12 reasons 1x Drivetrains Suck

by David Gould 40

Sanny has been left on his own for too long again and has been casting his critical eye over technological progress.

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Do you love or hate 1 x ?

Let me take you back into the mists of time when, if you were lucky, your bike had fifteen (yes, fifteen!) gears, suspension forks had yet to be a glint in Paul Turner’s eye and steel ruled the roost. Things were definitely simpler back then. As technological advances grew apace, manufacturers cottoned onto the fact that by offering a wider range of gears in a more compact package (thank you Mr Suntour for your Microdrive© drivetrains), the potential of mountain bikes to take you into, over and through the backcountry was finally being realised. Modern day adventurers such as Nicholas and Richard Crane were ahead of the curve when they custom modified a 5 speed Suntour freewheel to include a 38 tooth sprocket for their ride up Kilimanjaro in the early eighties. Jump forward to the present and as we worship at the great altar of “Enduro” and “Trail”, I can’t help but feel that the ever charging juggernaut that is ‘1x’ drivetrains is not so much progress as a retrograde step. Let me try and explain why.

The theory of ‘1x’ set ups is undoubtedly appealing in its simplicity. By widening the range of gears at the back, this obviates the need for a granny ring, front shifter and front mech. With fewer bits on your bike to go wrong, you have less to worry about when changing gear. Call it peace of mind where you no longer have to make those oh so challenging mental calculations as to whether you should change both gears at once to get your desired ratio or just live on the edge and change only one. Your bars are less cluttered giving you more space to mount your GPS / Go-Pro / retina melting front light. With a single ring, no longer will you catch that log that unexpectedly jumps out at you every ride and tries to remove teeth from your big ring and skin from your knee.

For manufacturers, no longer do they need to spend time and money designing frames to accommodate two or three rings at the front and one of those pesky front mechs.

While you may not have the range of gears of a 2 by or 3 by set up, you will have legs that put Chris Hoy’s to shame – behold your new found greatness and inner gnar for you, my child, are an Enduro Legend!

Bollox!

While perhaps not a comment worthy of Dorothy Parker, it pretty much encapsulates my feelings about this latest advance being foisted upon the riding public. Am I just being a grumpy git who as the older I get, the better I was or is there some logic behind what I am saying? Let’s consider the evidence.

1 – Lose the clutter at the front, save some weight.

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Not exactly lead weights are they?

It is a persuasive argument and one which mountain bikers have been prone to subscribe to over the years. It’s why we used to do stupid things like drill out cranks to save weight. Who would have thought that would end badly, eh? And yet, for all the lost clutter, why do so many of us then fit a weighty plastic or metal chain device at the front? Is it not better to have something that does ostensibly the same job but also gives you access to a whole range of lower gears too? Why not be truly minimalist and get rid of the brakes too. You don’t REALLY need them, do you?

2 With only one ring, you can achieve better clearance for those hoppy, thrutchy rides…

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When was the last time you hit your chainring?

…where boulders and fallen trees lurk around the next corner waiting to mash your chain and big ring.

While there is no denying the logic of this argument, how many of us actually run triple chainsets these days with big rings that look more in keeping with a cross bike than a mountain bike? If you are running a single 32 tooth ring or more up front, you’re running the same ring size as a typical 2 by set up. Remind me what that advantage was again?

3 Claim: Peace of mind

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Do you still find yourself reaching for a phantom front shifter?

I’ve heard it said on several occasions recently when out riding that the lack of a front mech set up means that there is less need to think when riding, that one can concentrate on flow and the whole riding experience without the worry of having to use ones left thumb. The human brain is a seriously capable piece of machinery. If you genuinely feel that your riding experience was being ruined by having to use your left thumb, I think you may need to have a long talk with yourself in a darkened room. First world problems.

4 Cockpit Clear Out

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Is this really that much more cluttered?

Seriously? Before the advent of the single ring set up, how many of us spent our time bemoaning the clutter that we have to look at on our bars each and every time we head out on a ride? Sure, we now live in a world of dropper posts and stem mounted GPS devices but does the presence of a couple of extra bits of plastic and metal on your bars and stem really create a problem that has to be solved?

5 Stronger legs make you a better rider.

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There are people out there who actually enjoy climbing!!

