21 March, 2016
Since the wide/narrow rings came out, I jumped aboard and started using them with a 1x10 set up on my fat bike a few years ago. Since then things have gotten a more developed, more affordable and with a lot more options. Having a bmx / single speed background, once I transitioned into mountain and road riding I was never very fond of the front derailleur. Since the midwest is pretty flat, you are in the big ring 99% of the time anyway. The 1x drivetrain makes bikes lighter, simpler and easier maintenance.
When I started building up a new road/gravel bike six months ago, I again wanted to cut out the front derailleur that I was using for so many years. Sram's Rival and Force 1 this year got a more affordable and they made many changes to the system to make for a easier set up and better function. I started my research about a year ago making sure that the 1x set up won't hold me back and would still allow the same range that I was using on my compact 2x drivetrain. Recently more of these reviews have been coming out and seeing road/tri athletes swapping over to a larger 1x set up for road. I think the 1x swap will become even more popular with the years to come for road and gravel bikes.
My set up started with:
I built up this set up while I was in Colorado to test it in the front range. There you have gravel roads, endless climbs, fast descends and everything in-between. Still having my 2x10 bike and now my 1x11 I got to feel the difference on the same roads. For me I did notice at first the larger jumps in the cassette range while pedaling, but once you get used to how the drivetrain feels that goes away very quickly. The 1x set up didn't loose anything in the climbs or descents and on the flats I had plenty of gears for my legs. With 2x drivetrains you do have 20 or 22 gears, but there are a few gears that are recommended not to use, so you then loose 2 or 3 gears anyway, making the difference of gears not as great. The chart below shows that the 1x set up still allows for 98% of the ranges that 2x11 offers.
Once I we got to California I had a new set of roads to try out the 1x11 drivetrain on the road. The roads here are much flatter and the mountains are not as promenade as Colorado. After a few rides here, I did notice that my legs were spinning a bit to much, so I swap my 42t for a 44t chainring. After the swap I noticed a better performance within how the gearing felt with the range in the rear and the over spinning of my legs feeling went away as well. The 44t chainring would of been a great set up in Colorado as well, I think it just took some time to figure out what works the best for me. I seen sets up with 38t all the way up to 50t chainrings, it all depends on you and the terrain.
Making the transition to the 1x set up can get pretty expensive, but there are things you can do to make your the transition more affordable. Wolf tooth and Raceface both are making an arrange of wide/narrow chainrings for different cranks so you don't have to buy a new crankset. Just make sure that your chain line would be good when making the swap (Wolf tooth's website has some great articles to read on chain lines and what to use and not use). Also, if you have a 10 speed wheelset, making the swap to a new wheelset with XD is the most costly. Fortunately there are wide range 11 speed cassettes that will work on your 10 speed driver; Shimano XTR M9000, Sram NX and Sunrace MX8. There is a wide range of parts offered now that you can make the transition into using a 1x drivetrain on your budget no matter how big or small.
With a few hundred miles on this drivetrain I'm glad to report that I'm confident in the swap and the 1x set up will be staying on for many years to come. It performed much better out on the CX course, since there was no front derailleur to get cogged and with the bumpy terrain the clutch system derailleur out performed the standard 2x as well (this would go for the long distance gravel races come up this spring). The Force 1 derailleur provides a fast clean shift through the 10-42 cassette, even when things got muddy and under pressure from steep climbs. The 1x set up for road isn't for everyone, but I think for a lot of people this does make a lot of sense. It might take a little playing around with to figure our what gearing you need based on where you live, your performance level and what terrain you ride in most. But once that is figured out, the 1x gives you and your bike the simplicity and worry free joy of riding.