Are you strong enough for a 1×11 drivetrain?

1×11 drivetrains are all the rage. They promise to be simpler, lighter and more hardcore than multi-ring setups.

But is the lowest gear low enough for you?

Let’s talk ratios

Here are the lowest gear ratios for some common setups.

The 2×10 setups provide about a 10 percent easier gear than the 1x11s. That’s a big difference.

Let’s talk wheel size

Mountain Bike Action magazine conducted a brilliant rollout test with various 26- 27.5- and 29-inch tires. Here are the median diameters of each size:

(25.9 for life!)

Based on the MBA diameters, here are gear-inches for two different gear ratios and the three wheel sizes. Lower numbers are easier to pedal.

A 29er with 22×36 has the same final ratio as a 26er with 28×42.

Let’s talk power

Using this handy dandy Excel calculator, you can estimate the wattage required for any body weight, bike weight, slope and speed. This is a dull blade, but it helps us compare setups.

Imagine churning up a long, steep hill in your lowest gear. You’re not in a hurry. You just want to get your carcass to the top so you can Enduro™ the next downhill.

Here are the constants:

Body weight: 180 lbs

Bike weight: 30 pounds

Wheel diameter: 27 inches. I ride 29ers, but 650B is more fashionable.

Uphill grade: 15%. Pretty darn steep.

Cadence: 80 rpm, which is healthy and efficient

According to the Excel spreadsheet, here are the wattage requirements for different gear ratios.

The lower gears let you grind up this hill with about 9-10 percent less power. That might not seem significant, but:

From my training with stationary and Stages on-bike power meters, I know I can sustain 300 watts for 20 minutes. This is on a perfect day — and it requires full effort: neither sustainable, repeatable nor fun.

At 270 watts I can relax: enjoy the ride, work the terrain and keep some gas in the tank. That 10 percent reduction is the difference between red line and sweet spot. The difference between “OMG when is this over?” and “Right on. I’m stoked!”

Give me the gear that lets me stay in the sweet spot. (And take it easy when I’m tired, and warm up gradually when I’m sore.)

Before you switch to 1×11, ask yourself:

Where do I ride? Short, steep climbs can be attacked. Long, steep climbs have to be bargained with. Does the trail turn steep right from the beginning? If so, consider a warmup gear.

How strong am I? If you start riding a 10% harder gear, you might get 10% stronger. But, honestly, is that you? If you’ve been suffering on climbs, a harder gear is not likely to improve your life. On your next ride, don’t use your easiest gear(s). How’d it feel?

What size wheel am I riding? All things being equal, bigger wheels should mean easier gears.

My main trail bikes — a Specialized Camber and Enduro, both 29ers — have 2×10 Shimano drivetrains. They shift perfectly, the chains stay quiet and the low gears are there when I need them.

I rarely use my 22t chainring, but it sure is nice at times like this.

How about you? What are you riding?

Lee

UPDATE JAN. 26, 2015:

Some riders — depending on crank brand and bolt pattern — can use 26t chainrings with their 1x setups.

This gives a 0.62 ratio, which is very close to a 2×10 setup with a 22/36 low gear.

Sweet!

Know more. Have more fun!

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39 replies
1. Rob Lawrence says:

I have pondered these same questions, as I am currently using a trusty 9X3 gears with a lowest of 22 X 34. I only ever use my big ring for short road rides (or a rare fire road) so it is not important.

One question I have wondered is the lower rolling resistance of a 27 or 29 versus a 26?

This may make up part of that painful gap when losing the lowest gears. I wonder if there is any data on this ??

cheers

Rob

2. Wacek says:

With my humble experience with my tiny power, on my trails I can say that if terrain gets too steep, Granny ring causes paradox of choice: Traction vs handling. Sit and spin or stand and steer the bike with 66head angle and relatively high cockpit (which is a common Enduro treat). There is a third option off course, put the nose of the saddle where the trail ends and bend your back as much as lumbar spine alliws to put chest to the stem. And that is with Butcher/Purgatory Control tyres on carbang wheels. If I switched to Butchers SX on some “poor” 500g aluminium rims like Flow EX, i’d have some baaad time. I run 34t front on 36 back on 26er.

An issue with calculating 1×11 gear ratios for 29ers is that people focus a lot on upper 42t cog, sometimes missing the fact that if they put 30t front, it will also work as 34-36t to 11t. My biggest problem with many people who talk on the internet on limited gear ratio is that if they truly miss high gears they are highly likely to not crank the hard gears when terrain points down. I cannot spin out 34t-36t on 26er on flat asphalt and some people say they need 38t-40t front to get to the woods, while at the same time they preach high cadence, which would mean they could easily ride 35km/h+ with 2,5″ Minions.
We all have different muscles, and have different likes to cadence but A some are in church of James Wilson B some have their bedroom decorated with poster of Mark Weir on single 40t ring, and he jyst confessed on Pinkbike that he doesn’t even lift!

