So funny, right? That iconic phrase that Nigel Tufnel spews to Rob Reiner’s character, Marty DiBergi during an interview about his custom Marshall amp. Remember? Nigel is so proud of the fact that every other musician’s amp only goes to “10” while his have that extra something, that little push and go to “11”…You know the scene:
DiBergi – “Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?”
Nigel– [long pause…looking perplexed] “These go to eleven.”
Good stuff…and really, the start of the Mockumentary genre which is fantastic.
OK, let’s talk about bikes, shall we. Don’t mind if I do…
So, back in early 2015, when I was searching for drivetrain components to build up my brand new Surly Karate Monkey frame, I was kind of unsure about anything other than the tried and true, old school 3×9 drivetrains of yore…which, by the way, I had been using, loving and was completely fine with, right up to this point. I wanted to switch though, not because the 3×9 wasn’t working for me, and not because something broke. But because I was curious about the “latest greatest” which isn’t something I am super proud of. But, like I said in earlier posts…we get sucked into it…it’s kinda human nature. But hold on. Although I tried to resist it, I realized that this swap I was partaking in wasn’t frivolous. This switch-out held some real weight with me and it met my “gear upgrading criteria” which was pretty simple: to upgrade ONLY if it makes a real and positive impact on my riding experience. And this swap did, the switch from a 3×9 to a 2×10 sucked me in with the promise of lighter, less clutter, better range and the biggest reason…less gear redundancy. Which is a major problem with a 3×9 in my opinion, and has always bugged me. As I was dismantling the old drive train on the Monkey rendering it out of commission, I was riding around on my Trucker noticing a lot of 10 speed cogs matched up with two chain rings up front. I started doing a little research on the 2×10 stuff. After a bit of time, I decided to get started with a used Shimano XT 2×10 drivetrain that consisted of XT cranks with 38t-24t chain rings, XT bottom bracket, XT 11-36 cassette, Deore shifter, a Deore front derailleur and a rear XT Shadow clutched derailleur. I was set. So, I slapped everything on the Monkey. It felt dialed in this configuration and I really liked it. I had zero complaints.
I have to tell you, that since the moment I paid for the Monkey, almost two years prior, I had been really pining over a Surly ECR, I mean really lusting over it. Now, I look back and realize that I chose the Monkey over the ECR because I was scared of something new and different. The Monkey was a typical mountain bike so it felt like a comfortable and safe choice. And it served me fantastically! I mean, it felt dialed in from the get go…it was an awesome mountain bike.
I really wanted the ECR. In one of my posts from December 2015 titled: Wanderlust, I had talked in great detail about my need and want to try exploring, touring and bikepacking. This last July 2016, I was ready to try something new. So I sold my Karate Monkey frame and fork and purchased a new Surly ECR frame and fork. Everything could be transferred from the Monkey to the ECR except for the wheels and cranks, which worked out great. So, I decided to keep the 2×10 drivetrain but because of the clearance issue with the ECR, I decided to go with the Surly OD crankset and bottom bracket. But because I planned on bikepacking with the new rig, I needed an easier granny gear then the Monkey’s 24-36 granny combo. So I got rid of the 24t granny and added a 22t granny. And while I was at it I switched out the 38t front big chain ring for a 36t Surly stainless steel chain ring. Yeah, stainless steel…damn it, was it a durable and bad ass chain ring. Look, here it is after 8 months of continuous hard riding, showing almost no wear.
Ya gotta love Surly’s commitment to using steel and choosing durability over being ultra light. Love them.
OK, so the new ECR was all set up and ready to roll. New cranks, new granny…all set. After I got it all set up, I noticed a bit of a chain line issue while on the 36t front chain ring and the 36t rear cog. With a 2×10 drivetrain, running the “big/big” combo wasn’t a chain-breaking-taboo like it was on the old 3×9’s…it was expected. So I was perplexed about the issue and did my best to adjust most of it away. It worked, it was a little noisy and derailed in the big/big combo after about 2-3 backpedals. It didn’t bother me that much…and I ran it this way for 8 months. Until last week.
