The Derek Zoolander Chainring for Kids Who Can’t Wrench Good and Want to Learn How To Do Other Stuff Good Too

I’m not much of a field mechanic…

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I’m getting an education. Yes, there’s graduate school, a lifestyle characterized by the constant hunt for free food and assistantship positions. Aside from that, though, I’m getting an education building bicycles. The local shop of choice for me is Laughing Dog Bicycles, a long-established utopia of cycling knowledge, steel frames, and enthusiasts that are slowly assimilating me fully into bike culture.

I started by rebuilding an older bike into a beater. From there, I transitioned into recabling my nice bike; I converted all of my brake and shifter cables to Jagwire Compressionless Housing.  I then cut and sized a new fork, bought from Salsa (I now have rack mounts again).

Then I caught wind of the 1×10 craze. It’s no surprise that the winds of change blew through my bike as soon as I started swinging around for evening wrench sessions at the shop. Inspired by the trend-shift towards 1×10 mountain bike drivetrains that has trickled down into the cyclocross world, I decided to experiment on Old Reliable and finally defeat my old nemesis… the front derailleur.

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That’s right. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. No front derailleur whatsoever, and no shifter or cables either.

WHY

 

Right… the benefits of a 1×10 system are outweighed by the costs for almost every road and cyclocross rider there is. You lose climbing range, lose your top end for sprinting and downhills, and theoretically reduce your chainring durability (less teeth, more wear). It’s a system borne for a very slim niche of rider. The benefits of a 1×10 system are in ease of use (no front derailleur, no cross-chaining), simplicity (no cables to run, no front derailleur to adjust) and a few other non-essential bonuses like weight savings.

My 27.5lb cyclocross bike isn’t light enough… Yeah, that’s why I did it.

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The big draw for me was to completely eliminate front derailleur adjustment, maintenance, and potential failure from my tours. When I biked 1,500 miles across the Northeast, I replaced my drivetrain once and repaired it three times, occasionally running emergency single-speed mode to hobble back to civilization upon catastrophic derailleur failure. Part of the reason for my front derailleur woes was maladjustment by two separate shops. For starters, the drivetrain wasn’t properly set before I left for the tour. The problem was exacerbated by a second shop mid-trip that set me up with the wrong chain size. I threw the chain while riding twice, bent links, cut the chain and repaired it, and put in two days with a smaller gear range before reaching a shop that actually got me back up and running.

A 1×10 system with a friction bar-end shifter is the simplest multi-geared setup a bike can have aside from an internal hub, and since I don’t have a Mercedes Benz in my driveway, I don’t have an internal hub on my bike either. Simple is good; simple can be repaired in a backwoods bike shop in Maine that specializes in training wheels and rifle holsters.

There’s a philosophical leaning here as well:

One of the local Cyclocross racers on Team Laughing Dog (#ldbcx), Tyler Knapp, races singlespeed. He’s fast, too; he took 4th place at the Rapha Super Cross Glouchester 1&2 in September, against riders on multispeed bikes. When I met the team for the first time (I, silently humbled, trying to camouflage my way into the serious cycling crowd), one of the other mechanics asked him how he did so well in such a hilly race using a singlespeed. Tyler’s answer evoked the elegant simplicity of his drivetrain:

“I couldn’t really go any slower. I only have one speed.”

What would I do on my bike if I was limited in my gearing to a single ring? How much faster would I push mountain bike trails if my grandma gear was a 38T chainring? How would 1×10 improve my strength as a rider? I’m still figuring those out, and I’m not a singlespeeder yet.

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The drivetrain is a repurposed Shimano SORA Double Crankset. I pulled the old rings off and slapped on a Race Face 38T Wide/Narrow Chainring. Then, I simply tore off my front derailleur with my teeth and threw it onto a burning pyre.

If you’re thinking about doing such a conversion yourself, here’s some things to know:

The Tourist’s Guide to 1×10

Check Your Chainline

Since my crank was milled for a double, I had no good spot for a single ring. The outside of my cranks (pictured above) were far enough out that I got vibration climbing Mt. Greylock in my cassette’s 32-tooth sprocket. So, I tried moving it to the inside and -curse you, Raleigh race geometry!- the chainring nosed into the chainstay. So, I looked into spacers. Praxis Works makes my bottom bracket, a PF30 conversion BB for Shimano Hollowtech II, and you can’t space between the BB shell and the outboard cups because the collet is only set when you bottom out the bottom bracket completely (uh oh, I’m sounding like a bike snob…). In other words, I can’t space the BB because the BB needs to be all the way in to stick in place.

Luckily, I can space the Hollowtech spindle. Is it a good idea? No. Google “Q-factor” and find out why. However, I only used two 0.5MM spacers, so the difference is slight enough that I can fake it until I make it. Now, with the ring on the inside, my chainline is perfect.

