We know, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But there are definitely some questions too embarrassing to ask your local shop or riding buddies. AASQ is our bi-weekly series where we get to the bottom of your questions – serious or otherwise.
This week, our sole question bridged an interesting topic – compatibility of road and mountain groups to create the ultimate wide range gearing set up for bike packing. We’ve seen a progression towards 2x and now 1x, and while there are a few 1x set ups with mega range, it still doesn’t always work out. Whether the rider is looking for smaller jumps in gearing, or in this case even more range than the widest range 1x cassette can provide, sometimes more really is better…
Question: Can you run an 11speed XT m8000 derailleur and 11-40 tooth cassette, with an 11speed Ultegra 6800 series shifters? Any other good options to increase the gear range on a gravel/bikepacking bike with a 11-32 and 50/34 combo?
Shimano’s Response: Modern road and mountain components aren’t compatible with each other so using an XT derailleur with Ultegra shifters wouldn’t work. Back when mountain bikes went to 10 speed and road bikes went to 11 speed we gave up interchangeability in favor of making each group more suited to the task at hand. The result is mountain shifters that are powerful enough to pull cables through full length housing and still overcome the clutch tension and road shifters that have a shorter stroke, lighter action, and better consistency in feel across the range of the cassette. Back in the 9 speed days, there wasn’t such a difference in the way road and mountain components worked.
Actually, if you mounted up a 50/34 crank and 11/40 cassette on a gravel bike you would probably find that the chain rubs the top of the front derailleur when you are in the 50 tooth ring and the larger cogs of the cassette. There’s a physical limitation there beyond just the component compatibility. The new R8000 rear derailleur can go up to an 11/34 cassette but that’s as far as we can push it with current designs.
So that answers that. Or does it? I wondered what SRAM would have to say, so I posed the same question to them, only in terms of their own road and mountain groups to see if such a range would be attainable.
SRAM’s Response: There’s nothing in the 11 speed world that would accommodate that type of range. Our 11 speed road and MTB derailleurs use different cable pull ratios, and any road derailleur designed to take a cassette bigger than 11-32 is 1x specific. If you use 10 speed parts, you can pair a long cage MTB derailleur with a road shifter and run an 11-36 cassette with a 50-34 crank, which gets you to a 480% range. I don’t know of any way to officially achieve the whopping 535% range they’re looking for, but my recommendation would be to run a flat bar and install a GX Eagle group. That’s 500% range in a super robust package that’s designed to work together.
Yes, that is a SRAM Force 1 long cage rear derailleur with a 10-42 cassette, matched with a 34/46t front crank with a SRAM GX double front derailleur. Technically, this shouldn’t work, though it’s not exactly stock either. When asked specifically about this combination, SRAM said, “The super offset upper pulley on a Force 1 derailleur means that if you have the b gap adjusted to keep the pulley from hitting your cassette in the small ring, when you shift to the big ring, your pulley is now a galaxy away from the cassette. Shifting would be incredibly vague. The RD really can’t handle different amounts of chain wrap on a single cog.”
To get the details I gave Jay a call – it turns out that the set up has a few custom touches including a mountain bike XX1 level crank mated to a road 110 BCD spider (and Quarq powermeter) to run the 34/46t gearing. The 46t isn’t stock either, and is technically bigger than the derailleur mount on the Cutthroat will allow for, so a custom spacer plate was made to lift the derailleur so it would shift into the big ring. Jay was quick to point out that he was told that none of this would work, but that bike packing needs wide range gears, or at least competitive bikepacking saying, “I’m a competitor. I’m a racer. It does matter if I am coasting down a hill.” He also pointed out that a rider can get away with a certain range on the first few days of a tour, but as the rider gets more tired and the days get longer, all of a sudden you’re looking for a wider spread.
As he’s known to do, Jay took it upon himself to test out the drivetrain mishmash with his own money. According to Jay, it may not be approved by the engineers, but for him it “works fine.” As in 2,745 mile Great Divide ‘fine’.
This led us to the discussion of wide range gearing specifically for bikepacking in general. Over the years, Jay has been forced to ride the Tour Divide on gearing he didn’t want to run. After trying various 10 speed cassettes with cassette adapters like the Wolf Tooth Components GC, he tried out an XD driver with the 10-42t cassette which he said worked great. How does he feel about 1x? He’s been testing it as recently as last week with a 450 mile test ride over two days, but said that the 38t x 10-42 (with a 46t GCX Wolf Tooth Cassette Cog) still left him wanting. It wasn’t until day two that he needed to use the 46t, but he still would have preferred more gears with better jumps.
That brings us to the future of bikepacking gearing. Jay says his dream would be to have a 30t up front in either a 30/42 or 30/44 with the wide range cassette out back. Obviously, current crank spider limitations and the fact that none of this is supposed to work in the first place are holding this back. But Jay strongly believes that companies are missing out by not providing wider range gearing specifically for bikepacking, though he’s happy to be in his garage tinkering with his set ups until they do.
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