Slowtwitch.com looks at the evolution of a cassette.

Yesterday, Greg Kopecky over at Slowtwitch.com posted an interesting article taking a look at the evolution of the cassette. For those who do not know, slowtwitch is a triathlon (mostly) website that is a great resource of information on many things cycling, for both tri and road.

In the article, Kopecky follows the changes in the industry as drivetrains have gone from 9 to 10 to 11 speeds. He contends that the jump from 10 to 11 is more significant than the jump from 9 to 10. For most people, 11 speeds provides added range while still having the spacing that you are used to. For example, and 11-28 11 speed has the exact same spacing as a 11-25 10 speed cassette with the added range of the 28. Alternatively, 11 speed can be used to have the same range you currently have, while having finer steps between gears.

Check out the full article here

To me, one of the most interesting parts of the article is the discussion on the possibility of 1x_ drivetrains, which are all the rage in mountain biking right now. In this application, the 1x11 system brings increased performance due to the amazing chain retention of the 'narrow-wide' chainrings. Cyclocross is an obvious next step for this technology, as it desires the chain retention as well as the increased reliability that comes with a simpler system. Prototypes have been seen on the 'cross circuit this year.

The path to the road is less clear. In order for new tech to succeed, they have to offer some sort of benefit. While chain retention isn't usually an issue, reduced weight is a possibility. A 10-42 XX1 cassette weighs about the same as a Red cassette, front derailleur, and inner chainring. Take the mechanical out of the shifter, remove the cables, housing, and the braze on mount for further weight savings. Also, a 53/39 with a 11-25 cassette has a very similar range as a 48 tooth chainring paired with a 10-30 cassette (which would weigh less than the 10-42 version mentioned above).

All of this weight savings would be pointless as long as the UCI maintains its current bike regulations regarding bike weight, as many pros have to add weights to their bikes as it is in order to be compliant.