Build a bombproof, cost-effective winter drivetrain

Save the bling for summer. Winter drivetrains need to battle.

Components How To
GX Rear

SRAM GX Eagle; takes a kicking and keeps on shifting.

Winter; when roads covered in ice mixed with salt, is frequented by crazies on bikes looking for fresh air. Conditions like these are not great for metal grinding on metal, ie, your bike’s drivetrain. During these wet seasons, we run our components into the ground, figuratively and literally. We don’t realize; we could have saved cash and had fun piecing together a unique piece of drivetrain history. Check out these tips and suggestions on how to build a bomb proof winter drivetrain and save some money for summertime shredding.

Chain Close-up

Find a chain that fits your setup, one that you have confidence in and you know how to service.

Chain

When looking for a chain for you bombproof build, source out manufacturers that you trust or currently ride. Personally, for a winter drivetrain, I seek KMC or Shimano lower end chains, something like the bulk chain your local bike shop has. Look for chains that have decent shifting groves but are NOT hollow in any way. This style of chain will add weight but will most likely hold lube longer and get more extended wear.

Replace: XX1 Eagle chain – $85.00
We suggest: SRAM GX1 Chain – $30.00
Save: $55.00

SunRace Cassette

A SunRace cassette replaces a SRAM 1170 cassette for a road training wheelset.

Cassettes

With the advent of one by drivetrain systems cassettes have quickly become a more expensive purchase for a drive train; sometimes most costly. Well, that doesn’t always have to be, especially if you don’t mind trying out new gear other manufacturers on your winter rig. SRAM offers lower-end cassettes that will shift similar to higher end but may not be snappy or lightweight, Shimano as well. We suggest looking into the Sun Race, BOX and other manufacturers for a cost-effective solution. Run Race makes a 12 speed 10-50T cassette that will fit a Shimano freehub body; pretty cool if you’re looking to run a winter wheel set too.

Replace: XTR 11 Speed M9001 – $237.00 or XG1299 – $428.00
We suggest: SunRace MZ 12-Speed Wide-Ratio Cassette – $110.00
Savings: >$100.00

Apex

SRAM Apex vs. SRAM CX1 nearly identical in weight and performance.

Derailleurs

This little but integral piece of cycling equipment is a mainstay in winter cycling woes. That’s because most rear derailleurs we not built to take on the rigors of a Minneapolis winter or take hit after hit of being locked up outside your office. I suggest getting something that will accept a larger cassette (from above) and doesn’t mind taking a crash or two when slipping and sliding in the snow. Both SRAM and Shimano lines offer lower end derailleurs that have some trickle down characteristics of the top tier. Mostly what separates them is weight and construction materials i.e., no carbon backing plate or ceramic pulleys.

Replace: SRAM XO1 Eagle – $227.00
We suggest: SRAM GX1 Eagle – $105.00
Savings: >$100.00

SiSl FSA

FSA offers many economical options for single ring use, compatible with most manufacturers.

Rings and Front Derailleurs

Front derailleur for winter riding tend to cause many problems; on the trails mud and slush freeze making shifting near impossible, road componentry shifting can become delayed after miles of grit and road debris. There are a few different avenues that we can take from here; keep the same front derailleur and let the season have at it, replace with something lower end or do away with it all together. You can find many economical options from Salsa, Surly and many others for no shift ramp rings that will work for the winter and last many, many miles. You can also check out Wolf Tooth, or many single ring manufacturer specializing in “non-drop” front chainrings. One by shifting will free up a component that is known to cause trouble in freezing conditions and lower your cost.

Replace: XTR Front non-Di2 – $110.00
We suggest: Wolf Tooth 30T Non-Drop Ring – $60.00
Savings: >$50.00

Wolftooth

Wolftooth rings are known for toughness and beautiful machining.

Mixing manufacturers?

Just because you have a XX1 Eagle on your trail bike doesn’t mean that you have to get an XX1 Eagle cassette for your winter training wheels. Companies like BOX, SunRace, eThirteen and Full Speed Ahead will work nicely together with Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. Be sure to do your homework, because most work well together, but not all.

Honorable mentions

SunRace RS3 Wide-Range Road 11sp Cassette – $40.00
E*Thirteen TRS+11 Speed Cassette – $249.00
Box Two 11-46 Tooth 11 Speed Cassette – $100.00

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Jordan Villella

Jordan comes from the steep streets of Pittsburgh PA, where he learned to dodge cars and rip single track. He has been involved in nearly every aspect of the cycling industry: from turning wrenches, store design, clothing production and bike park creation. Jordan spends his free time racing cross country and cyclocross around North America, though he has been know to enduro every now and then. His love of cycling is only second to his love of his family and punk rock.


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  • Shark says:

    Shimano XT cassette, < $65.

  • Rhone Betrault says:

    Subjecting a very nice ride to salt, cold and grime…
    After spending around $350 to “winterize” it…
    For less worries pickup a beater bike for under $50… and save your other ride.

  • Rick says:

    @Shark
    Marketing folks rack their brains to upsell everyone on more gears nobody asked for and you’re suggesting “outdated junk”. You’d better be quiet there. Take it for the team and support economy.

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      >>Marketing folks

      I would like to thank marketing folks for 1x drivetrains. And big tires, and dropper posts and brakes that work. :)

  • Rabob says:

    This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. Replace all the super high end parts on your bike with cheap parts! WTF..to “save” them? It’s a mountain bike, it’s literally designed to be ridden around in dirt.

  • jrp says:

    Indeed, build the whole beater bike. A heavy, reliable beast of a hardtail with cheapest drivetrain that still works. Bonus points for singlespeeding. Then realize you only need lighter tires to have fun on it come summer. Sell the nice rig.

    And hey, I’ve been riding 1x before it was cool!

  • jabpn says:

    I’ve got to admit, as a winter rider, I’m surprised by this list. When it comes to winter riding, yes, the salt, slush and temperature swings from going outside to inside and back, indeed reeks havoc on bicycle components. However, many of the parts listed here are head scratchers. First of all, the wider the spacing between actual gear cogs and a thicker chain help a lot over newer drivetrains due to the increased clearance for snow and ice to escape. Even then, it’s not uncommon to lose gears due to the chain skipping off of iced up cogs.
    Another common issue is the clogging of swivel points on brake arms and derailleurs. As such, I’d think that Shimano Acera, Altus, Alivio, Sora, Clarus, SRAM 3x/5x, or Tekro would be the go to mentions for parts on a winter bike. These lines may be the lowest in their respective manufacturer’s lineups but they are lower end “high quality”, products (unlike say Shimano Tourney – dept. store bikes). The point is, for winter riding where you do have to deal with thick snow days, sub 20 temps and so on, you will be dealing with seized parts, and when WD-40 or PB Blaster don’t work to free those parts up, well, $10-$30 replacement parts is a whole lot easier to swallow and “better” parts are no better at preventing issues.

    • maaakaaa says:

      Jabpn, I think what you suggest makes a lot of sense if you are building a bike around winter riding, but may be less cost-effective and more work to retrofit. If you are running a 1×11 or 1×12 for example, switching to a lower end like Altus or X3 would require replacing the shifter as well, and would significantly change your gearing as you lose the larger cassette cogs.

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