XC Mountain Bike Drivetrain Showdown 1x vs. 2x vs. 3x

What is the best Cross Country mountain bike drivetrain set up, 1 chain ring, 2 chain rings or 3 chain rings in the front?

Whether your new or a seasoned pro to the sport of cross country mountain bicycling, you might be contemplating either a new bicycle purchase, or upgrading your existing XC MTB bike’s drive train to one of the many combinations now available for Cross Country MTB riders and XC mountain bike racers.

The choices to contemplate are 1x (1 front chain ring) vs. 2x (2 front chain rings) vs. a 3x (3 front chain rings), with either a 10, 11 or 12 speed cassette on the rear mountain bike wheel hub.

Should I run a 10 speed, 11 speed or 12 speed rear XC mountain bicycle cassette?

If you are considering going with a 1x cross country race setup, that is one chain ring in the front, an 11 or 12 speed cassette in the rear is the smartest choice to ensure you have the widest gear range possible for both mountain bike climbing and descending.

1x (1 front Shimano or SRAM mountain bike chain ring on your crankset) conversion / parts upgrade list:

  • 11 or 12 speed rear cassette
  • 11 or 12speed chain
  • 11 or 12 speed rear dereailleur
  • 11 or 12 speed rear compatible wheel hub
  • 11 or 12 speed 1x crankset
  • 11 or 12 speed rear derailleur shifter (mechanical or electronic)
  • Chain guide (optional for extra protection)

Important – Verify whether or not your mountain bike’s rear wheel’s hub accepts the larger 11 or 12 speed cassette. This can easily be confirmed by checking the manufacture’s data or talking with a savvy, bike store mechanic.

If your rear mountain bike wheel hub does not accept an 11 speed cassette here are your options for your upgrade:

  • Change out your rear hub
  • Purchase a new XC MTB rear wheel with the correct hub installed, or possibly this is the time to upgrade your whole wheelset

What are the advantage of the 1x cross country set up?:

  • Shave weight perhaps half to three quarters of a pound (225-340 grams) plus additional savings from the crankset upgrade maybe another 100-225grams. This solution does not require a mountain bike Shimano or SRAM front derailleur, front shifter and shifter cable.
  • Avoid dropping your chain when it counts (personally I have lost mine in races, and it sucks). No chain, chance of winning are slim.
  • Less maintenance (no front shifter, derailleur / cable is music to my ears)

What are the disadvantages of the 1x cross country set up?:

  • Upgrade expenses / conversion costs
  • Less gearing options which might require an athlete in more peak condition
  • Limited lower end parts options to offset costs

Should I run a 2x XC mountain bike drive train race set up?

If you currently have a 3x set up, you could remove 1 chain ring, and go with a 2x setup. The only reason I can see for this type of reconfiguration is if you are experiencing chain drop all the time, and decide to run a Cross Country mountain bike bash guard and XC MTB chain guide.

You are not going to shave any weight. In fact you will most likely gain some weight. If you can get your gearing right for you with this combination, there is great security and confidence inspired with this type of set by assuring your chain doesn’t fall off when you are counting on it the most. Plus your chain coming off will cause frame and other damage, not to mention to the chain itself.

Should I run a XC 3x mountain bicycle drive train?:

Most likely this is what your bike was built with. Most riders aren’t switching for a 1x or even a 2x setup back to a 3x. I say most because GT a few years back tried to defend its stock install of the 3x setup on many of it bikes by claiming it had a lot of riders demanding this type of setup for their trails. Of course the next year they went to both 2x and 1x setups.

So you need to determine if you feel comfortable with this option on your recreational and race trails, then analyze how often your chain is dropping, as this is a deal killer in a race. I personally always liked having the big ring in the 40’s and the super small climbing ring. However the new 1x and 2x combinations are pretty close with an 11 speed rear cassette on the 1x and a 10 speed cassette for the 2x setup.

I ran the 2x setup for many years when it was a new thing on my FR / Enduro mountain bikes, and found it was always a little harder to climb but very doable, and some of that was simply the weight of trucking a 180mm suspension mountain bike uphill, but I always missed the bigger ring when really hitting it hard on the down.

