BikeHugger has a good post up congratulating SRAM for not immediately jumping to 11 speeds on their road gear after Shimano went to 11. I’ve got to say I’m pretty much in agreement:
Going from 7sp to 8sp was good, but 9sp to 10sp was marginal.
My first road bike was a department store Huffy with 10 speeds (2×5) with friction shifters on the stem. Man, I thought that was the snot – flew on that one, including a drunken midnight 15 miler over to K. Chad Hauser’s (my boyhood friend and idol) house one weekend while my folks were out of town. But, much like learning to drive on a stick shift car, there was a lot of grinding gears on that one.
After that, I picked up a mountain bike between my junior and senior years of college – a fully rigid Trek 930 with Shimano Exage? trigger shifters – magic, until I smashed the front shifter with my knee going over a rock wall about 5 years later. Parts everywhere. Limped back to the car in the big ring, learning all sorts of humility. Freaked out at the bike shop – $50 to replace with XT? Heck, no, give me an indestructible thumb lever. 2×7, I think, though I overhauled it with LX the better part of a decade ago. Cheaper to go to 9 speed than to source vintage parts. And with a steel frame, I could stretch the rear triangle without too much trouble. It’s my vacation bike – drag it up to Stowe each summer, and pull the kids or the picnic basket along the bike trail.
My first ‘real’ road bike was a 10 year old Trek that I picked up while Lance was winning his first Tour de France – 7 speed down tube shifters, indexed. Loved that arrangement – there was no “can’t find it, grind it”, like with my high school 10 speed, but there were definitely gaps in the gearing. Indexing on the big ring was kind of iffy, too – probably I was just inept at tuning the drivetrain. But, man, you really had to avoid even the appearance of crossover.
After about 3 years on the Trek, I bought what’s still my favorite bike in the stable – a Cannondale R700 with full 9-speed 105. Man, was this the stuff – didn’t have to pull the hands off of the bars to shift, plenty of continuity in gearing, and going from the small ring to the big ring didn’t have to be a huge commitment – I’ve found there’s a pretty consistent two-cog difference between the big and small rings, and if I’m iffy, I can always flick my right wrist, and fix stuff.
This fall, I picked up a Nashbar ‘cross bike on which to commute, but mostly ’cause it was one of the cheapest ways to get a 10 speed 105 group. And, I’ll admit, I’m pretty much in love with the 5700 incarnation of Shimano 105. The couple of awkward gearings near the big cogs are gone (I’ll caveat here that I’m a wuss, and have been running a 12-27 or 28 rear cluster on my Cannondale since about 2004); having all the cables run under the bar tape is superb, and it’s been the easiest drivetrain to adjust that I’ve ever dealt with. Part of the joy may be in riding on new STI levers – the 9 speed right lever on the Cannondale is getting pretty sloppy. But I think, somewhere around 700 miles in, that I like it. A lot.
Trouble is, I don’t see the push to go to 11. Frankly, I was skeptical about going to 10 from 9, but whatever. Parts availability is about the only thing that could will get me to move (see putting LX on the 930). But I’m already putting aside cash for the 5700 closeout sales – then I can be one of those annoying NOS guys on eBay.
How do we balance the need to get good gear with business models that rely on a constant upgrade cycle? I love the integrated brake/shifter concept, but a test ride on MicroShift convinced me that relying on them for 9-speed backfill wouldn’t make me happy, and 9 speed 105 is more expensive than 10 speed 105 at this point. I’m sure that 11 speed whatever rides like a dream – but upgrading’s the better part of a new mid-range bike, plus cassettes for winter wheels, etc.
So, I’m not excited. Or interested. Much like electronic shifting, I just don’t get it.
A question that continues to gnaw on me, though – at what point can we go to 1×11, or 1×12?