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I'm thinking about switching my Salsa El Mariachi 29er mountain bike from singlespeed to gears. I love the reliability and simplicity of the singlespeed, but I've been doing more rides that involve both road and trail riding, so it's tough to find a singlespeed gear ratio that can do both.

I do lots of really long (~75 mile) rides and some multi-day bikepacking trips through the Colorado backcountry, so I need a drivetrain that is really, really reliable. I'm also fairly tough on components (currently, I replace my SS drivetrain each year), so I want to get something that's not too expensive. I currently am running a bashguard (using a SLX triple crank), and I'd like to keep running a bashguard since it's awesome to have one.

I was thinking of running a 1x9, or maybe 2x9 (with bashguard) setup with SRAM X9 or X7 components. But then I read some great reviews of the new clutch derailleurs (Sram "Type 2" or Shimano "Shadow plus") - people are saying that they keep the chain running lot nicer than the old type derailleurs. I've heard good things about running a 1x10 with the new Shimano Zee derailleur. The many drivetrain options are getting a little ridiculous!

So, what do you think? What drivetrain will keep running through the dust, mud, and crashes, while still keeping the price to something reasonable?

Thanks, Dan

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Not an off-road biker, but I wonder if a internal gear hub isn't worth considering, especially on a single speed conversion where the dropouts may not be suited for a derailer. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 10 '13 at 11:34
    
Good point about the internal gear hub! A few friends have these and they seem pretty sweet for epic rides. I'm guessing that in 10 years, we'll see a lot more internal hubs on mountain bikes. But, from what I've read, currently only the Rohloff hub can really stand up to the abuse of a multi-day mountain bike ride, and it's something like $1,400 and needs an expert to service it. I like the idea that I can replace chain, cassette, and chainrings before a big ride. But an IGH is certainly something I would consider when I have a big salary! :) –  DanHickstein Sep 10 '13 at 13:39
    
My understanding is that there are some "knock-offs" of the Rohloff that are pretty good, and much cheaper. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 10 '13 at 14:42
    
Interesting! I've heard mixed reviews of the Shimano Alfine series, which seem to be the main competitors. They are said to be an incredible option for a commuter bike, but I have heard that they cannot really stand up to a lot of super-steep out-of-the-saddle climbs, especially with a heavy or fully-loaded rider (I'm probably 200+ pounds when I strap on my backpack for a muti-day trip). But the mud-resistance of an IGH is really appealing since I like to ride in all conditions. More research is needed! –  DanHickstein Sep 10 '13 at 15:23
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I won't suggest any brands but here are some ingredients that will allow you to go cheap and reliable:

  • go 1x9. 2x is more expensive, more noisy, heavier and generally problematic if you can get away with 1x. Just make sure you calculate some possible ring and cassete options so you know that you'll be able to tackle all ascents and descends you need to. A spreadsheet works great for that. Divide ring teeth to cassette teeth to find the ratios that you need. Ride friends' bikes on ascends and descends for find your numbers.
  • bashguard: Do you really need it? Please check on your existing one whether you see impacts. Have you used it so far? If not, you don't need one. Especially now that you'll go to a single and smaller ring, chances that you really need one are very slim.
  • chainring: Go with a "narrow-wide" one. There are at least 5 companies making such rings now. The narrow wide pattern of the teeth allows for maximum chain retention eliminating the need for a chain guide.
  • rear derraileur: Definitelly go with one which has a clutch mechanism. It does work wonders.
  • crank: You'll most probably be able to use your current SLX crankset, but I'm not 100% sure on that. There is a possibility that you'll need to do some research and play around with spacers in order to have the perfect chainline so all cogs of the cassette are working well.
  • chain: If you go 1x9 get a 9sp chain. If you go 1x10 get a 10sp chain.
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Thanks for the suggestions! I didn't realize that the "narrow-wide" chainrings had proliferated outside of the sram XX1 drivetrain. This is very exciting since they are said to hold the chain much better, and this one lets you run a 30 tooth chainring where normally only a 32 tooth would fit. Good news for me, because I was just thinking that I would like an easier gear that 32x36. pinkbike.com/news/… –  DanHickstein Sep 10 '13 at 13:51
    
Also, you say run 1x9, but that clutch derailleurs are a good choice: is there a 9 speed clutch derailleur? Or were you simply recommending 1x in general? And have you found that some clutch derailleurs are better than others? Regarding the bashguard, I consider it mandatory for my style of riding. Mine is very beat up (it hit it several times every ride) and I have cracked several plastic ones before getting a metal one. Also, for a 1x setup, I think that it's good to run a bashguard to make sure the chain doesn't fall off the outside. –  DanHickstein Sep 10 '13 at 13:55
    
Maybe 1x9 with clutch does not exist. I am not sure though, it needs research. I've only used the shimano stuff and they work. –  cherouvim Sep 10 '13 at 14:14
    
Yeah, I wish a clutch 9-speed derailleur did exist. Some folks are using shimano 10-speed derailleurs with sram (9 speed?) shifters and claiming that the cable-pull mismatch actually makes it work okay, but the shifting is not perfect. I guess I should go ride a bike with a clutch derailleur and see how big the difference is. –  DanHickstein Sep 10 '13 at 14:17
    
gear-calculator.com website is excellent alternative to spreadsheet –  Papuass Mar 4 at 11:03
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For decades people have been doing marathon trips on the likes of X7 and XT and their precursors with out problems. I have a 25 year old bike on SLX gear that got heavily used in its day, but the drive train is still acceptably smooth and I would trust it to last on any multiday epic (the rider has not withstood the test of time so well). Durability (at the levels you have mentioned) is a problem that was solved decades ago.

The advances in bike equipment is incremental. There is nothing that is really new, just a refinement of whats been shown to work. Getting 'last years' model that is half the price with a proven track record has something going for it.

Mostly what happens is people say its a must have because they want you to buy it. This comes from a) The sellers, b) the advertisers c) the buyers (who need to justify the big $$$ they just put down). Buy the best your wallet and afford and the worst your ego will let you.

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Thanks for the comments! I agree that you can do big trips on cheap gear. I rode a 3x9 X7 drivetrain for a few years and it did get the job done. But there were a lot of dropped chains, broken links, bent cogs, and once the thing got a little bit muddy, the chain starts skipping like crazy. This is why I went singlespeed in the first place. :) I was hoping that some of this would have been fixed in the last few years. We shall see! –  DanHickstein Sep 10 '13 at 14:04
    
@Dan Those problems are less about the drive train quality (Once you get to Deore quality) and more a sign its poorly setup and maintained. This gear does not last forever no well how well maintained it is - how old was the bike and its drive train? My 25 year old SLX exuipped bikke does not have any of those problems..... –  mattnz Sep 10 '13 at 20:16
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