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A Case for... Banning the front derailleur

By Bruce Lin

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As of today (4.1.2021), the UCI’s ban on the “super tuck” and the forearms-on-bars aero riding positions will take effect. Like minimum bike weight and sock height, many riders see these rules as arbitrary. But what may shock you is what the UCI wants to ban next — the front derailleur!

Road Bike 1x drivetrainThat’s right, pretty soon, the entire peloton will be forced to use 1x drivetrains. Oh no! Is this the work of the cycling Illuminati? An elaborate industry conspiracy to get everyone to buy new drivetrains? Or am I just pulling your leg because it’s April Fools Day?

Obviously, I’m joking. But even though it’s a joke, it highlights an interesting point. Right now, most roadies seem to hate 1x drivetrains.

Surf the forums or chat with old-timers on group rides and you’ll find plenty of 1x doubters ready to write a novel about why it’s wrong for road bikes. You see, roadies are notoriously slow to adopt new technology. How many still believe the rim brake needs saving? Most probably still keep the air in their tires with archaic rubber tubes. The front derailleur has worked for nearly 100 years, why mess with it?

Hey, I get it. Adapting to new things costs us time, money, and patience. But for me, ongoing tech refinement brings me the most joy in cycling. Do you want to watch the same movies, listen to the same music, and ride the same bike every day until you die? Not me! Let’s innovate and try new things.

3T Strada 1x road bike drivetrainThis 3T Strada is one of only a few road bikes that come equipped with a 1x drivetrain. 

Sure 2x still works, just like rim brakes and tubes still work. But after experiencing disc brakes and tubeless tires on my road bike, I’ll never go back. I expect the same thing to happen with 1x road drivetrains. The front derailleur is already extinct in the mountain bike world and 1x is slowly becoming the dominant option in gravel too. If history repeats itself, 1x will probably endure a few more years of hate and resistance before it becomes the standard on road bikes. Personally, I can’t wait.

Since 2015, the majority of my bikes have been 1x. Every time I hop back on a bike with a 2x, I have to refamiliarize myself with the front derailleur. It’s fine, but I always miss the simplicity and convenience I’ve become accustomed to. It’s like when I smashed the screen of my iPhone X with Face-ID. I had to temporarily go back to my retired iPhone 7 with Touch-ID. I found myself constantly fumbling to unlock my phone and missing the newer, more convenient technology.

Yes, shifting a front derailleur isn’t that hard, but it still requires an extra bit of energy and thought. This is especially true when riding rolling terrain. I have to carefully plan my front shifts in that awkward transition from high-speed descent or flat into the base of a hill. With a 1x, that little bit of thought and energy goes back into pedaling or just enjoying my ride. Even if you have an electronic drivetrain that makes front shifts effortless, a front derailleur complicates things. A single chainring eliminates that matter entirely.

Time trial TT Tri bike 1x single ring drivetrainA 1x is one of the many secrets to speed for this Cervelo P5. Photo courtesy of Cervelo. 

Plus there are a few other nice benefits. Ditching a derailleur and chainring saves weight. Time trial specialists have already found that removing the front derailleur can have a positive effect on aerodynamics. And if you like bigger tires, removing the front derailleur gives you more clearance.

Mads Pedersen John Degenkolb Trek 1x madone road bike world tour pro racersJohn Degenkolb (center) and Mads Pedersen (right) riding 1x Trek Madones at the Tour of California. Photo by Ray Rogers / Flickr Creative Commons. 

I’m not the only one who is excited about the possibilities of 1x. Some big World Tour pros have already experimented with it in major races. Mads Pedersen brought a 1x-equipped bike to the race the cobbled classics. Pederson and his former Trek-Segafredo teammate, John Degenkolb, also raced the 2019 Tour of California and Milan-San Remo on a 1x. (The doubters will point out that Degenkolb dropped his chain in MSR, but any 1x aficionado knows that’s a very rare occurrence. I’ve dropped chains more on a 2x, and Degenkolb’s gaffe still was not as bad as “chain-gate”)

I got the chance to speak with another Trek-Segafredo rider, Kiel Reijnen, to see why he’s also become a 1x believer.