Last week, I had the opportunity to “upgrade” to a 1×11 drivetrain. And I thought: hmmmm…ditch my front derailleur and the shifter that goes with it, get a better, if not perfect, chain line and loose ALL gear redundancy…all while making the Beast a smidgen lighter? OK, I’m in. That’s a no-brainer!
The Shimano gear I needed consisted of an XT rear 11-42 cassette, an XT rear shifter, an XT rear derailleur with a clutch and an XT 11 speed chain. The Wolf Tooth stuff consisted of their proprietary Drop-Stop wide/narrow front chain ring, Goat Link 11, and a 45t rear cassette cog. I was starting to get pretty excited as I was ordering the goods.
First thing I did was get the cassette on the rear wheel. With the Wolf Tooth 45t rear cog, they supply an 18t cog and spacer. You have to remove a cog from the stock Shimano cassette to fit the 45t cog at the back of the cluster.
They include the 18t cog to basically take the place of the stock 17t and 19t Shimano cogs. It bridges that gap really nicely.
I didn’t need to change my cassette hub body to accommodate the new 11t cassette because the way Shimano designed their 11t cog, it allows the 11 speed cassette to fit on my existing 10 speed cassette body. That was a real score!! SRAM, doesn’t work like that…which is just another reason I prefer Shimano components.
It went together perfectly and the Wolf Tooth rear cog is just an awesome piece of precision machining and stellar design.
The next thing I did was get the shifter settled in its permanent home on my Jones Loop Bars. This was easy as well. It snuggled right up to my existing XT brake lever, interlocking perfectly. The XT M8000 is a great new shifter.
It comes with three different ways to configure it and attach it to the bar and brake lever. It has a removable Optical Gear Display. That I opted to not use, as it interfered with my brake lever in the way that I attached
it to the bar. The Optical Gear Display might be designed to be used with a different attachment choice. It has steel shifter arms with makes for zero flex while shifting. That was a nice upgrade. It has a softer “throw” when shifting, which was also a nice difference from my Deore shifters. The biggest change, and I am not sure if it is new for the XT M8000, is it has what is called Dual Release. This means that on the front facing trigger lever of the shifter, you know, the one that drops the chain down the cog, that can now be pulled like a trigger or pushed like the old “push/push” Shimano shifters of the late 80’s. Here is something else cool about that, if you “push” the lever once, it drops the chain down one cog, you push it a little further forward, you can drop the chain down two cogs in one push, as opposed to the typical “pull” of the lever and only have the option to drop down one cog. I am loving this, and find myself pushing more often then pulling the lever.
OK, so the next thing I assembled was the rear derailleur. I first attached the Wolf Tooth Goat Link 11. You remove the little link that comes stock on the XT derailleur and replace it with the Goat Link.
The Goat Link 11 is strongly suggested by Wolf Tooth when buying their 45t rear cog as it helps improve shifting when used in conjunction with the 45t cog. It’s purpose is to shorten the distance between the cog and the top pulley of the derailleur.
This, in turn lowers the amount of “free chain.” The term free chain refers to the length or the amount of chain that leaves the bottom of the cog, right before it wraps around the top of the top pulley on the derailleur, thus creating a snappier and more precise shift. I have to say it’s little, inexpensive and works beautifully. It’s really a little , genius piece of gear.
Next, was the front chain ring. When picking the cassette and front chain ring I decided to try to match my granny gear from the 2×10 set up. It was a great gearing for climbing. I felt like I could climb anything, loaded or unloaded. It was refreshing to be on a ride or a
bikepacking trip and not dread the climbs or sometimes avoid them all together. My granny gear from the 2×10 set up was at 18.6 gear inches.
