Dougcan Rear Derailleur AXS NSMB AndrewM.jpg
SEQUEL - EDITORIAL

AXS Strikes Back! (Does The Future Have Fewer Gears pt II)

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Jan 23, 2020
Reading time

This is a sequel to Does The Future Have Fewer Gears? which is a short read which I recommend reading first, if you haven't already.

Or Does It?

I think SRAM AXS belongs in a special category with Shimano DI2, Fox Live Valve, and yes, even mountain-mopeds. I mean, don't show up to Single Speed AZ2020, or the like, with any of that crap but if you can find a legit place to try it out, it never hurts to have more information when forming an opinion. Then after you do, balance it out by riding some janky trails on a rigid single speed, you know, for that fully rounded knobby-tired experience.

Back to AXS, you won't find me dropping 700 USD (BATTERY NOT INCLUDED!) on a rear derailleur in this lifetime or the next. But, then I'm also not in the market for a 1000 USD crankset but that doesn't mean Cane Creek EEWings titanium cranks aren't freakin' cool right? So, of course, I was eager to give SRAM's wireless shifting a go. I was distracted the whole time by how much a replacement derailleur would cost me and I suddenly have a fantastic argument to go back to 142x12 rear spacing. Never mind Super Boost 157, Boost 148 is worryingly wide. But yes, the shifting is excellent.

In this context, the most exciting thing about AXS has nothing to do with how it performs on a bike. Where AXS shines, in this case, is in the access to data because it removes 'the feels' from any argument about gearing.

Duncan Comor NSMB AndrewM.JPG

My friend Dougcan manages the Comor shop in North Vancouver (née Different Bikes); he has more hours pedaling AXS than anyone I know. Beautiful photo courtesy some steep logging road in Cumberland.

My friend Dougcan has more hours on his AXS group then anyone I know. He was the first non-Pro I know who had a kit and in a couple of months, he'll have had a full year on it between his Instinct BC Edition and 2020 Rocky Mountain Slayer. He also absolutely loves the drivetrain even now that the honeymoon is long over.

Dougcan "has fully stopped [himself] about six times using the rear derailleur" so it's not surprising that it looks so beaten. What's strange is that it still beautifully shifts through all twelve speeds of his cassette. Not that he needs all twelve speeds on his cassette however.. There's a strong argument to be made that for riding on the North Shore he could happily rip around on four-to-six of them depending on the ride. Especially once middle-ground gears start being selected in between common ratios. For argument's sake, I'll try to boil it down to the magical five suggested in my first piece.

Let's look at data from a few Mount Fromme & Mount Seymour rides he sent me in October. These are pushing the Slayer with Maxxis Assegai 29x2.5" tires with their Double Down casing. Now I recognize this is a very, small sample size. As they're typical of Dougcan's local Shore riding, I'm comfortable using them as discussion points but I'm not claiming to have uncovered any universal truths.

Dougcan AXS NSMB AndrewM 3.jpg

Eight gears of twelve: 16-18-21-24-28-32-36-42. Maybe a 5-speed option of 16-21-27-35-42?

Dougcan AXS NSMB AndrewM 4.jpg

Four gears of twelve: 24-32-36-42 taking the lions share with a touch of time in 14-18-21-28. Let's call this one at 16-24-30-26-42?

These are examples of typical North Shore rides on Fromme and Seymour and I wouldn't be surprised if the average Shore rider presented a similar picture, albeit with the 50t seeing more action. Up, across, and down on the jankiest Shore trails doesn't require high ratios and short of the road or the bike park, there isn't much call for the 10-12-14 tooth cogs. Realistically, twelve speed isn't going anywhere but up so if you're excited about a 10-51t cassette I'm not trying to take that away from you; however, I think there's a strong argument to be made for significantly better chainlines, more tucked drive-systems, and wider chains, all at a lower cost.

Another interesting metric is the amount of shifting that's happening. I was surprised by how many shifts Dougcan makes per Kilometer. In the following examples, it's around 7-8 / KM. I doubt I come close to that on a geared bike which could come down to the amount that I ride single speeds, and the fact I commute on a bike with friction-thumb shifters, or it could be that the shifting on AXS is that much more instantaneous and intuitive compared to the mid-level drivetrains I normally ride. Though significantly more effort, it would be interesting to map Dougcan's shifts/KM on a more budget drivetrain like NX or SLX as a comparison to see how much of this stat reflects the rider and how much reflects the drivetrain.

Dougcan AXS NSMB AndrewM 2.jpg

I'm surprised that Dougcan is making this many gear shifts per KM. It would be interesting to figure out if it's the rider...

Dougcan AXS NSMB AndrewM 1.jpg

...or if that's a reflection of how instantaneous and intuitive it is to shift gears using the SRAM AXS system.

Shorter freehub bodies, wider hub flange spacing without a stupid-wide rear hub spacing, straighter chainlines for decreased wear of chain, ring, and cogs, and potentially better shifting at a lower group cost thanks to 5-speed cassettes and wider chains. The reasons for switching to fewer gears in the future are legion. But what about the trade-offs?

Some design cost would be involved in derailleur architecture to shift 16-42t over five gears but otherwise, there's no re-inventing the wheel here. The ancient Shimano HG Freehub standard is a perfect candidate and there are actually a number of single-speed hubs on the market now that have the real estate to accommodate a 5-speed gear cluster. I'm open to suggestions, but I'd go with the classic 9-Speed spacing since there is still a wide range of chains available at every price level. Bonus points if all five cogs can sit on one carrier as Shimano did with their higher-end 9-speed cassettes.

Dougcan Rear Derailleur AXS NSMB AndrewM.jpg

There is not an angle from which this Eagle AXS derailleur doesn't show damage but it still shifts beautifully. It does make me wonder when Shimano's Shadow RD patent runs out.

So I've proved that a 5-speed drivetrain could, potentially, maybe, be a perfectly viable option for North Shore trail riding based on a teeny-tiny data-set that backs up my opinion. Just pick a front ring size and ride. BUT, what about everywhere else where 10-51t spread over twelve speeds is absolutely essential to making climbs and tearing up descents?

