50 Tooth Cogs? Oval Rings? WTF?
Dear Uncle Dave:
What’s the deal with all of these ridiculous extended range cassettes and bolt on extra-large cogs? I’ve been doing this 1x thing for years and have never once thought that something as large as a 50 tooth cog is required. When is this going to stop?
Eight Speed for Life
Just like you, I’ve long been a fan of 1x drivetrains. I first realized the possibility of a single ring when I swapped a 32 tooth ring over to my DH bike and started to use it as a trail bike. Somehow, dropping down to a 32 tooth ring made pushing to the top of a climb acceptable.
With that experience under my belt, I got rid of the front derailleur on my hardtail and moved to a similar set-up. In my current state, I can’t even stomach the thought of pedalling a 32/28 combo on my leisurely commute to work, but apparently this was good enough for riding up mountains back in the day. From there, every 2 tooth jump in cog size was greeted with a sort of “aww shucks, what are those crazy engineers going to think up next?!” By the time we got to 9 speed 11-34 cassettes it felt like the world couldn’t get any better. I was even able to stop avoiding rides that had large hills on them. A 10 speed 11-36 cassette felt like cheating.
The interesting thing is that every time 2 teeth were added to a cassette, some jackass on the Internet was there to complain about it. When SRAM dropped 10-42 on us, cassette size was a go-to argument starter for mountain bikers. Everybody had an opinion, many of which were based on hang-ups, fantasy and conjecture. Cheapskates hated the cost. Curmudgeons hated the new freehub body standard. Free trade aficionados (probably) hated that it was made by an American company. And then somebody had the gall to attempt to provide the same range via simple modifications to existing components. It was just one more wedge in the debate, turning the conversation into a Trump campaign rally gone wrong. For me, 11 speed was out of my reach and it seemed crazy to Frankenstein your drivetrain, so it was easy to just keep doing what I was doing and not worry too much about it.
But now that 11 speed has trickled down, I don’t really feel any pressing need to go back to a smaller range. I feel no shame coupling a 32 tooth chainring with an 11-42 cassette and it seems to work pretty well for my riding. And after reading the reviews of the newest extended range add-ons I can almost see myself plunging further into the madness. Any shifting issues seem to be sorted out via well thought out cages so that the impact on shifting is, at worst, minimal. The aesthetics are much cleaner (the grey anodized options could be mistaken for stock at a glance) so it no longer looks like you’ve bolted a rejected shop project on to the back of your bike. And if all of that is still too much for you, there is probably a stock 10 or 11 speed option with a crazy range that will fit your needs (here. here. eventually here). We finally have the drivetrain choices we’ve been asking for years for, so it seems a bit odd that people are complaining about this abundance. Read any drivetrain related comments section and there is an insane amount of judgement and begrudging of our fellow mountain bikers for wanting something that we don’t agree with. The only argument I can see as valid is that this may impact the future availability of 2x or 3x or 9 speed or 10 speed systems. But this is not a new standard. The 11 speed horse is out of the barn and extending its range will not be the cause of your availability problems. If anything, it might let an aged standard limp along for a few extra years. Yet people are still shitting all over it.
We really need to stop insisting that our way of doing things is the only way. Nobody really gives a shit that you don’t like the thing that you have no firsthand experience with. Nobody gives a fuck that you’re too awesome to require such a crutch for your riding. I’ve fallen into this trap before but I’m learning that there are many, many ways to ride a bike and dismissive nonsense based on obsolete opinions is not going to help anybody (Fuck. Dismissive nonsense based on obsolete opinions would be a great title for whatever it is that we do here each week).
But then again, if the rumours are true, forget everything I said because I’m probably going to be at the front of the line freaking the fuck out about more choice that we didn’t ask for.
Hey Uncle Dave,
What’s up with oval chain rings?! I though they died in the nineties with shimano biopace but they seem to be making a comeback with companies like OneUp. Do I need to buy one immediately to be a better rider?
May as well get all of our drivetrain questions out of the way at once.
In my opinion, there isn’t much in this world more fascinating than when two people have exactly the opposite idea and both think they are right. Usually this comes in politics (We need gun control to keep us safe! No, only more guns will keep us safe!), sports (Being fast is the only way to win a championship! No, being tough is the only way to win a championship!) or fashion (Tassels are the only look this season. No, pink highlights are!). Not often does it come up in science. Or in this case, “science”.
Biopace was supposed to solve exactly the same problem the current generation of oval rings purports to (smoothing out the “dead zone” of your pedal stroke), with exactly the opposite theory and design. Biopace placed the flat spot in the “power zone” so that you were less likely to spin out during your “power stroke” and your leg would carry through the “dead zone” via momentum (or something like that). The new crop of oval rings places the flat spot in the “dead zone” so that there is less effort required at the weakest part of your stroke (or something like that).
Both of these things sound totally plausible and I have honestly no idea if either theory is true.
So let’s defer to a respectable publication that talks to real people about honest to goodness issues. In this case, Cycling Weekly (at the very least it sounds fairly respectable) who talked to the Performance Director at Team Sky about this very issue. Note that Team Sky is the home of Chris Froome, the poster boy of wacky chainrings. And this is what his team has to say about it:
I’d say that, performance-wise, there is very little in it either way. A few riders have a preference for the Osymetric rings, but many of our riders have tried them. Only a few continue to use them. That said, both Wiggins and Froome used them in the 2012 Tour, so they are unlikely to be significantly detrimental to performance.
Man. I wish this guy was the marketing manager for a large company. “Unlikely to be significantly detrimental to performance” would make for a staggeringly awesome press release. Now, this could just be an incredible mind fuck on the competition, some sort of misinformation campaign to ensure that they don’t pick up on the secret to winning. But wouldn’t the whole team be using them if that was the case? Or is that a part of the distraction plan as well?
For me, the biggest strike against the concept is that they are all totally different yet claim to have been optimized through “science.” Rotor Q-Rings are elliptical, but accuse others of being merely “asymmetrical”. Osymetric shrugs this off and claims to be “twin cam shaped” (to win!). Q-Rings are adjustable via about a thousand mounting holes, while almost everybody else is fixed. Wolf Tooth has a “proprietary 10% ovalization at 112 degrees after TDC”. Absolute Black has a “one of a kind special oval shape” for each size. So, even if you do decide to give one a try, good luck figuring out which one to use.
So, as above, I have no idea but I’m kind of curious. Not curious enough to do anything about it yet, but curious. If you try one and like it, then it probably works. If it doesn’t, maybe there will eventually be class action lawsuit that you can jump on board.
Confused – you win this week’s prize. Not sure why (Sorry Easel – Uncle Dave decided) but you do so congratulations. You have won a pair of Race Face Chester Pedals. They serve up a nylon composite body, a fully serviceable sealed bearing and bushing system and chromo axles. And they only weigh 340 grams!
Is this all madness? Do you long for a triple ring and a 14-28 freewheel?