Editor’s Note: This piece first ran on The Bike Lab recently. We re-post it here for your consideration.
Recently there has been a flurry of rumors and products that might indicate that the triple ring crank may be in danger of becoming extinct. Not only on road bikes, where the move to compact cranks has been well established, but also for the mountain bike. The signs of the triples demise are hard to miss. Let’s take a closer look.
Innovations like SRAM’s Hammerschmidt are only one of the recent signs of the fall of the triple ring crankset from favor.
The “triple”, as three chain ring equipped crank sets are often referred to, have been around since the dawn of the modern mountain bike in the late seventies. Used to give off road riders a low enough climbing gear without sacrificing down hill speed, the set up has been basically the same since that time with some tweaks along the way to the specific chain ring sizes and bolt patterns for the rings themselves. However; there also have been instances along the way where riders tried to eliminate the multiplicity of front chain rings. Nothing on the scale of today’s developments where we have seen and heard of many things that may change the way we motivate up and down the singletrack.
The first big technological change made popular was SRAM’s Hammerschmidt which is basically an internally geared two speed crankset. It eliminates the front derailluer and two of the front chainrings for a gear spread equal to what roughly was the “granny” ring and middle gear on a traditional mountain crank. This has found popularity with All Mountain, Freeride, and Downhill riders that rarely if ever use a big chainring on their cranks anyway. Obviously, too much weight and a lack of a high speed gear up front would limit the usage of this idea, but we may not have seen the end of the development on internal geared cranks yet.
Now for the high speed, cross country set, the news is all about 10 speed drive trains utilizing two front chainrings. SRAM is set to hit out first with the new and yet to be launched “XX” group. Featuring a purpose built two chain ring crankset, the idea is much like “compact” gearing for road bikes, with a nearly identical gear spread to a triple chain ring set up, but with better chain lines, and lower “Q” factor. Also rumored to be making the leap to 10 speed/dual front chainring mountain groups is Shimano. They are rumored to be readying a 10 speed mountain group with a two chainring crank set in the XTR and XT levels.
Not only that, but the scuttlebutt is that Shimano will stop production of triple crank XTR and XT cranks altogether in the future. Will this signal a “trickle down” through all of the mountain groups in SRAM’s and Shimano’s line ups? One industry insider I spoke with on the condition of anonymity said that the trend would trickle down eventually. However; he also stated that recreational groups and trekking cranksets looked to remain as triples for the short term.
My take on it is that it would be a big mistake for SRAM and Shimano to cease high end production of triple crank sets. While racing pursuits lend themselves to such set ups, the common trail rider is not well served by fewer choices in gearing. I also feel that adding more cogs to the cassette is not what trail riders and all mountain/free ride folks are looking for. Actually, fewer cogs and a dishless rear wheel are much higher on the agenda here.
While details are scarce and solid info is months away yet, it is alarming to see that this may be on the table. The jury is still out, but things don’t look so good for the common triple crank these days.