Will the single chainring become the norm on the road?

Road 12/07/23 07:11 Migue A.

While debates such as disc brakes or tubeless tyres are still raging, the use of the single chainring in road racing is already beginning to be considered, something that, as has happened with other technologies, will eventually be reflected in the bikes bought by fans of this sport.

The single chainring ready to achieve the same prominence on the road as on mountain bikes

For years, mountain bikes of a certain level have been almost entirely equipped with single chainring drivetrains thanks to the simplicity, reliability and weight savings that this system provides. Now in road cycling, driven by SRAM, the only company to offer this option in its road/gravel groupsets.

As happened with other technologies that originated in the world of fat wheels such as disc brakes, today the standard system on almost all new bikes on the market, or tubeless, an option to which road cyclists are still reluctant but which has managed to oust the tubular among the bikes of professional cyclists, the single chainring is gradually beginning to make its appearance in the world of thin wheels as well.

Actually, to see single chainrings in road cycling competition we could go back to the 90's when the British Chris Boardman even used this configuration in a Tour de France time trial. However, those were just experiments. We had to wait until SRAM, with the renewal of its Red electronic groupset and the incorporation of 12 sprockets, also decidedly opted for the 1X, not only as an option for gravel use but also oriented to time trial and triathlon bikes, seeking the aerodynamic gains of wearing a single chainring by eliminating the front derailleur.

Before that, SRAM had its 11-sprocket Force 1 groupset, still in the brand's catalog as the most advanced option of a mechanically driven groupset, which was the option chosen to mount the 3T Strada used by the Aqua Blue team and which ended with the protests of the cyclists who forced the Italian brand to modify the design of this bike to be able to use dual chainrings.

Although this extra sprocket has allowed more cyclists to use a single chainring, the reality is that they only do so on very specific routes such as some classics with more or less homogeneous terrain or a specific mountain stage, since the basic problem that the single chainring has for the road cyclist is still there.

On the road, it is extremely important to have the right gearing at all times to keep the cadence at an optimal speed. However, the single chainring puts the rider in the position of having to choose between having a sufficient range of gear ratios for all the situations he may encounter during the day or opting for a closed cassette without excessive jumps between adjacent ratios.

As we said, these limitations mean that for the moment, in the short term, it is not likely that the single chainring will become common in road competitions, however, beyond the use that riders like Wout van Aert or Mads Pedersen have been making of it in races like Milan-San Remo, we have gradually seen it in situations where it did not seem foreseeable. For example, in the final stages of the Giro d'Italia in which Primoz Roglic took advantage of the greater capacity of the XPLR variant of SRAM Red to mount a super smooth development with which he faced the Three Tops of Lavaredo and the decisive final time trial in which he almost had an upset after an untimely chain slippage.

Also in this Tour we have seen the Jumbo-Visma use it in flat stages, and not so flat, as is the case of Jonas Vingegaard himself who rode this configuration in the first day of the first leg breaker in Bilbao with the decisive ascent to Pike Bidea in its final part. In any case, they are still occasional cases in which the marginal gains obtained by better aerodynamics may be worthwhile in terms of saving effort for the rider, but not the norm.

Who knows if, when groupsets move to 13 sprockets, as is the case with the Campagnolo Ekar gravel or the curious Rotor 1x13, this option will become more common.



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