“I actually had my Paris-Roubaix bike set up with 1x last year,” Reijnen says. “Unfortunately, Roubaix didn't happen. But in the classics, if you never have to go down to the inner ring, and you get to skip that little hesitation or pause where you shift up into the big ring at the crest of the climb, that can be the difference between staying attached and losing a couple of bike lengths.”

Kiel Reijnan 1x road bike trek madoneKiel Reijnen's teammates used 1x at the 2019 Tour of California. Less than a month later he chose to race the 2019 Unbound Gravel 200 on a 1x and became a convert. Photo by Ray Rogers / Flickr Creative commons.

Despite his eagerness to use 1x, Reijnen agrees that it will probably be a few years before 1x really takes over in the pro ranks.

“Especially on the European pro side, it takes a lot of time for everyone to adjust and adapt,” he says. “Change happens slowly and technology is available before the riders are willing to accept it. Right now, I don’t think anyone is daring enough to use it for a mountainous Vuelta stage — I'm thinking of those 90-kilometer Andorran stages we've done a few times. But, if you’re just going to go do that on your own, for fun, a 1x drivetrain is perfect.”

Cannondale Synapse SE 1x sram road bike drivetrainMy simple and lovely Cannondale Synapse SE tackled everything I wanted to ride with a 1x drivetrain. 

I’m reasonably (not extraordinary) fit and I’ve never had issues climbing on my 1x. I’ve done many of the hardest climbs in Colorado on a Cannondale Synapse with a 46t chainring and 10-42t cassette. It was comparable to a 2x drivetrain with 52/36t chainrings and an 11-32t cassette. If I ever needed easier climbing gear for a mountainous day I could swap to a 44t or 42t chainring in only a few minutes. And there was always enough top end to go well over 30mph with the 10t small cog.

“At home, I pretty much exclusively ride on a 1x,” Reijnen says. “Now, I definitely think it’s the future, especially with wireless drivetrains. Everything becomes an interchangeable, modular system. In pro racing, we are seeing everything get more course-specific. Riders already switch between climbing bikes and aero bikes. I think as 1x gains traction, we'll continue to see that trend translate not just to the frames, but drivetrains as riders and teams match them to different profiles. I literally do that now. Depending on where I’m riding, I like to swap chainrings, then cassettes and derailleurs to get the perfect range for climbs, crits, mud, or whatever.”

The fact is, most of us aren’t World Tour pros, and the vast majority of cyclists are out riding for fun. There’s no reason we everyday riders need to wait to experience the simplicity 1x offers. Thanks to SRAM’s latest AXS drivetrains, there are multiple great 1x options for the road. If you’re worried about gear range, the 10-50t cassette and Eagle derailleur will let you granny gear up the steepest climbs without spinning out on the way back down.

I’m surprised by how little I missed 1-tooth jumps between gears. Reijnen agreed with me. But if you are worried about the gaps, the 12-speed 10-33t cassette Pedersen chose for the cobbled classics has five 1-tooth jumps. A bigger 10-36t still has three 1-tooth jumps right where you need them, between the four hardest gears.

Here is my prediction. In a few years 1x will get even better. They’ll get even lighter and more efficient. We’ll have even more range and even more 1-tooth jumps. Like with disc brakes and tubeless tires, the critics will fade away as their concerns are addressed. Plus, exciting new technologies like the Classified Powershift hub could speed up the process and kill the front derailleur sooner than expected.

1x road bike drivetrainRIP my old friend.

The days of the front derailleur are numbered, and I think instead of fighting it, we should start making arrangements for when it finally passes. We can cherish it while it’s still here, and celebrate its long and fruitful life. But we should also look forward to a brighter, simpler future without it.

 

“A case for…” is a place for unpopular opinions, weird ideas, and unloved bikes and components. For every cyclist who rides to the beat of their own drum, there’s a case for you.

Do you think I’m a dirty, foolish mountain biker and that 1x drivetrains have no place on road bikes? Or have you already seen the light of the great 1x? Let us know in the comments!

