Our Take: 10-Speed vs. 11-Speed

11_speed_shifting

In the last few years, Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM have moved to 11-speed and the technology is becoming more main stream. Lately when we’ve discussed 11-speed bikes, many of you have had some questions and concerns about the new systems. To answer some of them, we found one of our employees who has been riding both 10- and 11-speed groupsets for a while. Here’s his take on things.

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. Generally, adding an extra cog means you have more gear ratios to choose from which can make your riding more efficient. But I’ve been asked to address the 6 most common questions we get about 11-speed, so here it goes. (And please remember, this isn’t a Campy vs. SRAM article– it’s 10-speed vs. 11-speed).

Is 11-speed less durable?

Answer: There’s not really much difference. I currently have about 2500+ miles on an 11-speed cassette and chain, and neither is worn out yet. I also have yet to break an 11-speed chain while riding. So far my Campagnolo chains and cassettes have lasted about as long as my SRAM 10-speed ones. I guess the thinner cogs and chains make people nervous, but I haven’t had any issues so far. I haven’t ridden the new Shimano stuff, but I’ve read that their new PTFE chain technology actually makes the chains stronger than their 10-speed chains.

Isn’t the shifting compromised?

Answer: Shifting performance isn’t really  affected by the addition of another cog. Aside from the different shifter designs, I have noticed very little, if any, difference in performance between 10 and 11. If anything the 11-speed shifting feels smoother and crisper than 10-speed. 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, but it’s a quick 2-minute cable tension adjustment, and that’s it.

Do you need new wheels?

Answer: Yes*. Contrary to what you read on many bike message boards, you do need a new rear wheel; the reason being that the new wider cassettes require a wider axle than a 9/10-speed wheel. If you look at an 11-speed wheel, the drive-side spokes are nearly in-line with the hub flange. I have converted a set of Mavic and a set of Reynolds wheels from 10- to 11-speed Campagnolo, but it was a pretty involved process and each conversion required the wheel to be re-dished and trued. And, of course, the manufacturer cannot guarantee how a wheel will perform with a converted freehub. Your best bet is to get a new wheel.

 *with the exception of Mavic wheels with an M10 freehub body, which technically should work with Shimano 11-speed if you leave off the Mavic spacer

Are 11-speed wheels less durable?

Answer: Maybe, but that kind of thing really depends on your riding style. For folks who really beat up on their wheels, you might notice a difference. I’m not very tough on wheels, and rarely need to have them trued, but I do have a set of 11-speed wheels that need to be trued more often than their 10-speed counterparts. However, I also have another set that has gone almost 2 years without needing to see the truing stand, so it’s hard to tell.

Is it worth it?

Answer: That all depends. In my experience, I love having the extra 11th gear. And yes, I definitely do notice that it’s not there when I switch back to a 10-speed bike. The biggest benefit to me is that the shifting is smoother and more progressive, since there are fewer big jumps in cog size. I don’t have to keep two different cassettes around anymore (one for the usual riding, one for climbing), since I can still have an 11-25 cassette, but with a 27t or 29t cog tacked on that makes it perfect for climbing as well. 11-speed cassettes also offer a bigger range of gearing options that make it easier to find that comfortable cadence in any variety of conditions, whereas when I switch back to a 10-speed bike, I sometimes struggle to find the right gear.

Why upgrade? Won’t they just go to 12-speeds soon?

Answer: Don’t quote me on this, but no, I don’t think they will go to 12-speeds any time soon. I know Tiso has a 12-speed gruppo out there, but they had to scrounge up some breathtakingly expensive stuff to make it work (i.e. all titanium cassettes), so I doubt it’s ready for mass market appeal. As you read above about wheels, it seems to me like 11 cogs are about as many gears as they’ll be able to cram into the standard 130mm rear spacing. To fit in any more gears without sacrificing wheel durability, I believe that road bikes would need to adopt the MTB standard 135mm rear spacing, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. But then, nobody really saw disc brakes for the road coming either, so anything is possible.

