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Why single chainring is enough for trail and enduro riding

Single chainring drivetrain on Ibis Mojo HD

Exactly 1 year ago I bit the bullet and I have converted my Ibis Mojo HD to a single chain ring drivetrain. After those 12 months I can honestly say that 9 gears (10 respectively) is all I need. I would like to share my experience with you and summarize what it costs you and what can you gain from it.

What do you loose:

1. Your big and/or small chain ring, obviously:)

You also don't need your front derailleur and shifter anymore. All these parts with bowden and cable combined can save up to 450 grams (150g for shifter, 150g for derailleur, 50g for big ring, 30g for small ring and 50g for bowden and cable).

2. Your highest and lowest gears

This seems to be the biggest issue for most people I talk to about single chainring. Let's do some math: 3x9 combo with 22-32-44 chainrings and 32-11 cassette offers you gear ratio of 0.69 - 4.0 (you will get similar numbers with 2x10). 1x10 setup with 32t chainring and 11-36 cassette offers you gear range of 0.89 - 2.9, which is 63.4% of the original. Seems like a huge loss of gears... but is it? With 2.9 lowest gear ratio (1 full pedals rotation turns the wheel 2.9 times) you can easily pedal your bike at 40kmh (±25mph). Do you really need that 4.0 (44/11) gear?

3x9 and 1x10 gear ration comparisom

On the other side, your highest gear will be 29% harder to spin... There is no denying that, but i will get back to that later.

3. Safety net of a granny ring

With your 22 teeth chainring gone you can't longer rely on it in those steep, technical climbs. You have to put the power down or hike.

What do you get:

1. Much stronger legs

I really struggled during the first two or three weeks when climbing and I had to push my bike a lot. After a while climbing became easier, I was able to make climbs I never thought were possible. Now I can climb 25% gradients without problems. I also regularly ride 75+ km epics with over 2500 vertical meters (8200 vertical feet) of elevation.

2. Zero chain drops

With my extra chainrings gone I could fit my bike with MRP G2 SL chain guide. It keeps the chain in place and reduces chain slap. It also saved my bottom bracket at a crash at least once.

3. Better clearance

Without the big chainring you don't have to worry about hitting rocks and logs with it. You can also use short cage rear derailleur (like Shimano ZEE 10-spd rear derailleur) as it has 25t chain capacity, so it can be used with single chainring and 36-11t cassette.

4. Cleaner cockpit

Without you front shifter you get much cleaner and less cluttered handlebars.

5. Simplicity

With less mechanical parts there is a lower risk or something breaking or going wrong. Drivetrain is easier to setup, too.

6. Peace of mind

I saved this one for last as this is the biggest benefit. With multiple chainrings you have to think about gears. "What gear am I in? Am I crossing my chain? What's the best gear combination for the next climb?". When you have only one shifter to use, this distraction is gone. Do you need to go faster? Just click and you have lower gear. Is it too hard to pedal uphill? Just click and you have higher gear. You tried to click but nothing happened? Well, you are out of gears so MT*U!

This doesn't seem like much until you try it for yourself. I find myself riding in the zone much more than before. Simplicity became my mantra. I got rid of everything I could: I don't use HR belt or bike computer anymore, I don't have fork lockout or pro-pedal lever on my shock. I don't want to get distracted from the trail. Combined with stuff I've learned from Mastering Mountain Bike Skill by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack this is a killer combination.

Are you interested in single chainring drivetrain, but you don't want to take your bike apart just yet? You can try it out immediately. Just forget about your front shifter. It can seem too hard at the beginning but stick with it. After couple rides you will realize you don't miss it that much. You will get fitter, your legs will become stronger and you will climb faster. You will have to wait for your buddies at the end of every climb, though;)

Read the book that has changed my riding

Very few things can be learned just from reading a book, but this one has opened my eyes and I realized the mistakes I was doing. Well written with great images it's an investment well worth the money. Check it out

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Published 17.03.2013 by Peter Pech

  1. Jon

    Great article! I’ve been struggling trying to figure out what to do with my drivetrain and came across your post. While a single speed is the ultimate in low maintenance, it was a bit too restrictive. I tried setting up my bike as a 2×9 using 36 and 22 teeth rings but shifting into the 36 was tough. I’m going to go back to a 32 and drop the 22. Did you use a single speed style ring or a normal ring with ramps and pins? Did you pick up a Zee derailleur or stick with an XT/XTR?

