So this is still one of those topics that has no right or wrong answer, hopefully my insights will help you decided whether 1×11 is the way to go for you.
I’ll start by saying this, the groupsets we’ve been riding on for the passed 20 years, were based on the gear ratios that Shimano had deemed good for Touring, and were adapted for MTBs. Yes adapted, not refined perfectly based on the need actual ratios we needed for the discipline. Over the years it has been rectified by both Shimano and Sram. Shimano brought out 2×10 and Sram brought out 1×11. Both these groupsets set the MTB world on fire with excitement. FINALLY, as groupset for us on the rigors of MTBing. Right? That’s the right question. You see, Shimano produced different ratios of cassettes to allow for different requirements as well as chainring size configurations to “cover their bases”. SRAM produced something so outlandish with it’s single ring up front format, and at the time, one cassette ratio. It promised the range you needed for any situation as long as you swapped your front chainring in the front to the appropriate size for the situation. It promised massive weight saving and slick, quiet and simple use. Now the average Joe can be tempted by all these things, and most were. But was this right for them?
In South Africa, we have the world’s most amazing mountain bike race. It’s called the Absa Cape Epic. It’s a grueling 7 day MTB stage race, that takes the 2 man teams over a vast variety of terrain over the different stages. Often these stages will be hilly, and on such a variety of gradients, that the athletes would need to ensure they have enough gears to get them over these hills and save their legs for the next days challenges. Now in saying this, you may already see the problem. Especially for the Average Joe who completes each day as a Bucket List check list. If the Average Joe is on the wrong gear ratio for the day, he is going to be slower, and more importantly worn out form the gears being to hard for him to push. His partner may be sitting on a bike equipped with a 2×10 set up, and may be finding the days tough, but manageable because he can spin and save his legs everyday. In such a case, one rider is struggling everyday and gets more and more fatigued whilst his partner fatigues less quickly and, well arguments occur. Riders often pull out of this event, finding it way to tough, others have to pull out to overuse injuries (caused in part by the massive volume and intensity, and wrong equipment choice).
Whats you point here Lance? Ok, simply put, the average rider has less athletic ability than the pros right? Yes. They have less time to train right? Yes. Then why does the average rider pick the equipment aimed soley at the top tier of athlete spectrum? The weight savings seems to come up as the argument a lot. I find this a terrible and very poorly thought out argument when the rider is usually above his ideal weight for his height anyway. Others try and be smart and say they’ve worked out the ratios and have deemed their choice ideal. I have to commend them on knowing enough to argue this, but it highlights an ignorance worse than the uneducated. The knowledge in theory is wonderful, but can you actually push that gear ratio for 7 days without fatiguing? Have you ridden the exact course for the whole race, 3 or 4 times over, to discover the “perfect ratio”? I don’t think so. Product testers don’t test their new test goodies in theory, they go and thrash it out in the field. For good reason. Look, I’m not bashing anyone’s right to choose, I’m hoping to open their eyes to facts.
My arguments above, will have holes in them. For every rider choosing the wrong equipment for the right reasons, there will be riders choosing the right equipment for the wrong reasons. That is a fact that will never change. I’m getting to my point here now. The way to sort this argument out is to say this, or ask this. What is the event am I entering? If it’s a 1 day race, 1×11 and 2×10 can be the perfect option for you. Is it a 3 day stage race, again the choice of one or the other can also be good. The thing that dictates this the most is the fact that, in a 1×11 setup you have a set (unchangeable) size chainring while in use, with a set cassette ratio in the back. Meaning, if you choose a ratio that is fast on the flats, you have a ratio that is hard to climb with. Whereas a 2×10 System integrates this ratio option with a dual chainring size up front. Is this better? Well, if you are super light rider with a power to weight ration of 4.5watts/kilogram and you are superbly fit, then you can run a 1×11 system in a gear ratio that is fast on the flats but also easy enough to climb any climb efficiently. But knowing that the average rider out there, struggles to have a power to weight ration above 3.5 watts/kilogram, the argument is already lost for 1×11. It’s proven to be far more efficient to spin and save your legs using a 2×10 setup for these riders.
My closing argument, is that knowing what your event holds in store for you is important, so you can train for that and choose the right equipment for the job. If I was going to race in the Alps over the rockiest terrain imaginable. I wouldn’t train on the smoothest flattest roads around. I would train on rocky and steep trail to get used to it. Choosing your gear ratios, is the same. Choose it correctly, or have a groupset that allows you to be flexible during the race, so the decision never has to be made.
As a side note. Pro Athletes that have ridden and won at the Absa Cape Epic have raced on 1×11 and 2×11 groupsets. Both 5 time winners of this event namely, Christophe Sauser and Karl Platt have competed against each other on opposing groupset options. Sauser on the 1×11 (in his last win) and Platt on 2×11. The average Joe will now say, “AHA” but remember they are sponsored athletes that not only have to race these groupsets but they have Personal Mechanical Backup after stages to change their equipment to suit the next days rigors. AND, more importantly, these guys are world class athletes that are superbly strong and genetically superior to the rest of us, and they can win on pretty much any groupset/gear ratio anyway.