***I’m on vacation through Labor Day. You’re not reading this because this post doesn’t exist. You don’t exist. I don’t exist. We’re all serendipitously meeting here in a consequence-free alternate reality.***

Greetings from deep in the wilderness, where on any given ride I’m as much as several miles away from the nearest restaurant:

Fortunately I’ve got a highly capable bicycle with me:

Though I did not taste the gravel first, so I’m not confident about my tread selection or tire pressure:

For the past couple years my default vacation bicycle has been my A. Homer Hilsen:

However, it’s now my primary commuting bike, and I’ve got it set up so well for urban duty that I just couldn’t bring myself to undo it again:

If the Homer resents not joining me this year, it can take solace in the fact that not only did it take two bicycles to replace it, but also that as my commuter it is officially my most-ridden bicycle.

Anyway, after announcing to the world that I’d converted all my bikes to friction shifting, I un-converted the Jones again by reinstalling the stock trigger shifter, mostly because the long throw this particular derailleur required of the friction shifter wasn’t the best fit ergonomically with the Jones bars. So for the first time in awhile I’m on a fully modern(-ish) drivetrain again:

I do not love SRAM’s obsession with putting batteries in absolutely everything, or their latest attempt to make your frame obsolete. However, for certain types of riding I do appreciate the merits of a wide-range single-ring drivetrain, which they more or less pioneered. It’s simple and it works well. Also, now that I spend most of my time on bikes with friction shifting I admit I’m enjoying the novelty of going clickety-click again:

Anyway, I’ve had this bike for just over four years now, so I thought it would be worth checking in on how the drivetrain is doing. The parts are SRAM Eagle NX. If you read any of the various Internet forums, you’ll quickly learn that SRAM Eagle NX sucks and that you’ve got to get at least GX, braaah, or your derailleur’s going to explode and you’re doing to die. Granted, I’m not out there SENDING IT [barf], but I’ve put this bike to good use in the time that I’ve had it, and as much as I’d like to malign SRAM and their insidious anti-derailleur hanger, battery-powered cabal, I really haven’t had a single problem with it, nor could I imagine it’s functionally any different from the parts that are just above it in the component hierarchy. Yes, it can be a little finicky to adjust the shifting after you put in a new cable or something, and arguably a 12-speed drivetrain is a little much (especially when SRAM shifters only let you upshift one gear at a time), but it’s hard to call either of these things “problems.” I did have to change the chain fairly early on–not because of wear, but because of rust. (Not every chain is suited to almost complete neglect, which is my customary approach to chain maintenance.) But since putting a KMC something-or-other on there awhile back it’s been running smoothly with just occasional application of lube.

Of course, if I were building the Jones from scratch, I’d probably do it a little differently. Single-ring drivetrains with clutch derailleurs are great for full-on “mountain bike”-style riding, where you’re constantly riding up and down the sort of rough and rocky terrain that make front shifts impossible. However, for all-around riding that also includes pavement and smooth dirt and garvel, I still like a nice double. Furthermore, as much as I’m still enjoying the clickety-click novelty, 12 cogs and one chainring means a lot of clickety-clicking, and in that respect the friction shifter was actually a better fit. And this Jones has a stop for a front derailleur cable, which I’m not sure is true of the newer ones:

So given my quirks, preferences, and pretentions, I’d probably set up the Jones with some sort of friction-shifted double with fewer cogs on the rear, a similar low range, and a higher high gear for the road. That aside, at least for now, the lower-end wide-range single-ring mountain bike drivetrains seem well-suited to the cyclist who prizes simplicity, and can still be used along with cable-actuated brakes (disc or rim), and even friction shifters, provided you find the right one. Yes, their days may be numbered as these companies electronify everything, but for now at least it’s good to have options.

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