Shimano 11 Speed – My Drivetrain of Choice…

Before I get too deep into this post I should clarify that I’m not about to tell you Shimano 11 speed drivetrains are the best at anything. They aren’t the cheapest. They don’t have the most gear range. They aren’t the lightest or the most durable. They are just a really great drivetrain choice for me all things considered.

At the time of this post we are up to 12 speed drivetrains with some being electronic with wires or wireless. Sharon and I both have a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain on the Guerilla Gravity Smashes we bought as complete bikes. Those 12 speed drivetrains work well. I’m not complaining at all. However, when it comes time for me to splash out for a new drivetrain on a bike I turn to Shimano 11 speed…for the most part.

Shimano 11 speed has a lot going for it:

  • Readily available online or at a LBS
  • Reasonable cost.
  • Good gear range 11-42T or 46T cassettes.
  • Smaller cassettes mean less unsprung weight on the rear wheel.
  • Only the two biggest cogs are aluminum with the rest being steel for better durability.
  • Reasonable weight.
  • Shifts well.
  • Derailleur cages are shorter than 12 speed making it harder to hit stuff on the trails.
  • Uses HG drivers
  • Doesn’t require batteries!
  • Compatible with SRAM 11 speed parts.

I use Race Face Cinch 30mm spindle cranks across most of the fleet. They fall to hand easily and I have a bunch that just keep on trucking so I don’t feel any urge to change. Shimano makes nice cranks as well and I wouldn’t hesitate to run them if that was what was available when I was ready to buy. I run the 49mm chainline non-boost RF chainrings despite having Boost bikes. This move the chainring closer to the big cogs of the cassette for a straighter chainline in the high torque gears for better drivetrain wear.

Running a 28T ring with a 11-46T cassette gives me plenty of gear range even on a 29er. I can run in the 32T cog or smaller a lot of the time which keeps the chain on the steel part of the cassette for a longer service life. Steel 28T rings are available really cheaply if you want a super durable setup.

I love the fact that Shimano 11 speed is easy to find and cross-compatible with SRAM 11 speed. That makes sourcing parts very easy and allows me to adapt to some challenges like a wheel with a XD driver instead of a HG driver. My touring bike is running a mash up of Shimano and SRAM 11 speed parts because I destroyed a derailleur on tour and the closest bike shop was stocked with SRAM parts. No problem!

As 11 speed falls further and further behind the cutting edge in drivetrains it just gets cheaper and cheaper. It’s true nobody ever walks up to my bikes and lusts over my 11 speed parts. That’s okay! Based on the availability of older Shimano parts I suspect I’ll be able to keep buying 11 speed through 2030. If at some point these parts get too hard to find I’ll move on to something else.

2 thoughts on “Shimano 11 Speed – My Drivetrain of Choice…

  1. A part of me wants to extol the virtues of singlespeed, but I mostly agree with you on this.
    That said, I just put together a ‘packing bike for this year and used SRAMano 12-speed, Shimano chain, cassette and chainrings, and SRAM XX1 derailleur and GX shifter. It is so far the best shifting drivetrain that I own. Shimano also has another 11 speed drivetrain on the way, Linkglide, and it is supposed to be more durable and reliable while retaining some compatibility.

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    1. I just finished up a 500km stretch of excusive SS for trail riding. If you can make SS work for your particular needs it’s fun and obviously low cost. I’m back on gears for a while setting up a new bike and it’s nice. Certainly a more relaxing and easier way to get around steep trails. Not necessarily better, but not worse either. I certainly plan to have a geared and a SS trail bike in the fleet from now on.

      When it comes gears my brain really only cares about shifting okay or there is a problem with the shifting. While other people seem to notice the nuisances of drivetrain shifting I really don’t care. That said if someone gave me a nice 12 speed drivetrain I’d use it for sure. I’m impressed by how long lasting my GX Eagle parts have been with minimal tweaking. OTOH if I am buying new I can’t be bothered with 12 speed in terms of the pros/cons vs. 11 speed. The lower cost and lighter cassette just make it a no brainer.

      I’ll keep my eye on the new Shimano 11 speed system. It could be great, but there may be problems. Time will tell.

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