Lower gears, but still 10 of them

PORTLAND, Ore., — While on a recent bike tour, climbing up some seriously gnarly hills on soft, dusty gravel roads, I had some time to contemplate my gearing choices and other life decisions. 

“One by ten, 11-34 cassette and 30 tooth chainring should be low enough for anything,” I thought when I went from single speed to gears. But, during those seemingly endless climbs (and a lot of pushing) I wondered if 34 was low enough, and if my chain was actually a link too short. 

 A while ago I read about the Sunrace CSMX3 wide-range, Shimano-compatible cassettes and how they’re another option to add gear range to an existing 10-speed drivetrain.

While grinding up those hills in Washington and Oregon, had plenty of time to think about how a gearing upgrade may work. I decided to give it a go when I had the chance. 

I installed the cassette on a DT Swiss 240s rear hub, with a steel freehub body and 54t ratchet – a big upgrade from the original 18t, and aluminum body. None of that matters, of course, but I’m not against extra details. While we’re getting into details, I added a thin, even layer of Phil Wood grease on the freehub, after removing dust from Burning Man and that bike tour.

 While I was replacing the cassette, I also replaced the chain. The Wolftooth chainring is still basically new (not that the other parts were worn out) and was expensive, so I kept it in place. 

The Shimano Zee rear derailleur is at its maximum in the 42t cog, but it still pedals smoothly and backpedals without derailing. The XT 11-34 wasn’t as smooth as the Sunrace and would sometimes derail when backpedaled; it could be the chain being sized better, it could be the Wolftooth Goatlink and how it aligns the derailleur to the cassette … I’m not sure.

The combination works perfectly, and is a comparatively inexpensive way to add low end to your existing 1x10 gearing. I know the cogs in the cassette are different to still have 10 of them and the 42, but I’m not really sure how. The bike rides basically the same as before, with the exception of a very low gear.

When I get a chance to really test this setup with the Troll loaded with bikepacking gear, riding up a big hill on a soft surface, I’ll let you know how it all works.

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