I know folks that ride single speeds in all of the continental states and Alaska (any Hawaiian or Puerto Rican single speeders out there?) and what I glean from that is that a 5-speed drivetrain could work anywhere. I'm positive there are people who would jump on it. More than that though, I've had enough correspondence with rider-readers of the first future piece that I believe there's an undercurrent of folks who'd actively seek the option out if ShRAMano offered it and would be very curious if a bold upstart like BOX, TRP, MicroShift, or SunRace could bring similar quality to market.

What do you think?


Any AXS users out there, on the North Shore or otherwise, I'd love to see your data. Mountain biking only, please! Post it below or fire me an e-mail and I'll post it up for you.

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Comments

the-chez
+1 Andrew Major
The Chez  - Jan. 22, 2020, 10:42 p.m.

I've always felt that 8 speed was the best balanced set up. That would likely allow for the smoothest gear jumps as I feel 5 speed would be herky jerky. But you raise a good point and n+1 isn't always the best for anyone when it comes to gears. After 8 speed it seemed like it was compromising weight and strength just to have another gear without too much tangible gains. That said, we've gained pie platter climbing gears.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 werewolflotion The Chez
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:44 a.m.

When I wrote the first piece it was hard to choose between pitching for 4 or 5 gears.

The problem with 8-spd is it's pretty close to 9-spd and the problem with 9-spd (sorry BOX) is that it's pretty close to 10-spd, and so on. I'd be happy to return to 8-spd but I think the perfect less-is-more drivetrain can be a 4 or 5-spd and the beauty of going from there is it's a very clear demarcation from what everyone else is doing right now.

Reply

the-chez
+1 Andrew Major
The Chez  - Jan. 23, 2020, 9:57 a.m.

Fair point. I was just thinking in terms of stability. 10 speed was definitely the redheaded stepchild of drivetrain development. I feel that with 8 speed you could definitely have a normal gear spread and then a DH gear spread that would work fine. I find with the 12 speed the steps are too close and there isn't enough of a discernible difference.

While we are at it can we get Shimano to loosen up on their double shifting? I miss that feature with SRAM components.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 7:34 p.m.

The drivetrain wars are real and vicious. Both the interplay between ShRAMano and also those two companies trying to keep everyone else out of the game. Even Fox and RockShox have managed to swap some IP over the years.

Actually working on an editorial right now for my blog/journal re. XD v. MicroSpline.

Reply

primoz-resman
0
Primož Resman  - Jan. 25, 2020, 2:13 p.m.

And then roadies argue MTB drivetrains have jumps that are too big between gears...

Reply

Timer
+4 Andrew Major Cr4w Cam McRae Sandy James Oates
Timer  - Jan. 22, 2020, 11:38 p.m.

The nice thing about current 1x12 (and previous 2x10/11) setups is that the same drivetrain works for a wide range of bikes, terrains and riding styles. From the BC riders lugging their freeride rigs up steep trails (we can call them that again, right?) to the northern European XC racers on their high-speed training runs.

A 5-speed setup, while certainly viable, would require different casettes and derailleurs depending on bike type and terrain. While the former is relatively easy to implement, the latter won't happen because no international bike brand will make finely grained localized versions of all their bikes.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:37 a.m.

Totally valid point regarding OE spec. From XC-Racing to Freeride bikes it's just a matter of swapping the front chainring.

I think 5-speed could be sold in much the same vein, although it would be an aftermarket product at least at first. My logic comes from single speeding where most folks I know run a 32t up front and then a huge variance of cog sizes from 18t to 24t depending on their relative strength/fitness/terrain. It's just the opposite where the cassette is a fixed range and then it's biased low or high depending on the ring you choose. Maybe I'm underthinking it.

Reply

twk
+2 Andrew Major Mammal
twk  - Jan. 23, 2020, 3:53 a.m.

That could become an issue with full-suspension designs that optimize around a single chainring size, no? And I don't know if the compromise there would be worth it for increased simplicity for most.

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Timer
+1 Andrew Major
Timer  - Jan. 23, 2020, 5:43 a.m.

One would need to use a frame designed for a front derailleur. Many 1x only frames have issues with the chain touching the chainstay/bridge if the front ring gets too small.

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WheelNut
0
WheelNut  - Jan. 24, 2020, 10:04 a.m.

Mountain bikes are not designed with front derailleurs in mind anymore. There are way to many compromises in design when you have to accommodate an FD, so you're not going to find a FD compatible frame anywhere these days (not a new bike anyway).

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 11:30 a.m.

Just off the top of my head, Pivot and Knolly both make current model bikes that are front derailleur compatible as do a number of Euro brands. Lots of options if a front derailleur is a priority.

There are also plenty of frames with suspension geometry that isn’t massively tied to chainring size and in terms of manual shifting they’d work great as long as a grannie ring clears the swing arm. You certainly would do it with a Santa Cruz but there are plenty of other bikes out there.

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 6:49 a.m.

Dropping to a smaller ring whether 1x (or manual 2x talked about in other comments) is absolutely an issue with some suspension kinematics, and clearance for 2x is a big issue with some frames. Certainly not all though.

I’d be pedalling the 5x ratios I suggest in the article using a 30t. No shortage of bike options.

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Bagheera
+3 Andrew Major ZigaK taprider
Bagheera  - Jan. 22, 2020, 11:56 p.m.

I still prefer the smaller steps of the 2x10 setup on my old trail bike to the larger steps od 1x12 Eagle on my bigger bike. Also, even the range of my 24/38x11-36 setup is limited for my riding (which includes commuting to trails, flat transfers to the next hill and some (too) easy high speed descents. With my 30t front ring (and on a steep climb after a few hours of riding, I'm glad I've got that bailout gear), Eagle seriously lacks top end. I've climbed our local hill (500m ascent) on a DH rig with 44-32 as a lowest gear (that's 44t in front for you youngsters) so it's not that I lack strength, but when the rides are longer and the climbs steeper, low end is where it's at.

