1, 2, or 3: How Many MTB Chainrings Do You Need?

We’ve gotten a lot of questions from our customers lately about all the different drivetrain options available for mountain bikes. To help answer your questions, we turned to our in-house expert: Mark (some of you might recognize Mark and his mustache from our videos).

Boone_Rky_Knob_MTB-2

Mark knows a thing or two about mountain bikes

If you are in the market for a new mountain bike or a new drivetrain for an existing mountain bike, then the crankset and gearing options can seem overwhelming and a little confusing. Triple crankset, a double, or just rolling with a single ring…which is the right one for you? Why would you choose one chainring over three or two? Can more actually be less? Let’s take a look at the options and when it comes time to upgrade, you will have a better sense of what will work best for you and why.

For years the traditional mountain bike drivetrain consisted of a triple (3 chainrings) crankset paired with a cassette (or freewheel) that has grown from 6 to as many as 11 cogs. Fast forward to now and you still have the triple (3x) crankset option, but you also have double cranksets with 2 chainrings (2x) as well as single cranksets with just one chainring (1x). 

This FSA triple crankset offers plenty of gearing options

The TripleEarly mountain bikes used whatever components were available at the time, and at that time it was primarily touring components. The wide range of a triple crankset was also necessary because the bikes were quite heavy when compared to today’s standards and the low range was needed to get those klunkers up the hills. Over time cassette ratios were refined and the gearing on triple cranksets became more compact, with smaller jumps between the 3 chainrings. Most current triple mountain bike cranksets have gearing in the 22/32/42t, 24/32/42t, or 22/32/44t range. A triple crankset typically offers the broadest range of gears, and depending on your specific needs it may be the best option for you. Good examples for using a triple would be large changes in elevation on your trails, riding to the trailhead via the road, or the desire to have a low gear that you can “spin” up the hills with.

This double crankset from Shimano offers a wide spread of gearing and reduced weight

The DoubleBefore double cranksets were embraced by component manufacturers, many riders would ditch one of the chainrings from their triple cranksets. Some people removed the large chainring to gain some ground clearance and because they didn’t need the tall gear that it offered, while others would get rid of the small ring because their terrain wasn’t hilly enough to dictate a gear that low – or they were just strong enough to do without it. Either way it was a compromise and the rider was losing some of the wide range that a triple crankset offered. When 10-speed cassettes were introduced to mountain bike drivetrains, double crankset gearing was optimized and the gear range was expanded to rival that of a triple drivetrain. The 2×10 speed drivetrain offers reduced weight, optimized front shifting, and a minimal compromise on overall gear range. Now that there are options at most price levels, a 2x drivetrain would be a great choice for anyone looking to shed some weight from their bike without giving up much in terms of versatility.

SRAM’s XX1 and X01 systems feature only one chainring and an 11-speed cassette with a huge gearing range

The SingleJust as riders were removing a chainring from their triple cranks, some were going a step further and removing the inner and outer ring and just keeping the middle ring. The reasons were numerous – further weight reduction by getting rid of the front shifter and derailleur, simplifying the drivetrain, and reducing some of the redundancy that comes with multiple chainrings. But like the early 2x adopters, they were compromising the versatility of their mountain bikes. Folks without much elevation change could get by with it, but the reduction at the high and low end of the gear range was significant. Another challenge of a 1x drivetrain is chain retention. Without the front derailleur to help keep the chain in place you need some sort of chain device to manage chain drop. It can be as simple as a road or cross style “chain watcher” if your trails are fairly smooth, but faster, rougher trails require a full-on chainguide to keep the chain on the chainring. The Race Face Narrow Wide chainring design eliminates the need for a chainguide with 1x setup, but you are still left with what could be a less than desirable gear range.

Then came the 1×11 mountain bike drivetrain. Pioneered by SRAM, the 1×11 drivetrain offered the widest gear range for a cassette (10-42t), a narrow/wide chainring tooth profile to manage chain retention, and a rear derailleur with a clutch mechanism that also assisted with chain management by keeping more tension on the chain. This ushered in a 1x option for people actually riding in the mountains and significantly reduced the weight, friction, and noise of the drivetrain. The one caveat at present with the 1×11 drivetrain is cost – the technology is new and hasn’t trickled down to the lower price levels. If you aren’t overly concerned with the cost, there is a viable option for riders seeking a 1x drivetrain who don’t want to limit where they can ride.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how the mountain bike drivetrain has evolved over time, the available options, and why you might choose one over another.  If you ride in extremely hilly terrain a 3x drivetrain may serve you well without breaking the bank. If you are a stronger rider who wants better front shifting performance and less weight, you may opt for a 2x drivetrain. Or if you want the ultimate in light weight, less clutter, and smooth shifting check out a 1×11 drivetrain. Thanks for reading and enjoy the ride!

26 Responses to 1, 2, or 3: How Many MTB Chainrings Do You Need?

  1. Todd S. says:

    You should have mentioned the RaceFace Narrow Wide chain rings for 1x drive trains. Excellent for converting 104 and 110 BCD cranks to 1x without the need for an expensive XX1, XO1 or XTR group. The do not drop the chain either. Quite a remarkable advance by RaceFace. Good for CX or MTB’s.

