Triples are Great, Change My Mind

5 comments by Igor Shteynbuk

Recently, I've seen an upward trend in sales of Triple Cranksets here at VO. I've talked to more than a few folks on the phone and online about getting their bike set up with a triple system. It's an interesting trend considering that the wider bike world seems to be moving folks onto 1x systems for road and touring bikes.

Velo Orange Silver Triple Crankset with bottom bracket
 
I've been a touring cyclist for all my life (OK, I had one summer when I was a teenager when I tried racing, but we all have that one-time deviation from our true love) and for all of it, I've used a triple. Part of it is related to the fact that I started touring by modifying a mountain bike. I took off the heavy mtb knobby tires and put on slicks or semi slick tires. Threw on a rack or used our early 90's versions of frame bags and seat bags to carry stuff along the Oregon coast, around Tasmania or through the wilds of Sweden. I rode primarily in the middle ring (usually a 34-36 tooth ring) and then when the hills went up, you dropped it down into the inner ring (a tried and true 24 tooth, sometimes made of exotic stainless steel) and when the hill went down, you moved the chain up to the 48 tooth outer ring. You pedaled as long as you could and then you coasted/tucked into an aero position. Simple right?
 

1x systems came into being in the MTB world - Simplicity they said! No more dropped chains or busted chains from shifting under huge strains! Lighter overall weight! I just don't see it being useful in a touring/city world, in spite of the efforts of the big component companies to promote 1x systems for road/touring use. When it comes to 1x systems, I just see a system that replaces weight on one end - the crank, with more weight in the rear - a huge cassette.

Velo Orange Polyvalent with Microshift Advent 1x drivetrain
 

For reference, those huge 12-46 T cassettes weigh 498 gr on my scale. A 12-36 cassette I would run - 408 gr. My triple set up here is 90 grams lighter.

For crank weight, I've grabbed a SRAM 1x drive side arm (with axle attached) which weighs 544 gr. Add on external BB cups at 110 gr for a total of 654 gr.  A VO triple crank (drive side) is 544 gr. Add on a BB to ours and that is an extra 226 gr for a total of 770 gr. The 1x system gets the win here being 116 gr lighter.

If you add on the weight of a left shifter and some cables and housing, yes, my triple set up comes out heavier, but by probably less than 200 gr overall. In a touring or commuting set up, I don't see this as something that would push me one way or the other.

Velo Orange Polyvalent with triple drivetrain and cantilever rim brakes
 

I see 1x systems lacking in the gear range they offer. If we use my VO triple with a 24T inner and a 36T rear cassette cog as my example, it gets me a low gear of 18.2 inches. On the 1x system, the front 42T ring combined with a 46T rear cassette results in a low gear of 24.9 inches. So the old school triple gets you a lower gear, which for most of us, is the number we are truly concerned about while riding. Plus on a more traditional cassette, the gaps between cogs are smaller which makes adjusting for my cadence more natural, rather than the huge gaps in 1x systems.

Velo Orange Piolet with Shimano Tripe external bottom bracket from underside

As to simplicity, I think the product designers/marketing types are over emphasizing how much people shift. I always left the chain in the middle ring, unless I hit a steep uphill or downhill. I was essentially in a 1x system 90% of the time, but with the option to get a bail out at any time. A properly set up front derailleur should be fine in 99% of the situations most of us see ourselves in.

So, chime in. Tell me if I'm a stick in the mud or if you agree that triples (along with 26" wheels, but that is a different blog post) aren't dead yet!


5 comments


  • Larry J.

    I’m certainly an albatross given I’m a triple crank fan and a former road racer and still a competitive cyclist. (Whenever there are two guys riding together, it’s a race, right?) I’ve been touting the advantages of triples ever since Shimano offered race-oriented 9-speed road triples, which I raced on exclusively…never raced on a double chainwheel! I got heckled a lot until the climbs, then my abilities were dismissed for having a triple. How dumb is that!
    With that said, I agree with Velo-Orange’s assessment that I generally sit in the middle chainring for most of the time, dropping to the inner 30-tooth for steep climbs, or shifting to the big ring on descents (or fast group rides & races). I think the biggest misunderstanding of triples is 1) proper setup of front derailleur is paramount for shifting success, and 2) the inner ring gear inch gaps are much closer than the middle ring, which is a huge advantage to climbing efficiency and completely ignored by the marketing departments.
    And another never talked about issue of having more cassette gears on the hub is the fact that the right rear hub flange is closer to the center line of the hub. If hubs stayed at 9-speed cassette spacing, the rear right hub spacing would have stayed ~1mm wider thus producing a stronger wheel laterally due to better bracing angle of the spokes. FYI: 9-speed triple offers as wide of a gear range than today’s 12-speed with better selection of low gear spacing all in a lighter weight package. I really wish Shimano would’ve offered the triple in a Di2 version, but it’s my belief that most cyclists (especially the racing groups) resisted the triple out of ego, plus Shimano is happy to produce less options at a higher cost to the consumer.
    I’ll end with this: If bikes only had a single chainring and Shimano had invented the front derailleur in 2020, I believe we would be going through mass marketing campaigns about how great two and three chainring cranks are with all their advantages over a single gear.
    Long live the Triple!
    BTW: MicroShift offers good 8, 9 and 10 speed triple brifters…been using them for a decade, even raced them with good success. Seems like a no brainer for Velo Orange to carry them given they offer triple cranks…still waiting.


  • Igor

    DH, in the years we've been carrying this crankset, we haven't come across any fender or tire clearance issues. The only issues that can really arise are if the frame is not designed to handle a road-style triple crank. That is, if it uses a 73mm (MTB) bottom bracket shell, super wide chainstays, or any weirdness that is specified by the frame maker. Send us an email (infovelo-orange.com) with the frame info and we can give you our assessment.


  • DH

    Considering a new gravel bike build, and loved a triple on a previous touring bike, but clearance is the biggest issue. Any idea of limitations on tire and fender clearance with the VO triple crankset?


  • Steve

    My experience is similar to yours. Triples are 1x systems 90+% of the time but have that extra few ratios above and below for the steeper and faster sections. I’m trying to work out how best to use a wide double (46-26) that has the range I need (drives 11-42 10-speed) but there are many more front changes than with a triple (48-36-24).


  • dennis lowe

    At 71 years old I am perfectly content with my triple and know other senior riders who are considering switching to one. The only upgrade will be to e-assist!


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