I know that's an unpopular opinion here, but I feel that outside of racing or unfamiliar trails with a lot of uphill/downhill changes, 1x is inferior to 2x. Yes, you save weight and you get a tiny bit more ground clearance. . But apart from that? With a proper chainguide, my 2x10 doesn't drop chains more often than my 1x12 Eagle. And yes, that's even when racing enduro.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:20 a.m.

Wolf Tooth, and likely other companies as well, makes narrow-wide options that mount off 64mm BCD granny tabs in both 26t and 28t. More than a few times, I've considered going back to 2x with a manual shift of the front rings. It's actually my favourite setup that I've run in the past. 

I love the M770 series 11-34t XT 9-Speed cassettes where 6x cogs were mounted on the huge alloy carrier and I'd combine that with a 9-Spd SRAM XO shifter (or maybe a twister?) and a 10-Spd or 11-Spd Shimano XT clutch derailleur. 26t N/W granny and a 34t N/W ring for the big option?

Reply

Bagheera
+2 Andrew Major Timer
Bagheera  - Jan. 23, 2020, 9:11 a.m.

Thanks for your reply. Manual shifting would be too frugal for me (yes, I have a remote lockout for the shock on one of my bikes, why do you ask?.....).
Moreover, the setup you suggest here has barely more top end than my Eagle setup (I know you don't need it, but I do, sometimes) and a significantly higher lowest gear. Gearing steps would be nice, though. You see, Im thoroughly European: GIVE US MORE GEARS, GIVE US MORE CABLES, GIVE US MORE REMOTES...   ;) No, but I need (or want) range, small steps and to be able to lock out my shock. And since the shock is tucked away in the frame...

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AndrewMajor
+1 Bagheera
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 9:33 a.m.

HAHAHAHA best response ever. But now the real question is, how Euro are you? Euro-enough to have owned a 180mm Fox 36 TALAS with a remote compression lock-out?!?!

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Bagheera
+2 Andrew Major Timer
Bagheera  - Jan. 23, 2020, 11:54 a.m.

36 TALAS yes, but only 160mm, and no remote lock-out. I did, however, once write an email to Marzocchi to ask whether it was possible to put something like an ETA (Marzocchi's travel-adjust system, for those too young to remember) in my Shivers.... only thing more Euro would be asking if you could run Eagle as 3x12. Moreover, I'm still proudly rocking a Pike DPA ;)

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AndrewMajor
+1 Bagheera
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:05 p.m.

If I heard someone was running 3x12 my first guess would be an Ellsworth owner and my second guess would be a Scott owner and there’s a pretty good chance I’d be right.

(My third guess would be a Knolly owner with > two engineering degrees and my fourth, a Pivot owner who stops strangers on the trail to give bike setup advice - and yes I know those are fairly specific)

So yeah, could be a Euro but I don’t go right there at all.

——

Trying to put a poorly working travel adjust system in an inverted DH fork sounds about as Euro-stereotype as it gets? I mean, that guys from Germany or at least <100km from the border in a neighbouring country.

(Or, a German speaking Swiss person who knows at least four people who work/worked at Scott Bicycles)

danimaniac
+6 Andrew Major goose8 twk Kenny Luix Cam McRae
danimaniac  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:19 a.m.

So Dougcan uses the upper half of his cassette most. But than, as he shifts so often, isn't that due to the small spacing, that he can always pedal efficient in a (to him) nice frequency?

To me Eagle was the greatest thing. I'm mostly on the 10,12 and 14 teeth rings to commute to the trail, on the steepest parts of the access gravel roads I am using even the 50tooth pie platter quite a lot. (Using a 30t front ring)

All the in between rings are in use, too. I don't know if my lazy ass and weak limbs are the limitation here though.

But I do understand. I guess one could live with less rings, especially when we would be able to build stronger wheels. And when we do that we can talk about wider bottom brackets, too (like in the chromag article), and build way stronger rear triangles, wheels, chains into our bikes.

(sorry for the bad english, it's not my mother tongue)

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 danimaniac twk
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:35 a.m.

First off, your English is great.

Absolutely you're right that more unique ratios make it more likely to find that perfect gear ratio and that combined with AXS shifting he's going to be able to use his drivetrain frequently to stay in the best ratios. 

My argument is that a lot of those 'micro shifts' really aren't necessary and the pros outweigh the cons in terms of bigger jumps but also better chainline and less wear. 

BUT, I think Cam summed this piece up very nicely in the tagline he wrote to accompany the link on Facebook: "SRAM MTB AXS lets you see the data from your rides so you can tell how long you've been in each cog. Andrew Major used that data to forward his agenda..."

First and foremost this is a conversation starter. 

----

Regarding wider bottom brackets (increasing the Q-Factor at the bottom bracket), you wouldn't be the first person to put 83mm cranks on a bike with a 73mm BB shell to get the extra stance. Shimano made Saint 83mm DH cranks in a 175mm length in the past and they're still easy enough to find. You just add RaceFace crank washers to the spindle to take up the extra width from the narrow BB shell.

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danimaniac
+1 Andrew Major
danimaniac  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:11 a.m.

Yeah.. and that's a totally valid point. You're not even hiding your point of taking the data to use towards your own agenda. Still wanted to point that our.. wasn't sure if I was sounding like a roadi though, emphasizing on  pedalling frequency and such :D

About the wider Q-Factor, first off I was thinking about replacing the axis in my mallet-e pedals with the long spindle versions.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:18 a.m.

I run the Mallet DH axles (long axle) in all Crankbrothers pedals in the mountains. I find the little extra stance works for me and gives me back a little bit of optional lateral cleat tuning instead of having them slammed all the way inboard to move my feet out.

Reply

danimaniac
+1 Andrew Major
danimaniac  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:26 a.m.

Made my day! That's the last tick in these direction I needed as this annoys me a lot on the mallets. Since I switched from XC-shoes to more sturdy ION-Rascals I have to move the cleats too far inside to my liking.

Thank you!

Reply

andrewbikeguide
+1 Andrew Major
AndrewR  - Jan. 23, 2020, 11:19 a.m.

I didn't like Crank brothers pedals until I realised that they base their standard axle q-factor off 52mm rather than 57mm. It's because they started at the XC end of the spectrum. The narrower Q-factor is really annoying when wearing anything other than the slimmest XC style shoes. 

