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Ever since drivetrain manufacturers started pushing the limits with “just one more gear,” riders have been hoping for a bit of backwards compatibility out of the new groups. Inevitably, you purchase a new bike with the latest drive train and are happily pedaling along until you realize the drivetrain is finally worn out and replacement parts have gotten harder to find.

That’s the case of the question this week from Dennis, stating,”I have a 2013 Cannondale SuperSix with 10-speed drivetrain. The selection of 10-speed cranksets are becoming more limited since 11-speed cranksets are popular.  Can I use an 11-speed crankset with an 11-speed chain on my 10-speed drivetrain?”

For the official answer we went to both Shimano and SRAM, and not surprisingly, both said that this wouldn’t work. Providing essentially identical responses, SRAM replied,”Mixing 10 and 11 speed parts is not recommended. SRAM 11 speed chainrings sit slightly farther apart than 10 speed rings do, so running a 10 speed chain on 11 speed rings will dramatically increase the chances of jamming a chain between rings during a front shift. Running an 11 speed chain takes away that possibility, but a 10 speed shifter and FD won’t pull enough cable and move far enough to get a perfect front shift. On the rear, an 11 speed chain’s internal dimensions match that of a 10 speed chain, but the outer dimensions are thinner and the 10 speed cogs sit farther apart than 11 speed, so there’s still a good chance of chain jam and rough shifting. Better to purchase a 10 speed crank or upgrade your drivetrain.”

However, that doesn’t mean that it flat out won’t work. More than likely, you’d be able to find some combination that would have passable shifting – just not to the level SRAM or Shimano would consider acceptable.

More importantly though, depending on the reason for asking the question in the first place, a quick search online brings up plenty of options for both complete 10 speed cranksets or replacement chainrings. If you’re looking to replace the crank due to maintenance concerns, this is definitely the way go (replace the rings only if the crank is fine). However, if you’re asking because you have a case of upgrade-itis, you’re better off waiting to replace the entire drivetrain to an 11 speed group in the future – especially if 12 speed for road bikes drops any time soon which will drop the price of 11 speed.
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27 comments

  1. JD on

    I’ve been using 11 speed chains on 10spd drivetrain systems since 11spd inception. I find it to run smoother in the rear due to the tiny bit more leeway from chain thickness.

    Reply
  2. JustSomeGuy on

    Gosh, that’s good information. I better remove the 11-speed crankset from the otherwise all 10-speed drivetrain that I’ve been using for the last year with no issues.

    Reply
  3. Tom on

    Manufacturers answers are pitiful. Why not help someone out and say it will work OK. Cause you companies know it does. You can still say matching components will “shift better” if you need to CYA.

    Reply
  4. Tim on

    How so very wrong this is. First, if the 11 spd front chainrings are further apart than 10 spd, and the 11spd chain outside width is narrower, then the 11 spd chain on 11 spd rings would have the greatest “chance of jamming” of any of the combinations.

    Furthermore, I recently broke my front SRAM Rival 10 spd shifter, and then got a screaming deal on a used 11 speed Force grouppo, minus crank. I’ve mixed and matched everything since I built it back up in stages. 11spd rear shifter, 10 spd derailleur – works fine. (same parallelogram and the indexing in the shifter determines shift distance) The cage is a bit closer to the spokes than with the 11, but worked fine.

    11spd front shifter, 10 speed front derailleur. I didn’t have that on for very long, but had no problems.

    And of course, proper 11spd everything. Except the crank & chainrings. That’s been the same Red 10 spd chainring on a Quarq powermeter crank. Aside from the finicky setup of the yaw derailleur, it’s been flawless. Once I got the yaw set correctly, it’s way better than the original front shifting.

    This was all done with a 11spd KMC chain.

    Reply
  5. Shafty on

    After working on many bikes, it’s become obvious that people can be satisfied with anything from average, to abysmal shift performance. Cobbled together setups aren’t too uncommon, and there’s often issues. If you like how some odd combination works–great, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

    These essentially hypothetical situations where there’s SUDDENLY no n-speed parts left are rare and are typically attributed to setup and maintenance issues. There’s no reason to be surprised when you crash on 10 year old shifters, and no suitable replacements are available.

    Reply
    • FFM on

      This guy. There’s a whole spectrum of shifting performance ranging from “it moves” to “it’s perfect.” It should come as no surprise that manufacturers shoot for the latter. If it works and you’re happy? Awesome, ride on. If you want it perfect? Follow the manufacturer’s directions. You can’t bash them for designing a system then recommending that you run it the way they designed it to run.

      Reply
  6. Bill B on

    Well, it’s not like I’ve been running and Ultegra 6800 crank on an otherwise all Ultegra 6770 system (11 speed crank, 10 speed chain) since 2013 with no chain jams and 1 chain drop. Oh, wait…

    Reply
  7. A. on

    This doesn’t make sense… why would 11 speed rings, with a 11-speed chain, sit further apart from each other? Rings designed for a wider chain should be further apart from each other, not the other way around. This means that a 10-speed crankset with an 11-speed chain would be more likely to cause chain jam… although that doesn’t really happen either.

