Triples are Great, Change My Mind

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!


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