1 x 9? Me? Really?

You can call me jaded when it comes to following the trend in drivetrains.  I certainly haven't tried it all, but I've done a few.  Triples?  Yup.  Doubles?  Yup.  3 speed?   Yup.  5 speed?  Yup.  10 speed?  Yup.  Singlespeed?  Yup.  And quite a few things between all of that over the years.

However, I have never tried a dedicated 1 x 9 on any of my mountain bikes.  I certainly like the look and reports of the SRAM XX1 which is a 1 x 11 speed drivetrain with a huge range cassette in the year, and a chain/ring design that when coupled with the clutch derailleur allows one to run it without a chain retention device on the front ring.  The 1 x 10's intrigued me as well, but they only go up to a 36T rear granny cog which wasn't enough of a difference from my 34T on the 9 speed to warrant an "upgrade" to try it out just yet.  There are plenty of chain retention devices that qualify as butt ugly - IMO - and can weigh as much as, if not more than, the front derailleur it replaces.  But that's another issue.

I ran into Tom Anderson and Katherine Roccasecca at Center Trails a couple of weeks ago and they were both going on and on about their 1 x __ drivetrains.  Tons of posts and threads at MTBR.com on the 1 x 9, 1 x 10, 1 x 11 drivetrain with folks going on and on about their holy grails of shifting.  I actually had purchased a Rotor Q Ring 34T singlespeed ring a few years ago with the idea in mind to convert one of my bikes to 1 x 9, or run it on a singlespeed.  However, the BCD of that ring is 104mm and even though the older Shimano XT M752 Octalink triple crank is a 104mm BCD for the middle and large rings, the slot for the middle ring has some odd proprietary shaping not allowing it to take any ring outside of what was specially designed for it back then (a Shimano middle ring for the M752).  So my Rotor Q Ring did not fit in the middle slot without me taking out a Dremel and going to town on the crank's spider to make it work.  "To heck with it", I thought at the time and let the Rotor Q Ring gather dust in the parts bin as I couldn't use it on the large chainring slot and get a decent chainline on the Karate Monkey for singlespeeding.  I wasn't going to spend money on a new crankset just to try it out and shelved the idea thinking maybe someday I would get a crank it would fit on and try it out on one of my mountain bikes.

After running into Tom and Katherine and hearing them go on and on and on with their "blah, blah, blah, it's easier, blah, blah, I don't have to think, blah, blah, blah, it's lighter, blah, blah, blah......" and the usual regurgiated banter of a 1 x __ drivetrain convert - I headed out to Ahquabi with the RIP 9 on Tuesday to lay down my interval laps.

Tom's comment - which I've heard before on the message boards for 1 x __ drivetrains and singlespeeders - always ignites a sarcastic thought response from me when I hear it --- "the best part about it is - you don't have to think".  Please!  We're talking about a generation that drives a car while reading a book, checking out a map or GPS, texting, carrying on a conversation, fiddling with the satellite radio to get our favorite music, reading all the signs, staying observant, eating a snack or meal all at the same time without missing a beat.  Are you telling me that riding a bike up or down a hill requires so much of a thought process that you really have to spend oodles of brain power to think about shifting the chain to a certain ring with the front derailleur that it becomes this monumental and difficult mental task?  Tom - I'm going to call you out on that the next time I see you.  ;-)  Anyway, I hear the same thing on singlespeed boards or talking to riders "you don't have to think", "there's no maintenance", "it's all so easy", "simplicity" and on and on and on and regurgitated on it goes.

Okay, so I'm not mentally challenged when it comes to operating my two thumbs, or my two hands to twist the grip shifter into another gear if my legs and lungs inform me that I cannot produce that amount of wattage for another pedal revolution or two.  I've been shifting gears on bikes for so many decades, I don't think any thought is ever required at this point.  But I do subscribe to the new 1 x 10 and 1 x 11 drivetrains covering nearly the full gamut of gearing choices needed in a more compact package that are starting to make a lot of sense to me.  I just don't want to pony up the $1250 it costs to go full SRAM XX1 1 x 11. 