    Typical free internet advise. Just got to your local bike shop.

    Reply
    • Shafty on

      I looked over a relevant S-Tec(Shimano industry site) conversation, and it seems the answers quoted here are simply mistakenly reversed. I can screenshot this for BR if they’d like, but it seems the inner and outer widths have changed(inner has shrunk by .26mm). That WOULD made it very slightly easier for an 11 speed chain to jam. It may also wear the chain faster, since it may exert outward tension on the inner plates. It fits is not the same as “the parts interact as expected, down to fractions of a millimetre”.

      These are answers from an engineering perspective, where liability and ideal performance are much important than backwards compatibility. I’d wager they rarely, if ever, perform testing on those combinations, so they can’t say(on paper) that it won’t fail causing injury.

      These are the days of qr recalls because someone had the lever jam into their rotor CAUSING A SPINAL INJURY. That whole thing was a giant FI-ASCO.

      Reply
  8. Volsung on

    FWIW these “ask a stupid question” questions aren’t stupid but the manufacturer responses are.

    They all basically say that you should replace something as soon as you use it once.

    Reply
  9. Gummee! on

    You have to think about what Shimano and SRAM’s lawyers will say when someone comes back with a busted bike if they read on the webs that it should work… You TOLD me it would work! I want a new drivetrain. Repeat that a bunch for all the busted bikes and you have a profit margin problem.

    Personally? Been putting 11sp chains on most 10sp repairs since 11sp first came out.

    Reply
  10. Larry Kaatz on

    I’ve been using 10spd SRAM chains on chainrings designed for 8-speed (and wider) chains off and on for years. Some front derailleurs work better than others in this situation. I’ve also used a Campy front derailleur with original Rival (10-speed) DoubleTap levers and it works great. I know a lot of riders use SRAM YAW front derailleurs designed for 2×11 on their 2×10 setups for the benefit of reduced chain rub in every gearing combination. If you do your own bike work it’s always worth trying to mix components. If it doesn’t work to your satisfaction you’re out a little time but have learned something useful.
    BTW, the reason the space between 11 speed rings is greater is so the chain is at a greater angle when it contacts the outer ring during an upshift, which allows it to more reliably engage with shift pins and ramps.
    My favorite bike has a Sugino 38T inner (designed long before indexed shifting) and an Ultegra 52T outer that was designed for 10-speed chains.
    The primary situation that results in poor shifting is combining cogs from two or more cassettes to make a custom-geared cassette. Some of the shifts may be much worse than satisfactory.

    Reply
  11. Bob on

    Since the shifter controls how much cable is dolled out at each shift and that corresponds to the spacing of a cassette. Can i run an 11spd shifter and cassette with a 10 spd derailleur. or get a new 11spd der and run it with 10spd shifter and cassette?

    Reply
    • Ed Ng on

      “Can i run an 11spd shifter and cassette with a 10 spd derailleur”
      If you have a SRAM bike, you absolutely can do this because their 11- and their 10-speed road shifters and road derailleurs are all Exact Actuation, as well as their 10-speed mountain derailleurs. I’ve run 50/36 chainrings in combination with an 11-42 cassette using a SRAM GX 2×10 long cage derailleur before. If you have a Shimano bike, you can only do this with any 11-speed road shifter and any Tiagra RD-4700 rear derailleur, specifically. This is because 4700 series Tiagra uses the same cable pull as their 11-speed groupsets, meaning…

      “or get a new 11spd der and run it with 10spd shifter and cassette?”
      With a Shimano 11-speed derailleur, you can run it with a Tiagra ST-4700 shifter and it will work with a 10-speed cassette, because the Tiagra 4700 series right shifter is designed for the same cable pull ratio as their 11-speed groupsets, except for 10-speed cassette cog spacing/gear count. With SRAM bikes, you can continue to use any of their 11-speed road derailleurs (but not 11-speed MTB derailleurs, which are X-Actuation) with a 10-speed shifter. My own gravel bike is set up this way, because I found that the Rival 1 Long Cage derailleur shifts significantly better with the SunRace CSMX3 11-46 cassette than does the GX 2×10 Long Cage derailleur that I replaced with it. Shifters are old SRAM Force 2×10, with the left lever gutted for dropper post duty.

      If you have Campy, stop trying to mix different speed bits, ya rich b!tch!

      If you have Rotor or FSA, there’s no 10-speed to talk about. If you have Microshift, sorry, I have no idea.

      -Ed

      Reply
  12. timtak on

    I got a bike cheap and did not realize it had 11 speed 105 (5800) on it so used a 10 speed chain and 10 speed cassette for a long time without noticing. The only issue was that for some reason it would not go into to the lowest gear (one might expect it to go too far) but this may be because the rear derailleur is too short for the biggest rear cog. I put the 11 speed cassette back on there but I am still using the 10 speed chain. 10 speed chains are cheaper than 11 speed chains. I am wondering which to use when I next replace my chain.

    Reply

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