Budget SRAM 1x

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SRAM yesterday announced an expansion of their 1x offerings, now ostensibly for “road” bikes as they’ve dropped the CX from Force CX1 and added Rival 1 at a lower price point.  While more options is (probably) a good thing, there has always been a way to do this on a budget.  I recently switched my commuting bike from single speed to 1×10, and it was a relatively easy change.

I guess the first question is why?  I’ve started increasing my range of errand-running on this bike, and I feel like some gears will give me more options.  Since this is also my fat tire bike, it also opens up the opportunity to try out some trail riding.  I opted for 1×10 rather than 2×10 because I like the idea of being able to more easily swap back to a single speed, especially during the winter time when salt and muck covers everything and a simpler drive train is easier to keep clean.

Wolf Tooth chainringI had been planning this move from when I first built this bike, so I already had the first important element, a special “narrow-wide” chainring from Wolf Tooth Components.  The idea is that the alternating narrow and wide teeth help prevent the chain from jumping off the chainring when the chainline is at the extremes of the cassette.  This is the same thing SRAM uses in their 1x rings (although at higher cost).  There are other aftermarket options, notably Race Face, but I liked the simple look of the Wolf Tooth better, and being from Iowa I thought it made sense to support the Minnesota-based company.  The chainring can be mounted on either the inner or outer position on the crank.  I had originally placed it on the outer and just adjusted the spacers to get straight chainline with a single cog.  Now that I have a whole cassette back there, the outer position gives a bit more cross-chaining at the bottom of the cassette, but I’m spending most of my time in the first few cogs anyway, so it hasn’t been a big deal.

20150321-D7K_2644In addition to the different chainring, the commercial 1x groups all use a rear derailleur with a clutch.  This basically just means that there is a spring that maintains tension on the chain, also with the goal of avoiding dropped chains.  While until yesterday the only “road” option was the Force CX1 at about $250, the nice thing about SRAM is that their moutain and road derailleurs are compatible.  This meant that I could get a mountain X7 Type 2 (type 2 = clutch) that would work with either road or mountain shifters.  It also means that there is a 10-speed option, which I needed because I have 10-speed wheels.  The other advantage of the mountain derailleur is that it allows for a wider range cassette than traditional road models.  I went with 11-36, which when combined with a 42t chainring gives me just about as much gear range as my road bike with 50-34 chainrings and a 12-27 cassette.

20150321-D7K_2646The final step was shifters.  While I had originally put this together as a flat bar bike, I found that I really didn’t like that as much as a drop bar.  So I took this opportunity to swap that over as well.  Since I put on short-pull mini-V brakes when first building the bike, there was no need for a change there. For shifters, I found a set of new-old-stock 10-speed Rival brake/shift levers on Ebay (you can pretty much only find the 11-speed version at retail now).  I then used the instructions at CX Magazine to remove the left side shift mechanism.  While those instructions recommend that you first remove the brake lever, I found it basically impossible to get the pin holding the lever in place out.  Instead I used a small allen key with a right angle bend to push the pin holding the shifting mechanism out of place without removing the brake lever.  This seems vague, but look at the photos in the link and it should make sense.  You can get a matching brake-only lever from SRAM, but I found that since I was looking at the older 10-speed model it was cheaper to just buy the set of shifters rather than a single shifter and single brake lever.  The end result is pretty clean, and you wouldn’t know it was modified in any way.

When all is said and done, I find the bike so much more fun to ride.  Partly because I just feel more comfortable on a drop bar, but partly because the gears make it easier to spin up hills and to pedal down the ones I was spinning out on before.  I’m finding that I definitely ride a bit faster, and take a bit longer detours on my commutes with the new setup.  This was also my first time ever using SRAM shifters, having only tried shimano before.  The double-tap system is easy to adjust to – a short click to upshift and a long “double-click” to downshift.  I would say that my Shimano feels a bit smoother, but SRAM seems to shift a bit quicker.  On Shimano its more of a “click, then smoothly shift” and on SRAM the click and shift happen simultaneously.  I also like the adjustable reach to the brake levers, which isn’t an option on the older Shimano Ultegra on my road bike.  I never noticed before that I had to stretch my fingers a bit to grab the brakes on the road bike, and now when I switch back to that one it bothers me.  Overall, I’d say this has been a very positive change and I think it will make me choose this bike that much more often.

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