    • Hi Jon,

      I think you won’t regret changing to single chainring. Previously I used regular XTR middle ring, that came with my cranks. It was OK with 1×9 setup, but with 1×10 it started dropping chain in the highest gear (those shifting ramps were picking the chain and trying to shift to a higher chainring that wasn’t there, even chainguide couldn’t keep it in place under heavy standing pedaling). I’ve switched to Dartmoor single chainring couple days ago, and so far no problems with it, I just had to adjust the chainline with one extra 0.4mm spacer under right bottom bracket cup to prevent chain rub in the lowest gear as the new chainring is little bit wider than XTR.

      I’ve picked up Zee mostly because of the short cage and the chain clutch system. The chain slap reduction is significant and it works really well with a Saint shifter. Also, it was half the price of Saint:)

      p.

  2. RickyBob

    Ibis states on their website that the Mojo HD is most pedal efficient with a chain ring between 32 and 36 teeth, hence why they say they do not support the Hammershidt system. Have you noticed any additional pedal bob with the smaller front ring?

    • Hi RickyBob,
      I use 32t front chain ring and pedal bob is pretty much non existent even with LSC on the shock full open. As far as I know Hammershidt also requires ISCG tabs which HD doesn’t have.
      p.

  3. Len

    Hi,
    Thank you for this article. I have 3×9 gearing on my Merida MTB. I used the middle chainring (fixed) and depending on the terrain, I only change the gears on the cassette just to experience “single chainring” experience like what you proposed.
    However, I have “noise” problem. The noise/squeaky is more significant when i’m using gears at both extreme, i.e., gear 1,2 and 8,9 sprockets. I reckon that its due to cross chain problem.
    The question is, don’t you have such “noise” problem when you use gears at both extreme?
    🙂
    Len

    • Hi Len,

      thank you for sharing your experience. I had some rubbing/noise issues on the highest and lowest gear caused by the front derailleur. When it got adjusted, the rubbing was kept to a minimum.

      Since I replaced front derailleur with a chainguide, I have a slight rub on the biggest cog, but nothing annoying.

  4. Felipe

    Nice article!!!

    I shifted to single chainring for my Santa Cruz Tallboy LTC and I did it as a leap of faith. I switch between 32, 34 and 36t chainrings depending on the ride I’m going, but I’m very used to my 36t. I only switch to the 32t – 34t when I have a trail with very steep climbs. Now with the new clutch-based rear derailleurs and the wide / narrow chainrings, the lower guide is no longer needed. I’m using a MRP AMG guide that provides a cleaner gearing than a G3 or E-13 LG1 chain guides but with the provided protection for the gears and frame.

  5. Gavin

    I agree totally with this peice.

    Very recently put together a steel hardtail with a 1×10 setup. I have a Hope Retainer 34t up front, and a medium cage XT clutch mech out back, with a 11-36t cassette.

    I am definitely in the ‘getting used to it’ phase. Climbs are tough. I live in Sheffield, and there are plenty of hills to test my legs and lungs. On a couple of occasions I had to stop where previously my granny gear would have been used, and a further couple of occasions where I managed to dig deep and make the climb, albeit at nearly 0mph! I’m sure I will develop the strength and fitness quickly enough.

    That said I don’t think I will go back to a front mech. The bike looks better – not necessarily in the handlebar area – the lack of a mech on the seat tube just looks better. Access to the inside of the single chainring up front is better, so you can clean pretty much all of the bike really easily. One less cable to change, and two less mechanical bits to break are also factors out of the maintenance schedule. Love it.

