Single Speed MTB Racing and New 1×11 Mountain Bike Gearing (SRAM XX1 system)

I love my Salsa El Mariachi as a single speed.  I have almost had the pleasure to have ridden it for a year now.  I never would have thought I would have liked single speeding this much.  It has really changed who I am as a cyclist.  I have raced it 4 times now in marathon style races put on by San Diego’s grassroots MTB racing promoter, Racers and Chasers. Last time I raced, I placed 3rd in the Men’s Open MTB Marathon class. Below are some pictures from that event up in Julian on June 23, 2012.

3rd Place!


I was the only one racing on a rigid single speed.  It obviously works well for me.

These races have a “do as many laps in a certain period of time” format to them so I get well acquainted with the hills, flats, and terrain in between over the hours that I ride them over and over again.  I usually go out harder than I really should on the first lap, but it keeps me motivated to keep up with the pros in the front of the pack.  Often I am one of the first racers up the first few hills, which is good since my single speed gearing only lets me go at a certain rate up those climbs and it is not a granny gear rate.  That makes sure that I don’t get stuck in a trainwreck of riders heading up a hill when one guy slows to a crawl to pace himself early on. The negative about being up front is that I burn up a few matches in my matchbook early in the race and often don’t have much left for the last few laps when it really matters if a close competitor is nearby. I also tend to run a little during the marathon MTB races.  I am not a runner and couldn’t do a 10k if my life depended on it.  But I can run for very short distances, especially when I can run faster than my competitors can pedal in their granny gear up hills that will burn up my matches in my matchbook when I am single speed racing.  There is always at least one hill in the Racers and Chasers courses that I decide to walk/run up instead of grind out on my single speed.  This saves my legs, allows me to choose a single speed gear that will keep me spinning well enough on the flats, and helps stretch a little while using other muscles when I walk/run up the hill.  I often think of having gears at this point though because, like most MTB riders I know, I love being able to clear a steeper section, stay on my bike the whole ride, and stay in the groove.

I love all the benefits of single speeding and I won’t turn this into a “Pros and Cons of Single Speeding” blog post, but suffice to say that in my mind, the pros definitely out weigh the cons…at least so far. 😉

Enter the SRAM XX1 drive train the is set to be released in October 2011.


I think SRAM is heading in a wonderful new direction for drive train.  Simplifying shifting to rear derailleur only duties and hopefully lowering maintenance time/costs is long overdue in my opinion.  After single speeding exclusively for a year now, I have been thinking that if I ever go back to gears, which I likely will one day with some bike, but definitely not all my bikes (man I love single speeding), I will likely go to a 1x system.  I do not see the need for a large or small chain ring if I have one chain ring in the 28-38 tooth range.   What are your thoughts?  I especially would like to know the thoughts of single speeders that prefer training on single speeds, but ride geared bikes as well, maybe even in endurance race situations.


Twenty Nine Inches’ Post on the Subject

Bicycling Magazine’s Post on the Subject

SRAM’s XX1 Page


Thanks for visiting!  Let me know what you think about this subject by commenting below.


About Nick

A servant and worshiper of Christ, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a gecko breeder, a guitarist, a mountain biker, a GIS specialist.
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8 Responses to Single Speed MTB Racing and New 1×11 Mountain Bike Gearing (SRAM XX1 system)

  1. val1005 says:

    Whats the difference of just selecting a given gear and just not shifting. Besides a being current trend, how is this different then pure discipline (which you seem to have)?

    • forgivenick says:

      Val1005 –
      Great question. Its not much different really. You are correct in that you can choose a gear combination for a given terrain and be disciplined to make it work, even if it requires walking/running up steep grades to pace yourself on longer rides. My point is that the SRAM XX1 system seems to finally be a better solution for those who want a “quiver” of gears in their arsenal to carry along and use to attack unexpected or highly variable terrain on a ride. Adventures into new territory along trails that are highly variable or when weighed down with gear as in bikepacking situations seem like they could benefit from a 1x system. If I had to guess, I would expect that I will still prefer my single speed in 90% of my riding since it is largely on known trails near home where I train and participate in group rides. I hope that answers your question adequately. Let me know if I missed any thing that you were asking about.

  2. val1005 says:

    Also, I never thought of routinely dismounting rather then burning up energy/matches. I just consider it all part of the fun(?). In your racing can anyone dismount., since one can sometimes go faster under pes pedis? Do you ever see geared cyclist doing it.?

  3. forgivenick says:

    Its funny. Most geared riders hate when I run up the hills, but no, I NEVER see any of them doing it. I really only run/walk up the hills that are marginally makeable on my single speed. They are the hills that geared riders have to be in one of their lowest 3 gears. Definitely in their little ring up front. I will generally walk up the steep stuff until I get near the top of the climb or if a gearie is on my 6. Then I run at sprint pace. It seems like NOBODY runs up the climbs except me. I guess it is because we all struggle to stay mounted on our bikes, much to our own demise sometimes as we burn up all our energy spinning out on loose stuff, losing traction, falling off the prime line, and then all we have left is energy to walk. I like leaving some gas in the tank to RUN. 🙂

  4. sdm says:

    Good to see you are still enjoying your 1-speed.
    1. On your singlespeed, do you change/play with sprocket/chainring combinations for each ride/race. Do have a “quiver of gears” you choose from before a ride; or do you just stick with one ratio/combination for a season/region?
    2. Do you find that the rigid fork vs suspension fork aids in giving more cornering control in a race? Or does it “just” make you more awake/alert/concentrating on a good line to avoid those jolts/sock from a rocky/rough/non-smooth trail?
    Thanks, sdm

    • forgivenick says:

      SDM!! Great to hear from you again.
      1. Yes. Most definitely. I have a quiver, but I am hoping to grow it soon. Currently I only have a 32t chain ring with 18, 19, and 20t cogs. Depending on the race course, I will choose one of the three cogs. I have been training almost exclusively lately on the 18t, in hopes of getting stronger. It seems to be working. You get used to the 1 tooth increment pretty quick if you ride much and ride climbs, descents, and flats equally.
      2. Hmm. Thats a great question. Its up for debate in my mind…it really depends on the course. I got so beat up on that last race in Julian. It had a brand new trail that was not quite worn in as well as guys like me would prefer. Lumpy gravy. I was not valuing my rigid fork as much as I usually do on that day. Most days though, I love the rigid fork. It actually handles very well, especially at speeds between 10-15mph. It starts flexing ever so slightly, but its noticeably more comfortable when going a little faster over the rough stuff, as long as it doesn’t throw me off line too much. The cornering is never gonna be better with suspension in my opinion. I can pin it around corners really well. I have to pick my lines through rock gardens and rougher stuff, but usually its just to keep myself from getting more beat up. It does keep me focused. Thats one of the big reasons I ride MTB and not much road. I fall asleep on the road because I don’t have the obstacles to focus on avoiding as much as I do on the MTB.

      I hope that helps. Thanks for visiting again!

      • sdm says:

        1. Have you experimented with much lower gear ratios; your 32×20 is about 46 gear inches, have you tried something around 35 gear inches? Comments?
        2. In view of the rigid fork, do you run a larger volume front tyre than the rear?
        Any thoughts on tyre volume on rigid fork handling.
        (Then there is tyre pressure…but I am not quite asking about that yet.)
        Thanks, sdm

  5. Pingback: Interbike 2012 | FORGIVENICK – Living Out Endurance Adventures, Journeying Through Soundscapes, Gaining Humility, and Repeatedly Left in Awe

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