Ride 1x 11 and you will end up pushing harder gears than before. Now on this point I can agree. For short and sharp climbs, explosive power is great but it will only get you so far. As someone who loves climbing, it’s hard to beat the feeling of satisfaction as you push yourself to the point of spewing to get up a steep climb (did I say satisfaction, it could just be relief). However, ‘spin to win’ is my mantra when it comes to long, drawn out climbs. To my mind, there is something almost Zen like in tackling a long, steep climb. By concentrating on the challenge in front of you, you can almost forget about your day to day worries. It’s exactly the same feeling I get when riding at speed in dappled sunshine along a twisty section of native woodland singletrack. It’s just me and the trail. However, jump back to reality and even with a 30 -42 set up, I’m left wanting for something lower. As I frantically jab at my non-existent left hand shifter, a feeling of weary resignation consumes me. Instead of fighting the bike, I could be spinning. Instead I find myself pushing 30 odd pounds of carbon Enduro bike up a hill that I could still ride on my old Raleigh Maverick. Idiot!

6 The “Man Up” argument aka the “I could ride this but I chose to walk as it’s quicker” paradigm

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See how light my 1 x bike is!

“I use 1 x 11 and I can ride everything. 2 x drivetrains are for wimps!” For some obscure reason, there appears to be an apparent correlation between many 1 x 11 riders and their need to denigrate those who questions their love of the single ring. This often degenerates into a position that if you can’t ride up hills using 1 x 11, you are either not fit enough or gnarly enough as a rider. And would really be better walking anyway. Curiously, it is almost worn as a badge of honour. Of course, if the proponents of this approach were as gnarr-core as they might believe themselves to be, might one suggest that they should be riding a rigid fixie off road. Invariably, manning up seems to be closely aligned with pushing or carrying one’s bike.

7 The eye watering cost of cassettes.

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How much!!!

I probably missed the memo but when in the name of Grabthar’s Hammer did cassettes start costing more than a decent entry level mountain bike? Charging over £300 for what is a consumable item that may only last a few months or less in the grime and slop of a British winter is, to be blunt, taking the proverbial. I genuinely wonder how the mountain bike market has reached a stage in its evolutionary progress that as consumers, we are willing to suck it up and pay what is by any reasonable measure, a stupid amount of money. In terms of manufacturing costs, I wonder how much more it costs to make a top end cassette as some of the lesser priced offerings. Seriously? £300? Do they come supplied in a diamond encrusted box sealed with unicorn tears? There won’t be much demand for that in Yorkshire!

8 You can have your favourite high or low gears but not on the same ride.

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There’s no compromise when you have more chainrings up front.

Now this for me is a deal breaker. Most of my rides have a mix of road and off road. Having the option to go fast when I want and to tackle super steep climbs when I want isn’t so much an option but a given for me. Of late, I have been riding a 10 – 42 with a 30 tooth ring up front set up. For much of the time, it is a good compromise but as soon as I start to stray into the further reaches of  high and low gearing territory, I find that I am either spinning out like an extra from The Muppet Show on amphetamines or gurning and straining to turn over the cranks without the back end breaking out. It is at these times that the drivetrain becomes a hindrance and outweighs the perceived benefits.

9 The 1x 11 evangelist.

Is it a pre-requisite of switching to 1x 11 that you need to become an evangelical advocate that 1x 11 cures all ills of mountain biking’s sinful past and that the doubters and naysayers shall be cast to the mountain bike dustbin of Kirk magnesium frames, Tioga Disc Drive wheels and Bula clothing? If you are happy with your choices then I am happy for you. Just don’t take it quite so personally when you discover that it isn’t for everyone. You don’t need to try and convert them to the new faith.

10 Loss of choice.

Ok so before you commit crayon to paper, hear me out on this one. Clearly, we now have more choice in drivetrain options than we ever did before. Of that there can be no denial. However, when it comes to frame design, a number of big name manufacturers are now making frames that are wholly incompatible with a double or triple set up at the front. Even if you want to fit a front mech, you can’t. Is restricting your riding options by design a good thing? I’m not so sure.

11 Increased drivetrain wear – spend more time fixing and less time riding

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Is 1 x more expensive to maintain?

There is definitely something of the Yorkshire in my Scottish DNA as I look at thick thin chainrings with their £70 or £80 price tags and baulk at the cost of something that is going to wear quicker than a double or triple set up. Add in cassette expander rings that aren’t known for their longevity and you’re looking at replacing your drivetrain more frequently than before. While I acknowledge that we are a consumerist society, I perhaps naively hope that increased simplicity and cost would come with a drivetrain that lasts longer, not wears out faster. Pay more, wear out faster – the accountants will be rubbing their hands with glee.

12 Man bobs, hipster beards and coffee beans that a cat has shat.

 

I’m not necessarily saying that 1x 11 is the mountain biking equivalent of the self-deluded hipster who works as a freelance scientist for a trending bandwidth consumer engagement consultancy but there are an awful lot of things that are en vogue that in the future we will probably look back on in the not too distant future with disdain. Is 1x 11 the biking equivalent of the mullet? Quite possibly!

