Wednesday, July 8, 2015

10 or 11? Does it Really Matter?

Remember when "10-speed" really just meant "10-speeds," as in, total? 2 chainrings x 5 cogs? Yeah - those days are gone.

I just read this post from Performance Bicycle -- you know, the internet and mail order bike shop -- about 10 vs. 11-speed drivetrains. Our Take: 10-Speed vs. 11-Speed. All I can think is, who cares? Keep in mind, most of my bikes max out at 6 or 7, so I'm probably not the best person to comment -- though I do have a bikes with 9 and 10 speed cassettes. Sorry Nigel Tufnel, but I have no plans to go to 11.



Needless to say, but the reviewer at Performance is a fan of 11. "I've been riding both 11-speed Campagnolo and 10-speed SRAM for several years now, and I switch between the two often enough to be able to tell you there are some definite differences between 10 and 11-speed drivetrains." He goes on to say, "Generally, adding an extra cog means you have more gear ratios to choose from which can make your riding more efficient."  Really?

Yes, adding one extra cog gives more gear ratios (two more, to be exact, assuming we're using a double-ring crank). But more efficient? Hmmm. . . I don't know if this person uses a gear ratio calculator or not, but chances are, there's a fair amount of gear ratio duplication -- that is, some of those chainring-to-cog combinations give actual gear ratios that are so close as to be indistinguishable from one another. One can get such ratio duplication with 5 and 6-speed drivetrains. How many duplicates are there in these 10 and 11-speed setups? In any case, the efficiency is debatable.

From that point, I'm reminded of this quote from Jobst Brandt -- and keep in mind, this was from the time that 9-speeds were the "state of the art":

"I use down tube shifters (seldom) and use a 6-speed freewheel because 5-speeds are dead. . . I'm not preoccupied with always being in the right gear or following some unwritten precepts on cadence and the like. I ride a gear that's about right and leave it at that. . . The range of gears hasn't changed much in the last 50 years, only the number of gears in that range. I don't believe they are useful, necessary, or any good for the design of the rear wheel. Five or six is plenty, nine is gratuitous hardware and multiple redundancy."

The article goes on to answer other questions people have about the pros and cons of "upgrading" to 11 speeds, such as durability, shifting performance, and compatibility.

About shifting performance, the article says that shifting "isn't really affected by the addition of another cog." He continues, "If anything the 11-speed shifting feels smoother and crisper than 10-speed." I wonder how much of that is due to the cogs and spacing, and how much of it is due to different shift mechanisms (in his case, Campy vs. SRAM). Or if the difference is in the particular chain and cog designs.

However, the writer's next point is worth highlighting - especially to a retrogrouch. "My 11-speed bikes do need to be put into the stand a little more often (about once every two weeks) for some basic rear derailleur adjustments, especially after high mileage weeks." Every two weeks? Jeezus. My Rivendell has 9 speeds with indexing bar-end shifters, and I can't remember the last time I had to make an adjustment. With most of my bikes, which still use friction-only shifters, I never have to make adjustments for cable tension.

I found one point in the article that may be just flat out incorrect - though it could depend on the brand so I'm holding back a bit. On the question "Do you need new wheels" the answer is a definitive Yes. "Contrary to what you read on many bike message boards, you do need a new rear wheel." Now, I'm not certain about Shimano or SRAM, but I know absolutely that Campagnolo's hub and cassette body design is the same whether for 9, 10, or 11-speeds (see HERE). As far as the others go, I know they are still designed around the same 130 mm spacing that's used for 9 and 10-speeds, so I don't know why they'd be different.

Are 11-speed wheels less durable? Here, the answer is "Maybe" and "it depends on your riding style." Again, I'd question whether there's much difference between 9, or 10, or 11 in this regard, since they use basically the same axle width, and probably have the same amount of dish. But that amount of dish is not really good for a rear wheel anyhow.

Is it worth it? The article says "That all depends," but then the writer goes on to say how much he loves having that extra 11th gear. "I definitely do notice that it's not there when I switch back to a 10-speed bike. . . When I switch back to a 10-speed bike, I sometimes struggle to find the right gear."

Oh please. I switch back and forth between bikes with 9 or 10-speed cassettes, and bikes with 5 or 6-speed freewheels all the time, and the only difference I see is that I shift a lot more often on the more modern bikes.

The last question was a funny one to me. "Why upgrade? Won't they just go to 12-speeds soon?" The writer says, "11 cogs are about as many gears as they'll be able to cram into the standard 130 mm rear spacing. To fit any more gears without sacrificing wheel durability, I believe that road bikes would need to adopt the MTB standard 135 mm rear spacing, and I don't see that happening any time soon."

