Roads newest fad is to remove functionality from your bike (ok that’s a bit harsh), and the first to go for it on a professional level are 3T with their Strada model. Take a look below, you can’t deny that’s it’s (as Prince put it) a sexy mother fucker.
Now I appreciate that this is not news, this info has been knocking about for a couple of months now but I wanted to look at the potential whys and wherefores of going 1x. There are pros obviously, I’ve been running it for years on a mtb, just how are they good for top flight road work?
To start with, what is 1x? This essentially means having a bicycle drivetrain that has a single front chainring. So what? That’s nothing new, my kid has that on their cheap Halfords 20″ wheeled bike I hear you say. I completely agree, but what’s new here is the inclusion into the pro peloton.
Let’s look at the Strada then. On paper what do people want from a road bike? Fast, comfortable, safe, hassle free (I go with that order of priority as well). All things that make a bike confidence inspiring. Whilst I haven’t tried this bike (I’d love to btw 3T if you want to send me one!) it’s quite easy to see that it’s got those in spades. The stiff yet compliant aero frame, wide rims, larger tyres, and disc brakes. Lots to make you feel like a superhero, but maybe not to the liking of the purists who want 23c tyres and delta brakes!
This bike is to be raced by Aqua Blue Sport (UCI level team but not Grand Tour) professionally, a bit of a stand out event as the first team to do so. My thinking of this is that it’s a surefire test bed for The big teams, eyes will be on it to see if the wide range cassette cuts the mustard.
Now this is where the science comes in. The Strada is available as a frameset only and most builds I’ve seen have used an 11t to 40t range 11 speed cassette. Married to a chainring between 40t and 48t, supposedly giving enough range. This, according to research, is down to the spacing of the cassette with the first four gears being wider spaced to give easier climbing and the final seven being closer to give better cadence control on the flatter stuff. Now this may be the case but it will take some fettling. You may find yourself playing around with cassettes and chainrings to find a happy medium that works for your fitness level and local terrain. Something that a pro team with access to a big parts bin will be fine with, but maybe not for the weekend warrior?
Weight. Everyone loves to save a few grams here and there. Ditching your front mech, second chainring, cables, shifter mechanism, frame mounts, and reducing front chainring size does that quite well. But it’s not that simple, cassette size jumps up and adds weight, the extended range on the cassette requires a long cage mech, 1x drivetrain needs a mech with a clutch and narrow wide chainring, all little things that add weight back on. But overall there will be a weight saving that gives teams the ability to chuck ballast on where they need to to get the weight right for regs.
One of the messiest areas on the bike for aero is the bottom bracket. Because it’s essentially the widest solid lump of the bike, so removing any clutter around there will be a benefit. No mech or additional chainring matched to a fancier design of crankset with bring some nice aero gains. Probably not enough for anyone to notice on their local club ride but for GT riders any watt saving over a distance is music to their ears. So maybe a 1x setup could be GT worthy?
It will be interesting to see how this performs, I personally believe that it will limit performance for the pros as flexibility will be reduced. Currently they can save watts by fine tuning their gear ratios, but you never know the weight savings/distribution and aero improvements may outweigh that. As for the social rider I think going single ring is great, increased reliability, reduction in fuss, and weight saved with less expense. But that’s coming from someone who knocks out most of his miles on a singlespeed!
As far as modifying your current road bike to a 1x setup to get the benefits, I’m not entirely sure. Yes people have been using this in hillclimbing for years by removing anything and everything they aren’t using to remove as much weight as possible but unless your bike is specifically designed for it I don’t think there is much to gain.
I think 1x gearing on road bikes will be a big thing in the future but it will take some fettling first. With 12 speed cassettes, barrow wide chainrings, and clutch controlled mechs now out it will help to ensure it all works reliably. Let’s see how they get on at the races though eh!