3. leelikesbikes says:

Rob: Last I read (and wrote) I think 29ers roll over small bumps about 6% more easily than 26ers. Let me look around for the stats.

4. Kevin says:

Hey Lee,

This is good stuff! Only question is, what happens if you don’t keep the RPM constant? I grabbed that sweet Excel spreadsheet, but couldn’t find any place to enter in gear ratios or cadence. So, the only thing I could do was grab your numbers and correct them for speed. So, in my scenario, you’re grunting up the hill, in no hurry, and okay to let your RPM drop as long as you maintain the same speed. My thinking is that I need to maintain a certain speed to clear logs, bumps, etc. I’m sure you can plug this stuff into your calculations and get better results, but here is what I got:

– On 1×11, you were putting out 71.03 w/mph (simply divide wattage by mph).
– On traditional – 2X10 you were chugging out 70.74 w/mph
– 2X11 (with 40t cassette) = 70.91 w/mph

So, while you were using fewer watts (less energy), you went slower with lower gears (makes sense). But, from a strictly efficiency side of things, we’re missing something.

Like I said, I couldn’t do anything to correct for power or efficiency at any given RPM given lack of mechanics in the spreadsheet, but would be happy to hear more. Obviously, this gets into efficiency of pedaling by-person: Some people whip the cream, some people mash the potatoes, some people beat the meat or however that analogy goes. In short, some people are more comfortable spinning, while others crank. Not sure how that shakes out in efficiency. But, it seems as if that is the X-factor here.

Can you recalculate using constant speed and determine variance in efficiency? Might be interesting to see how cadence at the same speed affects wattage!

5. Kevin says:

Oh, and for the record, I have 1X11 w/ 30t front on a 29er & a 27.5. On my fatbike I have 2X10 w/ 22t granny and 36t cassette. I do see the value in a small granny gear when it gets uber steep, but I would spin the rear tire like crazy if it wasn’t 5 inches wide and covered in knobs at that low of a gear. Any of the 3 bikes, I’m not fast up the hill, but I generally get there! And, having ridden with you, I know you’re like 3X burlier than I am. Checking my records, I see several climbs longer than 20min, on trail, where I was riding uphill for more than 20 min with an average grade around 15% at 4mph. I was on 1X11 (29er) and though I wished for death, I am not writing from the great singletrack on the other side, so must have lived. So, guessing that I’m not able to keep 304 watts for that long.

6. Jeff says:

ONLY THEN you will obviously be able to make all the climbs, regardless of actual gear ratios and the abilities of actual human beings.

7. leelikesbikes says:

Kevin: I don’t have a way to model the efficiency of various cadences at a given speed. I think it has a lot to do with individual style, skill, fitness, fatigue, terrain and even the bike.

Put simply, any cadence at a given speed should require the same wattage. Whether you feel better at 60, 80 or 100 rpm depends on lots of factors.

You can run some experiments with a power meter (Stages are inexpensive and fit all bikes) or by varying gear ratios and cadences while maintaining a constant speed.

If you do this, you’ll find a cadence range where you feel best. Above that and you’ll get sloppy. Below that and your legs will load up.

I vary my cadence depending on the situation. If I need to crank out top watts for a long time, I’m most effective at about 90 rpm (this used to be 80 rpm). I can make a lot of power in a harder gear at relatively low cadence, but my legs load up quickly. Very high cadences are easier on my legs, but they spike my heart rate.

I think it makes sense for all of us to make our baseline cadence faster, and to make our powerband as wide as possible. I hope that helps.

8. Gary says:

Singlespeed?

9. Max says:

I really like 1×11. It just flat out works for me. I’m a big dude, I ride an Enduro 29er with big heavy tires and flat pedals. My rides all start out with an hour of climbing. 30tooth x 42, works perfectly in all situations I encounter. It gives me enough of a bailout to keep going even when things go south. I also find that it works perfectly in technical climbing situations, and has helped me to be a better rider. Gives me less to think about, and helps me focus on the important stuff.
That being said. I’ve worked hard at my pedaling and breathing technique, I have carbon wheels :), I’m not riding at elevation, I tend to ride by myself. On paper I would not have though that 1×11 would have worked for me, but the upsides far outweigh any downsides.

10. Jared13 says:

I have a few trails here in Montana that I push in a few sections even with my 2×10 so I don’t need (or even want) a 1×11, but it came with my new bike so I’ll at least give it a shot.

