All-In Gravel Grinder

Last year I spent a good portion of the summer dialing in my cyclocross bike for the type of riding that dominates the warmer months here in eastern Iowa. You can call it gravel grinding, but I just call it every day.

In preparation for this year I decided to do some major surgery to my bike’s drivetrain. How major? Gone are the last pretenses of a road-centric drivetrain—e.g. the remaining Shimano 105 components from my single ring conversion last year were removed—and the replacements are a SRAM GX 10 speed setup:

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Hopping on a pre-spring sale I picked up a SRAM GX 10 speed rear shifter, derailleur, and corresponding 11×36 cassette. I considered going with an eleven speed setup, but the cost differential seemed a little crazy and I was already giving myself a fairly broad increase on the top end of my cassette’s tooth count considering my prior setup topped out at 28 teeth.

The real trick or solution depending on your perspective was figuring out a mounting solution for the SRAM GX shifter pod. Road and mountain bars have different diameters, in general as there are exceptions across the board, so a lot of mountain shifter mounting solutions are incompatible with road drop bars. Given my general satisfaction with the Salsa Cowchipper bar that I installed late last year I wanted to keep the drop bar profile of my evolving gravel bike. Enter the solution from Paul Component Engineering:

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This little piece of machined aluminum allows you to mount a SRAM shifter pod to a road diameter drop bar and get all the goodness of the mountain centric drivetrain. What goodness? Well, inexpensive shifter pods for one. I picked up the SRAM GX rear shifter for less than $30. Don’t even begin to compare that to what someone would spend on a dual control style shift/brake lever combo. Also, I get to take advantage of the “clutched” or Type 2.1 rear derailleur which is a great bonus for those of us eschewing front derailleurs.

As a caveat, unlike a lot of riders who come from a road background—as I was someone who came from a mountain bike background—I could never really get used to the STI shifters. Riding and braking while “on the hoods” was never a problem. I just did not like the crazy complexity of the STI levers. Give me brake levers that brake and a shifter that shifts. Please do not combine the two in some unholy combination that defies user serviceability.

So now my drivetrain consists of a 42 tooth single ring up front and an 11×36 10 speed spread across the back. I am sure that there will be terrain where I wish I had spring for an eleven speed rear spread maxing out at 42 teeth, but for 95% or more of the riding I do this current combination is going to b divine. It’s simple and the clutched rear derailleur should eliminate the potential for dropping a chain in the middle of a grind. Plus, I got rid of that awful orange bar tape that I thought was a good idea last year.

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