How Low Should You Go?

You need to make sure your gear ratio is low enough for climbing. I’m a strong rider, so I opted for a 38T front ring. A cyclocrosser might go as high as 42T to 46T in a 1×10 setup, and I would too for a dead sprint. For touring, 38T is much higher than most people’s climbing ring.

My cassette right now is 11-32, but I am swapping in an 11-36 for a few more gear inches. To test the theory behind whether or not a 1×10 can go “low enough” for touring, Kelley and I climbed Greylock last week. Yes, it worked. Yes, it was harder. No, I’m not switching back just yet.

For fully loaded touring, I don’t think a low enough gear ratio exists for 1×10 just yet, although it depends on the rider and the destination.

Use The Right Derailleur

Because of the missing gears up front, changing to a mountain bike cassette is absolutely worth the hassle. If you go with a full 11-36 range, a long-cage derailleur will smooth shifting down considerably. I’m running a long-cage Shimano XT rear 9-speed derailleur with a friction bar-end shifter.

Companies like On-One make a cassette converter kit that replaces your max 36T ring with a pie-plate sized sprocket with 42 teeth. That works, but you also need to replace your 16T sprocket for proper cassette spacing/ramping, and you need to swap on a cage extender for your rear derailleur. If you’re a light tourist, a 36T or 38T chainring with a traditional mountain bike cassette will be enough range for 95% of what you’re doing, but pushing it a bit farther with a 42T cassette can close the gap between the capabilities of a 1×10 versus a 2×10.

Hold Your Chain

Chains are designed to fly off the rings at a moment’s notice. With a properly adjusted front derailleur, the derailleur cage acts as a chain keeper… most of the time. Cyclocross racers will tell you, tossed chains do happen off-road, especially in muddy or icy conditions. This was the inception for the 1×10 trend in cyclocross as a whole; losing their front derailleur allowed the use of chain keepers or bash-guard sandwiches to keep the chain glued on the chainring.

As a tourist, this applies to you, too. The most elegant solution to this problem, for me, seemed to be a Wide-Narrow profile chainring. My Race Face 38T Wide/Narrow Chainring has alternating wide and narrow teeth, which interface perfectly with the cutaways in my chain for improved chain retension. Other options include a chain keeper (Paul Components makes a great one), or a clutch derailleur, which utilizes a stronger spring to keep the chain under tension while downshifting. The clutch derailleur really works best in concert with a Wide/Narrow chainring, but it’ll improve chain retention regardless

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The other benefit is the smooth, clean look of my bar-end where the front shifter used to be. I stuck a wine cork in there because I have aspirations of opening a cafe in Portland that only serves to car-free vegans.

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If you’re running brifters, SRAM makes a brake lever for the left that doesn’t have brifter parts. It’s a clean way to maintain the look of your bike without trying to zip-tie the useless shifter bits to the brake.

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So, there you have it. 1×10- the worst idea to ever propagate from my blog under the guise of “advice?” Possibly. For now, though, I’m having so much fun on my bicycle, and that’s really the point, isn’t it?

Keep Riding (1×10),

Max

 

6 thoughts on “The Derek Zoolander Chainring for Kids Who Can’t Wrench Good and Want to Learn How To Do Other Stuff Good Too

  1. “A 1×10 system with a friction bar-end shifter is the simplest multi-geared setup a bike can have aside from an internal hub, and since I don’t have a Mercedes Benz in my driveway, I don’t have an internal hub on my bike either. “

    Oh, come on, Max, IGH’s aren’t all that expensive.😉 If you don’t go into the Rohloff or Alfine 11 territory, that is. For example, an Alfine 8 retails between $225 and $300, and you can get pre-built wheels for $400. Yeah, not cheap, but then factor in the fact you don’t need a rear (or front!) derailleur, and the chain will last longer, etc…

    I used Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator, and with a 44/22 setup on 700x38C wheels, the gear range would be a high of 88.2 gear-inches to a low of 28.8 gear-inches. Pretty comparable to what you have on the bike now.

    1. Perfect for someone, maybe not for me. A big benefit of this system is the ease of repair in dire circumstances… assuming I’m capable, which is NOT a guarantee, haha.

      1. I get that a derailleur system is easier to repair in dire emergency than an IGH system, but honestly, how often do internal gears self-destruct? I understand it’s a valid argument to use against IGHs, and yes, it can happen. But it’s pretty uncommon. I’ve read some reports from mountain bikers who’ve used and abused Alfine 8s, and they’ve come out fine. And Shimano specifically says “Do not use an Alfine 8 for mountain biking”! I have a Sturmey-Archer AW three-speed hub on my Raleigh that’s 60 years old, and still works fine!

        So Max, an IGH might not be what you want/need right now, and I understand. But don’t dismiss them outright.

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