What do I use for gearing most of the time once I am in shape and the season is "in season"?

I pretty much leave my chain in the big ring of the JET 9 (a 38T Rotor Q Ring) in an XC race for I'd say 80% of the courses.  I do the same on the RIP 9 and leave it in the 40 T on my triple for most of the race at a place like Lake Ahquabi, Sylvan, Swanson, Center Trails, etc... .  Now, this is not true at some of the more severe climbing courses or something like an endurance event the likes of the Bone Bender or the Dakota Five-0.  A granny/granny combo feels like torture by the end of those events.  In spite of that, for the most part in the Midwest, the XC courses can be hammered in the larger rings on my double or triple I use (which are certainly smaller on my Niner bikes due to chainstay yoke clearance issues - 38T on the JET and 40T on the RIP).

Back to my Lake Ahquabi test laps and thinking of Tom and Katherine.  Boy, I am easily sidetracked today.  Must be all the snow we are getting and my procrastination of going out with the shovel to clear the walks and drive.  I took two laps around Ahquabi and confirmed that I don't use the granny ring (a 23T Rotor Q Ring) unless I am recovering between intervals and want to climb something steep and slow while keeping my heart rate down and the burn out of my legs.  This is a great ring for the mountains and endurace events, but not here in Iowa for the majority of my riding.  My RIP triple is 23/30/40 up front mated with an 11-34 XTR cassette in the rear.  The middle ring of the 30T covers the low end well for all climbs, but is a gear or two short when I want to haul ass down hills, do sprints and fly on the connector sections that are flat on surfaces such as pavement and gravel.

I got home and compared my 30T and 40T rings (since I use them the most on my RIP 9) with my 11-34 cassette to see what gearing I would have with a 34T Rotor Q Ring 1 x 9 drivetrain instead.

Here's what I got...

Going 1 x 9

Not bad.  I would pretty much lose only one sprint gear on the small cog end and only one climbing gear on the large rear cog end by swapping to a single 34T ring up front.   

Hmmm......digging around at MTBR on the 1 x 9 picture thread, I found pictures of the "SHREK Bike" outfitted with a 1 x __ drivetrain and the Rotor Q Ring 34T SS. 



Sweet looking bike and it caused me to "think".  It's okay, Tom - I can handle it.  ;-)

I dug out my 34T Rotor Q Ring that had been collecting dust for years and went to work on my RIP 9.  I got the 3 rings off and remembered the middle ring slot wasn't going to work unless I hit it with the Dremel.  Not wanting to do that just yet and not wanting to spend too much on trying this conversion out (like purchasing a new crankset with the correct BCD of 104mm and normal slots) - I noticed it fit fine on the large ring slot of my old XT M752 180mm cranks.  I use a short 113mm Octalink BB on the 73mm BB shell of the RIP 9, so my chainline is inboard as it is from normal, so by mounting the ring on the large slot instead of the middle (are you with me?) it works out to a 54.5mm chainline and lines the front ring up right in line with the middle cog in the rear.  Perfect for my needs and trial, but not so good when it comes to choosing chain retention devices!

I called Rotor and Amber told me that my old M752 Shimano XT is not one that is standardized with the latter generations of XT Shimano cranks for accepting any old 104 BCD ring.  So when I bought the Rotor Q Ring a few years ago, I didn't know that would be the case.  Anyway, we chatted and she confirmed I could even use an 11 speed chain with the Rotor Q if I was game to try out a XX1 set up.  That's good to know for future consideration.  Current consideration is that the rear derailleur, cassette, chain and front shifter would set me back about $1K for an entry price.  I told her I would stick with what I have and run a 1 x 9 if I could for now.  Maybe SRAM will introduce the 1 x 11 in the X0 and X9 lines at a lower price point (and heavier of course) package at somepoint in the next year.

