of the bike, wirelessly shifting from cog to cog, based on the mental triggers of our neural implants?

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25 comments

  1. Jonathan Benn

    Regularly ride a couple of steel Surlys with triple cranks. Spend far more time in the 28X34 than I do in the 48X11. Drive trainenvy? Sometimes, but I get over it when I can spin up almost anything.

  2. Steve

    There are too many places where a 1X is not super practical, any place that doesn’t have a lot of hills. When I hear how poorly front derailleurs shift, the complainer is usually using a SRAM drivetrain. Shimano front derailleurs shift so well as to be almost flawless. I am a fan of my 34/46 front crank, with a 11-34 cassette in Colorado. If I was rich, I might buy the new GRX crank with a 31 tooth, but still like my 46 tooth large chainring. I just did the Steamboat Gravel race, and had no problems in a paceline at 30 mph with my gearing. I never go much faster than that when pedalling.

    Honestly, I hope Shimano keeps 2X drivetrains going, but market forces may dictate otherwise.

  3. scottg

    If you never get into your smallest cog, that is because there are no
    11s cassettes that start at 13t. Campy used to understand that, they make a 13-29 10s.

    I do have a 46/30 12-32 combo, there is unpleasant gap in the gearing,
    that I find on headwind days. The Atlantis had a 46/34/22 with a 12-23,
    you always had the perfect headwind gear.

  4. Quentin

    1×11 is enough for many situations, but there are enough situations where it is inadequate that the front derailleur is here to stay for now. 1×12 gets a lot closer, but it might take 1×13 (I seem to recall reading that Rotor already has one) to really do everything for everyone. I think that’s a ways off.

  5. John OConnell

    I may not use it much, but I love the times when I do need a 50×11. Sticking with 2 chain rings for the foreseeable future.

  6. Paolo

    Even on MTB the 1x is not as good as a good double or even triple.
    So limited.
    If you have a specific bike for uphill, downhill or flat, sure it can work but not if you want one bike to ride everywhere.
    No way on the road unless where you live is pancake flat.
    It’s just cheaper for the manufacturers and so they are marketing it as innovative.
    BTW, what’s wrong with lacing up Nikes?

  7. Michael

    I have a triple on our tandem – on long hills, with my daughter’s weakness (cerebral palsy, not laziness), it is lovely. I simply have not had any troubles with my front derailleur on my mountain, cross/gravel, or road bikes, so have felt no push to go to a 1x setup. The frequency with which my chain unships from the chainring is certainly no greater than what I hear from my 1x friends – once or twice a year at most.

    I have a 53-13 on one road bike that is insufficient for long downhills where I get tired of being in a full tuck, but that is hardly a big deal. The 50-11 on a different bike is only used in those situations, so I suppose that a 1x may eventually be able to approximate the range of a 2x. So, to answer your initial question, I guess I don’t care, if they can eventually make a 1x that is as good as 2x already is. The rest gets into science fiction and I am not too good at that!

  8. Shawn

    1X12 gives you 12 gears. Sacrifice one cog in the back for another front chainring, and you now have 22 gears. All for the extra weight of a shifter, cable, and a derailleur.

    I hate front derailleurs on principle and because their too fiddly, but them make a lot of sense…

  9. Neil Winkelmann

    I find gear gaps on even a 50/34 – 11-32 setup sometimes too big. I can’t how bad it would be riding a 1X. I actually wish Shimano would do a 13-32 DA cassette. With a 50/34 I simply don’t need a 11t or even really a 12t on my gravel bike. I’d rather lugs some gaps. On my road bike, I don’t need an 11t with a 52/36, so a 12-30 would be perfect there. No 1X for me. Nosiree, Bob.

    1. Lyford

      With the current Shimano road cassettes it’s easy to replace the threaded 11T with a 12T. 13->12 is a small step but I’d still rather have a gear I use more often.

      I’m really liking 46/30 for mixed-surface riding, and might switch for road riding. I’m not a powerhouse and the only time I use the full range of a 50T big ring is in a fast group ride, which for me is not very often.

      Front shifting problems are rare for me, even with oval chainrings. I can see 1X on a MTB but don’t see a big disadvantage to 2X for road or mixed-surface riding.

  10. KG

    I like the range of options for our different needs. I currently use 53/39 with 11-23, but I realize I’m not the average consumer. The wide varieties for gearing is great in the same way the wide variety of bottom brackets is not. If you are out riding and having fun, you are doing it right. Then you can have more fun by playing with different alternatives for a growing range surface types and terrains. The place we are heading may be unknown, but I think the future is bright.

  11. TomInAlbany

    Are gear gaps really just leg gaps? I need to be able to spin a little faster or push a little harder? Something to work on?

    In my case, I haven’t bought a new bike since Full-sus w/triples were de rigeur. I take that back. I picked up a used CX bike last fall. It’s a two-by and while riding it yesterday, I was pleased with the range most of the time.If I do buy a new bike, it’ll be a two-by. Then again, I live in a hilly area and I’m 54 and like to have more gear when I can get it!

