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Is 1x the new disc brake debate? Single chainring simplicity at the Tour de France discussed + lactate testing on the road.cc Podcast

Now we're seeing the world's best on the biggest stage in road cycling switching to single chainring set-ups, is the death of the small ring now inevitable?...

It was only in 2017 that we published an article predicting the death of the triple chainset... and just six years on, with triples having pretty much disappeared on new bikes of all genres, we're predicting a slower (but perhaps also an inevitable) 'shift' towards the decline of the double too on episode 54 of the road.cc Podcast.

 

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On our pre-Tour trip to the Dauphine, we couldn't help but notice that some riders were missing something in their drivetrains. So if Jonas Vingegaard – currently the hot favourite to claim another Tour de France yellow jersey after his performance yesterday – is now using a single chainring (1x) set-up for some stages of the biggest road cycling race in the world, is it now a no-brainer that the rest of us should make the switch on our road bikes?

> Should you run a 1x set-up on your road bike?

2023-cervelo-dauphine-1x-jonas-vingegaard-3-1

In pro road racing, it would be an understatement to say that 1x had a rocky start when the ill-fated Aqua Blue Sport team used 1x drivetrains on 3T Strada bikes - but the tech has improved, with wider gears, more gearing options and smaller sprockets decreasing the chances of mechanicals, and making 1x a reliable option for even the very best. 

> Check out the gearing choices of the pros at the Tour de France

As discussed on the podcast, with the increasing shift towards 1x on all bike genres and its adoption becoming more widespread, we can't help feeling a bit of déjà vu, and some parallels can be drawn with the relatively slow adoption of disc brakes in road cycling compared to mountain and gravel bikes.

So, is the death of the small ring already inevitable? You read it here first, but we're predicting off-the-peg road racing bikes from some of the biggest brands being sold with 1x drivetrains as early as next year. What do you reckon? 

2023 Lactate testing on bike lactate reading

In part 2, and as a follow-up to our in-depth article and video on lactate profiling, Jamie heads to Synergy Performance to take a comprehensive test that will lay out his full metabolic profile… sounds fancy, but how is it more insightful than the classic FTP or VO2 max tests? There's plenty of bonus info and outtakes here that didn't make it into the video, so if performance analysis interests you then it's well worth a listen. There's also some lovely panting and gurning noises for good measure…

The road.cc Podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music, and if you have an Alexa you can just tell it to play the road.cc Podcast. It’s also embedded further up the page, so you can just press play.

At the time of broadcast, our listeners can also get a free Hammerhead Heart Rate Monitor with the purchase of a Hammerhead Karoo 2. Visit hammerhead.io right now and use promo code ROADCC at checkout to get yours.

Arriving at road.cc in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of road.cc in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.  

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22 comments

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Bigfoz | 9 months ago
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Hmmm. In  1975 I had 5 gears, in1978 I hd 10 gears to race with, early in the '80s I had 12. In the 90s 14 and 16, in the 00s 18, by the '10s 20, then went back to 18 (due cost of upgrading 7 bikes to 10speed...) and combined a couple of bikes with triples for 27. Is 1x the future? Possibly back to the future...

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froze | 9 months ago
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I don't think the controversy will be as dramatic with 1x as it was with disk vs caliper brakes, besides, caliper brakes are actually disk brakes, but I digress.

For a long time, 1x systems were all there was until the front derailleur came out, so in some respects we're simply going back over 70 years ago!  Even in bikes sold in the 50s through to the 60s that was all you could buy at bike shops was the 1x system with just 5 rear gears.

A 1x system is lighter, but as the history of endurance racing as the TDF has shown, the average speed has only gone up by about 1.5 mph since 1963, so I seriously doubt the weight saving, and the aero advantage of losing the front derailleur is going to cause any measurable speed increases; what it will do is lose a possible, howbeit remote, mechanical fail point, and you won't have to trim the front derailleur anymore.  For mountain biking a 1x system has the advantage of less chances of dropping your chain on big bumps and rough terrain.  Also with crit type of racing you don't have to figure out when to shift the front derailleur, a 1x system is more of a brainless operation.

The one major issue for 1x will be riding on hilly and mountainous roads, the 1x system won't give you the gear range that a 2x or a 3x will give you, so in situations like touring bike, or mountain riding with a less than a pro rider, 2 to 3x is the better option.