  6. Pete, this is a great post. I had never seen the gear ratios displayed as a chart before – it certainly helps to visualise what you gain/lose by making modifications to the drivetrain.

    My biggest concern with this craze is for those that simply don’t have the strength to climb on 30/36T combos. Slowly more options are coming to the market that are much more affordable so hopefully that will help though.

    Anyway just wanted to say great post. You may be interested in the post I just made on the topic, I have linked you to it.

    • admin

      Hi Jase,

      I’m glad it offered some new perspective. I think it might be a problem if you suffer from some kind of injury, but if one is healthy, 30/36t combo is easy enough to ride even in hilly terrain. I use 32/36t on my Mojo HD and I have to climb at least ±800vm on a 25km ride. All my friends who switched to 1x got used to it after a ride or two without a problem (even the weekend warriors:).

  7. Johannes

    Hi,
    I am also going for 1×10. Luckily I saw, that there is a gear set from leonardi racing for up to 42 tooth. This will make the range even more easy to use in the first weeks.

  8. escalona

    agree, i’m using 32 single ring since 2012, and my legs are stronger. i can climb any hill faster than before. it’s amazing

  9. Felipe

    In addition, the recent product development in the bike industry have made a couple of releases: the 1×11 sram group, and the 42t cog for the 10 speed cassette.

    I spend 50 u$D (discount) on a e-13 cog and I came with the benefit of not to change front chainrings according to the terrain. Now I am always riding in a 36T chainring and when the climb is very steep I can rely on my 42t cog. 🙂

  10. Ian

    Hi Peter, glad to see someone else that admits to having to walk a few climbs when first going to 32t on the front.
    I’ve gone from 3×9 to 2×9 and just now to 1×9 , ended up swapping my cassette from 11-32 to a 11-34 and finally used a 32t on the front, i had started off with a 28t but wanted a little extra speed on the top end.
    First couple of trips i’ve stalled a tiny bit on the extreme climbs that are technical, not once on a trail that was just steep without obstacles though, this all with the UK weather in “snotty mode” so i think my small number of “pushing episodes” will be a thing of the past once my summer fitness returns and the trails dry out a bit.
    I also went for a sram X0 grip shift, they a bit like marmite, but i like marmite!! i haven’t bothered with a guide/chain device so far, the SRAM X9 rear mech with medium cage and a “short as i can go” chain have resulted in barely any chain issues.
    so far i can’t fault this simple and effective way of riding, less thinking about gears and more about the trails, i’d encourage anyone to give it a go and if it doesn’t work for you, keep trying and eventually if you don’t like it put all the bits back on, won’t cost you anything to try!!

    • admin

      Hi Ian,
      it’s great to hear from people switching to 1x even without crazy expensive 10+ spd gear.

      Give it a try and don’t look back!

      p.

  11. Jon

    Really good article, so glad I came across this, especially the graph to see what gear ratios do what…

    I was rolling 2 x 9 for a few years and finally decided to change to 1 x 10 recently.

    I have a Zee clutch mech and shifter, 11-36 XT cassette and am trying out the new superstar narrow wide 32T chainring and 40T superstar cassette expander. Going from a min 22-32 on the 1×9 to a 32-40 on the 1×10 mean an increase of ration from 0.7 to 0.8 – hardly any difference at all.

    I think with the new expander rings (Hope 40T Rex etc) 1 x is being opened up to a whole new audience. And it is only a good thing – cleaner cockpit + less mechanical failures = more fun!!!

  12. Willie

    I know a few hills where no single speed setup will work for you, no matter what kind of shape you are in. There’s a guy that writes for MTBR and calls himself the “Angry Single Speeder” or “ASS” for short… There is a reason for that I suspect.

    • admin

      Sure, there will always be that hill that is too steep. It the end, it depends on how many of those are on your daily ride. I’ll rather push that hill, than give up the simplicity and effectiveness of a single speed.