I mounted up the crank arm on the RIP, took off the front derailleur, front shifter, cables and noted the bike dropped in total down to 27.38 pounds.  It was 28.38 pounds before the "conversion".  Eager to try it out, I headed back on Wednesday for a lap at Lake Ahquabi to see how the gearing felt.  The Rotor Q Ring makes the 34T seem like a 32T in the smaller portion of the elliptical ring, and more like a 37T in the larger portion.  So right between my standard round 30T and 40T rings it is replacing for this trial.  I have always loved the feel of a Rotor Q Ring for climbs.  The 34T combined with the 180mm crank arms made this combination seem just fine and dandy.  The chain stayed in place for the entire lap at XC race speed bombing through all the bumps, roots, ruts.  I held nothing back.  I even caught myself "thinking" on some climbs and descents.  Tom - you're going to have to cure me of my sarcasm and I owe you one for allowing me to comment and quote you.

I know I need a chain retention device as the chain will probably fall off when I'm not pedaling and hitting some bumpy terrain at some point and create a mess of a situation.

That led to the next researching of the internet for solutions last night.  Private messages.  Emails.  Posts on message boards.  Reading tons of message boards and coming up with a solution that meets my needs.  Full suspension bike that is less than 5" of travel + a retention device that will reach out beyond the 50-53mm chainline that most other retention devices max out at + one device that is dedicated to XC riding like I will be doing + is a reasonable cost (under $75) all led me to the Rohloff Chain Guide as the one to try.  It's great for full suspension bikes.  It works well for XC riding.  It can go all the way out to accomodate a 62mm chainline.  It's less than $75 - even with shipping.

Here's the fugly stock Rohloff...


Here's what Jeff Jones used to do to them for 1 x 6 drivetrains he had on his Ti rigs that were such a hot item in the 2006-2009 time frame...


And here's what it looks like mounted up on a bike...


Very trick looking!!  I emailed Jeff to see if he is still doing this and might have some for sale.  He wrote back and said he is no longer modifying them and doesn't have one in stock.  So it sounds like I'm on my own to give it a whirl for making it look trick.  I'd start with a stock one to see if it clears the cable stop on my RIP and retains the chain as claimed.  If so and it works, I will think about customizing it a bit so it's not so big, black and fugly as the stock version.  It only weighs 74g stock, but looks to trim down a good 20-25g with some modifications.  I could live with that.  I just need to find a machinist who is willing to tinker for dollars.

I'm so sorry my camera is in Spain and can't snap some shots, but the Rotor Q Ring looks great on the raw RIP 9.  I might turn this thing into an XC comfort race bike that begs to be ridden all the time if I'm not careful.


I got back on track with the weight loss goal of chipping away at losing excess from my body.  I am about to go sub 182 by the weekend (was 182.2 this morning).   Wise eating this week, keeping the metabolism fired up and staying on the wagon helped get things back after last week's eating fiasco.

I skipped two weight lifting days this week, so made one up this morning and will rearrange my daily workouts this week to get everything in I am supposed to do.  I am making today a 2 a day workout day and will do my Zone 4 workouts this evening before we dive into a nice Arugula salad for dinner.  It might call for some wine, a fire in the fireplace and a warm blanket with our 33 degree temperatures and snow.  It is May, right?  It's looking like the weekend bike races will be a bust and have to be rescheduled.  It wouldn't surprise me to see that posted up on Facebook within the next 24 hours, but who knows?  


Buckshot77 said...

I rode 1x9 at the Mullet last year versus my standard SS setup (using a 34t Rotor ring to boot). I paired it with a road cassette though to get the high end though. I'll be running 1x10 this year on the El Mariachi.

For a chain keeper, I'm pretty happy with the Paul Components one. Fully adjustable chainline, relatively light, very subtle looking, and cost effective.

Bruce Brown said...

I saw some of the Paul chain keepers. Just wasn't sure it would go out far enough for my chainline. Did it work okay with the Rotor Q Ring?

Iowagriz said...

had me laughing all the way through the post :)

make sure you post again when you realize that you are not thinking about shifting during the hard efforts :)

Bruce Brown said...

Will do, Tom. ;-)

Buckshot77 said...

Bruce, it worked fine with the rotor ring. There's enough height to cover the full variance of the diameter of the ring. If you want to take any physical measurements to double check, feel free to hit me up sometime soon.