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32 comments


  • I have mixed feelings. I love the simplicity of 1x in terms of maintenance not having to deal with a front derailleur anymore is awesome. But now the problem is that instead of just grabbing the bike and go I need to plan my ride in advance and potentially swap cassettes and chainrings depending on what I’m doing. This is not too bad for me, because I have 3 road bikes and 5-6 cassettes to switch from depending on the terrain that I’m riding but for people with only 1 bike it becomes a problem. But then again, as annoying as it could be, I rather swap cassettes and chainrings than deal with a front derailleur.

    Mike on

  • 1 x biking for racing is probably fine. However, my 3×9 Scott Spark was stolen and I have been trying various 1 x configurations and found that the steps between the gears are too tall and will put excessive strain on the knees over a long period of time. Also, if you wanted a solid multi-purpose bike, a 1x strategy limits what your bike will be good for. Smaller steps between gears allow for a fine tuned ride and will give you better longevity as a rider. Separately, when considering the size of the biking market – who will be buying the majority of the bikes? Not the racing teams as they are small in number in comparison to the public who buys bikes. Also, who has the room for more than one bike type per person in a household? Any manufacturers having a good quality 2x or 3x range of models in their strategy and bike lines will capitalize on the market. Take a look when you have some time at the used bike market. People with 2x and 3x set-ups are not selling them as there is nothing good to replace them with.

    CptMidnite on

  • I am not a competitive rider but recently went to a gravel bike and do mixed rides for fitness and fun. 20-25 miles 1/2 2/3 road bs trail. I loved the idea of 1x ant tested a salsa warbird with 1x and then a giant revolt adv. 2. – I found the 2x in the Giant far far superior one ring for road and one for trail 98% of the time since I have only one bike for road and trail I will stick with 2x

    B Diago on

  • Im not sold on the 1x chain line… and while we are at it, give me rim brakes. I don’t ride in the mountains, and I don’t need the added complexity of a hydraulic brake. I remember when shift hoods were small and unassuming…. now they are essentially bar ends for road bikes. Ugh.

    Jacob on

  • Front mechs are very useful for road and TT where riders are more sensitive to the perfect cadence/power combo. I don’t see it going way anytime soon unless cvt becomes a real thing

    Erik V on

  • As our dear Dead Kennedys once wrote, in their usual caustic sarcasm – “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death”

    Chris N on

  • Ever seen Ayrton Senna’s qualifying lap in the McLaren MP 4/6 at Spa in 1991? H pattern, 6 speed manual. In my book, the best two minutes sports. Compare that to modern day qualifying lap in F1. Snooore. Just because you can progress technologically, doesn’t mean you should. I’ve been a fan of F1 since the 80s and seen a progression of technology “improvements” which took control/input away from the driver and placed it in the machine. The result? F1 went from one of the most exciting sports in the 80s to one of the most boring today. F1 is no longer about what team will win, it’s about who will finish 2d. I personally like the process of melding quickness of mind and muscle twitch with the machine being piloted, which is why I LOVE manual gearboxes, and taking the front derailleur off the machine is part of the slippery slope to letting the machine do more and more of the “decision making”. Rush’s Red Barchetta comes to mind…..

    Chad Hammond on

  • Smaller cogs are more Watts. No getting around it.

    And, my 11 spd 52-36 – 11-28 is great for racing & training, but in TT, on my full-on TT setup, I just can’t get the right gear.

    11-23, TT problem solved.

    Rob on

  • I started riding in the Catskills on a 1x last summer, thinking I was missing out by not having a 2×. The moment I got on the 2x I immediately switched back. So much easier and more fun. Just train on the gears you have and you can ride anything on a 1×.

    Adam Erickson on

  • Haha, thanks for the laugh “John.” Your memory must be fading since you dropped your chain in 2019! Though I must know, why were you backpedaling up the Poggio!?

    Bruce Lin on

  • Remember 2018 Milan San Remo, when I accidentally backpedalled my chain off my SRAM 1x crank, after making it over the Poggio and being the fastest finisher left in the race? Probably not, but I sure as heck remember it….