  13. I’m really surprised that all articles (that I’ve found) about this fail to mention the other end of the range! Do you guys really NEVER use your mtbs in cities or in highways/roads?

    I live in a large city, we have paved hills inside it, it’s a valley. With a 3×9 it’s not so uncommon to run out of gears to go faster, I really can’t imagine the snail pace I’d be on a 1×10!
    Granted, almost all of the time I’m not on that streets, but still… I’d say 90% of the time I’m on my 3rd ring and 4 through 7 on the cassette.

    And of course we have some ridiculously steep mountains and volcanoes that you absolutely can’t do with a 1×10 and sometimes not even on a 2×10.

    I do hate the complications of my 3×9 tho 🙁
    Guess you can’t have it all.

    • admin

      Hi Esteban,

      I think you can always find a scenario where single chainring will fall short. But you are right, I don’t use my “big” bike in the city at all (Hans Dampfs combined with 170/160 travel are PITA to pedal on pavement). I have another bike for city riding/commuting which is a 1×7 (with different gearing of course:) and better suited for the job.

      p.

  14. ilari

    Excelent article. Was nothing that new to me, but still. I bought my first mtb (a hardtail) back in 6/2012. After the first month I decided to switch it for 1x, which ment that 1×9 it was (because I needed a gripshift and that meant I had to switch all of my drivetrain, except the cranks). I went for the 11-34 casette and 36t front and it was perfect!
    Anywho, that bike got stolen ~month ago so I had to get a new bike, which is a full suspension. This time I kinda new what I wanted off the bat, so I picked a bike that has SRAM X0-everything with a 2×10 (22/36 & 11-36). I’ve been calculating the gear ratios for different setups and I’m a bit lost. Can’t figure out if I should go for the 34t or 32t on the front. The former would give me pretty much what I had with the 1×9 with the extra gear being on the easier end. But since I got the full suspension bike and I’m going for a holiday where I’m going to ride the trails and there’s going to be even more climbs there, makes me think. Plus the fact that I’m not in that good of a shape atm. Makes me wonder about the 32t setup. What do you think? I also use my bike as a commuter, so the high end is also important. If I was riding it as I used to, I’d go for the 34t, or even the 36t (that would take care of the “not that good of a shape” part of the equation 😉

    Decissions, decissions.

    • admin

      Hi Ilari,

      great to hear that more and more people are switching to 1x:) Well, hard to give any advice, it all really depends on your fitness and terrain you usually ride.

      Your previous bike had gearing ratio of 1.06 – 3.28.
      32t on your new bike will give you .89 – 2.90
      34t will give you .94 – 3.09

      IDK what bike you have, but climbing will probably be little bit harder on the FS compared to HT. I’d go with 34t and man up a little;)

  15. Brad

    2011 Trek FS Superfly 100E (c)

    I am contemplating switching to 1×10 vs 3×10. I am swapping out my 15t and 17t cog and replacing them with a 16t and 42t. I ride both MTN and Road. While riding I am generally in my big rig except for steep climbs, so my fitness is ok. My question is to use a Wolf tooth 32t or 34t (oval/elliptical)?

    • admin

      Hi Brad,

      it’s hard to answer this without knowing the terrain you usually ride. 32/42=0.76 gearing ratio, 34/42=.81 so the difference won’t be that big. I ride 0.89 ratio on a 170/160mm suspension bike and it’s fine 99% of the time. As you write you ride road too, I’d go with the 34t (maybe even bigger).

  16. Barry Harrison

    Man I need some help. My wife has a new Cube WLS GTC SL. We bought it for long distance off road touring. It’s her first bike. I feel the gearing is wrong and the chain wheels are too small. The front derailleur is fixed to the carbon frame and only has about 1cm adjustment higher, hence I think a larger chain wheel is not possible. You’ve guessed my knowledge is zero. Is there anything that can done to change the gearing so it is harder for her to pedal? The bike is virtually running away with itself at slow speed. Thanks in advance.