I am a big fan of the 1x race setup if you have the budget. It is simple clean, and truly the wave of the future. While it isn’t on my mandatory list of upgrades for recreational riders, it is very rewarding on both weight and maintenance.

Absolutely a must for racers with trails that work well in conjunction with the 1x mountain bicycle gearing setup. You’ll never look back…

Mountain Bike 11 Speed Components

SRAM X1 1400 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
SRAM X1 1400 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $99.99 (47% Off) was $189.99
SRAM X1 1400 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
SRAM X1 1400 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $99.99 (47% Off) was $189.99
SRAM GX Fat 1400 GXP 11-SPEED Crankset
SRAM GX Fat 1400 GXP 11-SPEED Crankset
Sale Price: $129.99 (38% Off) was $208.00
KMC X11SL DLC 11-SPEED Chain
KMC X11SL DLC 11-SPEED Chain
Sale Price: $124.99 (32% Off) was $182.50
Shimano Ultegra ST-6800 11-Speed ShiftersLevers Parts   ShiftBrake Levers
Shimano Ultegra ST-6800 11-Speed ShiftersLevers Parts ShiftBrake Levers
Sale Price: $239.99 (31% Off) was $349.99
SRAM GX XG-1150 11-Speed Cassette
SRAM GX XG-1150 11-Speed Cassette
Sale Price: $99.99 (31% Off) was $144.00
Shimano Ultegra Di2 ST-6870 11-Speed Shifters
Shimano Ultegra Di2 ST-6870 11-Speed Shifters
Sale Price: $226.43 (26% Off) was $305.99
Shimano XTR CS-M9001 11-speed Cassette
Shimano XTR CS-M9001 11-speed Cassette
Sale Price: $192.39 (26% Off) was $259.99
SRAM GX 1400 GXP 11-SPEED Boost Crankset
SRAM GX 1400 GXP 11-SPEED Boost Crankset
Sale Price: $144.99 (26% Off) was $195.00
SRAM XG-1199 XX1 11 Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1199 XX1 11 Speed Cassette
Sale Price: $288.95 (23% Off) was $374.00
Shimano Deore XT FC-M8000 34x24T 11-Speed Crankset Shimano Mountain Components
Shimano Deore XT FC-M8000 34x24T 11-Speed Crankset Shimano Mountain Components
Sale Price: $169.99 (23% Off) was $219.99
SRAM GX 1000 BB30 11-SPEED Crankset
SRAM GX 1000 BB30 11-SPEED Crankset
Sale Price: $124.99 (23% Off) was $163.00
Shimano XTR RD-M9000 GS 11-Speed Rear Derailleur Parts   Mountain Derailleurs
Shimano XTR RD-M9000 GS 11-Speed Rear Derailleur Parts Mountain Derailleurs
Sale Price: $178.99 (22% Off) was $229.99
SRAM GX 1400 BB30 11-SPEED Crankset
SRAM GX 1400 BB30 11-SPEED Crankset
Sale Price: $177.99 (21% Off) was $225.00
Nordica Speedmachine 115 Ski Boot - Womens
Nordica Speedmachine 115 Ski Boot – Womens
Sale Price: $479.96 (20% Off) was $599.95
Nordica Speedmachine 110 Ski Boot - Mens
Nordica Speedmachine 110 Ski Boot – Mens
Sale Price: $399.20 (20% Off) was $499.00
SRAM 11 Speed Chainring 110BCD Outer
SRAM 11 Speed Chainring 110BCD Outer
Sale Price: $106.99 (20% Off) was $134.00
SRAM XG-1195 X01 11 Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1195 X01 11 Speed Cassette
Sale Price: $299.95 (19% Off) was $369.00
Hope 11 Speed Cassette
Hope 11 Speed Cassette
Sale Price: $220.95 (19% Off) was $273.00
Shimano 105 ST-5800 11-Speed STI Shifters
Shimano 105 ST-5800 11-Speed STI Shifters
Sale Price: $175.00 (19% Off) was $216.99
SRAM GX 1400 GXP 11-SPEED Crankset
SRAM GX 1400 GXP 11-SPEED Crankset
Sale Price: $159.99 (18% Off) was $195.00
SRAM GX 1000 GXP 11-SPEED Crankset
SRAM GX 1000 GXP 11-SPEED Crankset
Sale Price: $109.99 (18% Off) was $134.00
Shimano XTR 90009020 1x11-Speed Chainring Parts   Chainrings
Shimano XTR 90009020 1×11-Speed Chainring Parts Chainrings
Sale Price: $99.99 (17% Off) was $119.99
Shimano Deore XT FC-M8000 36x26T 11-Speed Crankset Shimano Mountain Components
Shimano Deore XT FC-M8000 36x26T 11-Speed Crankset Shimano Mountain Components
Sale Price: $184.99 (16% Off) was $219.99
Zipp 10 To 11 Speed Conversion Kit
Zipp 10 To 11 Speed Conversion Kit
Sale Price: $164.99 (13% Off) was $190.00