The worst that happens is I end up selling it to someone that wants “the new hotness” at a pretty decent rate and I’ll probably be able to sell it for enough cash to get a 2×10 out of it!

11. Wacek says:

I still think it really comes down to chemistry between you, bike and the element. I rode 2 3000ft climbs in alps this year and I made them on 32t chainring front and 36t rear on 275 bikes, with 160 travel and ca 800g tyres. Grade was 12% by average with few corners being steeper. One on asphalt other on fine gravel. I did not feel that battered BUT. A – temperature was 25C when normally it would get to 35C easily. If I lived there and ridden often, I’d opt for heavier, sturdier tyres for downhills. It would easily add 1 pound to rotational weight. If gravel was not as compact, like on some of fire roads in Poland where I am from, that would be yet another factor. If I was meant to ride up a singletrack, well… they are all different isn’t it?

All I know is that 1×10 pushes me to train harder, it pushes me to pedal harder on uphills, it just works for me. I also like low cadence, I always sit around 70 RPM. I die inside if I am to spin over 80. I don’t race, if I was into a multistage race like Enduro Race in Finale Ligure, “BC race” it would be different. Where I live If trail gets too steep, granny causes problems with traction, you don’t get all power on tap when you need to get over a stone step or large root. On granny I must take 2 meters or so to accelerate to get over it. Hard gear gives me not only that BMX gate start without wheelieing, to get front wheel over the obstacle on steep, it also provides me firmer, balanced platform to stand on, when taking the rear over it. When I borrow a bike sometimes and spin on granny I need to keep speed up to be able to negotiate between obstacles and it wears me out just as stomping hard. Well… uphills here in Western Sweden are max 3 minute long. Would it be possible to ride a steep technical uphill filled with rocks, boulders and roots for 1h? For 3000ft? – no. There is no gearing in the world that would allow that. Perhaps someone from EWS top 20 would but for me personally there is no way, even if they made 3kg Mega-Works E29,5 with graphene tyres.

Depends depends depends.

12. pat couser says:

just have to get used to pedaling at a lower cadence 🙂
I have 3 29ers:
32×18 singlespeed XC based rigid
32×11-34 1×9 setup Enduro hard-tail
38,24×11-34 2×9 setup XC race bike
There are times when I have to get off and push all of the bikes — depending on the trail.
I dont think there is one single setup that covers everything.
My singlespeed is great for a high-intensity workout if time available is short and also when the trails are really muddy.
1×9 is the best performing for enduro racing for preventing chain-drop
2×9 us good for XC racing especially when you need to pedal on flat or downhill stuff and there are also steep ascents.
The good thing about riding a single speed is that Im comfortable at between 40-180 rpm (not checked power op at different cadences though and given the choice, my preferred cadence is probably 80-100 rpm) I rencently did a power/lactic acid threshold test at the lab and aerobic limit was about 155bmp with a power op of about 240W,
Its hilly here (Pyrenees, most loops of 10-20km have 500+m of vertical in them) but my enduro or singlespeed bikes are the ones that get the most use (unless I know its going to be a very long/hard ride in which case I take the 2×9 bike to have a “get out of jail” card if needed 🙂

13. sean says:

Great research lee. Got the facts to back up opinions. Personally the 1×11 crazy is a bit silly to me unless you are racing your bike regularly. I can push 365w for 20 tests @ 170lbs. Riding a 1×11 on a 27.5 is just not fun on a long day. For having a blast on descents I want nothing less then a 34 up front. Those numbers just don’t add up to a good time. If it shifts well and the chain stays on for you what’s the point . Weight?hahaa?

14. pm says:

Hi,

I ride in GA. This is means no mountains but a lot of well designed single tracks, with short uphills and downhills.
I free ride, with an old heavy kona, and like to jump around.
I am not a very powerful rider should I try a 1×11

15. john g says:

i have a 26 w 3 ring setup. Gasp the horror. I keep it because I love the low gearing just as you state. Great article you nailed it.

16. Slim says:

Obviously a single ring setup (even 1×11) has less of a range than a double or triple.
What I don’t understand is why every article I read, including yours here, claims that ‘it’s not low enough’.
That doesn’t make any sense. Single, or triple, the difference is not in the ABSOLUTE low or high gearing, but only in the relation to the largest gearing.
If you had one of those doubles with a 28t granny, your low gear would be much taller than if you ran a single 20t ring.

Why did you pick 28t as the lowest gear for 1×11?
Even if you wan to stay with a narrow wide chainring there are plenty of 26t options available.
Or, if you go old school and run a chainguide, you could go as low as 20t.