    • admin

      Hello Barry,

      as you say you have bought it for long distance off road touring, I think there will be some bags strapped to the bike to carry the necessary gear, clothing, food etc. Have you tried the bike gearing with this added weight? If you do, I think your wife will be thankful for that easy pedaling:)

      p.

      • Barry

        That’s a great point thank you. I hadn’t considered that but because of her tiny frame the only luggage she can carry is an Ortileb Ultimate 6 handlebar bag. It will have a DSLR camera and a couple of other things but apart from that there will be no additional weight. I could put a rucksack on her back but having done that myself before, I’d advise against it. We travel extremely lightly, in total three 8 litre dry sacks and that’s it. No food and no sleeping equipment. It’s cheap accomodation and food all the way with a weekly visit to a laundrette. Could she be pedalling too fast if her set up is wrong? The bars are ridiculously wide for a 5′ lass and the seat height is way lower than the bars. The seat is positioned forward and the bar stem is very long. When I tried reducing the bars height, I removed the three spacers from bottom to top on the stem but the headset wouldn’t tighten and the front end have plenty of movement. I’m a rubbish mechanic, should I be able to move the spacers to the top and have no play in the front end? Is it dangerous to flip the stem so the angled part that holds the bars points down instead of up? This would effectively reduce the bar height. Is there a mechanism / accessory to enable the height of a braze on FD to be increased or an adapter that would allow a clamp on FD to be fitted to a carbon frame with a braze on?
        Thank so much again.

        • admin

          Sure, riding long distances with a backpack is not very pleasant. As for the stem and spacers, you shouldn’t run into any problems by just moving the spacers to the top. Are you sure everything was properly in place and aligned before retightening? Flipping the stem to negative is ok. If the stem is too long and high, replacing it with a shorter one without any rise should do the trick and is not that expensive (don’t buy the cheapest though). I do prefer as short stems as possible with wide handlebars myself.

          As I ride with a single chainring up front I’m no specialist of FDs and reductions, it would be better if you took it to your local shop to find the best solution for that.

          What is the big chain ring teeth count and what cassette does the bike have?

          • Barry

            11 40 cassette and 34 24 chainring – here is the bike –
            http://www.cube.eu/uk/products/woman-like-series/access-wls/cube-access-wls-gtc-sl-reefbluenflashred-2016/

            With regard to moving the spacers being an issue for me and you queried ‘everything in place?’ I’m not sure, I just undid the bolts, moved the spacers and then tightened them up. When it didn’t work, I put the spacers back to the bottom and it tightened up no problem. Maybe I just got lucky when changing them back. Can you explain everything in place please and I can try again?

            Can you suggest a decent stem for me to buy? I need to get it shipped to Morocco or buy one in Prague. The bike retailed at 1700, I paid 1400 from Tredz and so only a decent one will do.

            Thanks yet again, I’m really appreciative for the help.

          • admin

            If 34/11 is too easy, I think you could change the big chainring to 36t without having to alter the FD.

            There might have been a problem with the stem touching your head tube once you moved the spacers. You can try moving 2 spacers up and leaving one down, that way it might tighten properly.

            I use Sunline V1 50mm stem, but there are plenty of high quality 50mm stems out there: Easton Havoc, RaceFace Atlas, Renthal – Duo

  17. Levi

    I have 3×8 28-38-48 and 12-32 cogs. Then i removed the biggest chainring decided to go 2×8. I have hard time doing steep climbs, maybe because of the 28T granny gear and I’m 100kls. One day I broke my chainring, and because I’m broke, I had to use the single chainring from my daughter’s bike, its 36T. Guess what, I love it, my legs ache at first, but when i got used to it, it made me faster and stronger on climbs. I’m never going back to triple or double chainring.

  18. Ride Ahead

    You said that the 36T ring would be as fast as a 44T which I found not to be true regards an online simulator of gearing.

