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Last year I purchased a Cannondale Topstone 4, it was my first dropbar bike and I saw gravel as a safe do it all option as I got into cycling.

So far I love my bike but as I've become a better cyclist and have learnt more about the sport, I've come to realise some of the budget aspects of this bike don't cut it anymore, mainly the Micro-shift advent X's 1x10 groupset. Gear changes are clunky and the low gear range leaves more to be desired.

I'm considering upgrading to a Shimano 105 or Tiagra mechanical disc brake groupset, I'm not too fussed about which, ideally whichever one I can get cheaper. What do I need to consider when doing this upgrade? Will I need to change my wheelset as well? there's little information online about Cannondales RD 2.0 wheels and their compatibility.

Also has anyone got experience buying a second-hand groupset on eBay? Ideally, I'd like to make this upgrade as cheap as possible, otherwise I may as well get a new bike altogether.

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    Can you clarify a bit more what exactly you are trying to improve? It'd be good to move the question a bit away from the current "I want an upgrade to make my bike better" without a clear definition of what "better" means. If your goal is a bigger gear range, can you describe the current range and set-up and what is insufficient (smallest gear not small enough, largest gear too small)? Can you describe what exactly is "clunky" about the shifting? Are the shifters hard to move, is the shifting slow, is it imprecise, is it noisy? (Don't catch upgraditis from other cyclists! ;-)) Mar 22, 2023 at 12:54
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    OP has clearly identified the issue they're concerned with: AdventX shiting. There is no need for frame challenges. Mar 22, 2023 at 13:50
  • @NathanKnutson Sorry, I wasn't familiar with the apparently obvious problems of "AdventX shiting". My comment wasn't a frame challenge but a sincere suggestion to clarify what exactly the issues are the OP is experiencing! Because that's what leads to the most useful answers on stackexchange. (And I apologize for the humorous suggestion that one could catch such a thing as upgraditis from spending too much time with other cyclist. ;-)) Mar 22, 2023 at 20:17

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I've got the Topstone with 105 (2x11), and the shifting is better than the rather tired Sora (3x9) setup on my tourer - but not by much; if I renewed everything on the tourer the biggest difference by far would be the closer gear spacing of the 11-speed cassette.

To look at your setup in a bit more detail (referring to these specs which may have been updated since you bought yours):

  • As you've got 1x10, you're currently limited when it comes to the range and/or spacing of the gears.
  • Assuming you stick with 1x, you can improve the low end with a smaller chainring - but you lose out at the top end. My big ring is only 46T and that feels a little low - but I'm sticking with it for now. Yours appear to have a 40T chainring. With the default 11-42 cassette I'd find it frustrating at both ends but especially the top.
  • 1x11 is an option. That would mean a new cassette, rear mech, and right shifter but you have a good chance of getting away with the current chainring (if swapping it as well, get an 1 speed)
  • 2x10 could be possible. It would mean fitting a front derailleur, and a left shifter. The new crankset would have to be chosen carefully to ensure it's compatible with your current bottom bracket. You probably have the cable routing options to do it as the frame is used for various specs.
  • 2x11 would again require a front derailleur, but also a rear derailleur, both shifters, and a crankset. You may struggle to find an 11-speed-compatible crankset for your square taper BB.
  • For completeness, 2x9 or 3x9 would have most of the cost issues of 2x11, but a less fashionable result (affecting resale value, even if the performance suits you). Strangely, I'd actually consider this, but for reasons to do with my own parts stash and compatibility; I don't really recommend it otherwise, but you would have a chance of picking up the parts cheaply.

In the end, this isn't likely to be a cheap upgrade. Current series parts will mostly be hydraulic only. Even looking for 2nd hand parts you'll be restricted now that hydraulic discs are becoming more common at this point in the market and you've got mechanical discs.

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We are all glad you are getting more interested in the sport! I am not going to directly answer the question you asked, because others have. I'm providing some possible other considerations.

Often, it is not objectively worth it to upgrade the components on an entry-level bike. This doesn't mean you should not do so. But rather, it will likely be more cost effective to buy a full bike with the spec you want. That's even more true with used bikes, but as a newer cyclist, you may not exactly know your fit parameters, which can pose an issue buying used.