The Mallet E LS have the longer axles as standard and have turned out to be a really good pedal. They clear really well and, for em, they are the best pedal at combating the Chilcotin lava ash that sets like concrete in one's pedals. The only downside or factor to consider with Crank brothers is that the brass cleats wear quickly relative to the steel cleats of other brands so factor in a replacement pair per season.

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slimshady76
+2 Cam McRae Andrew Major
Luix  - Jan. 23, 2020, 11:15 a.m.

Horses for courses, as always.

Dougcan seems to spin on the uphills and doesn't pedal on the downhills, or that's what I can gather from the screenshots. If you live in areas with less dramatic height differences, but end your rides with a similar accumulated positive height, that means your trails meander up and down the hills, and in those cases a consistent cadence rewards you with better oxygen management and less fatigue. Finding the right cassette cog to match your mood/fitness is king in those situations.

As pointed below, the wide rage cassette makes sense from the OEM standpoint for this simple point: Buy once, feature it on every kind of bicycle you have down your range. Not to mention the SKU nightmare it'd be to stock individual cogs to allow each consumer to put together their preferred N speed combo. I know a lot of the most experienced (and wealthy) riders out there tend to swap parts as soon as they get their new bike, but imagine being left without a couple weeks of riding time because you are waiting for that 29t cassette cog. I mean, yoo could still ride your bike, but with less steps in between you could end up way off your natural cadence or your strongest pedaling bracket...

If I might offer an alternative, I'd like to see someone put a CVT hub (a la NuVinci) as a gearbox in a bike. If the weight and durability issues could be overcome, I think it would make a great alternative to a regular transmission. One could enjoy the whole range of "gearing" without any discrete increments, and nobody would be bitching about a missing shifting step between other two.

Reply

mawa12
+6 Andrew Major danimaniac twk Timer luckylegs Luix
Matthias Wasmer  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:50 a.m.

As far as I know the first 12x drivetrain was developed in Germany. Most people here ride to the trails by bike, not by SUV/PickUp/Car. On the road/bicycle lane I use the 10/11/12 gears quite a lot. 

Or just another scenario: I live in the alps. Normally you have to ride into the valleys on fire roads (Alpweg in German). I would not want to have less gears. Even 11 gears was not enough for our kind of terrain and usage. 

I've been to the northshore twice and agree with you. Going up the mountain from the parking lot and riding down purely on singletrails basically needs 4 gears.

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danimaniac
+2 Timer Luix
danimaniac  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:14 a.m.

and that's my point living in the black forest. You can easily find a 1000m vertical ascend with an average of 10% incline or more. (So 8 to 10km) To the point where pushing seems more efficient than pedaling on a 30-50 ratio.

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AndrewMajor
+2 twk Luix
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:15 a.m.

12-Speed (and 11-Speed) come from Schweinfurt for sure. 

I’m not suggesting 12+ gear drivetrains are going anywhere, just encouraging folks to imagine an alternative.

What if we gave you 6-Spds and one was a 12t or 11t for pavement? What about the same range as Eagle but much larger jumps?

I ride from home to trails regularly on the road on my single speed that’s geared for local trail usage. That’s informs my bias a lot when considering the five gear ratios I suggested as the potential Goldilocks in the article. Again, it’s just food for thought.

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otagoboy
+4 danimaniac twk werewolflotion Cam McRae
otagoboy  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:21 a.m.

Guess I’ll just stick to my Zerode Katipo and Pinion C12. Big range, straight chainline, 142 axle with strong non-dished wheel. Singlespeed on steroids

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jan-meyer
+2 twk Cam McRae
Jan Meyer  - Jan. 23, 2020, 3:12 a.m.

Was going to say the same. Seems like all the issues here have been solved by ditching the derailleur.

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AndrewMajor
+1 danimaniac
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 7 a.m.

I mean, while we’re talking unicorns, I like the idea of a 5-spd Hammerschmidt that bolts of any frame with ISCG tabs, has zero drag, a perfect chainline, and is adjustable in size for different suspension geometry (can mimic different ring sizes). 

I’d love to see gearboxes catch on but in my limited experience they’ve never lived up to the hype and having to invest in a proprietary frame system is a kick. It also doesn’t help that they make a perfectly beautiful human powered mountain bicycle look like a mountain moped.

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morgan-heater
+1 Andrew Major
Morgan Heater  - Jan. 23, 2020, 9:59 a.m.

I'd settle for a two-speed if it was near zero drag. Actually, it could have a 5% efficiency hit, and I would still be completely satisfied for the chain-line benefits.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:10 p.m.

And a good bottom bracket... sign me up!

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cam@nsmb.com
+1 Timer
Cam McRae  - Jan. 23, 2020, 2:27 p.m.

I had a two speed with a 'kickback' coaster hub when I was a kid. You would just do a quick and subtle pedal back to switch gears. Just not so hard that you engaged the coaster brake. It worked surprisingly well. I think Sachs made the hub. 

I rode it out to Wreck Beach one day when I was about 9 yrs old, with my friends Brent and Stuart. It's our local nude beach and we were keen to see our first live boobiez. We left our bikes unlocked and when we came back mine was gone. The tracks in the dirt made it clear the thief had tried all three bikes and decided on mine. At least he had good taste. 

The boobz were not worth losing my bike.

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morgan-heater
+1 Cam McRae
Morgan Heater  - Jan. 23, 2020, 3:58 p.m.

Bike thieves suck.

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lev
+1 Cam McRae
Lev  - Jan. 24, 2020, 2:29 p.m.

You take that boobz comment back!

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Jan. 28, 2020, 9:46 p.m.

Some bewbz would have been worth it. On that day the quality was low and I was unimpressed. And they would have had to have been spectacular to compensate for that bike.

slimshady76
+1 Andy Eunson
Luix  - Jan. 24, 2020, 5:09 p.m.

This looks promising, although it also looks like vaporware, there's no sign of development since 2014:

http://www.bitraptor.com/en_edyson_IVT.html

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Znarf
+3 goose8 Andrew Major Cam McRae
Znarf  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:39 a.m.

