What drivetrain should I choose for my Gravel Bike?
1x vs 2x drivetrains: what’s the difference?
If you are currently in the market for a gravel bike, you probably have already noticed that they are offered in two different drivetrain configurations: single chainring (1x) and double chainring (2x) drivetrains. 2x drivetrains will be very familiar to riders familiar with road bike gearing, featuring smaller jumps between gears for smooth cadence transitions across the gear range. 1x drivetrain are very similar to what we see on modern mountain bikes, with larger jumps between gears and a very wide range cassette to conquer the steepest of climbs over technical terrain.
1x and 2x offer different advantages, and have their respective limitations. Picking the one most suited to your own riding scenarios depends on a few different considerations.
To pick the right drivetrain, think about the type of riding you do..
A first step in determining the appropriate type of drivetrain for your gravel bike is to consider the type of riding you currently do or plan on doing most often: Do you plan on doing some gravel racing? Does your gravel bike also serve other riding purposes like commuting or road riding? Are you a bikepacking enthusiast? Do you prioritize simplicity and versatility or speed and efficiency? Once you’ve set a basic criteria based on the type of riding you do the most, deciding on a 1x vs 2x drivetrain will be more straightforward.
Which gravel drivetrain is right for me?
Go with a 2x gravel drivetrain if:
- You want your gravel bike to also serve as a road bike. You want an adequate gear range for long and steep climbs as well as fast descents (having the big chainring will ensure you don’t “spin out” on fast and long descents).
- You want a less pronounced jump between gears for smoother cadence transitions.
- You ride and/or race often on flatter terrain where a steady power output is a priority.
Go with a 1x drivetrain if:
- You want a simpler and more reliable drivetrain. With no front derailleur, fewer cables and a single front chainring there are fewer components in your setup. This is especially important if you ride in inclement weather or muddy conditions.
- You want a lighter bike: less components means a marginally lighter bike.
- You plan on taking your gravel bike on rough terrain: on singletrack trails or rocky terrain, we worry less about cadence and more about easier shifts and good chain retention.
- You are new to riding drop-bar gravel bikes: If this will be your first foray into the gravel riding world, a simpler drivetrain will make it easier to focus on the riding experience than the learning curve associated with a new type of bike. You don’t have to worry about chainring selection and you will have all the range you need with wide-range cassettes that are close to their gear ratios to mountain bikes.
What are the popular drivetrain options for gravel?
Both 1x and 2x drivetrains now come in gravels-specific flavours from the big drivetrain component manufacturers. Shimano offers the GRX groupset, SRAM offers various options for gravel within its Rival and AXS families of components, and Campagnolo offers its Ekar gravel groupset. You will certainly find the right drivetrain configuration for your intended type of riding within these diverse offerings.