    I think that maybe it´s because you´r comparing the “easability” to turn the crank than to get to speed or are you talking about constant Avg. Speed?

    Regarding the 10,11,12 (now) using a custom 44T (once they aren´t making it anymore) for these would make you superior than the offered ones (42T down) all these regarding speed and Avg. Speed and the older setups (7,8,9 speed).

    Thanks

  19. cosmicheretic

    I know this article is old but I just found it and think it’s brilliant! The ‘peace of mind’ points and KISSing it are golden rules to me. I had problems with chain drops on the back from cross shifting so stopped using my small front chain ring for the last few rides. Boom…I’m faster and more focused with less gear matching. 1x for life!

  20. Stephen

    Hi I’ve just purchased a orange alpine 160 1×9 in place of my can non dale 3×9 and it was my 1st ride around my mountains in south Wales UK today and i really struggled on the climbs which i would normally fly up??

    • admin

      Hi Stephen,

      it might have something to do with a different bike geometry. It has a huge impact on the climbing abilities, but of course, this applies to downhill performance as well.

  21. Sam

    I too run 36 up front, i just switched to a 1-10 setup using all new zee 10 spd stuff. I got the dh version derailleur and 11/28 cassette cuz i love the range for the riding i do. I never needed a super high gear for climbing, and now i have like 2-3 more mid gears that are super usable when with old 1-9 setup i was having problems finding perfect gear alot. Now its so nice… this is a xc to dj/fr/park slash commuter thing… its cool looking and super fun to ride. Small nimble, rigid fork, light and crisp i love it

  22. Wayne Saunders

    I’m buying a Saracen single drivetrain bike end of month.
    I was a little worried but article put me at ease.
    Fantastic.

  23. Paul Graham

    Hello there I would really appreciate some help with this, I am a relative newbie to mountain biking so my knowledge is poor to say the least. I have a 2×10 set up but really like the idea of going to one ring up front. I don’t have the funds to pay for expensive upgrades or much mechanical knowledge to get to involved, could I just put the chain on my top ring then remove the front mech and shifters? Would this be ok ?

    • admin

      Hello Paul,

      it’s hard to say without more informations, but the easiest thing you can do, is to try it. You can estimate how well will it work by checking out the chain line. Put your chain on the big front cog and find the rear cog, where the chain is straight. If you are in the upper 2/3 of the cassette, it will be fine. You might get some chain drops depending on your front chainring (it’s better to switch to a dedicated rampless single chain ring) and riding style. Regular XTR middle chainring worked for my 1×9 setup, but I had to switch to a dedicated single chainring for a 1×10 setup because the front was trying to shift when riding the smallest cog in the rear (even chainguide couldn’t prevent this).

      Let me know how it went.

  24. Greg

    Hi Pete,
    I just bought a Dartmoor Hornet second hand and I have no clue as to how to change gears. I tried to drop the chain onto the smaller sprocket but it just skipped when I tried to ride it. Any sudgestions?

    Thanks
    Greg

    • admin

      Hi Greg,

      I think it would be best to take your new bike to your local bike shop. It might be caused by significant chain/cassette wear or misalignment of your drivetrain. They should be able to fix it without any problems.

      p.

  25. Steven

    Hi Peter,

    This is a great article. I’m in the process of converting my drivetrain to a 1×9. I currently run on a 3 ring up front, but I can’t remember the last time I used the large and small ring. I removed my front derailleur and shifter at the weekend and I love the clean cockpit feel. Also, after watching numerous YouTube videos, it’s possible for me to convert my current 3 ring crank to a single by removing the large and smaller ring, so I will give this a try first and possible upgrade the crank later. I understand I will need some kind of chain guide, so currently looking into that. This style really suits my style of riding, I only ever use gears 4,5,6, occasionally I might have to use 3 if the ride gets a bit tough uphill. I prefer a more technical, challenging ride and like yourself, I don’t want to be distracted, so these gears are adequate for me.

    Thanks for this article again, it’s inspired me to continue the change.

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