Mountain Bike 12 Speed Components

Rossignol Allspeed Pro 120 Ski Boot - Mens
Rossignol Allspeed Pro 120 Ski Boot – Mens
Retail Price: $599.95
GX Eagle 12-Speed Groupset - GXP
GX Eagle 12-Speed Groupset – GXP
Retail Price: $495.00
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed BB30 Direct Mount Crankset - Boost
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed BB30 Direct Mount Crankset – Boost
Retail Price: $469.00
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed BB30 Direct Mount Crankset
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed BB30 Direct Mount Crankset
Retail Price: $469.00
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed GXP Direct Mount Crankset
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed GXP Direct Mount Crankset
Retail Price: $438.00
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed GXP Direct Mount Crankset - Boost
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed GXP Direct Mount Crankset – Boost
Retail Price: $438.00
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed BB30 Direct Mount Crankset
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed BB30 Direct Mount Crankset
Retail Price: $433.00
SRAM XG-1299 XX1 Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1299 XX1 Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
Retail Price: $428.00
SRAM XG-1299 XX1 Eagle 12 Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1299 XX1 Eagle 12 Speed Cassette
Retail Price: $428.00
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed BB30 Direct Mount Crankset - Boost
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed BB30 Direct Mount Crankset – Boost
Retail Price: $427.00
Sram Xx1 Eagle Xg-1299 Cassette - 12 Speed
Sram Xx1 Eagle Xg-1299 Cassette – 12 Speed
Retail Price: $419.99
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed GXP Direct Mount Crankset - Boost
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed GXP Direct Mount Crankset – Boost
Retail Price: $402.00
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed GXP Direct Mount Crankset
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed GXP Direct Mount Crankset
Retail Price: $402.00
SRAM XG-1295 X01 Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1295 X01 Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
Retail Price: $367.00
SRAM XG-1295 X01 Eagle 12 Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1295 X01 Eagle 12 Speed Cassette
Retail Price: $367.00
SRAM Eagle XX1 12-Speed Rear Derailleur
SRAM Eagle XX1 12-Speed Rear Derailleur
Retail Price: $298.00
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed Rear Derailleur
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-Speed Rear Derailleur
Retail Price: $298.00
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12 Speed Rear Derailleur
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12 Speed Rear Derailleur
Retail Price: $289.00
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed Rear Derailleur
SRAM X01 Eagle 12-Speed Rear Derailleur
Retail Price: $227.00
SRAM X01 Eagle 12 Speed Rear Derailleur
SRAM X01 Eagle 12 Speed Rear Derailleur
Retail Price: $220.00
SRAM XG-1275 GX Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1275 GX Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
Retail Price: $195.00
SRAM XG-1275 GX Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1275 GX Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
Retail Price: $195.00
SRAM XG-1275 Eagle GX 12 Speed Cassette
SRAM XG-1275 Eagle GX 12 Speed Cassette
Retail Price: $195.00
Sram Gx Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
Sram Gx Eagle 12-Speed Cassette
Retail Price: $194.99
SRAM Eagle XX1 12-Speed Shifter
SRAM Eagle XX1 12-Speed Shifter
Retail Price: $167.00