    John on

  • I’m excited to see a re-visit to the 3 speed internal rear hub with a 8 or 9 speed cassette on the back. (I remember companies trying this back in the 90s). Then use electronic shifting to make the shifting sequential. So you either shift up or down and the internal hub and rear derailleur go where they need to go to find the next size gear. I could see the slower shifting being a bit of a challenge when racing, needing quick shifts to catch breaks, etc)… but for everyday riding seems like this would work great. For bonus points, hook this up to your HR monitor, cadence, and power meter and create a customized “automatic transmission”.

    Philip Mazza on

  • I am intrigued by the Schlumpf planetary drives for the front. No derailleur and shift by pushing a button with one’s foot.

    Mike on

  • I’m an old roadie from the 70’s-80’s when we used 53×42 rings and a corncob 13-18 for races/rides even in hilly terrain. Friction shifting was the norm so it took some finesse to ride a bike fast, a skill we all took pride in, which I can still do today. I like close ratio spaced gears 1 tooth difference, snick, snick shifting. Being in the right gear with the correct cadence is crucial on the road and big gapped spaced gears simply don’t work. Even on my new carbon bikes I like a 53/39 with 11-26, 11s gearing. I can’t see owning a 1by system any time soon there’s just too many issues with compromise for very little reason to do so. A front derailleur and a 2nd ring don’t weigh much and add versatility to the system. Can’t shift a front derailleur? Then you must be driving a car with an automatic transmission too. My next new bike will likely be traditional dual chainring, mechanical rim brake that will last for decades. Sorry not convinced that a 1by system is gong to dominate any time soon unless it’s on an e-bike.

    Frank on

  • Years ago I read an article that stated, “there is no real substitute for physical performance.” We can go 1x or 2x, disc, or rim brakes, and at the end of the day, for most of us, it’s gonna come down to the motor. I like the simplicity of some upgrades, but it seems like much of the gadgetry is just gimmicky.

    Duston on

  • I understand the push for 1x, but while it solves “severe” cross chaining, it also makes your average chainline worse unless you always ride in the middle of your cassette. My 1x MTB jumps cogs routinely if I pedal backwards while near one end of the cassette, and while this is less likely to occur on a road bike (no need to keep the pedals away from obstacles) it still highlights how bad the chainline can be. Road bikes are even more subject to this issue since they have shorter chainstays, on average. At this point I think 1x is more about marketing than a real improvement in riding experience.
    Mechanical road discs are awful, in my opinion. Every set I’ve used/owned have had worse response even in wet conditions vs. decent rim brakes (even mid-reach calipers). Additionally, they require adjustment on a way more frequent basis (often requiring tools) vs. standard calipers. Hydraulic discs are the obvious solution and are wonderful in mountain bikes, but squeezing all of that stuff into road shifters makes them (more) complicated and expensive. I suppose we’ll see these prices continue to drop over time so eventually they might compare with cables, but for now it’s a pretty significant premium.
    I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the obsession with tubeless systems. I’ve never had issues running lower pressure even with tubes and it’s a lot less messy to fix in the rare occasion when I actually get a flat. I think it works better in the MTB world since they run lower pressures and have a higher air volume (better able to deal with slow air seepage), but even then I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people get spewing punctures that were not even close to being sealed with the tubeless sealant, or MTBers hiking their bike out of a trail system because they didn’t bring a backup tube and couldn’t re-set the bead. Let’s also not forget that the sealant needs to be replaced every year or less compared to a tube that can outlast the tire itself.