I experimented with GX Eagle at some point, but ultimately didn't need a 500% range, as either I could as well push the bike once I needed a 30x50t  on very, very steep climbs or I could reach crazy speeds with a 34 or 36x10t - and I would only reach these on the road realistically, as I just don't launch these gigantic Grand Canyon gaps. Or if I do, there's usually enough "gravity" or slope involved. 

But I had to pedal around a gigantic, clanky cassette with a very long cage derailleur and LOADS of chain length. 

I went back to my 10-42t 260g XX1 11spd cassette and a 28t on my LT 29er with 11spd Shimano RD. That works for me even on very steep uphills (Alps) and 28x10t x29" 2.5 tires is plenty of top-speed for me.

I´d love a 10 or even 9spd version, if durability was noticeably better. But I´d guess there'd be a point where gearing differences become coarse. Manageable but coarse...

I don't know if links are permitted on numb.com? But have a look at:

https://ritzelrechner.de

I find the drag and drop and customizable interface really helpful for figuring out gearing and comparing different drivetrains and wheel sizes etc.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 7:46 a.m.

Very cool link! Thank you,

And yes, manageable but coarse is a good way of describing what I’m suggesting!

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pete@nsmb.com
+2 IslandLife Timer
Pete Roggeman  - Jan. 23, 2020, 9:29 a.m.

I don't know about links on numb.com either, but they're totally fine here on nsmb.com ;)

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Znarf
0
Znarf  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:06 p.m.

xD

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skyler
+1 Andrew Major
Skyler  - Jan. 23, 2020, 11:13 a.m.

The 10-42 Shramano 11 speed drivetrain you're describing, with a 28t chainring, is the best I've used as well. I went two seasons without so much as adjusting the barrel adjuster. 12 speed (GX and XT) has felt like a very subtle downgrade.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:11 p.m.

It’s spelled ShRAMano! Someone should trademark that sh*t.

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skyler
+1 Andrew Major
Skyler  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:05 p.m.

I call my Eagle cassette/chain, XT 8100 derailleur/shifter melange "ShmEagle", pronounced like "Smeagol...my precious".

It performs exactly as well as my ShRAMano 11 speed, except I got the derailleur on stuff much more often, and have never used the highest gear...#innovation, #progress.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 9:19 a.m.

It’s funny, so many folks told me how “amazing” GX Eagle is that my first experience on the drivetrain was actually a letdown. Not that it doesn’t work great, but I don’t think it’s any better than GX-11 in any shifting situation. Made me wonder if those folks had just never ridden GX-11.

ShmEagle is pretty good!

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fartymarty
+2 twk Andrew Major
fartymarty  - Jan. 23, 2020, 1:51 a.m.

Andrew - I like what you did with the bait and trap in the articles.  Throw out the crazy idea of less gears* in Part 1 and then back it up with some data in Part 2.

* what sort of mad man would suggest less gears when we have been moving towards cassettes with more cogs for decades....  (Where as in reality we have been moving towards less gears for a while - my first mtb had 21 gears and my current geared bike has 10...)

I'm on a single speed and 10 speed so would be more than happy with 5.  11-42 /32 gives me all the range I need I  Surrey, UK and even in Wales.  I don't use the 11 much so that's up for grabs and ditto the cogs in the middle.  I could live with slightly clunky changes as you aren't going to change as often so timing becomes more important (no more changing under power mid tech climb).  Wider spaced cogs and wider chains also probably make changing more precise.

You forgot to mention (or I missed it) the benefits of improved suspension performance with less weight hanging off you rear wheel.  Every review I have read of gear box bikes rave about how good the rear suspension performs with less undamped mass.  Wide 5 could easily half cassette weight plus smaller hence lighter free hubs.

Hopefully this article will reach the right (progressively minded) people in the industry and the wide 5 will be a reality (albeit probably aftermarket as I can't see this being a marketable OEM feature as it goes against everything we have been fed for the last few decades....)

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 6:53 a.m.

Marty, thanks - I prefer to think of them as conversation starters HAHAHAHAHA.

And you are correct, unsprung weight is a real thing, but this piece was already long enough.

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Vikb
+2 Timer Andrew Major
Vik Banerjee  - Jan. 23, 2020, 5:52 a.m.

I started riding to the trails a lot of the time in 2019. Previously when driving to the parking lot and riding dirt 99% of the time I only used the 4 big cogs on my cassette at our local trails. With one or two gears getting the lion's share of the wear and tear. Once I started riding the road to get to/from the trails I had a use for the small cogs and I really appreciated the wide range cassettes on my bike.

I also appreciate those smaller cogs when I travel and suddenly have much faster trails to ride.

I would have been interested in a smaller range cassette, but now I am less inclined to make my bike so specialized.

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GhettoFunkRadio
+3 Andrew Major Cr4w IslandLife
GhettoFunkRadio  - Jan. 23, 2020, 7:41 a.m.

We live in the age of the ultra-capable short travel trail bike and yet we hang 600+g cassettes on the rear axle? I don't understand. 

I would love to see feather-weight version of the hypothetical wide range 5 speed cassette made from titanium in an effort to bring that weight down to sub 200g.

#SaveOurShocks

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fartymarty
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fartymarty  - Jan. 23, 2020, 9:59 a.m.

"Ultra lightweight 5 speed cassette" and mech mounted in a box at or near the bottom bracket would do it for me.  Shimano - please hurry up and release your gearbox.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - Jan. 23, 2020, 2:38 p.m.

I'm currently testing a ROTOR 11-52 12spd cassette that weighs 314g. It mounts to a conventional HG freehub - which explains the 11 tooth smallest cog. It's been working well aside from shifts under load, due to the lack of shift ramps. It's also cheaper than the other high end options I believe.

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Timer
+1 Andrew Major
Timer  - Jan. 24, 2020, 12:04 a.m.

That 600g cassette is the least of our worries as long as we think its fine to run 1300g rear wheels with 1200g tyres and 300g inserts on our trailbikes.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 12:12 a.m.