Mountain Bike Cranksets

SRAM Force 22 BB30 Crankset
SRAM Force 22 BB30 Crankset
Sale Price: $171.50 (50% Off) was $343.00
SRAM X1 1400 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
SRAM X1 1400 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $99.99 (47% Off) was $189.99
SRAM X1 1400 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
SRAM X1 1400 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $99.99 (47% Off) was $189.99
Shimano XT M8000 1x Crankset
Shimano XT M8000 1x Crankset
Sale Price: $139.95 (45% Off) was $254.98
Shimano XTR FC-M980 3x10 Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
Shimano XTR FC-M980 3×10 Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $319.99 (44% Off) was $568.99
SRAM Force 22 GXP Crankset
SRAM Force 22 GXP Crankset
Sale Price: $170.80 (44% Off) was $305.00
Fsa K-Force Light 386Evo Standard Crankset 2013
Fsa K-Force Light 386Evo Standard Crankset 2013
Sale Price: $329.00 (43% Off) was $579.99
Shimano XTR FC-M985 2x10 Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
Shimano XTR FC-M985 2×10 Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $319.99 (43% Off) was $559.99
Shimano XTR FC-M9020-2 2x Trail Crankset
Shimano XTR FC-M9020-2 2x Trail Crankset
Sale Price: $300.00 (43% Off) was $525.99
SRAM X.7 BB30 3926T 10-Speed Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
SRAM X.7 BB30 3926T 10-Speed Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $74.99 (42% Off) was $129.99
Shimano XTR FC-M980 2x10 Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
Shimano XTR FC-M980 2×10 Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $334.99 (41% Off) was $568.99
Patagonia Lightweight Crankset Jacket - Mens
Patagonia Lightweight Crankset Jacket – Mens
Sale Price: $95.40 (40% Off) was $159.00
SRAM X1 1000 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
SRAM X1 1000 BB30 32T 11-Speed Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $89.99 (40% Off) was $149.99
SRAM Red 22 BB30 Crankset 2015
SRAM Red 22 BB30 Crankset 2015
Sale Price: $299.99 (39% Off) was $489.00
SRAM GX Fat 1400 GXP 11-SPEED Crankset
SRAM GX Fat 1400 GXP 11-SPEED Crankset
Sale Price: $129.99 (38% Off) was $208.00
Shimano Dura-Ace FC-R9100 Crankset
Shimano Dura-Ace FC-R9100 Crankset
Sale Price: $399.99 (33% Off) was $600.00
Shimano Deore Xt Fc-m8000 40x30x22 11-spd Crankset Shimano Mountain Components
Shimano Deore Xt Fc-m8000 40x30x22 11-spd Crankset Shimano Mountain Components
Sale Price: $159.99 (32% Off) was $234.99
Shimano Ultegra FC-6800 Crankset
Shimano Ultegra FC-6800 Crankset
Sale Price: $179.99 (31% Off) was $260.00
Sram Red 22 5339 Exogram Crankset Bb30
Sram Red 22 5339 Exogram Crankset Bb30
Sale Price: $361.97 (30% Off) was $516.99
Shimano XT FC-M8000 Double Crankset
Shimano XT FC-M8000 Double Crankset
Sale Price: $139.99 (30% Off) was $199.99
Shimano Ultegra Ice Grey Fc-6750 Crankset
Shimano Ultegra Ice Grey Fc-6750 Crankset
Sale Price: $220.00 (29% Off) was $309.99
Shimano FC-MT700-B2 3626T 11-Speed Mountain Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
Shimano FC-MT700-B2 3626T 11-Speed Mountain Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $74.99 (29% Off) was $104.99
Shimano XT FC-M782 40x30x22t Mountain Crankset Parts   Mountain Cranksets
Shimano XT FC-M782 40x30x22t Mountain Crankset Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $169.99 (28% Off) was $234.99
Shimano Deore XT FC-M780 Mountain Crankset 423224T Parts   Mountain Cranksets
Shimano Deore XT FC-M780 Mountain Crankset 423224T Parts Mountain Cranksets
Sale Price: $169.99 (28% Off) was $234.99
Shimano Dura-Ace FC-R9100 11-Speed Crankset
Shimano Dura-Ace FC-R9100 11-Speed Crankset
Sale Price: $399.95 (26% Off) was $542.99

Related Articles