Could the simplicity and low weight of a 1x set-up outweight its flaws? Quieter, more secure, lighter — these are just some of the praises our dirt-riding brethren have been singing about single-ring set-ups

First 10-speed, then 11… and now 12 is becoming the norm for our knobbly-tyred cousins.

But here at Cycling Weekly, we’re starting to get interested in the potential of just one chainring on the road.

>>> Are 12-speed gears coming for road bikes?

Straight away, there’s an appealing simplicity to a single-ring set-up. Losing the front derailleur is one antidote to that poisonous, acidic road gunk that gets flicked up and clogs the mechanism.

Plus, it removes the bother of gear fettling and cable replacement, meaning less garage time and more ride time.

That’s not all, either. Take SRAM’s 1x groupset out for a ride and you’ll find the system noticeably quieter than a normal double.

That’s because the rolling bearing clutch mechanism in the rear derailleur “eliminates derailleur bounce and chainslap”, according to SRAM.

Clutched rear mech helps maintain chain tension and avoid chain slap over uneven surfaces

However, discerning road riders will object, citing a loss of gears and too large a jump between those that are left.

Indeed a common complaint by folk out on the road is that they struggle to find the “perfect gear”.

Even worse, 1x set-ups can be pretty painful for the first few rides, especially if you get the gear ratios wrong.

Two or three teeth on the front chainring can make a big difference — the difference between riding up the climb and having to get off and push.

Tailored to suit

However, that said, there is still hope for 1x users and it comes down to set-up. You could opt, for example, for a 42t chainring, to make hillier rides a little less strenuous.

Alternatively, if you ride on the flat, a larger ring would be sensible to help you lay down the power.

We got in touch with SRAM to find out more and get some recommendations. When asked whether it was as simple as choosing a chainring carefully, they confirmed that was part of it, as was changing cassette sizes.

However, J.P. McCarthy, SRAM’s road product manager didn’t stop there.

He also suggested so much of it comes down to understanding the needs of the rider and “understanding the rider’s top end; when it is OK to tuck and coast on descents,” as well as their “low-gear needs.”

Single-ring set-ups could be niche, then. It’s a case of tailoring your ride to you, because “problems perceived by one rider are not problems for others” according to McCarthy.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to think of the possible uses of a single front ring set-up.

SRAM 1x is ideal for an all-round bike like this Ridley X-Trail.

In an environment such as a time trial, where power and aerodynamics are everything, doing away with one of the chainrings is not an entirely new idea.

It’s an environment where you know every inch of the course and can tailor your ride to suit it.

That said, racers raise objections, in particular the issues of chain line efficiency for one ring set-ups.

The inefficiency of cross-chaining on the bike could potentially lose valuable watts — something TT racers definitely don’t want to happen. We probed SRAM on whether this was an issue, their answer? No.

“Loss of efficiency due to cross-chaining is minuscule. The benefit of selecting a gear that feels good and is easily accessed always outweighs potential loss of efficiency due to chainline.”

>>> Should you worry about chainline efficiency?

The future looks bright, then, for the single-ring in the world of time trialling.

What’s more, it’s hassle-free, ease-of-use potential on the road is hard to ignore — at least for this rider anyway.

Ultimately, though, it’s possibly too niche for roadies to get behind.

Having to know the ins and outs of the following day’s route can remove flexibility — for many part of the joy of road riding.


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Expert Take

J.P McCarthy, Road Product Manager, SRAM

“Certainly here in Chicago, 1x is perfect year-round. In terrain that requires a greater gear range, the rider has a choice: with 2x, the rider has closer gear ratio steps, sometimes awkward and inefficient front shifts, complicated gear sequence, and potential for chainslap.

“With 1x, the rider has the full range of gears in one hand, larger gear ratio steps, sequential gear selection, and superior chain management. Loss of efficiency due to cross-chaining is minuscule.

“The benefits of selecting a gear that feels good and is easily accessed always outweighs potential loss of efficiency due to the chainline. And 2x drivetrains permit more extreme cross-chaining than 1x drivetrains anyway.”

Our Take

Moving to a 1x set-up currently feels a little like a leap of faith, and whether it becomes the norm remains to be seen — by that we mean it’s probably too controversial for most road riders to consider right now.

But as a winter set-up, combining ease of use and minimal faff, along with its fitness-boosting potential, we find it very appealing.

If mountain bikers and cross riders can get on with it, then perhaps we can too.