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. The exception being Campagnolo users, who’s 9- and 10-speed wheels should still work with 11-speed. For SRAM/Shimano users, conversion kits do exist from some manufacturers, but it can sometimes be a pretty involved process requiring removal of axles, re-truing and re-dishing. 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 benefits to me are 1) shifting is smoother and more progressive, since there are fewer big jumps in cog size; and 2) I don’t have to swap between two different cassettes anymore (one for the usual riding, one for climbing). With an 11-speed 11-27 cassette, I basically still have my beloved 11-25 gearing, but with a 27t or 29t cog tacked on the top 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 excessively sacrificing wheel durability, I believe that road bikes would need to adopt the MTB standard 135mm rear spacing. With the introduction of disc brakes on road bikes, that’s already kind of happening, but I think it’ll be a few years yet before anyone goes to 12.
For now, it appears that the market has veered in a different way. Instead of introducing more ever more cogs, the manufacturers now seem to be focused on adding more features to and refining their electronic shifting systems, such as EPS, Di2, and whatever SRAM is going to call theirs.