The question should be, how low do you need AND how high.
For me, the limit on downhill speed is the brakes, not the chainring!

I understand that if you live in the mountains and have wide open trails and great skills you might actually want to pedal at 30 mph, so for those guys, the doubles make more sense for them.

But for people who ride singletrack, I’d be hard pressed to see the NEED for super tall gears.

Here’s another take:
Jerome Clementz stated once that 38t chainring was as big as he’d ever run, since it got to dangerous above those speeds. That was on a 26″ bike.
So, the equivalent on a 29er would be about a 34t chainring. For a guy who wins world class Enduro races.
I am pretty sure the majority of riders are <75% as fast as him, so they could get by with a 26t ring on a 29er or 30t on 650b without limiting their speed with their chainring.

17. Anonymous says:

I think I can best sum up my point by inverting your statements:

Are you fast enough for 2×10?

Where do I ride?
Steep descents are ridden without pedaling anyway. Gentle descents with tight corners are ridden at a moderate speed anyway, and the 10t cog will make any chainring feel 10% bigger at the top speed.

How skilled am I?
If you start riding a 10% easier top gear, you might get 10% slower. But, honestly, is that you? If you’ve been average on descents, a lower top gear is not likely to slow you down. On your next ride, don’t use your tallest gear(s). How’d it feel?

What size wheel am I riding?
All things being equal, bigger wheels should mean lower gears at the same top speed.

Just to be clear, I am not syaing everyone should ride single rings. Just trying to point out that for many people it might be more worthwhile to drop gears from the top end than the low end, and by doing so, they might find that 1×11 IS a viable option for them.

18. Slim says:

^that was me.

19. leelikesbikes says:

Slim,

I picked a 28t as the lowest gear for 1x drivetrains because that’s the smallest size currently available on stock setups.

You raise a great point: The gear ratio for 26/42t (available in April 2015 per the SRAM site) is very close to the gear ratio for 22/36. That would be a great setup for many people.

I agree that most of us don’t need the high gear. Now that 1x rings are getting smaller, they will serve more of us.

When I was a DH and Super D racer, my Enduro had a 36t ring with a GAMUT chain guide and an 11-34 cassette. I rode that setup everywhere for years. Could I do it now? Yes, I suppose so, but I don’t see the benefit.

Lee

20. Slim says:

XX1 has had a 26t ring since it’s release.

Wolftooth and Raceface (other too?) make 26t direct mount rings for most SRAM and Raceface cranks.

21. Dave says:

Great analysis! I went through a similar gearing analysis when I built my last bike. From riding my old 3-ring XC bike I knew I would end up pushing the bike more if I only used 2nd gear. My analysis showed I could only get close to my old 1st gear with a stock 2-ring crank.

2-ring cranks also offer another advantage: closer ratios between gears. Have you ever spun out one gear, only to find you couldn’t maintain the next bigger gear? You end up yo-yoing between gears all the way up that long climb. That situation is more likely to occur with a 1-ring crank.

22. leelikesbikes says:

Check out the update above. A 26t ring would help 1x work for more people.

23. Max says:

Lee, you can pump uphill! You don’t even need a chain, let alone gears?!

24. leelikesbikes says:

Here’s another variable:

Three days ago I was so exhausted I could barely get around my neighborhood in a 32×36*.

Yesterday I lifted wights then blasted the 1,000-foot climb from town to home in a 32×21. Twice. Then I rode the pump track.

This is the oldest training philosophy in the book: If you feel strong, pin it. If you feel tired, take it easy.

Easy gears help those easy days.

*This is on an S-Works Stumpjumper hardtail. This bike is built like a dirt jumper with a 1×10 Shimano XT drivetrain.

25. Walt says:

The 22T front was worthless for anyone but a beginner or way out of shape rider just getting back into it. If you buy a Shimano 2X Hollowtech crankset like I did, you get 26t/38t gears – way more usable. I really don’t understand the absurdity of a 22T on 2X drive trains because that is a relic of the past that came on the old 3X drive trains where for many years, you got 22t/32t/42t. But nowadays, you have such a larger rear sprocket, why do you need it? You don’t! Shimano has realized that, so why can’t we here? Just let the 22T fade into mt biking history.

26. jimmy says:

To above poster, that depend on how steep the climb.
Not total climbing meter, but how steep the grade is.
3000 meter total climb with 32t sounds strong.
try with our little hill 280 meter rise in 1.8 km which average 12 grade based on strava. But its tell you nothing about 35+ grade and with steepest over 42 grade.
You can take 32t based on 280m strava stats, but ended with hiking.
I was track stand with 40t chainring (dh bike), ended turning back on first climb, come back again with 32t, ended with hiking ride, half of climbs were stalled. Tractions were no issue, tarmac cover with leaves and some gravel.
third attempt were on 22t, it was full ride but with 7 stops as i remembered.