True. Then again, unless there is a giant leap forward in tire technology (you never know with companies trying to improve ranges with electric cars - I don't see it being something coming from the bike industry) there are at least a few locals where reinforced tires and/or inserts are fairly necessary so someone forced to run Tough Casing, or Super Grav, or Double Defense may be still counting a cassette as easy grams? 

I'm certainly not an authority on gram counting. I stopped caring about what my bikes weighted ages ago. But certainly, unsprung weight is an interesting talking point.

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slimshady76
+1 Andrew Major
Luix  - Jan. 24, 2020, 5:19 p.m.

Re: wheel technology: We are using the same rim/tire interface the road bikes have been using since Dunlop invented the clincher tire back in the 1800s. The rim wall was designed to retain a tire at a high pressure and with mostly vertical loads. We are using tires which balloon out of the rim -sometimes doubling or almost tripling the rim's inner width- and the carbon manufacturers want to sells us hookless rims as "the shit"...

I say come back when you have a decent solution, other than stuffing foam in my wheels. I maintain the inner wall of a rim should be angled out and serrated/hooked to grab the tire shoulder, and the edge of the rim wall should be bulbous, to absorb the impacts and avoid the dreaded snake bite. The current aluminum extrusion technologies should be enough to create a light and resistant rim, and a better rim/tire interface.

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AndrewMajor
+1 Luix
Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 6:21 p.m.

I don’t know what the magic bullet is to get the ride of a DH tire at a lighter weight but I do know that in the past the industry has proven itself capable of collaborating to make open rim/tire standards happen (UST) so it’s theoretically possible.

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blaklabl
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blaklabl  - Jan. 23, 2020, 7:57 a.m.

Is that gear usage data in the AXS App???

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 7:59 a.m.

Oui.

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blaklabl
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blaklabl  - Jan. 23, 2020, 8:02 a.m.

I feel like a complete jackass, I've never seen that.  I use my AXS app just to monitor my battery % mostly before a ride.  

Now to figure out HOW to see the data.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 23, 2020, 8:06 a.m.

That I can’t help with - total Luddite when it comes to batteries + bikes. Dougcan captured this data for me and emailed it over.

Do post up what you learn!!!

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pete@nsmb.com
+2 Andrew Major blaklabl
Pete Roggeman  - Jan. 23, 2020, 9:31 a.m.

It's in beta. You need a Garmin (they may have added other brands) right now to make it work.

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andrewbikeguide
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AndrewR  - Jan. 28, 2020, 2:50 p.m.

https://axs.sram.com/ and as Andrew Major said it is a beta program requiring a Garmin head unit. It is pretty good and getting better as they develop ideas and functionality based on beta tester feedback.

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Captain-Snappy
+2 Andrew Major Cam McRae
Merwinn  - Jan. 23, 2020, 8:10 a.m.

I had a 30 x 1x10 setup for 2+ years based on a 2012 X9/X0 group, and it worked pretty well for being non-narrow/wide.

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cam@nsmb.com
+1 Timer
Cam McRae  - Jan. 23, 2020, 10:02 p.m.

It's amazing what still works. There are people suggesting that 26" wheels still roll. I'm skeptical personally.

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Suns_PSD
+1 Andrew Major
Sun Hester  - Jan. 23, 2020, 12:36 p.m.

I felt the new Shimano XTR 1 x 11 that had a 450% gear range of 10-45 was a good compromise on paper. Shimano stated that it was essentially for their Pro riders that don't ever use a 50/ 51 climbing gear and it had the advantage of being notably lighter with better ground clearance with a mid-length deraileur. If they could have trimmed it back to around 9-10 gears to create slighty larger gaps between gears that would have been ideal. Alas, they didn't produce the product ultimately when they seemed to fall so far behind on production and trimmed the line back.

I run AXS with a 32T front on 29" wheels in very chunky terrain and I feel that the gaps are a bit too tight on Eagle. 2 gears is too much gap, but 1 gear is just too short.

The market demands lots of gear range and my wife loves her Eagle gear and it definitely assists her on climbs. So you are never going to get mass market fewer gears, but the aftermarket has room.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 9:42 a.m.

My opinion, not NSMB’s opinion:

I think 10t cogs are silly - and I think, from what I’ve read and heard in the past, that Shimano agreed with me until they needed a reason to justify MicroSpline. Proven loss of efficiency etc.

I don’t see any reason to go 10-45t over 11-46t with a slightly larger chainring. Or for that matter 12-47t or etc.

I’m totally down with the 450% mountain bike drivetrain and agree that for real MTB usage the tight gaps between ratios aren’t desirable.

Ignoring the intended conversation starter that is this piece about 5-spd, I’ve had awesome results with SunRace’s 11-46t 10-Spd cassette and would have a hard time personally justifying the expense to “upgrade” to more ratios or a wider range.

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andrewbikeguide
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AndrewR  - Jan. 28, 2020, 2:55 p.m.

I agree about the 10T. I would happily have a 50-12 and run a 30T or 32T front depending on terrain (based on a 29" wheeled bike). My ideal cassette would be: 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 28, 33, 39, 44, 50. Nice smooth gaps between each gear. 

It surprised me when SRAM went from 11 speed to Eagle that they did not change the 42 to a 44 and the 36 to a 39.

I agree with some of the comments regarding chain length and derailleur length especially the long derailleur cage grabbing debris off the trail/ forest floor and jamming. This has not been an issue with AXS Eagle as the derailleur cage is not as long and is more tucked out of the way.

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illgobigger
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
illgobigger  - Jan. 24, 2020, 7:47 a.m.

"While we are at it can we get Shimano to loosen up on their double shifting? I miss that feature with SRAM components."  

From the top of the comments, from "The Chez."

In a strange turn, thanks to Ispec and no microspline freehub availability, my wifes wheelswap turned into a nightmare untill i discovered that 12 spd Shimano shifters WORK PERFECTLY with 12 spd Sram derailleurs!  Same ratio!

If you own Eagle 12, but want to "fly" down the cassette with two thumb pushes, get an XT 12 shifter. 

I had both my Shimano rep and Sram rep ride her bike and both just shook their heads speechless. Truly a ShRAMano set up huh Andrew?

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fartymarty
+1 Todd Hellinga
fartymarty  - Jan. 24, 2020, 7:58 a.m.

Good to know.  Once you have had double shifting its hard to go back to single.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 9:32 a.m.

There are some very interesting stories going around - please note I don’t have the means / opportunity to verify them - about riders buying 12-spd Shimano derailleurs to get SRAM+Shadow or 12-spd Shimano shifters to get SRAM+double shifting. 

The best I’ve heard is that, apparently, combining AXS with new XTR cassette/chain/chainring delivers “mind blowing” shifting under load and everywhere else. 

——

The issue with running Shimano 12-spd w/ SRAM running gear is that you give up the only real improvement in going from Shimano 11-spd to 12-spd which is the anytime shifting delivered by the proprietary chain/ring-cassette system. 

Or, are you running SRAM cassette with the new Shimano chain and ring?! That would be interesting.

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illgobigger
+1 Andrew Major
illgobigger  - Jan. 24, 2020, 5:58 p.m.

It is a full GX Eagle drivetrain with just the XT Shifter on my wifes bike. I didn't mix the chain and cassettes. 

I personly have about 4 months on XT 12 spd and i agree that the chain climbing up the cassette is perfect every time as well as no longer feeling the clutch making the shifting harder at the thumb. Good stuff despite too many dang gears!

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 6:23 p.m.

Is the clutch tension reduced? I’ve always found that Shimano derailleur arrive with too much clutch tension (presumably planning for when they break in) so I back them way off and then add tension over time. Makes a big difference for feel at the lever.

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rigidjunkie
+1 Andrew Major
Allen Lloyd  - Jan. 24, 2020, 9:44 a.m.

I still run 1X9 on my hardtail and love it.  I did an un scientific test and tracked my cog usage on my 12 speeder and the even cogs almost never got used.  I almost always click down 2 gears or 4 gears then go back up 1 at a time, but for very short periods of time.  On my 1X9 the jumps better fit my riding so I use all the cogs fairly evenly.

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WheelNut
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WheelNut  - Jan. 24, 2020, 10:27 a.m.

Sure the data makes sense, but for the MAJORITY of riders buying something with inherently broad capabilities is a better value. It's like with electric cars where battery range (corollary to gear range) is a huge selling feature because people want the capability whether they need it or not. Sure the 80km battery range of the Chevy Volt is statistically fine, but it doesn't matter because WHAT IF. People feel totally comfortable buying a 400km range Tesla. Sure a 120km range Tesla would be cheaper, handle better, have lower battery replacement costs, etc. The thing is that people feel totally comfortable buying a 500% 1x bike, but not a 300% gear range 1x bike.

Also, swapping cassettes is a pain in the ass.

One other interesting thing was the recent Cycling Tips chain test in which they found that the SRAM XX1 Eagle 12 speed chain was BY FAR the longest wearing chain out of the many chains in their test. It beat out 10 and 11 speed Dura-Ace chains by a wide margin. Keep the dang thing clean and lubricated though! That'll make that expensive cassette last way longer.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 11:34 a.m.

No problem with your point about electric cars - as mentioned in other comments here, a 500% gear range is certainly more universal from an OE perspective.

Not clear what’s a PIA about swapping cassettes though. Changing a chain and cassette (with a quick link) is maybe a three minute job?

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WheelNut
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WheelNut  - Jan. 27, 2020, 9:34 a.m.

Its definitely true that changing a cassette is one of the easier tasks in the hierarchy of bike mechanic'ing. It's still an extra thing to do though. Some people won't mind. It just depends on your propensity to enjoy wrenching on your bike. The thing is that the more you dig into life with 8 speed rather than 12 speed more and more people are eliminated from the ideal candidate for 8 speed column and the ideal spectrum for using 8 speed becomes a pretty niche group. Nothing wrong with a niche group of people though! Maybe a small manufacturer like Ingrid could release a nice high quality low cog count drivetrain to satisfy those who want that extra simplicity. More choice=more better.

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fartymarty
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fartymarty  - Jan. 24, 2020, 11:52 a.m.

@WheelNut - I don't see this being an OEM thing at all.  It is for more experienced / stronger riders who know exactly what gears they can get away with.  Also those type of riders are not going to walk into a shop and buy a bike.  They will build up the bike they want with parts they want or have.

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WheelNut
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WheelNut  - Jan. 27, 2020, 9:35 a.m.

Absolutely. It is a very niche thing. Anyone who built such a drivetrain would have to be able to make a profit while moving a small number of units.

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WheelNut
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WheelNut  - Jan. 27, 2020, 9:35 a.m.

Absolutely. It is a very niche thing. Anyone who built such a drivetrain would have to be able to make a profit while moving a small number of units.

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lev
+1 Andrew Major
Lev  - Jan. 24, 2020, 2:38 p.m.

I would like less gears for sure.  Most of the time I double shift my shimano 11 speed.  I like the 11-46 range, so maybe that in a 5 of six speed. 

I've also been after a wider Q-factor and have just bought the Dagga pedals to improve(?) that. AJ's article helped me pull the trigger.   Testing tomorrow...

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DanL
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DanL  - Jan. 24, 2020, 5:14 p.m.

The closest available solution for me looks like the Box 9spd and it's at a price that looks pretty reasonable for an experiment, but I too dream of five gears.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2020, 6:27 p.m.

I’ve been riding Box Two (9) for a while. It’s fine. 

I’d track down an 11-46t SunRace 10-spd cassette, 11-spd SLX derailleur, and NOS 10-Spd SLX or XT shifter plus a decent chain and it’ll give you a better shifting package (with one more cog).

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fartymarty
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fartymarty  - Jan. 25, 2020, 12:44 a.m.

I'm on a Shim HG500 11-42 (10sp) and really rate it if you don't need the 46.  It shifts better than the Sunrace (I was running both for a while).  Plus its damn cheap - I just picked up one for £25 from CRC.

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twk
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twk  - Jan. 25, 2020, 12:54 a.m.

I had some nasty issues with that cassette eating my alloy freehub body, since it doesn't seem to have a proper carrier, it's just a bunch of cogs riveted together with spacers.

