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The Low-Gear Arms Race

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4/27/2015 2:35 PM

OneUp just released a 45t cog for Shimano cassettes. For the most part, I think, 'Why not?' If somebody wants to spend the cash to install a chainring-sized cog, and that helps them have fun on a bike, who am I to judge?

On the other hand... Does anybody else feel like 45t is approaching ridiculous? Maybe I'm just a retro-grouch, but I remember just a few years ago (and really, I mean just a few--I'm not talking about the 90s here) anybody switching to a 1x drivetrain just sorta accepted that climbing was going to be tougher and probably slower, and that they'd end up stronger for it. In exchange, they'd get much better chain security, and a significant measure of simplicity. From my point of view, it seems like SRAM and Shimano have begun an arms race to eliminate the tougher & slower components of the compromise—and though I understand that from an engineering perspective, I do wonder if 1x drivetrains are going to start to be as cumbersome in their own way as the 2x or 3x systems they replaced. Imagine what a slightly bent hanger could do to your shifting if you're covering a 400% spread of 11 tightly-spaced cogs. Short-cage derailleurs are notably rarer these days, too.

I don't have a vendetta against low gearing. I'm just curious, because 45 teeth is more than I used to have on my big chainring back in the 3x9 days (again, just a few years ago). Anybody else care to weigh in on where 1x drivetrains might go from here?

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4/27/2015 3:20 PM

There's certainly a push towards more and more gear range, and it's getting a little out of hand.

SRAM's GX line comes in a 2X version with their 10-42T cassette, and Shimano's XT/XTR in a 3X version (god forbid) with the 11-40T cassette. Is that much range really needed? I don't think so. Unless you're out to win a slow race in a hilariously spun out fashion.

Now, 1X drivetrains... I feel the real point of OneUp's recent 45T expander is to provide very close to the same range as SRAM's 10-42T without the need for a new freehub. It's as simple as that, and people will pay for it for that reason. Yes, it's a monster. Yes, you could probably eat dinner off it in a pinch. And yes, that medium/long cage derailleur is just asking to be smashed (though they have gotten stronger in recent years).

But, given recent spec decisions it's obvious people are hooked on the simplicity and clean look of 1X systems, so making them more accommodating of a larger range of riders (fit or otherwise) is clearly a priority for all the brands. $$$ are surely a motivator too, because it seems as though that's an area where a lot of money is being spent right now.

We'll consider the cumbersome aspect, tuning, and shifting performance (before/after hanger damage) when we do reviews of future systems, including OneUp's mega cog.

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4/28/2015 8:05 AM

"...it's obvious people are hooked on the simplicity and clean look of 1X systems, so making them more accommodating of a larger range of riders (fit or otherwise) is clearly a priority for all the brands."

SRAM deserves credit for their marketing department. They managed to popularize the 1x drivetrain by packaging it all into a unified, branded groupset which didn't require the levels of DIY that were common up to that point. It seems like maybe the success of their push for 1x-everything has proven to be a double-edged sword: they've convinced everybody that 1x drivetrains are the way to go, but now that people are, as you say, "hooked," those people are asking for 1x drivetrains that function like their old 2x or 3x systems used to. (Somebody must be asking for it, right?)

Personally, I just hope that the option of a narrower-range cassette remains available. It may be aftermarket companies like OneUp that fill that market, in fact, if SRAM and Shimano decide that wide-range is where the big profits are and commit fully to it. The classic argument of "If you don't like it, don't buy it" becomes harder to accept when new products push the old ones out of production. (Case in point: the 650B boom over the last couple years, or even the demise of 26" XC hardtails before that. [Although I'm probably the only person who misses those.]) Hopefully a few companies will remember that a 1x drivetrain shouldn't need to fulfill the functions of a double or triple, and will keep producing the components necessary to assemble one that isn't attempting to be "accomodating."

But I'm very curious to hear how this dinner plate functions. Maybe I'm all wrong, and derailleurs and cassettes have gotten so much better that they can manage 11 speeds over a massive spread. For now, I think I'm still a skeptic.

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4/28/2015 8:30 AM

If you want to relive the challenge of running 9-speed one-by setup like the old days, you technically still have the option to do so, even with these modern 11-speed options. At the same time you are challenged on the climbs with that 38T and 45-11, you will be able to ride at 40 mph, assuming you have the legs to do so. tongue But that's not the intent of modern one-bys. The intent is to provide a two-by-like gear range without a front derailleur and so far they have succeeded. If fact, I am one who praises their existence, but I have been running homegrown one-bys long before any company began catering to the option on trail bikes and they sucked hard back then.

The reason we are seeing large big cogs is top speed. Yes, top speed. (Well, in the case of One-Up, it's to allow for the old freehub design.) If you choose a chainring that suits your climbing style, you may not have a tall enough gear for speed. Or you may, but some riders won't, even with a 10T cog. However, XD already reached the lower limit in the toothcount range -- technically, 9T is the lower limit, IIRC, but the chain starts complaining about that tight of a bend under load so 10T was chosen -- so the only place you can go is an increased count on the large cog with a higher tooth count on the chainring. So I guess if you are looking for compromises, that's one. I don't see it as much of a compromise because this solution still gets me a comfortable -- not sissy -- climbing range and some serious speed for the bike lane on my way to the trail. In other words, for me, original one-bys were compromise in the name of simplicity and reliability. Modern one-bys fix these drawbacks at the cost of odd visual proportions.

As for your point about the derailleur being knocked out of true with the large cassettes, that's not anymore of an issue with these than 9-speed cassettes if the upper hanger roller remains close to the cog through the entire shifting range. SRAM, and I'm assuming Shimano, has accommodated for this and that roller remains close to the cassette through the range. That doesn't mean it's impervious to bad shifting when knocked out of alignment, it just means it's no worse than older gearing setups when it does happen.

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