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  1. #1
    mtbr member
    Join Date
    Jun 2013

    School me on drivetrain upgrades

    First off I am very new to bicycles and am trying to learn what I can to be self-sufficient to maintain and upgrade my bike as necessary.

    The first big question I have is what does upgrading to higher end derailleurs give you? Is it smoothness/build quality? I currently have a 3x8 setup and cant remember if I have ever used the larger of the 3 gears. So a 2x10 setup sounds much better for me. But what benefit would I get by switching to lets say and shimano XT setup from my current other than only having the gears I would use? I have a 13 Hardrock Sport Disc 29 Specialized Bicycle Components

    The other thing that confused me is that I have an 8 Speed but yet my rear derailleur is a 9 speed. Does this mean I can throw in a 9 speed cassette and shifter and after adjusting have a 9speed rear?

    Is there any issues with upgrading the front derailleur system and then the rear at a later time?

    As you can see I have just enough knowledge to get myself in trouble and not enough to understand everything thoroughly enough. Thanks in advance for any help.

  2. #2
    I like pie.
    Reputation: Mr5150's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Well consider this: to go to an XT 2X10 set up would run about $800. That's a lot to spend on a $700 bike. You will loose a pound or two and gain in your gear range and have a stiffer pedaling bike.

    My wife's bike is a mix of 8 and 9sp and it works well. I learned from experience that you can just do the crank, FD and chain. That's how I set up my wife's bike. When I had to replace her 8sp crank about five years ago I decided to go with a 9sp crank. I found that the 8sp chain didn't work so well (too wide) so I got a 9sp chain. The 8sp FD shifted the narrower chain sorta OK so I got a 9sp FD and everything works great.

  3. #3
    mtbr member
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    I think that XT and SLX for that matter is only available in 10-speed now.

    I started with a modest 3x10 system and have slowly replaced everything but the crank (which is still factory) with XT stuff, except for a XTR front derailleur, a RaceFace 36/24 ring set, and KMC chain.

    The first thing I did was remove the big ring, which necessitated a 2x FD because the chain kept coming off. Other stuff was replaced as I found good deals or broke stuff.

    Going from an SLX to XTR FD basically saved only about an ounce of weight, and a little smoother shifting. The quality of construction is clearly better. But I have ridden a bike with XT FD and really can't tell the difference from the XT. The Raceface ring did more for front shifting than anything.

    I had a XT Shadow RD, which I replaced with an XT Shadow Plus when I caught a stick in it. The Plus feature is a one-way friction device that quiets chain slap and lessens the chance of the chain coming off. The Plus feature adds about an ounce of weight, but is worth it IMO. They have an SLX RD with the Plus feature, but I have never ridden one.

    The XT cassette saved about 4 oz over the SLX. The SLX cassette is massive. I couldn't tell that it shifts any differently.

    Finally, I went from SLX to XT shifters. THAT is the best upgrade I have ever done in my opinion. More precise, faster, and quieter shifts, and require very little effort to shift. That said, people who know more about it than me claim the difference is by and large due to my new cables and not the shifters -- I am admittedly going on memory comparing the XT shifters to my SLX when the cables were new and riding other bikes with XT shifters. But I still believe they do shift a lot better.

    Additionally, the XT has a feature where you can shift the rear two cogs at a time when going to a smaller cog, which I use a lot. (The SLX allows going up three bigger cogs at a time, the XT 4).

    Weight savings with the XT shifters over SLX is 20 grams. I'm just glad it isn't heavier
    Last edited by DennisF; 07-04-2013 at 05:59 PM.

  4. #4
    Fat-tired Roadie
    Reputation: AndrwSwitch's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Some service life.

    A lot of bling.

    Derailleurs are basically just the muscle in the operation. They're moved by the shift cables, which are, in turn, moved by your shifters. Shimano used the same leverage ratios for indexed shifting systems from 6-speed through 9-speed, so as long as the right shifter and the cassette are matched, elements of those systems are cross-compatible. They broke compatibility at 10-speed, which is why I'm going to take my 9-speed mountain bike to 10-speed... never.

    As far as performance, the biggest thing is the tune. Since your bike is new, the housings for the shift cables needed a bit of a break-in. You should get nice shifting back if you tune it up. Or let the shop do it, if you haven't used your free tune yet - this is what it's for.

    Now, I'd be lying if I said I haven't spent a little money on making my drivetrain work a bit better. But, I rode with an 8-speed Alivio for years - they work fine until they wear out. The front derailleur is a little more sensitive to good shifting technique. You need to put a little less pressure on the pedals when you shift the front.

    If you don't need the big chainring on your crank (and who among us really does, for mountain biking?) you can remove it. You might need some spacers or want a bash guard. So the total budget isn't quite zero, but it should be under $20. A new crankset is fairly expensive and I believe there's some compatibility weirdness with trying to drop a 2x10 crank into a drivetrain from the previous standard.

    Finally, it's a 2013 bike! If you really want to sink more money into it, why don't you try returning it and buying a Rockhopper or a Carve?

    EDIT: Ooops - for clear, well-photographed tuning instructions, check out
    Park Tool Co. ParkTool Blog Rear Derailler Adjustments (derailleur)
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  5. #5
    mtbr member
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Thank you all for the wonderful information. Sounds like I will stick with what I have as nothing is broken and I dont care about such small weight differences at this time.

    I can just not use the biggest ring instead of purchasing a whole bunch of stuff I dont need. I didnt think I needed any of these upgrades I just wanted to make sure there wasnt a compelling reason to get them.

    Thanks again all for the great information.

  6. #6
    mtbr member
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Good call - I would recommend almost exactly that. Drivetrain updgrades are mainly just buying hype. Depending where you ride, you might want to ditch the big ring and replace with a bash guard for a little more clearance. FWIW, I'm still rocking a 2x8 drivetrain on my trail bike. Cheap, tough and reliable. There are much better ways to spend upgrade $$.

  7. #7
    mtbr member
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    most drivetrain upgrades are about weight, not performance. if you only use one of your front chainrings, you can remove the other two, front derailleur, and front shifter and convert it to 1x8. you may need to spend $20 on a chain retention. also, you might need a crank removal tool to get to the chain rings and your standard allen wrenches. you can do a search for 1x9 setups here (it's the exact same process as converting 1x8)

    the biggest upgrade to performance to ride more.

    there is no reason to spend money, but if you really wanted to, the best performance and weight/$ is probably the front fork. If you wait for a deal to pop up in the deals subforum here, you are looking at $350ish for a reba of fox. I'm guessing your bike came with something like an suntour XCT.

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