9 speed vs. 10 speed vs. 11 speed bicycle gearing

Retro-Grouch, or just good planning?
July 2008

"Why don't you guys use the new 10-speed shifters on your touring bikes?"

That's a great question that we get hundreds of times per year, it seems. Most companies think it's because we're Retro-Grouches (people who don't like new technology). I don't believe that is a fair characterization, so let me explain why.

The answer is that we do use the new 10-speed shifters where appropriate. I ride 10-speed shifting on my Record equipped S3 bike myself and love it. I recommend 10-speed quite often. On a lightweight racing bike, the situation is completely different than a touring bike, tandem, or commuting bike.

No Planned Obsolescence I don't take a curmudgeonly approach to any new technology. Our choices are rooted in serving our customers' needs over the long haul. We lose touring bike and tandem sales each year due to the fact that we don't always jump on the newest technology, but I see that as a small price to pay for good customer service. Educating you, the rider, and letting you make the decision for yourself based on professional experience instead of an advertisement in a magazine creates a stronger relationship.

Would our lives be easier if we just put the new 10-speed shifting on all of our touring bikes like the rest of the world? Maybe at first. It takes a lot of time and energy to round up 8-speed and 9-speed shifters, and then we have to write articles like this one to tell you why we did it. Sounds crazy, right? Read on....there is a method to our madness. We have a unique product testing facility. You see, unlike almost every other manufacturer, our customers bring their bikes into our repair shop for service over the course of years. We get to experience first-hand the frustration of a customer when their new bike parts are not as durable as the parts on their old bike.

Our customers come to us because of our decades of experience in the bicycle world. They hold us to a standard, and we are proud of these things. I want to be clear, that we would be more than happy to build your new touring bike, commuting bike, or tandem with 10-speed shifting just like everyone else. We just want you to consider the facts first so you won't be surprised, or feel let down.

9-speed vs. 10-speed

One great advantage to being a manufacturer who has a large customer base and a repair shop is the opportunity to see the durability of components first hand. In the 9-speed vs. 10-speed arena, there are some important things you should know.

10-speed chains are very thin, as are the 10-speed cogs. This means that they don't last near as long as a thicker chain and cogs. In cases of heavy commuting or touring we've seen many customers who get about 700 to 800 miles out of their chain and cogs. For some of those customers, that's about 1 month of commuting. That's 12 chains and 12 cog sets per year. For a customer riding across the United States, that's 4 chains and 4 cog sets. When used on a tandem, the mileage decreases by about 30%. By contrast, these same customers would be getting 1,200 to 1,500 miles on a 9-speed chain and cog set. Does this mean that an 8-speed chain and cog set would be even more durable? Yes, but 8-speed shifters are not available anymore, so 9-speed shifters are the new durability choice.

Increased Cost:
A 9-speed chain sells for $30. A 9-speed cog set sells from $45 to $60. By contrast a 10-speed chain costs $70, and 10-speed cog sets are $100 and up. When you multiply the frequency of replacement by the cost of equipment, your maintenance costs are increased by 200%. A 200% increase in maintenance costs are not the direction that most of our commuting and loaded touring customers want to go. Some people have no problem with the increased costs or service. Rest assured we still build touring bikes with 10-speed shifting quite a bit. We just want to share why 9-speed shifters are standard on our touring bikes.