Will mountain bike cassettes ever have enough gears to satisfy riders? Are 1-by drivetrains just a fad, or are they truly for the masses? We’ve been tracking mountain bikers’ preferences for drivetrain configurations over the past 3 years, and the data paints an interesting picture.

Cassette size preferences

Older mountain bikers will remember 7- and 8-speed drivetrains from many years ago, so clearly there has always been an appetite for bigger cassettes with more gears to choose from. The chart above shows Singletracks readers’ preferences for various cassette sizes: blue represents 12-speed, red represents 11-speed, yellow represents 10-speed, and green represents 9-speed. Survey respondents were also able to choose “other” for drivetrains that fell outside the available choices, though in each year these responses represented just 1% of the total.

Starting at the top of the chart, we see a slow decline in 9-speed preferences. Over time it seems 9-speed drivetrains are slowly being replaced, but their owners don’t seem to be in any hurry.

Next, we see a dramatic reduction in the number of riders who say they prefer a 10-speed cassette. Back in 2015, 52% of respondents said they preferred 10-speed cassettes; in 2017, that percentage was cut to less than half that amount, at just 25%.

Judging by the red band, 11-speed cassettes were going strong until last year, when 12-speed cassettes became available. From 2015 to 2016, 11-speed gained 11 percentage points, but since 12-speed was introduced, it’s only added 5 percentage points. It seems many riders truly do want the latest and greatest, or else there is truly a need for just one more gear. The question is, would the same pattern continue if someone were to make a 13-speed cassette?

Finally, it appears 12-speed cassette preferences are growing at a healthy, steady clip, but they’re not exactly ramping up. Note, however, that this survey was administered just before news of SRAM’s affordable 12-speed GX group was leaked, which surely made it more compelling to some who may have expressed a preference for 11-speed cassettes. Next year’s survey will certainly tell the story.

It should be noted that many bike brands are speccing SRAM’s 12-speed GX group on 2018 bikes in the $3-4K range, which will certainly drive future adoption. Do new mountain bikers truly prefer 11- or 12-speed drivetrains, or is it all they know?  Unfortunately our survey data doesn’t answer that question.

How many chainrings?

One-by drivetrains aren’t for every rider, and some have accused brands and even fellow riders of simply jumping on the one-by bandwagon over the past few years. But the following chart paints a pretty clear picture that the majority of riders are quickly being sold on the benefits.

Once again, we see that older, 3-chainring drivetrains (yellow band) are slowly being replaced, perhaps as parts wear out. Sure, 3-ring cranks are still available–Shimano even markets a newish 3×11 drivetrain–but for some, hanging onto a 3-by drivetrain might be a matter of economics rather than a true preference for its performance.

From our limited data set (just 3 years worth,) it appears the number of defectors from 2-by (red band) to 1-by (blue band) may have slowed over the past year. As riders have had a chance to test multiple configurations, it seems the market may be settling down.

Finally, just look at how many riders prefer a 1-by drivetrain! In only two years time we’ve moved from less than half to a clear majority preferring just a single chainring. Of course, by adding more gears to improve the range of 1-by drivetrains, companies are making it easier for more consumers to switch, especially when they’re able to get nearly the same range as a more complex 2 or 3 chainring system.

Your turn: What do these charts tell you about where mountain bike drivetrain preferences are heading?

# Comments

  • Robert Dobbs

    Personally, I think the 1x drivetrains just make sense. I’ve found the simplicity of mine to be really liberating while riding ….. even in my hilly part of the country, a 1x with a 45 or 50 tooth cog can get you up some pretty big inclines (at a snail’s pace mind you, but you can climb them).

    Do you have any drivetrain sales data from Shimano and SRAM? I’m guessing it would verify your end-user data; but it would be good to see.

    ….and what of the internally geared bikes lurking in shadows? Will they pose any kind of challenge in the next 5 years or are they just an “also-ran?”

  • sissypants

    In my opinion, there is no clear benefit of 11-speed over 12-speed, it’s more about the range that SRAM Eagle offers. I think Shimano will be on the 1x drivetrain/500% range bandwagon within 2 years, solidifying 1x drivetrains until gearboxes are mass-produced for both OEM and second-market outlets. Then, we’ll all ride gearboxes and forget what cassettes and derailleurs were all about.

  • NDTransplant

    Still desperately clinging to my 2x systems…lol

    I like it because when I use my hardtail as a gravel/jeep road bike, I have a ‘big ring’, but when I’m on occasional single track, I have a little ring. So I have large range, without the big gaps on the cassette which really make for some awkward cadences.

    But I will admit, I rarely switch between chainrings on a particular terrain…….

  • Sporteone

    I didn’t think I would ever change to a 1 X, but since purchasing my Trek 9.8 SL Top Fuel and converting to SRAM Eagle 10 – 50 I am sold. I changed to my front chain ring to a 30 tooth and the bike flies up anything. I am in my 60’s and thought I would struggle. There is not much I can’t ride up. Just love the drive chain

  • Terence Burke

    Junked my 1×11 with e*thirteen 9*44 cassette. Not enough range for me and the terrain I ride, either under geared or over geared depending on front ring. So back to XTR Di2 with 2*11 with 34*22 rings and 9*44 cassette – gives me over 750%. 500% is not enough if you are not a B grader+, and ride 25%+ grades. Horses (gears) for courses (terrain). On flatish terrain 1 x 10 may be ample. And could you do a data cross check on which cassettes (10/11/12 spd) are used with 1*, 2* or 3* systems. Also what systems are being used in XC, AM. Enduro, etc. For example XC are probably using 1*. Are those doing short rides with <16% grades also using 1*? Endurance (60 mile+) may predominantly be using 2* (unless at the pointy end :0 ). The survey is a little too superficial IMO.

  • BentChainRing

    1x is just not for me. I cant stand the big gaps in gears. Im a rhythm-type rider and my cadence consistency is important. Having giant jumps between the tooth count on each cog sucks. I will stick with my triple where I can use the outside 3 quarters of my cogset meaning mostly 1 or 2 tooth jumps. I have seen some of these giant pies on 1x setups with 6 and 8 tooth jumps. It sucks. I hate getting stuck needing that inbetween gear, where the incline is too tough to push in one gear, and too much spin in the other choice, meaning I have to settle with spinning and going up the hill slower than I could if I just had that inbetween gear. Having more chain rings just gives you more gear choices, no matter how you slice it.

  • Slee_Stack

    Been 1X for years now and won’t go back to multiple rings on my trail bike.

    I ride 1×10, but, honestly, 1×9 is plenty for me. I don’t tend to ride tarmac to the trails and its fairly rare I evnd up on pavement for a significant distance. I just don’t need the tall gearing.

    On my Hybrid however, I do like a greater range. I currently run 3×9 on it.

    Anytime you can free up handlebar space is a nice thing too. One less shifter, one more thing you can put on…dropper, pop-loc, light, bell…

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