    Matt on

  • I would not welcome 1X setups on my road bike for a number of reasons. It appears as though some are approaching this as a logical problem and not how a cyclist actually experiences the drivetrain on a ride. I live in hilly country and shifting is very frequent throughout a ride. The 2X (or 3X-gasp) allow a rider to make a single shift equal to 3 to 4 cogs on a rear derailleur. This means far less shifting. I get how a 1X good allow a racer to stay closer to maximum output but this is not needed for a regular rider even if they are quite aggressive. (Perhaps the Pros should move to a continuously variable speed drive like a motor scooter or lathe uses). You may also make logical arguments about enhanced 1X simplicity but I haven’t ever felt like shifting a front derailleur was in any way mind-taxing. And mechanically I have never had a front derailleur failure. If they were breaking all the time the 1X arguement would carry more weight but they are remarkably long-lasting and efficient pieces of equipment. Like the uncomfortable racing bikes recreational riders adopted because of Armstrong’s successes I have no doubt the 1X will sweep the recreational market as the author hopes for. It will not, however, improve the cycling experience for the majority of riders.

    peter on

  • I would agree generally with the article’s premise. There are, I believe two items that need to be taken into consideration when discussing the advantages/disadvantages when comparing 1X to 2X systems and one that doesn’t. First is the chainline. While we all know that we should not run the largest front ring with the largest rear ring or the lowest to lowest, manufacturers are seeming to address this with specially tooled 1X rings that are offset to split the difference. Second is the duplication of gears in a 2X system. Taking for example a 52/36 mid-compact with a cassette ranging from 11-28, four gear combinations are within a single gear inch of one another. What does that single gear inch provide in forward movement? A full rotation of the pedals translates to a mere difference of less than 10cm of forward movement between them. If you look at gearing charts, on a typical 2X11 system, you will find possibly 9 duplicate gears. And the one item that should play a very small part in discussion is that of tradition. And that should only be discussed by persons who are riding bikes with downtube shifters, 5 speed freewheels in the 12-21 range, caliper brakes (boy I opened up one there), quill pedals and no aero bars on time trial bikes. Been riding 1X’s on gravel, fat bike and road for three years. Use Absolute Black 1X chainring on all.

    Jim on

  • My next bike will definitely be a 1x w/ disc. I’ll never give up on my 2x rim brake machines as they have all been lovingly maintained and, in the case of 3 of them, custom built from the ground up. I like tubeless and have a couple of wheel sets that are set up that way. I love my wheel sets that are Vittoria Corsa G + latex tubes primarily because they feel almost identical to my very ancient racing tubs.

    All this is to say that change is ok however abandoning the older approach seems a bit too much like planned obsolescence to me. There is room for both – I just hope that the bicycle industry understands that.

    NovemberGhost on

  • Maybe I am biased to having less stuff on my bike. My cross bike went from 2×10 to 1x that’s it, and my commuter bike in Chicago was almost always a fixie. Now I am in Seattle and it is bad enough that I have to have rear shifting! Front shifting is an abomination and should be abolished. If I have to have bigger jumps between gears, that is fine. In theory I prefer no shifting at all.

    Nor am I a retrogrouch. I went for road tubeless in 2010, disc cyclocross in 2013, and I am loving thru axle.

    James on

  • I wonder about chain angle. Is a 1x on the largest or smallest cog effectively in the same chain position as a ‘cross chaining’ 2x? Have any engineering types out there measured this? Would it make any difference anyway?

    Philip May on

  • I just read a test showing that 1X has a significant watts penalty compared to 2X because the chain goes through harsher angles

    Christopher Lee on

  • Just like the author, I ride a 1x 46 with a 10-42 cassette and I absolutely love it. Lots of mixed terrain where I live and after riding the trainer quite a bit practicing intervals with varying cadence I find it to be easy to adjust cadence as needed. One of the biggest 1x benefits is that frequently on my 2x I find that I’m looking for a sweet spot between my big and small chain ring and avoiding cross chaining in the rear, cross chaining is a thing of the past on the 1x!

    Andrew Smith on

  • This is a scam. The close ratios necc for a wide variety of terrain will always need a front derr. I’m speaking about road/gravel bikes only. There will be 1X applications like commuting or flatter areas, but most of us aren’t strong enough to ride 1X.

    Paul Rinehart on

  • I have been riding a 44 front X 12-36 rear 1X system on my road bike fir a year and it’s the same as a compact front and 12-28 rear standard setup. I’m climbing all the same climbs and never struggling more than before, but now I never need to deal with the front derailleur BS and cleaning my bike is even easier. 100% for 1X bikes in the future.

    Chris Racicot on


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