  2. Pingback: CX ’15: How To Set Up Your Cyclocross Bike | The Performance Bicycle Blog

  3. Thanks for your blog post. I would like to say that a
    health insurance brokerage service also works well with the benefit
    of coordinators of any group insurance policy. The health insurance
    broker is given a long list of benefits needed by an individual or a group coordinator.
    Exactly what a broker may is hunt for individuals and also coordinators which in turn best complement
    those wants. Then he offers his recommendations
    and if both sides agree, the broker formulates a
    binding agreement between the two parties.

  4. What’s up to all, how is all, I think every one is getting
    more from this website, and your views are good in support of new users.

  5. flying kamas says:

    Those centers that do choose to train with martial arts weapons usually choose
    to do so at the more advanced levels. “[T]here is no clinical evidence to support that [cushioned running shoe] design is optimal to promote the long-term health of runner,” the
    study explains. The weapons themselves can come in many sizes
    and forms: metal, wood, plastic, rubber, and foam.

  6. You have to be able to get to it before you can use it. This is because of a
    number of reasons, which includes the training can be practiced alone as no partner is
    required. The have grand masters, and an elite group that governs them.

  7. Hey would you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re working with?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster
    then most. Can you suggest a good hosting provider
    at a fair price? Thanks a lot, I appreciate it!

  8. Have you ever considered about including a little
    bbit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is valuable and all.

    However think about if you added some great imagews or video clips to give yor posts more, “pop”!

    Your content is excellent but withh pics and
    ideo clips, this site could definitely be one of the
    vefy bsst in its field. Terrific blog!

  9. fuck says:

    I think the admin of this website is in fact working hard for his
    web page, as here every information is quality based
    stuff.

  10. 3610;& says:

    สวัสดี สวัสดี มี เพียง กลายเป็น ตระหนักถึง แจ้งเตือนไปยัง บล็อกของคุณผ่าน ทาง Google และพบ ว่า มันเป็น
    จริงๆ ข้อมูล ผม จะ จะ ระวังบรัสเซลส์ ฉันจะ
    ชื่นชม จะขอบคุณ ถ้าคุณยังคง นี้ ในอนาคตอัน จำนวนมาก คน จะได้รับประโยชน์
    จาก การเขียนของคุณ ไชโย!

  11. We cant even ask the Citys Chief Financial Officer, Ricardo Kisner.
    Originally painted orange, he came to Vilano Beach in the 1940s to flog, guess what, Florida orange juice.
    We could go to that new little restaurant down the corner from ours,
    Panchito’s, and try those Breakfast Cakes that Julio was talking about at work.

  12. Link exchange is nothing else however it is just placing the other person’s web site link on your
    page at suitable place and other person will also do same for you.

  13. click says:

    This piece of writing will assist the internet people for setting up new blog or even a
    weblog from start to end.

  14. I don’t know whether it’s just me or if everybody else experiencing issues
    with your site. It appears as if some of the
    written text in your content are running off the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback
    and let me know if this is happening to them too? This might
    be a problem with my web browser because I’ve had this happen previously.
    Thanks

  15. Excellent blog here! Also your web site loads up very fast!
    What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

  16. Hello this is kind of of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG
    editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise
    so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience.

    Any help would be enormously appreciated!

  17. Great items from you, man. I’ve consider your stuff previous to and you’re just too great.

    I really like what you have got here, certainly like what you are stating and the way in which
    in which you assert it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it sensible.
    I can’t wait to learn far more from you. That is really a terrific web site.

  18. read more says:

    Yes! Finally someone writes about best image sharing sites.

  19. These days, there are many types of martial arts that you can choose from, if
    you want to learn and get some training. “My goal is not simply to teach the physical aspects of Korean martial arts, but to instill in my students confidence that is gained through Humbleness, perseverance, achievement, humility, and respect. A system is just the type of martial art you will be studying like Karate, Kendo, or Kung Fu.

  20. I think the time we had and that Isaac works fast and Scott
    is so talented we were still able to make it work.
    It doesn’t matter if sometimes the swords are made entirely of wood
    either since the actual weapons techniques
    will still be used in the forms. The Complete Book of Karate Weapons,
    which is still in print after 30 years.

  21. This piece of writing presents clear idea in support of the new visitors
    of blogging, that really how to do running a blog.

  22. see page says:

    Please let me know if you’re looking for a author for your weblog.
    You have some really good posts and I think I would be a good asset.
    If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to
    write some content for your blog in exchange for a link back
    to mine. Please shoot me an e-mail if interested.
    Cheers!

  23. Definitely imagine that that you stated. Your favourite
    reason appeared to be on the web the simplest factor
    to take note of. I say to you, I definitely get irked whilst other
    people think about issues that they just don’t realize about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing with no need side-effects , folks
    can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more.
    Thank you

  24. They aare my main two faultss with this game.

  25. By all indications, the latest release of PSP Video 9 1.60 will only serve to bring even higher functionality to the PSP in terms
    off itts video abilities. PSP Video 9 1.60 is really simply a cost-free PSP video conversion and management application that will let consumers tto convert nearly any sort off normal Pc video files (avi, mpeg, etc)
    into PSP video files.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 158 other followers

%d bloggers like this: