Must Get Better – Who To Ride With?

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Jan 31, 2016

Dear Dave,

Who’s the best person to ride with to become a better rider?

A love interest seems to up the hormones and result in one pushing their limits while attempting to show off.

An all-around better cyclist gives a higher level to reach while attempting to keep up.

A rider considered to be of a lower skill level can create that “if they can do it, I can do it mindset” that motivate progression.

Someone on the same level seems like a good choice to improve with.

Trail dog?

Looking to improve

Dear LOKI:

As a guy with steadily diminishing skills, I can only provide an answer for what you shouldn’t do.

Don’t ride alone all of the time. You’ll dawdle on climbs and back out of difficult sections of trail and it will only become apparent that you suck and are out of shape at a point too far down the line to make any changes.

Don’t ride at times and on trails that see low amounts of traffic. Sure, you’ll avoid people running you over and/or standing in the middle of the trail to block your path. But you’ll also avoid witnessing other riders who could potentially shine a light on your pathetic situation. Don’t never ride in a bike park either.

When you do ride with people, don’t ride with other old guys who ride infrequently and alone. They will also kind of suck and the concentration of aging crappiness will just cause depression for the entire group.

Uncle Dave

Dear Uncle Dave,

It used to be relatively easy to figure out when to replace drive train components, you got a two or three chains out of cassette and replaced the chainrings every now again. If you kept on top of checking your chain there were no surprises and you could replace bits in time and not have the expensive “complete new drive train needed” experience. Then came 1×11 (specifically Sram) and things got weird. The Swiss cheese chain ring wore out first, the lowest two cassette cogs began to skip with a new chain and there is graunching noises when the chain is crossed up. Will after market products last longer? What should be expected to wear first and how can I get the most life out of a 1×11 drive train?

Please help me make sense of the word again.

XX Rated

Dear Porno:

I’m writing this as somebody that has no long term experience with SRAM 11 Speed. I’ve put a few months on a couple of systems, but never owned one for long enough to have to worry about replacing things.

In the past, my technique for maintaining drivetrain freshness was to just buy a new one every spring (or a whole new bike). This was expensive then, but seemed like a reasonable expenditure to guarantee crisp shifting and happiness. You’d be crazy and poor if you chose to do this now. New techniques are required.

Let’s look at some “facts” about drivetrains.

  1. What wears first, the chain or the teeth? Sheldon Brown’s article goes into some detail. The gist of it is that your chain “stretches” as it wears, and the cogs wear to match. The more worn the cogs, the more wear to the chain. The more wear to the chain, the more wear to the cogs. Repeat until you have a sloppy chain that causes wear to anything it touches (not in the literal, Midas sense of things).
  2. Frequent chain lubing is a good thing.
  3. Aluminum wears out more quickly than steel. I’m sure there are some alloys that last longer, but good luck figuring out what a particular aluminum ring is made out of.
  4. Smaller rings/cogs wear out more quickly than large rings/cogs.
  5. Winter riding on the west coast will destroy everything.

So, with SRAM 11 Speed, we’re still just talking about chains, cogs and rings, but you alluded to some issues that might cause things to wear more quickly. First, many people are running smaller chainrings than they did in the past. Not us, of course. We’re all pushing 36’s up every climb. I mean…we don’t even need that 42 in the back. But others (I hear) are running 28’s and 30’s. These are going to wear out more quickly because the leverage is greater and the wear is spread over fewer teeth.

Next, we’ve added narrow/wide into the mix. It’s just one more way that a chainring can wear out.

Not to mention, you’re funnelling all that wear through one chainring now. Sure, with your old 2x or 3x system, shifting up front caused wear. But I think we’re probably worse off now that we aren’t spreading the use across multiple rings. Although single speed systems seem to last a long time…

After that, we also now have some weird shit going on in the back with the cogs. Large, aluminum cogs are a new thing, but don’t seem to be causing too many problems. The ten tooth cog doesn’t sound like it should be an issue, but you’re telling me that it causes you problems. Maybe Shimano actually has a reason for so stubbornly sticking to their guns with an 11? What’s going to happen to the 9’s people are fooling around with?

So, if I were you and had to deal with the repercussions of my actions (rather than just roll the worn out pile of crap back to the manufacturer once I’ve satisfied my desires) here’s what I would do.

  1. Keep it clean and lubed.
  2. Buy one of the cheap, steel SRAM chainrings. You add a bit of weight, sure, but it’s going to wear less, last longer and be less likely to eat your chains. Screw the weight. 20-30 bucks well spent.
  3. Buy a Park chain checker. Replace your chain when it tells you to. It is super easy to use and if you get scientific about chain wear, you should maximize the life of your drivetrain for the cost of a few new chains. If you want to get really crazy, these guys recommend having 2-3 chains and swapping them every ride. Though they sound like the sort of people you’d avoid eye contact with at a bus stop, so maybe don’t spend this much time working on your bike.
  4. Don’t ride with your fancy drivetrain in the wet. Think of every wet ride in terms of dollars. Ask yourself this question before every wet ride: “am I willing to do 10 dollars worth of damage to my drivetrain today?” If the answer is no, stay home. Or ride a different bike. Oh wait. This stuff is all supposed to make it so we only need one bike, isn’t it? What a bunch of assholes.
  5. Stop riding your bike entirely. Everything is so expensive these days. Not riding at all is the only way to guarantee that you won’t have to replace anything. Unless it gets stolen.
  6. Don’t even own a bike. Parts breaking or wearing out? Theft? Obsolescence? Who needs it? Just borrow a bike from a friend if you really need to go for a ride.

Uncle Dave

Porno – you seem like a good candidate to try new ring. Pictured below is OneUp’s M8000 Oval ring. Made for XT cranks, OneUp says you’l get more traction than velcro on shag carpet – and you’ll save 32g over a stock ring.



Who makes you faster? How do you squeeze life out of a one by system?


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6 years, 3 months ago

"Dear Uncle Dave, what can I do about how fast my SRAM XX1 drivetrain wears out?!" - PORNO

"Dear Porno, here is a free SHIMANO compatible chainring for your trouble…" - Uncle Dave


6 years, 3 months ago

The most reasoned and logical answer I've read from you Uncle Dave. Disappointing!!!


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