Is it time to ditch the front derailleur altogether?

March 17th, 2016 marked a triumphant day for mountain biking. SRAM officially pronounced the front derailleur dead. There was simply no need for it anymore with the release of 12-speed cassettes; we could still get the same range without the worst component on the bike. SRAM’s assassination of the front derailleur has been so clinical, so efficient, that almost no professional mountain bikers of any discipline use one. In the same year, SRAM also released a specialist single chainring drivetrain for road bikes, but why hasn’t it caught on? And more importantly, should it?

Currently, there’s only one road-specific 1x groupset for 700c use, the SRAM Force 1. Initially designed for cyclocross, more recently it has started to filter into more traditional disciplines, with the UCI continental team, Aqua Blue Sport, running the system on each of their race bikes.

Many roadies aren’t keen to adopt a wide range system for a number of reasons; a larger range cassette weighs more, and even with a cassette that looks like a dinner plate, you don’t get the same range you do with a 2x system, and the gaps between the gears are too wide. But with cassettes getting wider, lighter, and more gears in them, is it likely that we might see a Tour de France won by a rider without a front derailleur in the near future?


SRAM Force 1 can fit up to a 42-tooth cassette with a long cage derailleur.

Road cyclists live by the scale, with good reason. For serious racers, even an additional kilogram on the bike can have significant effects on speed, especially up long climbs. So does adding even a 42T cassette add a significant amount of weight to a bike? Well, in theory, no, because any weight added by a larger cassette should be offset by the loss of a chainring, front derailleur and chain catcher, but how does this work out in reality? For a fair comparison, you have to contrast groupsets of the same caliber, meaning we’ll be comparing SRAM Force 1 and SRAM Force 22.

The Force 22 hydraulic groupset, with an 11-28 cassette and not including a bottom bracket, comes in at around 2079 grams, whereas the Force 1, with an 11-42 cassette and no bottom bracket comes it approximately 2061 grams. Slightly lighter, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the same mass.

Mass, however, was never the big issue. It’s the range of the cogs and the spaces between them that’s really a barrier to widespread use throughout the peloton. Unfortunately, with only 11 cogs (hurry up with 12-speed Red, SRAM), you do have to compromise a little on one to get the other. Most of the pro’s on Strada’s are running between a 48- and 54-tooth front ring, giving the same top end as everyone else. For flat stages, and riders who like tighter groupings on the cluster, 3T has come up with their own unique cassette spacing, a 9-32, which has tight groupings at the low-end and then big jumps to bail riders out on the climbs. Time will tell how effective this is.


The 3T Strada is the first dedicated 1x aero road bike.

Finally, you don’t get quite as much range on a 1x system. If you choose the largest cassette that will fit a dedicated 1x system, an 11-42, you will get an easier granny gear than on a standard 11-28 (with a 48 chainring vs. a 53-36), but you will spin out at a lower speed. However, with the massive range of an 11-42, you then re-encounter the problem of spread. Therefore, the 9-32 cassette gives you a tighter spread, but your easiest gear is the same as the 11-24 cassette. Not great for hilly stages.

So 1x groupsets aren’t really any lighter, there are bigger jumps between gears, and you don’t even get the same range, so should you ride 1x on road? The answer is, undoubtedly, yes. No, it’s not any lighter, and maybe the spread isn’t as good, but the simplicity and lack of mechanical failures makes up for any advantages for anyone except the pros. Up until 10 years ago, the most teeth any rider had on the pro tour was 23 anyway, and the hills were just as steep! So make the jump – ditch the front derailleur.

What do you think of 1x on the road? Let us know in the comments below!

Categories: Discussions

3 replies »

  1. I suspect the push for a never ending stream of new things is the motivation for sales and selling new things. eg: my old, very old Cannondale mtb runs 3×9 Shimano Deore , a road cassette 11-25 I think has gotten me up everywhere where all this new stuff has gone with out issue and without any problems such as dropped chains yet lets me fly in acceleration with the road cassette spacing in ratios, and I have 27 options minus the extremity gears.
    From memory the Sram front derailleur was never particularly good with the bottom guide plates not being connected, which was a design error.

    This is another more or different is better, I don’t think so, and if anyone wants to ask, I can list several other NEW innovations that are just … sales promoters.


    • 1×11 chainrings without chainguides have been in the top end of the cyclocross scene for years now thanks to clutched rear derailleurs – and the courses make the french cobbles look like an airport runway… Interestingly enough – there were Ultegra clutched derailleurs spotted at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen this year. The bikes were still running FDs, but with a clutched mech and a narrow wide chainring at the front, a chain guide would be unnecessary. Chain retention wouldn’t be the major factor here though- I doubt many of the pros would give up their little rings, even if just to get them started again after a stall on the Koppenberg. I personally don’t see the Sram 1x as a “sales promoter”. The tooling and R+D was already there from CX1, all it meant was a different cassette and bigger chainrings to make the CX package a Road package. If you’re already 90% there, you might as well finish off and sell it, even if it only ends up on concept bikes. They’re hardly shoving it down anyone’s throat either, with Red, Force and Apex all available as 2x systems, and will be for the foreseeable future. I think with 1x road, SRAM is saying “we can do it, and if it works for you, then go for it”. 1x road is not for me, but I can tell you that chain retention on the system is not the reason.


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