If I went bigger in the rear cog, I would’ve had to buy more parts to make the conversion. So I wanted to stay with the rear top cog being at 45t. So, that made it simple, the smallest I could go with my 94 bcd crank set, and stay with Wolf Tooth, was their 28t Drop-Stop front chain ring. So the new 28t-45t combo puts my new granny gear at 18.9 gear inches. Shit. Will I feel that?I’m a bit of a freak I know, but I wasn’t absolutely sure I wouldn’t feel the difference between the two granny gears…really, it was only .3 inches difference….no way would I feel that….right? Would it be .3 inches harder on a climb? I don’t know. I mean, that bike gets heavy when it’s loaded…and my previous granny was perfect. I was a bit nervous about it.
With that .3 of an inch looming in the back of my head….I put the 28t chain ring on my bike and rolled the dice. I needed to keep reminding myself that when choosing the chain ring, I didn’t really have many other options if I wanted to keep the cost down and the modifications to a minimum. So as I was putting it on my bike when I noticed that it was already spaced inboard a little, so that took care of my chain line issues. Bam, easy! The dark cloud over my head that is the .3 inches is fading fast….Plus I was distracted by Wolf Tooth’s beautifully machined piece of equipment. And it’s made right here in the good ol’ US of A. So it had that going for it. The .3 inchs dark cloud was almost gone.
Next, I attached the new XT chain and adjusted the stops on the rear derailleur. I then took it down off of the work stand and rode it around. Man, it was pedalling beautifully. So quiet and smooth feeling compared to the other drive train. The shifts were clean and snappy…I was kinda already loving it and I was just riding it around in front of my house.
What about the .3 inch my mind reminds me…Shit.
“OK, let’s go climb South Ridge” I say to myself. For those who don’t know, South Ridge is a little bit of a death march type climb, for me at least. It’s located on the South side of Chino Hills State Park in Southern California and is about 3 miles of steep climbing with little down hills between the monster-ish climbs. I had just climbed it the week before with my old granny gear, so the pain and suffering was still fresh. That meant that it would be relatively easy for me to decipher the difference between 18.6 gear inches and 18.9 gear inches. Well the result was what I was hoping for. They feel the same. I know that they aren’t the same…it’s math, it’s undeniable…they are not the same. They just feel the same. But, how can that be?! I mean, the same bike, the same hills, the same everything except the granny gear…right? Wrong. The whole drive train is different. But, I didn’t use the whole drive train when I was climbing before, just the granny gear. So?
When I got back home after the South Ridge climb, I re-applied lube to my new chain. As I was spinning the pedals backward and applying the lube, I noticed that there was little to no resistance to the rotation of the cranks. I mean it was a hugely, noticeable difference compared to the other drive train. Things were meshing better, the chain was simply and effortlessly gliding onto the teeth because of the better chain line….with no noise. Something that never happened on the last 2×10 drivetrain. This new and better chain line led to an almost effortless pedal stroke. I mean the cranks would spin in all of the gears for a few rotations. Don’t you think that could/would easily contribute to the fact that I didn’t feel the .3 gear inches? I know, it’s only .3 of an inch, but I am very observant and hyper sensitive to things that are different from my norms in life. And I dunno, I feel like the pedals are noticeably rotating with so little effort, and I would think that it would have to account for what feels like the same granny gear.
Right? I think so, but it’s just a guess. A really, good one, but still, just a guess.
OK, that’s enough of that. Too much thought and brain juice spent on that issue. But that’s how I get about things sometimes…obsessive. Anyway, sorry this post got so crazy. Did it get crazy? It feels like it did. It prolly did.
So hey, I have a few rides on the new parts already, about 6, and it rides fantastic! I can climb everything I did before and I still don’t feel a difference. There is a certain type of freedom to not having/using a front derailleur. Like when I first started riding single speeds. I spin out a little sooner on the downhills, but I’m ok with that…it’s a fair trade-off to having a clutter free, non-redundant drivetrain. Oh, and the shifting is impeccable. Seriously, snappy as all get out.
Well, that’s pretty much it. Thanks for reading. See ya next month.
You should probably go ride your bicycle now.