But are those things worth it?  Maybe, but for most of us average riders, probably not, and definitely not for people who tour or do bike-packing adventures.  But like anything new that comes out, the marketing forces will get hundreds of bike rags, like this one, to spew out the virtues of 1x making you look like a backward dope if you don't rush out and buy a bike that has it...and really that's what this is all about, bike sales are at an all-time low, so they need something to stimulate sales again, this has been their marketing scheme for quite a few years, introduce something new every 10 years or so to create excitement where there is none, all in an effort to keep the sales up. 

The next big thing will be anti-lock brakes which on a bike is completely unnecessary, but they will make it look like it's hugely necessary all disguised as being safer; after that, they will do away with gears and derailleurs and go with a version of the CVT transmission; then sometime after that will be a new frame material that they will make you believe that everyone needs it.  All the while this stuff is coming out, the average speed at races like the TDF won't improve.  Just like NASCAR used to do when they had to use stock cars that you and I could buy, Cycling has taken a lesson from their playbook, whichever bike wins on Sunday is sold on Monday.

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Cugel replied to froze | 9 months ago
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froze wrote:

....whichever bike wins on Sunday is sold on Monday.

Just so - at least in those societies where matters-cycling have been largely suborned and annexed by those who sell cycling stuff as "sports" stuff.

It's always astonished me (although I'm now getting used to it) that hundreds of thousands are willing to buy things because they believe that doing so will somehow make them like their sport "hero". The requirements of their real, actual and everyday lives are rarely considered, as appearing as a racing hero and perfoming the gestures in an absurd theatrical parody of the heroes is regarded as a legitimate signal to others that one is a fine follower of fashion fellow.

Soon we will see these mummers going about on the latest aero bike with one chainring and a 9 toof sprocket (and also a 50 toof one). They will expect, nay demand, our admiring glances  .... and no rolled eyes or derisory snorts of mirth tinged with a sadness at how daft the human world has become, pliz!

Will they be able to mend a puncture or put back their dropped chain, though?  Probably not.

Cuh!

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IanEdward | 9 months ago
1 like

Seems like a niche that works for some, but given I've had precisely zero issues with the Ultegra front mech on my 2x setup (or the 105 on my winter bike or the GRX front mech on my gravel bike) why would I want to sacrifice more gear choice, better chainline and quieter smoother shifting (or cheaper rear mechs, cheaper cassettes, etc. etc.).

The 1x on my winter gravel/CX bike serves a purpose but is noisier and rougher in the lower gears where the chain is at more of an angle and the mech is at a greater stretch as it's at the limit of the range. The shifting has never been as smooth as the 2x equivalent drivetrain, again probably because the 2x mech is by design never at the full range of it's movement unless I accidentally stray in to big-big.

In answer to the original question, I would be surprised if 1x became as ubiquitous as disc brakes, mainly because it will be a lot harder for manufacturers to get away with a premium markup for less kit!

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wycombewheeler replied to IanEdward | 9 months ago
1 like

IanEdward wrote:

 why would I want to sacrifice more gear choice, better chainline and quieter smoother shifting

Not sure I'd consider front mech to have smooth shifting on the gravel bike once the mud gets everywhere.

But otherwise total agreement. (I do have a front mech on my gravel bike, think I might be better without)

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IanEdward replied to wycombewheeler | 9 months ago
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Yeah good point, I've never ridden the 2x gravel bike through winter mud, have the luxury of an old 1x CX bike for that!
 

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Jimthebikeguy.com | 9 months ago
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Absolutely 1x is on the way. Its been coming for years in fits and starts because of the push and pull between SRAM and shimano (bleeding edge versus conservative). It also has loads of other advantages beyond just the idea of less weight - speak to a bike designer. Anyway, even the best front derailleurs are still rubbish.

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Jimmy Ray Will replied to Jimthebikeguy.com | 9 months ago
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I think you're right, its coming, but not because its in any way better, but it suits the bike companies due to the flexibility it offers around design. 

Personally speaking, I've used 1x on my gravel for a while, but recently kicked it into touch and went back to a 2x set up. I can't express how much more enjoyable I am finding my gravel riding since. 

