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The Pros And Cons Of SRAM’s 1X Setup For Triathletes

The adaptation by triathletes has only just started, but there are features to consider when deciding if it’s right for you.

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Four reasons to consider the latest 1X drivetrain setup.

A hot topic in the cycling world has been the introduction of SRAM’s 1X (pronounced “one by”) setup. The company aims to make things simpler with the elimination of a front derailleur and a single front chainring. While it has long been accepted for off-road applications, finding a gear range that accommodates the variety of speeds involved with road riding is much different. But the team at SRAM says they have successfully accomplished this with these two groupsets. The adaptation by triathletes has only just started—pro Luke McKenzie now rides a 1X setup—but there are features to consider when deciding if it’s right for you. Here are some of the advantages:

1. Reliability

Many riders have experienced the frustration of dropping a chain, which can cost precious seconds in a race. With 1X, though, the worries of dropped chains disappear. With their off-road background, these groups have been tested to keep chain tension constant on not only pavement but also the roughest and rockiest dirt roads. Throw whatever terrain you want at it, and the X-Sync narrow wide chainring tooth profile and Roller Bearing Clutch derailleur keep the chain locked on.

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2. Quiet drivetrain

While a quiet drivetrain in itself may not provide any performance upgrade, this silence is actually a sign of efficiency. For decades, bike chainrings have been designed in a way that effectively removes the chain from the chainring, and this in turn brings drivetrain noise. With SRAM’s 1X systems, the chainrings are manufactured to mate perfectly with the chain, allowing for a quiet and efficient interaction.

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3. Aero advantage

When it comes to drag, SRAM has yet to release any extensive wind tunnel tests for 1X drivetrains, but preliminary results show promise. With 1X, you lose a number of parts that sit in the wind: front derailleur, front derailleur cable, inner chainring and—most importantly—the front derailleur mount. From the time that was spent in the tunnel, the biggest gains seemed to come from the removal of the front derailleur mount, and with 1X becoming a mainstream option, super bike development can take this into account.

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4. Maintenance

Simply as a result of the reduced number of parts in the system, 1X drivetrains require less maintenance than their 2X counterparts. There is one fewer chainring you have to replace, one fewer derailleur to adjust and one fewer cable/housing to run and replace. With the use of SRAM’s X-Horizon technology (which reduces shifting force while limits all movement to the horizontal axis), once it’s set up correctly, the infamous “magic shifting” is limited. This is key for athletes who travel to races, as the derailleur is less likely to be bumped out of adjustment.

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Limitations

While SRAM’s 1X system does deliver many benefits, it doesn’t come without a few restrictions. The biggest hindrance relates to gear ratios, especially for those who live in mountainous areas. While SRAM does make many different chainring sizes (from 38t to 54t) and many different cassettes (from 11–25 to 10–42), finding the right gear ratio can be difficult. In a perfect world, 1X riders would own multiple cassettes and chainrings, but this is not the case for everyone. For those only using one cassette and chainring pair, the goal is to pick a chainring size that lets the rider spend the most time in the one-tooth jumps of the cassette (11, 12, 13, etc.), so the larger cogs can be used for bailout gears. Riders who live in mountainous areas and are sensitive to larger cog jumps (which result in larger differences in cadence between gears), though, should consider multiple cassette and chainring combinations for varied terrains. All things considered, 1X drivetrains can meet the needs of a variety of riders.