    1. Neil Winkelmann

      Yeah for sure, having flexibility in cadence is useful (essential) with big gaps, and something one can develop. But I’d just rather ride a narrower range of RPM. I doubt I’d really get on with the massive gaps in a 1X system on the road. Might be OK on gravel, and I think it would be just fine for MTB and CX (where you’re never in the right gear anyway)

  12. AG

    Here in So Cal our typical fire road rides can be 3,000 feet of elevation during a normal 2 hour mtb ride. All we have are mountains. I have been using a SRAM Eagle drivetrain now for a few years and there are often times where I wish I had a gear or two lower than the 32×50. But then you have to ask just how big can a rear cassette get before the jumps are too big and the thing just looks too weird? My riding buddy still has a 2x front and his range is wider and he has a couple escape gears that I don’t have. O, and he has some higher gears too, so when I am spinning out he can still push. Seems 1x was made for flatter landscapes (which is arguably the rest of the country) and I’m sure it would be just right.

    Not sure about the mental implants. I may hang-up the shoes when that day comes and pick up fly fishing.

  13. Rick Tan

    Bike component companies (Shimano/Campy/SRAM) have all but abandoned triple drivetrains.
    The Shimano catalog shows the following capacities/specs on the drivetrains:
    Triple front mechs have a front-front chain ring difference of 22teeth max. Double front mechs are 16teeth difference.
    Rear mechs have a capacity of 47teeth max, for the MTB rear mechs.
    This means a 52-40-30/ 11-36 is the most you can do.
    This gives you a range of 0.833 to 4.73 gear ratios; range of 5.675 (4.73/0.833).
    If you have a larger cassette in the back (11-40), you have to reduce the chainring range in the front, so your range is capped. (0.75 to 4.36); range of 5.81 (4.36/0.75).
    Has anyone come up with a study of how much gear range a typical human (say 200W FTP) would ever need for a bike. This would need to take into account cargo weight.

  14. KCPenn

    I think about gear ratios a lot. Maybe a sign of advancing age and many more gaps to climb before I give up the ghost. I did the math and I can’t see how 1x works without jumps that are too big for my narrow power band. Also I like to pedal on the downhill and getting a gear small enough to go up the hill usually means spinning out the top gear on a 1x. So for me front derailleurs are here to stay and calculating gear inches for the expanding universe of available drivetrains will continue to keep me up late at night, but not in a bad way.

  15. Road Mike

    I switched to 1x on the road this year and haven’t missed my front derailleur. I live in the mountains, and I like climbing. My low gear (42×36) is gentle enough for the climbs I do, most of which are in the 5-10% range, but a few top out at 15%. At the other extreme, if I’m ever going fast enough to spin out in 42×11 (above 55 kph), it’s because I’m on a fast descent, and I’d rather sit in and focus on my line instead of flailing about on the pedals. The largest jumps in the sprocket have not bothered me at all, maybe because I also ride a single speed commuter. All this is just to provide a real-life perspective from those unable to imagine that 1x can work on the road.

    1. Lyford

      If it works for you, that’s all that matters.

      I’d ridden my road bike and my mountain bike on the local pavement and dirt, and so knew that for my all-road bike I wanted better than 1:1 on the low end. Front shifting has never been a problem, and gear charts are fun for me, so a 2X with a subcompact crankset made sense for me and the riding I do. But I’m not going to try to convince anyone that it’s better than their preferred setup.

      Could I make do with a 1X? Probably. I’m sure my next mountain bike will have one and it’ll be just fine.

  16. Alan Cote

    The 1xdrivetrrain: a bike company / component supplier saves the cost of a front shifter (pricey, esp on road bikes), front derailleur, and inner chainring. Factory assembly doesn’t require fiddly front derailleur alignment. The giant rear cogs are pricier, but along with the chain are items that wear out faster than other components, and need periodic replacing by the consumer at the retail level.

    Lots of things for the bike industry to love there. If you like the 1x gear range / spacing, good for you. But there is a backstory.

    Alan Cote

  17. Chris

    Eddy won the Tour 5 times using at most 8-9 gears. But please, Mr Cat 3 Thursday Night Crit Champion tell me more about how 1×11 isn’t enough gears for you!

    For me the issue isn’t how many gears but the range. Even a 46×11 is still a pretty high gear for most riders not holding a UCI license. What’s the point of having 11 cogs in back and two chainrings in front if you end up spending a huge chunk of your time in the little ring or severely cross chained in your big ring? I was recently down in San Diego and saw an almost comical number of riders on $5,000+ top of the line road bikes in meticulously matching team kits rolling down the 101 in their little rings or in their big-big combos.

    It would be great if the big component makers woke up and recognized that the vast majority of people buying their parts will never actually race their bikes and returned to offering cassettes with 12 and 13 tooth end cogs.

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