A Look At Gearing For Gravel – Part “2X” (part duex) – by Grannygear
The first part of the article can be seen by clicking HERE.
Recently I have been riding a new Cannondale Topstone (the aluminum one) with the Shimano R7000 105 2×11 and an FSA adventure crank in a 46/30. The rear cassette is an 11-34 and the rear mech is GS long cage. Now that gives me a 4 tooth difference in the low gear, the same as that 46/36 and 11-40 combo would have given me (assuming it worked). The 11-34 cassette is tighter in gear jumps and everything can be lighter too.
Riding it is still in process, but it is appealing if you climb a lot of real mountains or just really need lower gears for whatever reason. A 30×34 is pretty low and just for fun I slipped a wheel in there with a SRAM 11-36 cassette on it and it shifted perfectly with no adjustments. Wow. Now a 30×36…THAT is a pretty low gear and I could spin up MTB type grades on dirt roads and relax while doing it. Very nice.
But the 30T is at its best in the dirt and on steeper dirt at that! On the road you end up way down on the cassette pretty quickly and so you run up to the 46T big ring and then shift back up the cassette and then…and then you end up crossing gears over more often since remaining in the big ring avoids dropping into that tiny ring again. Big ring/top cog anyone? It is what it is, but I would not be surprised if this 46/30 combo becomes the de-facto adventure/gravel bike 2x set-up. I have to admit that it is compelling and I have been setting uphill PRs on it for what that is worth. It is slowly winning me over as an all-around gearing choice.
Now then…SRAM AXS. Well this is really road stuff and it is expensive and electronic, so hardly a group for the gravel masses. I did see a few Dirty Kanza 200 bikes set up with it, but they were more than likely sponsored riders. Who cares what it costs then? When I saw this I thought “Hmmmm…this could be very good”. I liked how SRAM closed the gap in the chainring sizes. That shifts better and feels great to not have to drop that big distance in gear inches to the small ring. Chainring sizes are reduced. Not sure that is a great idea for pure road use, efficiency wise. To get around this reduction in big ring diameter they put to use that 10T cog they have (well, Shimano has it too for MTB, but that is yet to come to 11spd). Have you ever ridden a bike with a 10T small cog? Unless you are an MTB rider, you might not have, but of course there are a lot of gravel bikes with a 1x SRAM 10-42 cassette out there.
I remember my first MTB with a 10-42. Slipping into the 10T with a 30T front ring was pretty cool. Big feeling gear for a small front ring. But I could feel the rumble of the chain on the tiny rear cog. I could feel it in the pedals and up through my shoes. That is a big ask of your chain, running at speed around that tiny gear. Less efficient? No doubt. Feels kind of odd too, like you have a bad bearing somewhere in your drive train.
But I have not ridden it so I may be full of beans. And I rarely get into the 50×11 combo for long unless I am chasing on a downhill, so maybe the 47×10 will be the same for most folks…rarely used and so this may not matter at all. I still do not trust SRAM to build a solid shifting front derailleur for road, based on my time on the older stuff, despite me being a big fan of Double Tap. But until AXS hits mechanical at a lower cost…if ever, and offers bigger cassettes, then it does not interest me for gravel use.
Counterpoint: Guitar Ted: I looked into SRAM AXS as well. But before I get into my take on it, some background. I use a 46/36T crank with an 11-36T rear cassette, 11 speed set up, and that is all I need most of the time. There are times I wish I had ‘one more’ click. Okay, and with that said, I also have a 1X 11 SRAM bike here (Noble Bikes GX-5) at my disposal for a bit. That bike can handle an AXS front derailleur.
My thoughts were that maybe an AXS set up might be nice. Expensive? Whoo Boy!! And how! But here’s the thing- SRAM offers a 46T/33T crank set. Very interesting. However; the deepest AXS cassette currently is a 10-33T. Still just a 1 to 1 low. If SRAM were to offer, say- a 10-35T spread, they’d have my keen attention. The 46T to 33T drop is a bit more manageable than Shimano’s or many others crank sets where you have to dump a LOT of rear cassette cogs when shifting from one crank chain ring to another. I’m simply not interested in being forced to do that monkeying around when I shift front rings.
Besides this, the AXS stuff is too expensive to be grinding on gravel roads. I cannot see replacing one piece chain ring sets and one piece cassettes that cost an arm and a leg at the rate these parts can wear out with use on gravel. But then, maybe these parts are up to the task? Dunno. They still are far too expensive for the average Joe and Jill though.
So, SRAM AXS is close, but no cigar! I’m holding out for something closer to my needs, and for less cabbage!
Grannygear again: So I applaud the coming of ‘adventure’ geared cranks and kudos to Shimano for finally jumping in. I think that the 46/30 is a nice thing to have for a large segment of the gravel population, bike packers, etc. Unfortunately, if it is not perfect for your needs, it’s not like you get a chance to choose a different crank set-up when you buy your bike, forcing you to make what could be a costly swap to get what you want. No easy answer to that I guess, and I bet most riders would rather err towards lower gears because you can always shift ‘up’ into higher gears but once you are in your granny gear, that is all she wrote.
Next up, 1x: Living with one shifter on the bars.