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!
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That’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.
This 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 reacquaint 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.
A 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.
John 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 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.”
My 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.
RIP 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!