This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of 2×11 and 1×12 drivetrains.
The Advantages of 2×11 Drivetrains
- Wide Range Gearing
2×11 comes with 2 chainrings offering all the gears that most people will ever need. If the crankset is combined with the right cassette, the user will acquire both – very high top speed as well as a massive low gear for extreme hills.
When analyzing gearing, it’s necessary to become acquainted with the term gear ratio. The gear ratio indicates the number of rotations that the rear wheel and cog make per 1 full spin of the cranks/chainring(s).
A higher gear ratio increases the potential top speed because each revolution of the cranks results in a greater travel distance.
A lower gear ratio makes climbing easier because the rear wheel does not have to perform a lot of spins per 1 revolution of the cranks. In fact, when the gear ratio is really low, the rear wheel doesn’t rotate even 1 full time per 1 spin of the cranks.
To determine, the gear ratio one needs two values – the number of teeth on the chainring and the cog in use.
For example, if 26/36 cranks are combined with an 11-42 cassette, the lowest gear ratio will be 0.6 (26/42) whereas the highest will be 3.27 (36/11).
To get close to those gear ratios, a 1×12 will have to be equipped with a 34-chainring and a 10-52 cassette. In that case, the user will acquire a 0.65 low gear ratio (34/52) and a 3.4 (34/10) high gear ratio.
The downside is that the 1×12 drivetrain will be a lot more expensive and will come with massive jumps between the gears.
Another major advantage of 2×11 is the lower price tag in comparison to 1×12. It may seem illogical that 2x drivetrains cost less than 1x because they use extra parts (second chainring, front derailleur, front shifter).
However, 2x drivetrains are more common and found on mid-range bicycles. Therefore, the production process is larger and allows manufacturers to offer lower prices.
Meanwhile, 1x drivetrains are more of a premium product. The parts are fewer but of greater quality and have to hold up to a higher standard. For example, a 2x drivetrain doesn’t need a clutch derailleur, but a 1x drivetrain benefits greatly from it.
A 1x drivetrain is more likely to drop a chain due to the absence of a front derailleur. Clutch derailleurs have an extra stiff arm and prevent that outcome by keeping the chain tension high at all times.
The price tag of a quality clutch derailleur is high. And when you add the price of a wide-range cassette made by a reputable company, the costs climb significantly.
- Less Wear
2×11 spreads the stress over more chainrings. As a result, the components don’t wear as fast.
- No Cross- Chaining
1×12 drivetrains have a single pivot point at the front. As a result, the chain is crossed when looked at from above when pedaling in the smallest or largest gear. Cross-chaining is not the end of the world, but it does increase the stress on the chain and hurts efficiency ever so slightly.
- Better For Long Distance
Truth be told, multiple chainrings are safer when it comes to long distances because the rider can switch from one ring to the other in case of failure. A 1x drivetrain becomes useless if the chainring is damaged during an accident for example.
- Smaller Jumps Between the Gears
2×11 offers substantially smaller gear transitions because there are 24 instead of 12 gears. For instance, the gradation of a basic 11-speed 11-42 cassette is – 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32-36-42.
In different, the gradation of a 10-52 cassette comes with much larger jumps between the gears – 10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32-36-42-52.
The smaller transitions of 2×11 make it easier to maintain a smooth cadence. A higher cadence such as 90RPM is associated with greater efficiency and higher average speed.
The Downsides of 2×11
- More Complicated
A 2×11 is slightly more complex than a 1×12 because the user has to install a front derailleur and adjust it. Shifting is also more difficult/inconvenient because it’s necessary to transition between the chainrings.
Of course, the process isn’t a massive burden to most cyclists, but some consider it needless for MTB riding when 1x drivetrains are available.
- Less Aesthetic
2×11 doesn’t look as slick as 1×12. People who want their MTBs to be maximally aesthetic will consider this a downside.
- Extra Weight
When all parameters are equal (quality, materials…etc.), 1×12 will weigh slightly less than 2×11. That said, the weight savings are inconsequential to the recreational rider.
The Advantages of 1×12
- Elegant and Clean
1x drivetrains are considered more aesthetically pleasing thanks to their simplicity and elegance.
A 1×12 drivetrain is simpler to operate because shifting happens only at the back. Thus, the user doesn’t have a lot of thinking to do. A few clicks will quickly increase or decrease the gearing.
- Lighter weight
A 1×12 drivetrain has the potential to be lighter because it requires fewer parts (one chainring, no front derailleur, no front shifter). However, this doesn’t always happen in practice because a 1×12 drivetrain demands a larger cassette to give the user usable gearing.
Also, the weight of the components varies according to the material and the production quality.
- High-end Parts
Currently, the MTB world is focused on 1x drivetrains. As a result, the user can find a lot of high-end components in that segment implementing the latest technologies. Meanwhile, 2x drivetrains such as a 2×10 are considered mid-range.
- No Redundant Gears
1×12 eliminates gears that are close enough to each other to be considered redundant.
The Disadvantages of 1×12 Drivetrains
- Limited Gearing
The main issue with a 1×12 drivetrain would be the limited number of gears due to the absence of a second or third chainring. To compensate for the lack of chainrings, 1×12 drivetrains are combined with wide-range cassettes that have a massive first gear (e.g., 42T + cog).
Similar cassettes weigh a lot and require a derailleur with a very long cage. Otherwise, the derailleur will fail to get on the largest cog.
As already mentioned, 1×12 will end up costing more than 2×11 in most cases.
1×12 makes it impossible to have an optimal chain line all the time.
Summary: What You Need To Know
The pros of 2×11 are:
- Extremely Wide Range of Gears
- Straighter chain line
- Better for Long Distances
- Smaller Transitions Between the Gears
The cons of 2×11 are:
- Slightly heavier
- Less elegant
- More complicated
The pros of 1×12 are:
The cons of 1×12 are:
- Very expensive
- Limited gearing
- Large jumps between the gears
What to choose?
Drivetrains are not the most important part of an MTB. The frame, suspension, and wheelset play a bigger role.
Therefore, it makes no sense to invest the extra money into 1×12 if other parts of the bicycle are lacking. In that case, it’s wiser to save the money and go with 2×11.
If you have the funds and consider the ease of use that 1×12 offers important, it would be logical to go for it.