Manufacturers typically get pretty big OEM discounts. They can get a 105 or whatever groupset a lot cheaper than you can. They mass assemble the bikes at a factory. Whereas you have to buy a groupset at retail, and you either have to DIY the installation, or convince a friend (preferably a skilled one) to help you, or pay a bike shop to install it. And at the end of the day, you'll still have an entry-level frame.

Many cyclists don't appreciate the fact that cables need periodic replacement. It's hard to objectively say how long they should last. I went 3 years before replacing my Shimano Ultegra cables, but that was pushing it, it was a road bike, and those are high-end low-friction cables. It could be that a tune-up will fix your issues with shifting. However, I'm not familiar with the cable routing on your Cannondale. Routing cables internally can put tight bends in them, and shift and brake cables inherently don't like tight bends. If the Topstone's routing isn't good, this may be an inherent problem - however, I simply don't know. You might consider upgrading to good shift housing - Jagwire, a common aftermarket brand, makes good slick cables and housing. I perceive it to not be as good as Shimano's SP41 housing and coated cables, but I am very fussy, and it's really splitting hairs.

You could also upgrade to compressionless brake housing, which can really help with mechanical brakes. However, this is a bit pricey. Also, if the brakes are bad, there may be only so much that good housing can do. I'm not saying the Topstone's brakes are bad. What I am saying is that many lower-level mechanical disc brakes don't have that much power. This may stem from the caliper design, or from the pads (which you could also upgrade), or from cheap housing, or from poor routing (which can't be fixed).

Thus, getting a tune up with more premium cable and brake housing may also pose a sticker shock. However, do appreciate that complex mechanical objects inherently require ongoing maintenance. Could we make reduce maintenance requirements for bicycles? Yes, but the tradeoffs might not be worth it. For example, we have electronic shifting, and even the entry level groups cost a lot (e.g. 105 Di2 is something like 3x the price of the previous generation mechanical 105). We have hydraulic brakes where the system is completely sealed from contamination, but these do require periodic bleeds, and that is a more complex task than replacing housing, plus they are more expensive.

What can we do with entry-level bikes we've outgrown? Common options include turning them to commuters, or selling or passing them on to another new cyclist. If you sell, do be aware that bikes depreciate a lot, so I'm aware that this will be yet more sticker shock.

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You have some high-level choices for how you want the bike to be configured after the change.

  • Keep the cranks?
  • Stay 1x?
  • Stay with the same brakes?
  • Stay with 10-speed?
  • Are you willing to cobble and hack the group and accept mismatched lever feel/ergonomics to get a cheap as possible result?

The paths that involve keeping your 1x cranks and mechanical brakes are all much cheaper than the ones that don't. That means going to a different 1x mechanical brake road/gravel group. The list of options for that are small and basically include AdventX, Apex 1, Rival 1, Force 1, and Aliexpress garbage (Sensah etc). There is no Shimano option; all of the Shimano left non-shifter levers that match with right STIs are hydraulic. There are various hacky ways of going Shimano wide-range 1x10 or 1x11 that involve mismatched brake levers, such as staying with your Microshift left, but it would be odd and probably not very desirable.

The SRAM 1x mechanical road group RDs on paper can only handle 11-42, but in practice work with 11-46 like they were designed to do so, and many people have set them up that way. I don't know whether you could push it to work with the 11-48 you have; whatever faults AdventX has, it does have more range than its peers.

The wheel is not a factor. You would only need to worry about freehub compatibility if you were going to an XDR setup or any 11-speed one with a large cog smaller than 34, but none of that applies if you're only considering the cheap options.

A reasonable course would be get the Apex 1 levers, RD, an 11-46 cassette, and a new chain. Absolutely do not skip on getting compressionless brake housing added when you install them. That's not a very expensive package for what it gives you and it will perform a lot better.

This answer will probably become obsolete in the future when Shimano finally makes an entry into the category in question.

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  • Shimano CUES might be its entry into the category, but I believe they will only have hydraulic brakes.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Mar 22, 2023 at 15:35
  • @WeiwenNg There will likely be a road Cues permutation that's positioned to strike back against AdventX and the low-end SRAM options. But, road Cues isn't even announced yet and is likely 1-2 years off. Mar 22, 2023 at 16:07

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