Why not? I wouldn't rule it out -- but I won't celebrate it either.

10-speed vs. 11-speed? Come on. Does it really matter?

While people are mulling that one over, excuse me while I go out and ride my 2 x 5 "10-speed."

13 comments:

  1. That's funny that he doesn't see 135 spacing happening soon, saying to just upgrade to 11 speed and not worry about 12 speeds on the horizon. But from what I've heard, with the push to road discs, we will see a plethora of 135mm rear OLD spaced bikes on the market – very soon. In which case the jump to 12 will not be far behind. So sounds to me like he's pushing to sell 11 speed upgrades and bikes, hoping to resell bikes when 135mm bikes, then 12 speed come out. Of course 135mm messes even more with chainline and actual usable gears, but when you have 24 to choose from – there should be a couple that work.

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    1. Actually - I can't believe I forgot about it when I was writing this, but the new Specialized Tarmac does indeed come with 135 mm rear wheel spacing. Others won't be far behind - and then it's only a matter of time before we do see 12 cogs.

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  2. I'm a dinosaur. When I hear "ten speed", I still think of the bikes we rode in the '70's.

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    1. You and me both. I remember when ANY bike with drop bars was a "ten speed," even if it was really just 5, or maybe 12.

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  3. I've done a careful analysis and determined that we will see 13 by 2030. Bicycle sprocket growth rate projection.

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  4. I ride almost only fixed on the road, so I know about getting by with just a few, but on the other hand my sole (at the moment) derailleur bike is a Fargo set up for a mix of sandy trail and pavement riding, and after riding it for a couple of years with a 3X7 (46/36/24 X 16-34) and finding that I was always shifting between the outer and middle on dirt, I switched to a 38/24 X 13-27 9 speed, friction shifted. I find that with this I get nice, small, even jumps in the cruising gears from about 60" to 75", but have a 84" "big" gear and a 25" bailout. I've been tempted to find a 10 speed innermost (dished) 28 so that I can add a 12 to the outside for a slightly higher big gear, and to try shifting this with the same (Silver bar end) shifters. The Silvers shift 9 wonderfully; I'll bet they'll do 10 just fine. When adding cogs requires friction, I'll bail.

    For that matter, before I sold my Rambouillet, I switched from a 44/30 14-24 7 to a 52/38 16-26 9, shifted very well in both cases with Silver dt shifters. But here, the only reason for going to a 9 was to get more or less the same jumps and range with a very, very pretty DA 7410 crank as with the earlier TA.

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  5. Don't forget, as those cogs get thinner and thinner, so too must the chain. Before long, riders of the 10, 11, 12, etc. cogsets will have to swap out (expensive) chains every several hundred miles.
    I ditched my only 10 speed cassette after one very meager season's use because I hated the fidgety indexing and over-priced chains. It all costs more, requires more vigilance, and doesn't get me anywhere different than my old-school setup. I "settled" for a 9 speed on that bike because I could make the friction shifters I had on-hand work with it. All of my other bikes that use cassettes have 8 speed clusters.

    I wish I could recall who's advice it is that rattles around in my head (likely Grant Peterson or Brandt), but the gist of it is: 5-8 gears is plenty, and you need to shift a lot less than you think you do. Just turn your legs quicker to go faster and slow them down to take a breath. When you see a hill, mash that lever into a suitably low gear and charge forward.


    Wolf

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    1. That advice about 5 - 8 gears being plenty is probably BOTH Grant Petersen and Jobst Brandt.

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  6. I've not ridden a 10 or 11. My question is- how different is it from the half step?

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  7. As far as the spread of the gearing, is it similar to having a half step. Lets say I have a half step and a third chainring, not specifically a granny gear. Would this 11 with a double be equal?

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    1. I would guess that if you had 7 x 3 set up as a half step, you'd be able to get some fairly closely spaced ratios and potentially a fairly wide range, which is the advantage of the modern 10 and 11 systems, but you'd do a lot more shifting at the front. Would it be equal? I don't know if I could answer that -- maybe someone else will chime in?

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  8. The first advice on cyclo-cross equipment I got was to use 5-speed and 120mm rear wheel as it was more durable. Definitely not the 7-seed freewheels as it was too easy for grass, corn stalks, etc. to get jammed between the cogs. Totally agree with the problems of thin cogs and chains, commuter 3-speeds used 1/2 X 1/8 for a reason.

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