So there you have it. 12 reasons why 1x 11 isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Call me a cynic but as long as there is the choice, I’ll be sticking with tried and trusted technology.

Happy trails.

Comments (40)

  1. 13: with a front mech, you can dump a whole load of gears in 1 rapid clunk. the same ‘change’ with a single-ring system requires a drawn out click-click-click-click-click-click. (both my mtb’s are single-ring, this is what i’ve noticed).

  2. Number 5 sums me up too. 2×10. With a bash guard.

  3. I ride what suit me best. I simply don’t care what suits “you” best! 😉

  4. Re 13 my XT mech can do 3 upshifts with a big push so that’s almost what my old 2×9 setup could do with a drop from middle to granny.

  5. some of us have been single ring for years…so weirdly since 11 speed arrived I’ve got more gears not less, and a chain that won’t fall off even when I don’t use a device. Win…

  6. Aah but the math(s)!

    I realise that the the e*thirteen 9-44t cassette is silly money, but with a 28t, the low gear works out to the equivalent of a 24×38 (2 teeth lower than a 10s XT double) and the high with near-XT 38×12 (because I need to be able to maintain 24mph at 90rpm on my mountain bike).

    A more-economical SRAM 10-42 with the same 28 gives you a 24×36-equivalent low and a 38×14 high- good for 22mph at that comfortable 90rpm- plenty for all but the most competitive towpath time trials.

    Run whatever makes you happy, but once I laid the numbers are laid out (and given the quiet/simplicity/light weight/etc) I couldn’t personally see going back to a double for anything but touring or mixed-terrain commuting.

  7. Good to hear a well argued and sound, alternative viewpoint.

  8. Still have to ride the road to get the mix of trails and I see no point in 1 X 11, though most of the time I use 2×10 there are rides I would like a triple chainset, I fear for the front mech future.
    Good reasons and well written

  9. 2x 2x 2x or even 3x

    The number of single ring walkers I saw last week at the Batch Burner was comical.

  10. If it suits 1x is fine, as is 2x, or even 3x.
    Since UPGRADING to 1x, I have had no regrets. I ditched 3×9 for 1×11, as I hardly ever used either the granny ring or the big ring and didn’t see the point with 2x. Chain suck is also now a distant memory, where as I have friends who still run 2x and are still afflicted by this dreaded curse.

  11. What an absolute crock. You’re confusing 12 reasons with 12 whinges, 12 unfounded whinges about nothing in particular that matters in the slightest for that matter.
    I’ve not seen anyone put pressure on others to lose a front mech. All sounds a bit paranoid to me. Do you REALLY feel under pressure from others to change components on a bicycle?
    In the nicest possible way, get a grip.
    Run a front mech if you want to. Don’t if you don’t want to.
    🙂

  12. i’ve read some utter bollox on here before, but i think this whole article takes the biscuit… seriously, did the authour get paid for this?!

  13. Well said Sanny.
    About time we had the alternative point of view.
    Shame this isn’t in the mag.

  14. I’m sure this must be very much tongue in cheek.
    Most of these are just moans, some are a repeat of the previous one and some are simply factually incorrect….
    The choice still exists.

  15. I am assuming this article is intended to be tongue in cheek. But seriously, none these reasons stand up to scrutiny.
    I have been 1x for three years now, have never spent much money on it (new XT can be picked up for very good prices) and the benefits outweigh the disadvantages (for me anyway).

  16. Must be tongue in cheek… Or just some click bait maybe 🙂

    Another 1x convert here among 1x converts and proper mountains it works and is getting header and cheaper

  17. Sometimes I do whine that a certain hill is proving hard work without the granny ring. Then I just STFU and get on with it.

  18. I’ve recently reverted to 2×10, and like it, yes i can see advantages to 1x but as Sanny points out, its not perfect and not for everyone. Range is still an issue as SRAM have ackowledged with the eagle and a dinner plate inner cog. Also the no one is forcing you argument isnt entirely true, ok you dont have to buy a 1x only frame but if buying new the front mech compatible frames are becoming less common. I weighed what i took off when i went 1x, came to about 440g from memory, cable, mech, shifter, 2 rings, so,worth having, but i’d rather ride more. Interestingly Tracy Moseley runs 2x .

  19. Some valid points, but a lot of bobbins that wouldn’t have sounded out of place coming from a politician’s mouth in the last week. I’ve been running a one-upped 1×10 for the last 2 years. Still on the original sprockets. I’ll admit a bit more range would be nice from time to time, but I can’t see myself going back. And it’s great for noobs, no thinking required, just up and down.

