Forget The Front Mech - "Going Single"
For many years, bike gearing followed the mantra of "bigger is better", and the more you spent on your bike, the more chainrings you would get on the front chainset and more sprockets on the rear cassette. The advantageous result was that gear ratios became wider and riders had many more gears to choose from. The disadvantage was that at the same time, drivetrains collected additional weight, clutter and the addition of more gears created a higher risk of mechanical problems...
Things have been changing over the last few years though, mountain bikers and now cyclocross riders are increasingly stripping back their drivetrains. "Going Single" on your chainset is now the latest fashion...
In the last couple of months I have tested both the Race Face Narrow/Wide Chainring (Wiggle Blog Review - Link) and the Hope Retainer Chainring (Wiggle Blog - Link). Stripping off the front mech and two chainrings ditches A LOT of weight, and as I explained in the reviews, the new Narrow/Wide technology (first introduced in the Sram XX1 groupset) means that you also no longer need a chain device, further cutting weight.
I'm publishing this post because I can honestly say it's one of the best bike changes I have made to date.
By switching to a 1x10 drivetrain, with a 32 tooth chainring and an 11-36 cassette, I have created a gear set-up that seems to be just as capable as my old 3x9 groupset; but frankly looks, works and feels a whole lot better.
The introduction of a clutch mech eliminates chain-slap. The loss of the inner and outer chainrings means there is no chain rub when cross-chaining, therefore giving you a full 10 usable gears. The removal of the front derailleur makes cleaning a hell of a lot easier. Finally, to top things off, just look at it, it looks so neat!
Yes, the lowest gear isn't quite as low as when I had a granny ring, but I rarely used to use that anyway. Yes, the highest gear is not as high as on my old triple, but again this is not a real disadvantage; you just have to spin your legs a bit more at top speeds. For me, the benefits definitely outweigh the burdens.
[Note: For those concerned about grinding, and for those (like me) that can't stretch to the Sram XX1 drivetrain with the "get out of jail" 42 tooth sprocket on the rear cassette, there is also hope... because Hope Tech may be producing a 10 speed cassette with a similar giant 42 tooth sprocket, so you can continue to spin to your heart's content]
In fact, I like the single ring set-up so much, that I am now running a normal chainring with a 1x9 on my commuting hack bike (with an old front mech as a chain catcher - positioned using the limit screws). The relatively flat commute that I have means that it's perfect with a single 42 tooth front ring, and the ease of cleaning is a major advantage.
So, think about removing and forgetting the front mech if you are a mountain biker or commuter. Do you really need those extra chainrings?
Post your thoughts in the comments section below.