The front mech is a great thing. I appreciate the benefits of 1x for MTB riding, but everywhere else, for me the limitations of 1x are simply too great to justify.  

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Surreyrider | 9 months ago
6 likes

No. 
 

(that's the answer to your stupid headline). 

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Fignon's ghost replied to Surreyrider | 9 months ago
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I couldn't have put it better.

Rimming is winning!

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Off the back | 9 months ago
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One day you can say it's obviously the way forward just because Vingegaard did well against Pogacar on stage 5 of the TdF, but then today he is left in Pogs wake and then you wonder if it's a good move after all. End of the day it could probably offer minimal benefit since the only thing it really does is reduce weight which in a world where most bikes are still capable of being bang on 6.8kg regardless it really isn't that much of a saving while obviously losing gears. 
 

And if 1X IS really all you need, what does that say about Classifieds rear hub based gears? 

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Xenophon2 replied to Off the back | 9 months ago
3 likes

I'm obviously a bit biased because I'm using the Classified system but to me, on a non-pro level it certainly offers advantages over a 'classic' 2x setup, provided that the cost doesn't matter.

I switched to Classified from a 1X gravel oriented system because to me the gaps between gears in my 10-50 cassette were unacceptably large.  I'm a puny amateur, can imagine that the pro riders can suck it up easier but tbh I can't imagine the tiny weight and mechanic safety gains of 1X outstripping the drawbacks.

The classified allows me to run a more conventional and tightly spaced 11-32 while still having good range...at a cost.  But for technical reasons I don't ever see it hitting the pro peloton.

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Off the back replied to Xenophon2 | 9 months ago
2 likes

So you're essentially saying no. You may only be running a 1x but you still need the other gears from the classified system so were it not for that tech you'd be on a standard front derailleur setup.  

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Xenophon2 replied to Off the back | 9 months ago
2 likes

If there were no Classified system and the choice was between a 1X with larger steps between gears or a 2X with derailleur then I'd go with the 1X.  'Need' is a curious thing.  I don't make a living from cycling so do I 'need' closely spaced gears?  No.  But I do ride 13 k km/year so if spending some cash means that I can have my cake (1x) and eat it too (classified) then why not?  

I am not a fan of front derailleurs.  For some reason they gave me nothing but grief, ever since I started with my first triple, decades ago.

 

Obviously, ymmv.

 

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Off the back replied to Xenophon2 | 9 months ago
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I can understand you buying it if you have the funds etc, but I prefer owning multiple wheel sets. I own a set of ultra light wheels which are 34mm and a set of 48mm aero rims. If you want to use a classified that's gonna get expensive fitting it to both 

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mark1a replied to Off the back | 9 months ago
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Off the back wrote:

I can understand you buying it if you have the funds etc, but I prefer owning multiple wheel sets. I own a set of ultra light wheels which are 34mm and a set of 48mm aero rims. If you want to use a classified that's gonna get expensive fitting it to both 

I doubt it, each wheelset would only need the rear hub shell unless I'm mistaken. 

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check12 replied to Xenophon2 | 9 months ago
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Don't take this as offensive but you paid more and needed a new wheel made or bought to just get a 2x setup? I can't see it catching on unless it's cheaper than a FD

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Xenophon2 replied to check12 | 9 months ago
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Well, I needed a new bike as my old gravel bike/commuter  (a Canyon Grail) had been stolen.  I have a couple of wheelsets and just decided to get another one but equipped with a Classified hub.

It'll never be cheaper than a FD.  But it also avoids FD issues and gives tight gear spacing.  I can see a market in applications like cross and gravel racing.  Road racing...not so much imo.

 

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check12 replied to Off the back | 9 months ago
2 likes

Did he use the 1x on either stage? He was on 2x up the tormalet when he set the new climbing record.... click bait gonna click bait and Stam gonna try and get column inches from a heavy big losses 1x bike that doesn't get ridden when it counts 

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Velophaart_95 replied to check12 | 9 months ago
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Really? Try telling Nino 1x doesn't work......

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Jimmy Ray Will replied to Velophaart_95 | 9 months ago
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Ha, we'd better all go out and put 2.2inch wide tyres on our road bikes then based on that logic.

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check12 replied to Velophaart_95 | 9 months ago
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If he tries riding this cervelo on a mountain bike course then even I'd have a chance at beating him 

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