I agree on the shifting quality and cheapness, but I'll stick with SunRace on my geared bike -- I currently run a Saint shifter, Deore M6000 mech, cheapish 10 speed shimano chains (XT 10spd is hovering around 10 quid over here), and a SunRace 11-46. Shifting is just fine given how I abuse drivetrains.

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fartymarty
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fartymarty  - Jan. 25, 2020, 12:19 p.m.

It does eat freehubs - I have gone to a steel freehub on one of my Hope now so will see how that lasts.  Also running 10sp XT chains.

Edit - I removed the cassette yesterday and it came off the steel free hub easily.

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DanL
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DanL  - Jan. 25, 2020, 8:46 a.m.

Weirdly enough, that’s exactly the setup I’ve been pushed into now that the sunrace 11-50 cassettes are rarer than hen’s teeth

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syncro
+1 Andrew Major
Mark  - Jan. 24, 2020, 8:29 p.m.

so an 8 spd 12-36 with a 36-24 hammerschmidt would be optimum for shore riding?

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 25, 2020, 9:49 p.m.

I would have loved to see next generation Hammerschmidt. Better BB, less drag, maybe a smaller jump between rings, dump a bunch of weight. Glorious.

It’s linked in the prequel to this piece but if you didn’t see it I’ve previously written about the best ever marketing campaign and the interesting moonshoot that was a Hammerschmidt from a current perspective.

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inclag
+1 Andrew Major
Inclag  - Jan. 25, 2020, 8:07 a.m.

Love this article and something that's been floating around in my head for some time.  I suppose I can begrudgingly accept the rational as to why wide range cassettes exist.  They're basically a one size fits all solution that fit the needs of newbies, weekend warriors, different fitness levels, and varying torque requirements associated with different wheel diameters.   

For myself,  I'm perfectly ok with a 42 top end on a 29" wheel with 1200 gram + tires and it would be awesome to have a modular drivetrain that was 5 speeds for all the reasons listed.

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inclag
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Inclag  - Jan. 25, 2020, 8:07 a.m.

Love this article and something that's been floating around in my head for some time.  I suppose I can begrudgingly accept the rational as to why wide range cassettes exist.  They're basically a one size fits all solution that fit the needs of newbies, weekend warriors, different fitness levels, and varying torque requirements associated with different wheel diameters.   

For myself,  I'm perfectly ok with a 42 top end on a 29" wheel with 1200 gram + tires and it would be awesome to have a modular drivetrain that was 5 speeds for all the reasons listed.

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NordieBoy
+1 Andrew Major
NordieBoy  - Jan. 25, 2020, 1:54 p.m.

I do like my Microshift Advent.

Mostly...

Lighter would be good.

Push to shift down the block would be gooder (Pointy fingers are on the brake levers, where God intended).

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 25, 2020, 9:51 p.m.

Would love to get some time on Microshift. Their thimbles are great! Hahahaha. 

Seriously though, been on BOX 9 a while - there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there and coming in competition with ShRAMano. Be interesting to see if any of it catches on.

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tashi
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tashi  - Jan. 29, 2020, 1:49 p.m.

I'm super interested in Advent, how has it treated you?

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primoz-resman
+1 Andrew Major
Primož Resman  - Jan. 25, 2020, 2:16 p.m.

My average ride, starting at home, involves the whole cassette. I rarely do an uphill where i don't put it into the 50T and i have relatively long tarmac/gravel transfers with a slight downhill, where i put it into the 10T gear. I have a 30T in the front on a 29er.

I put GX Eagle on my previous bike as an upgrade and it was a revelation how limiting the 420 % of the 11spd was - i was seriously straining myself on steep climbs with a cadence that was too low when i actually much prefer a higher cadence of an easier gear.

On another note, it's rare that i want an easier gear than the 50T and while there are cases, i think it's even rarer it would actually be a benefit.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Jan. 25, 2020, 9:52 p.m.

But do you need 12x individual gear ratios or would the same, or near to same, 500% spread as Eagle over 5-6 ratios work perfectly fine?

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Bagheera
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Bagheera  - Jan. 26, 2020, 2:12 a.m.

Haven't you ever wished you could pedal a slightly higher/lower cadence while maintaining the same speed? Of course, this would be on long fireroad climbs, not on technical singletrack where a steady cadence is impossible. But even on steep, rocky singletrack grunts, just a bit more/less? Obviously, our pedalling preferences/habits differ vastly.

BTW, most of your guesses about me further above above were correct (for some reason, I could not reply to them), though I don't think I know anyone working for Scott. The 3x12-rider typeology (is that even a word?) was hilarious.

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danimaniac
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danimaniac  - Jan. 26, 2020, 10:22 p.m.

yeah, what Bagheera said.

I like to spin between 80-90 rpm while seated and have developed a habit to stand up when the cadence drops. Maybe it's my knee-issues that force me to do this, but I really shift around a LOT while climbing.

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Glass
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Glass  - Feb. 10, 2020, 9:33 a.m.

Unless you ride  a lot of undulating then I doubt you need so many gears. Perhaps the same spread but with fewer steps.

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Glass
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Glass  - Feb. 10, 2020, 3:29 a.m.

I live in the French Alps and am currently running a 11-50T sunrace cassette cut down to 10 speeds, 13-50 with a 2x 24/32T setup. I manually shift my front chainrings. Over here the climbs tend to be long and steep and running a 30T implies a lot of pushing uphill which isn't really my thing. I do agree with the article since I don't  really use all the gears on my cassette either. I tend to pedal uphill and a tad on flat but to go fast downhill all I have to do is let go of the brakes due to the gradient. I am waiting on a 60T rear cog so I can go back to running a 1x setup. Something with 9 gears would be great for me here say 13-16-20-24-30-36-42-50-60 with a front 30T ring. I could probably get away with 8 speed without the 13T cog.

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hardtailparty
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hardtailparty  - May 28, 2020, 12:25 p.m.

I'm sad that microshift and box will be all but obsolete now that hg is going away. If they could make a cassette for xd or microspline, I'd be all over that 9-10 speed goodness.

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