35 Responses to Our Take: 10-Speed vs. 11-Speed

  1. Fred Rose says:

    This is just a personal opinion, nothing more. I have a new Shimano 10 speed and I have older bikes with just 6 and 7 speeds, quite frankly I don’t miss the extra gears when riding the 7’s or even the 6’s! I suppose if a person was really concerned about making sure their cadence stayed exactly the same no matter how slight a hill then maybe, but I’m just not that anal. Having said all of that, I have no desire to go to a 11 speed system, I don’t see the point. What most people don’t realize is that a vintage 5 speed has the same number of teeth on their lowest and highest gear as does the 11 speed, so you gain nothing there, all you gain is a slightly less of a cadence drop off between gears.

    I don’t think we’ll be seeing 12 speeds, in fact I think gears as we know it will go away and instead a CVT rear hub will be used so a person will have seamless “gearing”.

    • BT says:

      Hey Fred, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It would definitely be interesting to see things transition to a CVT rear. It would definitely take the industry in a new direction.

    • Burkhard says:

      It’s true in terms of range not much has changed on the cassette front in a while, the compact crank has widened overall range a bit since the 6-speed days though. And getting 11-28 with 6- or 7-speed means accepting some pretty big jumps. That said, I’m however happy enough with the 8-speed cassette on my old training bike (11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28), although I do sometimes miss a 16T cog. So 9-speed still makes sense to me, but everything beyond that was/is just forced progress imho, but everyone is free to disagree (in fact on my ‘good’ bike I have 10-speed and I like it, I just don’t think it’s really necessary).

      CVT would be a definite progress though, If someone could pull it of and make it light and reliable enough for roadbike use.

      • Peter G says:

        My crossover has CVT… They haven’t perfected it for automobiles yet… I HATE it! I wish I had either a regular automatic or a stick…

        So, I’d hate to see CVT added to road bikes w/o proper testing w/ riders based on the performance in the auto industry… NRFP (Not Ready For Primetime)

    • B Edwards says:

      I wholeheartedly agree. I have 6,7,8,9 & 10 speed bikes.Anything above 9 is lost on me. The 6 speed rides fine. The only thing 11 speed would do for me is make me stock yet another chain. I really wish they would stop this speed rat-race.

  2. it says he needed to convert mavic wheels to 11 speed but mavic wheels are one of the few brands on the market an 11-speed freehub conversion is not necessary… all you do is take off the mavic spacer……

    • David S says:

      Hey Miles, that is true for Shimano 11-speed, but in this case he was converting to a Campagnolo freehub body, which takes some extra effort. We’ll add that note, though.

      • John C says:

        3 things I don’t like about 11 speed….1. no 53/42 chainring combos:( 2. no reusable kmc missing links. 3. very dificult to set up with no chain rub on front derailuer and trimming more offten…..but, I’ll probly stay 11 speed to stay current..

  3. It would had been nice if you told us your height/weight and what kind of terrain you spend most of your riding on.

    • BT says:

      Hey Thomas, he is what we would politely call a climber. He’s 5’11” and around 145 lbs. He mostly rides on the road. So, like he said, he’s not very hard on wheels.

  4. Matt Poppoff says:

    So whats the verdict?

    • BT says:

      Hey Matt, our writer definitely thought his upgrade to 11-speed was well worth it. It’s just as durable, with more progressive shifting, and a wider range of available gearing. It did however require some wheel upgrades, and a little more maintenance time. But if you’re the type of rider who wants to squeeze every ounce of performance out of your ride bike, then 11 is the way to go.

  5. Josh Wilson says:

    Why aren’t manufacturers willing to convert road frames to 135mm spacing?

    • BT says:

      Hey Josh, it would be a question of “who jumps first”. If a component manufacturer makes a 12-speed group that required 135 spacing, then they would need to make sure that they had a wheel and frame partner lined up who could offer wheels and frames with 135mm spacing. And even then, there would be at least a year or so when that group could only be run on a handful of frames and wheels. It’s a big risk for which ever company goes first.

      But, again, anything is possible and it’s hard to know what’s going on in the dark corners of the world’s bike labs.

  6. Brad Pfautsch says:

    I have had my bike in the smallest cog never! So why is going to eleven a big deal? Oh, that’s right, a marketing ploy!

