Cycling Tips: Some notes on drivetrain upgrades

You've gotta be a bikeseuxal like myself to want to change out an entire drivetrain: Maybe you're building a project bike, want to upgrade an existing bike, replacing broken parts, or fixing up an old beater: upgrading the drivetrain can be a whirlwind.  Here's a few tips to get you started.  (Also, these tips might help you if you're trying to choose a new bike and don't know what components to get)

  1. Less Is more:
    • Choose less speeds.  It seems like SRAM, Shimano, and Campy are all borrowing marketing tips from the shaving industry: Add one and charge 40% more.  So before you upgrade, ask yourself if you really need a 10 or 11 speed system.  I've been riding 9 speed for a long time, and it's just fine.  Plus, replacement parts are loads cheaper!
    • Double Vs Triple? Again, less is more.  I have a compact double and enjoy close to the same gear ratio with less weight, more stiffness, and a smaller q-factor.  Lets face it, if I live in CO and can get by with a double, you can do it too.  (A side note: I run a 1x9 on one of my bikes and love it!)
    • Don't be oversold! We all want the best of the best: but if you're putting on a new drivetrain, do some research.  There's been a lot of improvements in recent years to bike tech and a lot of it has trickled down to "lower end" components.  Plus, Newer high end components are usually guinea pigs for new technology, which may or may not last long.  For a road or cyclocross bike: chances are, you'll be fine with SRAM apex/rival components or Shimano Tiagra/105.
  2. It's faults like this broken Shimano crank arm, vs a great track record with all my SRAM stuff, that leads me to recommend SRAM parts.

    Sram vs Shimano? My pick is SRAM based on durability, technology, and value.  Plus, I've had some bad experiences with Shimano parts failing on me (from shifters, to crank arms) and have really enjoyed how easy SRAM stuff is to work with.  Also, next time you're watching a race, check out what the Pro's are riding...

    • Mix and Match? Nobody likes to look at a frankenbike, but if you're trying to save money and have parts laying around Shimano/SRAM Cassettes, chains, and cranksets are interchangeable.
    • Feel free to mix and match between levels of the same brand: Spend more money on parts that will effect your ride (Shifters, Rear derailleur) and less on ones that you probably wont notice the downgrade (Front derailleur, Crankset, chain)
    • I always run KMC chains on all my bikes.  They're cheaper, fully compatible, and perform great.
    • (Note: Do not mix and max a SRAM shifter with a Shimano derailleur or visa versa.  Won't work.)
  3. Have Fun!

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  • john tracey

    Hi mike
    I am fairly new to cycling approx 5/6 months, but unfortunately had my first slip today and broke the rear derailleur, Scram Apex on boardman comp bike, I come from a hurling background our national sport here in Ireland & i am in good shape so now that I need to buy a new derailleur was thinking of upgrading the cassette etc to a more competitive setup. I don't have the funds to buy a new bike, your opinion would be gladly appreciated.
    Thanks
    John Tracey
    Crooke Road
    Passage East
    Ireland.
    John Tracey
    Crooke Road
    Passage East
    Ireland.

    • mrsoltys

      Sorry to hear about your fall, I hope you're all-right!

      Before you replace your derailleur, please do a thorough check of your bike (or have your Local Bike shop do it for you). Check for deep scratches on the frame, or bangs and nicks on other components. It'd be bad news to have the frame fail while you're riding.

      Assuming everything is in acceptable condition I'd say it'd be easiest to stick with SRAM components that are the same number of speeds as your old setup. This will make sure there are no compatibility issues. I really like SRAM Rival stuff, and think that'd be a good upgrade. If the shifters are broken, or in bad shape, you may consider upgrading the whole drivetrain.