  20. Kayak23 and others

    In many cases this is a reduction in choice. There seem to be a fair few frames that won’t run a front mech’ or have cable stops for a front mech’ or clearance for more than 1 chain ring

  21. WELL SAID SANNY !!!!
    £300 to £350 for a cassette is sipmly ridiculous for a consumable.
    I had my 3 x 9 setup on an all mountain bike converted to 2 x 9 with a bash guard and chain guide a few years ago by my LBS and it suits me just fine thank you much and chain stays on very well too.

  22. At last somebody is challenging this crap.

    Well done that man.

    I just kitted out a Pivot Les with a 10spd double system. After a while it dawned on me that my mixed off road/road commute was taking me 20 minutes longer than it had done on a cheapy Parkwood kitted out with an old 9 spd triple system.

    The Parkwood had a slightly lower low gear and a vastly higher high gear.

    Now the first chain has given up the ghost, the Les now has the old 9 spd triple system and I’m way happier with it.

  23. My old 2 by 10 setup lowest ratio of 26 x 34 wasnt much different to the 1 by 11 of 34 x 42 I am running now.

  24. Where are you folks buying these £350 cassettes?
    I’ve got an xt and a superstar expander. Probably about £60 all in.
    As for choice being narrowed, it is in all areas of life all the time. However there’s usually ways around most things. There are lots of frames I wouldn’t consider because of this thing, or that thing but then there are lots and lots and lots of frames.
    There are also bolt on cable stops and guides and all of that and there are also engineers to come up with brackets and things if you really want to run a mech on a frame that wasn’t designed for one.
    Really odd, whingey article imho, a non-issue and something that has been discussed in the forums for ages.
    Always seems to me the only ‘evangelism’ that happens is backwards evangelism, putting down those who try new setups and passing them off as fashion victims. Weird.

  25. Double and bash on my 2007 Orange 5 – I’ll never get up the hill from Coniston to Tarn Hows without my granny ring….

  26. “WELL SAID SANNY !!!!
    £300 to £350 for a cassette is sipmly ridiculous for a consumable.”
    Another one who reads headlines not content… look up the GX Range, the XT then upcoming SLX etc. I know it spoils the whinge but go on do a little research

  27. Excellent read enjoyed that, I am still using 3×10 with large ring replaced by a bash guard. The lack of range is ridiculous and end of story for me.

  28. On the cost front, you can buy an 11-42 cassette for less than £40 and a n/w ring for under £20 quite regularly. It’s not very expensive to give it a try should you wish to.

  29. “You don’t need to try and convert them to the new faith”

    Can you not see the irony in telling people this while trying to convert them back?!

  30. And since when was it acceptable to use ‘suck’ in UK journalism

  31. I think the main point that resonates with me is that bikes are now coming with no provision for a front mech. I want the choice and the lack of that choice would be a deal breaker for me. I use all three of my front rings a lot, we have lots of road connecting trails here.

  32. Some good points here, but one big omission is how good 1X has been for full suspension bikes. Designers don’t have to scratch their heads wondering how they can eliminate pedal feedback in two different rings, or how to make a front mech work while still letting you run a properly meaty back tyre.

    That’s the reason that bike manufacturers are cutting out front mechs, not some sinister conspiracy to make you buy more drivetrain bits. And the front mech is far from dead. You can still get a frame with pump pegs if you really want one.

  33. Hmmm… here it comes:

    All it is is a massive distraction.
    Really? deraileurs on the back of a mountain bike? one of the more expensive components, hanging off in such a vunerable position?
    Where is the centrally mounted gear box? (If you really want to launch a discussion about manufactures’ conspiracies…)

    Just throwing it out there.

  34. Stealth granny ring in 26 flavour quick flick of the finger and your in spinning heaven 🙂

  35. “The number of single ring walkers I saw last week” and how many of those would still have been walking if they’d done the event a couple years ago pre 1x? Lot’s of people don’t like climbing, some just can’t. I remember from group rides in the past, someone further up the hill would come to a tricky bit and put their foot down, immediately there’d be a mexican wave of clunks as people behind saw someone had failed and could now give it up as it was now officially unclimb-able.
    New cassettes offer the range a lot of people run on 2x, in those cases 1x makes sense.
    But yeah silly money cassettes can do one!

  36. Presumably, with the advent of Eagle 12 speed, Sanny was last seen throwing things around his shed and screeching.

  37. Used to ride 3×9, then took the granny and the big ring of, so went to 1×9. Climbing was difficult. Now I have 1×11 on my new bike. I wouldn’t go back for any reason. No fashion reasons, just pure practicality. Why have more stuff if one ring is enough?

  38. Anybody running 28/40 with 11-40 cassette?

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