Thursday, February 26, 2015

7 is the New 11

With bicycle gearing going to 10 and then 11 speed cassettes in the last few years, I never thought I'd see the gearing trend go back the other way. But suddenly, 7 is the new 11.

SRAM's X01 has a single-ring crank, and a 7-speed cluster at the
 back,along with a fairly wide built-in spacer and spoke protector
 to fit on current-width cassette bodies.
Now, this sudden trend seems to be going through the downhill mountain biking crowd (something I don't see myself ever getting into) and no-one should get the idea that it's going to spread to road bikes any time soon. Hell, I'm still certain that somebody's going to widen the rear triangle of road bikes even more than it already is and try to squeeze in 12 or even 13 cogs at some point. But when I read the claims about the benefits of a 7-speed drivetrain, I just have to grin.

According to proponents and the manufacturers, like SRAM which kicked off this thing with their X01 system, the "theory" behind the 7-sp. cluster is that a lot the gears go unused on a downhill racer, and the 7-sp. cassette provides better jumps between gears. SRAM touts fewer shifts from low to high gears. OneUp Components, which makes a cassette adapter to convert a 10 or 11-sp. cassette into 7-sp. says more or less the same thing: "Get faster, more responsive shifting; no more multiple shifts to find the right gear." Funny thing, but I imagine that the same thing could be said of a lot of bikes that never leave the pavement, too.

The OneUp DH Block cassette adapter takes the place of the inner-cogs
 of a typical 10 or 11-sp. cassette, without investing in a whole new
drivetrain -- think of it as 7-speeds on a budget. Seems ironic to a retrogrouch.
Here's another claimed benefit -- that with a narrower spread between high and low gears, derailleurs with shorter cages and shorter chains can be used. That should mean better shifting under abuse. Again, is that only true of downhill racers? I don't think so.

Not that I care one whit about a few grams here or there, but SRAM also talks about the weight -- pointing out that their 7-sp. cassette is the "Lightest cassette. Ever." Well, yeah -- it's got fewer cogs. Duh.

The thing is, I do have a bike with a relatively modern 10-speed cassette system. Sure, it's nice. But most of my bikes have 5, 6, or 7 speed freewheels, and I've never found them to be any less fun or satisfying to ride despite their fewer gears. They seem less finicky, and more forgiving. I never find myself hunting (or wishing) for a gear that isn't there. I shift less. The slogan for the OneUp DH Block says "Shift Less, Whip More." I don't actually know what that means. But if "Whip More" has something to do with riding, or enjoying the ride, then yeah - I can get behind that.

Riders of classic or vintage bikes, or those seeking a more no-nonsense approach to cycling, have long been questioning the need for more and more gears -- probably since the first 7 and 8-speed cassette systems hit the market in the 80s. It's just funny hearing these "less-is-more" arguments coming from anybody other than us retrogrouches.


  1. Bad thing is those cassettes probably aren't compatible with the old 7 speed freehubs.

    1. I assume that is probably correct. They are made to fit on modern cassette bodies.

  2. Next you'll hear about how you really only need three speeds and they found a way to fit it all inside the hub.

  3. This is basically of 12 speed 10-50t cassette with five easy gears removed. Therefore, it's designed specifically for bikes that are designed to be taken up a mountain via ski lift, then ridden down said mountain as fast as possible while wearing a full-face helmet and body armor.