  7. Brian says:

    The additional gears offered and having to swap or have two wheels with various cassettes seems like an expensive option for most riders. I’ll keep my triple and have all the gearing I need. The conversation surrounding 11 speed versus 10 speed mimics the transition to road bike disc brakes in my view. New technology is great for the mfg. to push more and newer products on the consumer in an ever growing effort to “keep up with the bike riding Jone’s”1

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  12. JR says:

    If I was buying a new bike I’d probably consider a 11-speed. However I would not upgrade my existing bike to add just one cog. I’d rather invest the money on a new set of wheels or other gear.
    But for what is worth I’m a recreational rider doing nothing more than a few long rides and a few centuries here and there. I don’t need the latest and greatest.

  13. Matt Poppoff says:

    I have a 2012 Roubaix Ultegra 10spd, I did however purchase some HED wheels that allow a 11 speed cassette, do I just have to get the 11spd cassette and then do some gearing adjustments or do I have to get new shifters, derailleurs and everything to upgrade to 11 speed?

    • BT says:

      Hi Matt,

      Unfortunately you’ll need to get a new set of shifters, rear derailleur, chainrings and chain as well.

      The reason is that modern shifting systems are indexed, which means that each component has a specified number of positions it can move to. Your 10-speed Ultegra shifters and derailleur will only be able to move across 10 cogs spaced at specific intervals, versus an 11-speed drivetrain that can move to 11 different positions.

  14. Sally Ellis says:

    Good feedback. Any ideas please:
    I’d like to up my average 17mph to a 20mph … got some work to do. When I relocated from the flat plains of Texas to the hills of my new Clifornia neighborhood my average speed dropped 25%. I quickly got it up again and am now back at 17 mph. Though I have been seriously considering changing my 10-speed drive-chain. In Texas I never ever touched first gear (granny gear) and in California I am in first far too often :-). Should I go the whole way for an 11-speed?

    • BT says:

      Hi Sally,

      Glad to hear your training is getting back on track. First off, let us say that 20 is a very impressive pace on any ride, even for competitive cyclists– it’s also a pretty big jump to make in speed, especially in a single year.
      As far as improving your climbing…An 11-speed drivetrain may be a direction to look at, since it will give you more gearing combinations to work with, but you might also want to reconsider what gear combinations you’re currently using with your 10-speed drivetrain.

      If you aren’t already on a compact crankset, then moving to a crankset with a 50/34 gearing can make a huge difference. You might also want to look into switching to a 12-28 cassette– or even going to a medium-cage rear derailleur that can let you use a cassette with a 32T large cog.

      The most important thing to remember though is that it takes time to acclimate to new terrain. You’ve gotten back to where you were, which is great. But if you want to improve your speed, you have to invest in improving the engine. Now is the time to work on climbing technique, more focused workouts, and workouts that improve your ability to aerobically recover after hard efforts. You can also try riding with a fast group ride to really push yourself.

      For more information, you can check out our climbing article (link below) or visit the Performance Bicycle Learning Center for more info.

      http://blog.performancebike.com/2013/07/11/real-advice-an-intro-to-climbing/

    • Patrick Wolfe says:

      I have an older Roubaix, and I switched to the new SRAM WiFli mid range DR on the back. I was going to run the 11-32 10 speed cassette, but my rear hub only accepts the Shimano hub, so I’m running an ultegra 11-30. Its Awesome. I was able to keep my cadence higher, and ended up picking up about 1 mph on average on my rides, including my last 70 miler which had some decent hill climbs. It cost a total of about 200, including the install at my LBS. I ride a lot, but don’t compete. My average beforehand was about 16-17, and managed to hit 18 on my last couple of rides. I’d look at that route first
      (front chainring is 50-34)

  15. devildog713 says:

    Overall a good article and I never fault anyone’s opinion as it’s their own but I did find some of them hilarious.

  16. If you don’t think they are going to 12, 13 or 14 speeds or 135mm spacing, you’re kidding yourself. They will do anything to sell you something new.

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  20. William Fritz says:

    I thought I had read a few years back, say about 5 years, that Shimano had patented a 14 speed rear cassette

  21. crest says:

    With the addition of more cogs I would have liked the option of starting with a 13 tooth as my “high” gear. It is all the high gear I need. If the downhill is fast enough, I can actually go as fast in a tuck position. With these additional cogs I would have liked to have been able to have more closely spread cogs but since generally one can only get an 11 or 12, the extra cogs are more of a waste to me.

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