27. Brien says:

I’m not super athletic and I’m loving the single chainring setup. 26″ 1×10 (30/42) and 27.5″ 1×11 (32/42). Less rattle and chain drops on rocky descents, one less component to tune, simplified shifting. Sure, your gear range is a little more limited, but I’m finding that I have become lazy on climbing from the days I used to road bike a lot. Yes, you will probably feel the first handful of long and steep climbs with a slightly reduced gear range setup, but I believe that it becomes normalized and it forces you to be stronger. I’m personally glad that I am not able to use my old lowest ratio when I was running a triple or double because I just saw it as a crutch for me giving up on pushing. Like most things, subjective and a matter of preference and ability. Not looking back to multi chainrings (unless maybe if they become fashionable again, of course).

28. Josh Petersen says:

Great article Lee. I am currently running a 2×10 setup on my Giant Reign (with an MRP 2X guide), have never had a chain drop, and am perfectly happy with it. Yes, my handlebars are a mess of cables haha, but I love having an easy bail out gear when I need it, but I also love having a big ring and the tighter spacing of an 11-36 cassette when it is time to have fun. I was seriously considering switching to a 1×11 this year, but after a lot of thought, I am going to continue to rock the 2×10. IT also doesn’t hurt that 10 speed XT cassettes are dirt cheap anymore ;-).

29. Denis says:

Lee

not sure what the hubris is about. As per the MBA numbers, the ratio between 29/26 wheels is 1.11. Therefore a 22/32 for a 26″ ( a common set up in 3×9) is exactly equivalent to 32/42 (1×11) for a 29″.

Am I missing something? I have 2 bikes with that set up I can testify the benchmarked effort up the same slopes is identical. The difference however is my 29er allows my COG to be above the rear axle almost at all times without having to move forward or off the saddle.

Best

Denis

30. Ed Pfromer says:

I’m a fit 52 old on a 2007 3×9 26″ Ibis Mojo planning to bikepack the Colorado Trail in July. The drivetrain has considerable wear, and probably needs to be replaced. Do I just stick with it or move to a more modern setup? I’m considering moving to 1X11, 30t front, 11-46 back. I know and don’t have issue with 50% HAB on this trail.

Any thoughts from this group?

31. leelikesbikes says:

Ed!

Welcome.

I was in no hurry to switch from 2x by 1x. My Shimano front shifting was so flawless, even for downhillling, why give up the gear range?

But my new bikes won’t take front derailleurs, so I’m on 1x, and I like it. My setups have enough low gear, and I really don’t miss the high end. Even when we hammer Hwy 36 back from long trail rides to Lyons, the 28×10 (at 120rpm) is plenty fast. If you’re bikepacking, I’ll guess you need more low end than high end.

Consider these gear ratios:

22/36 = 0.61
30/46 = 0.65
28/46 = 0.61

And consider an oval chainring. I’ve been riding a OneUp on my hardtail, and it helps me turn the gears over on long, grunty climbs, which is most of ColoRADo. A 30t oval ring feels like a 28t. That’s why most people add a couple teeth when they go oval.

A Shimano XT 1X drivetrain will be perfect and bombproof for a good long time. I’ll gently suggest going for it. If you feel like you need more help on the low end, switch the 30t round ring out for a 30t oval ring. That might be the perfect solution.

On the downhills, relax, pump and enjoy the beauty.

Lee

32. joon says:

a huge kickback occurs when use small chain ring, of course it depends on linkage design. although the ratio of gear is same, when you use bigger ring and bigger sprocket and use smaller ring and smaller sprocket, shock performance can be different. bigger rings are more capable of letting the shock move freely. I guess that’s why bike companies make 50 tooth sprocket to keep the front no smaller than 30.

33. joon says:
34. Russ Belttary says:

Lee, I have searched through (I swear) at least a hundred plus Google searches looking to drill down on ratio comparisons between newer 2X transmissions and the SRAM Eagle system on my Intense Primer.
Dropping to a 30T from the factory 34T chainring should get me up a couple of death-hills that my pals can spin through on their 2X Shimano.
This was so well written, thank you for the effort that you put into this article.
You have a permanent follower!
Thank You
Russ

35. Lee says:

Thank you Russ!

The new Shimano 46t and SRAM 50t cassettes bring the ratios waaay down for 1X riders.

That brings the gearing into the heck yes range.