Our Take: 10-Speed vs. 11-Speed


In the last few years, Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM have moved to 11-speed and the technology is becoming more main stream. Lately when we’ve discussed 11-speed bikes, many of you have had some questions and concerns about the new systems. To answer some of them, we found one of our employees who has been riding both 10- and 11-speed groupsets for a while. Here’s his take on things.

I’ve been riding both 11-speed Campagnolo and 10-speed SRAM  for several years now, and I switch between the two often enough to be able to tell you there are some definite differences between 10- and 11-speed drivetrains. Generally, adding an extra cog means you have more gear ratios to choose from which can make your riding more efficient. But I’ve been asked to address the 6 most common questions we get about 11-speed, so here it goes. (And please remember, this isn’t a Campy vs. SRAM article– it’s 10-speed vs. 11-speed).

Is 11-speed less durable?

Answer: There’s not really much difference. I currently have about 2500+ miles on an 11-speed cassette and chain, and neither is worn out yet. I also have yet to break an 11-speed chain while riding. So far my Campagnolo chains and cassettes have lasted about as long as my SRAM 10-speed ones. I guess the thinner cogs and chains make people nervous, but I haven’t had any issues so far. I haven’t ridden the new Shimano stuff, but I’ve read that their new PTFE chain technology actually makes the chains stronger than their 10-speed chains.

Isn’t the shifting compromised?

Answer: Shifting performance isn’t really  affected by the addition of another cog. Aside from the different shifter designs, I have noticed very little, if any, difference in performance between 10 and 11. If anything the 11-speed shifting feels smoother and crisper than 10-speed. My 11-speed bikes do need to be put into the stand a little more often (about once every two weeks) for some basic rear derailleur adjustments, especially after high mileage weeks, but it’s a quick 2-minute cable tension adjustment, and that’s it.

Do you need new wheels?

Answer: Yes*. Contrary to what you read on many bike message boards, you do need a new rear wheel; the reason being that the new wider cassettes require a wider axle than a 9/10-speed wheel. If you look at an 11-speed wheel, the drive-side spokes are nearly in-line with the hub flange. The exception being Campagnolo users, who’s 9- and 10-speed wheels should still work with 11-speed. For SRAM/Shimano users, conversion kits do exist from some manufacturers, but it can sometimes be a pretty involved process requiring removal of axles, re-truing and re-dishing. And, of course, the manufacturer cannot guarantee how a wheel will perform with a converted freehub. Your best bet is to get a new wheel.

 *with the exception of Mavic wheels with an M10 freehub body, which technically should work with Shimano 11-speed if you leave off the Mavic spacer

Are 11-speed wheels less durable?

Answer: Maybe, but that kind of thing really depends on your riding style. For folks who really beat up on their wheels, you might notice a difference. I’m not very tough on wheels, and rarely need to have them trued, but I do have a set of 11-speed wheels that need to be trued more often than their 10-speed counterparts. However, I also have another set that has gone almost 2 years without needing to see the truing stand, so it’s hard to tell.

Is it worth it?

Answer: That all depends. In my experience, I love having the extra 11th gear. And yes, I definitely do notice that it’s not there when I switch back to a 10-speed bike. The biggest benefits to me are 1) shifting is smoother and more progressive, since there are fewer big jumps in cog size; and 2) I don’t have to swap between two different cassettes anymore (one for the usual riding, one for climbing). With an 11-speed 11-27 cassette, I basically still have my beloved 11-25 gearing, but with a 27t or 29t cog tacked on the top that makes it perfect for climbing as well. 11-speed cassettes also offer a bigger range of gearing options that make it easier to find that comfortable cadence in any variety of conditions, whereas when I switch back to a 10-speed bike, I sometimes struggle to find the right gear.

Why upgrade? Won’t they just go to 12-speeds soon?

Answer: Don’t quote me on this, but no, I don’t think they will go to 12-speeds any time soon. I know Tiso has a 12-speed gruppo out there, but they had to scrounge up some breathtakingly expensive stuff to make it work (i.e. all titanium cassettes), so I doubt it’s ready for mass market appeal. As you read above about wheels, it seems to me like 11 cogs are about as many gears as they’ll be able to cram into the standard 130mm rear spacing. To fit in any more gears without excessively sacrificing wheel durability, I believe that road bikes would need to adopt the MTB standard 135mm rear spacing. With the introduction of disc brakes on road bikes, that’s already kind of happening, but I think it’ll be a few years yet before anyone goes to 12.

For now, it appears that the market has veered in a different way. Instead of introducing more ever more cogs, the manufacturers now seem to be focused on adding more features to and refining their electronic shifting systems, such as EPS, Di2, and whatever SRAM is going to call theirs.

61 thoughts on “Our Take: 10-Speed vs. 11-Speed

  1. This is just a personal opinion, nothing more. I have a new Shimano 10 speed and I have older bikes with just 6 and 7 speeds, quite frankly I don’t miss the extra gears when riding the 7’s or even the 6’s! I suppose if a person was really concerned about making sure their cadence stayed exactly the same no matter how slight a hill then maybe, but I’m just not that anal. Having said all of that, I have no desire to go to a 11 speed system, I don’t see the point. What most people don’t realize is that a vintage 5 speed has the same number of teeth on their lowest and highest gear as does the 11 speed, so you gain nothing there, all you gain is a slightly less of a cadence drop off between gears.

    I don’t think we’ll be seeing 12 speeds, in fact I think gears as we know it will go away and instead a CVT rear hub will be used so a person will have seamless “gearing”.

    1. Hey Fred, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It would definitely be interesting to see things transition to a CVT rear. It would definitely take the industry in a new direction.

    2. It’s true in terms of range not much has changed on the cassette front in a while, the compact crank has widened overall range a bit since the 6-speed days though. And getting 11-28 with 6- or 7-speed means accepting some pretty big jumps. That said, I’m however happy enough with the 8-speed cassette on my old training bike (11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28), although I do sometimes miss a 16T cog. So 9-speed still makes sense to me, but everything beyond that was/is just forced progress imho, but everyone is free to disagree (in fact on my ‘good’ bike I have 10-speed and I like it, I just don’t think it’s really necessary).

      CVT would be a definite progress though, If someone could pull it of and make it light and reliable enough for roadbike use.

      1. My crossover has CVT… They haven’t perfected it for automobiles yet… I HATE it! I wish I had either a regular automatic or a stick…

        So, I’d hate to see CVT added to road bikes w/o proper testing w/ riders based on the performance in the auto industry… NRFP (Not Ready For Primetime)

    3. I wholeheartedly agree. I have 6,7,8,9 & 10 speed bikes.Anything above 9 is lost on me. The 6 speed rides fine. The only thing 11 speed would do for me is make me stock yet another chain. I really wish they would stop this speed rat-race.

  2. it says he needed to convert mavic wheels to 11 speed but mavic wheels are one of the few brands on the market an 11-speed freehub conversion is not necessary… all you do is take off the mavic spacer……

    1. Hey Miles, that is true for Shimano 11-speed, but in this case he was converting to a Campagnolo freehub body, which takes some extra effort. We’ll add that note, though.

      1. 3 things I don’t like about 11 speed….1. no 53/42 chainring combos:( 2. no reusable kmc missing links. 3. very dificult to set up with no chain rub on front derailuer and trimming more offten…..but, I’ll probly stay 11 speed to stay current..

    1. Hey Thomas, he is what we would politely call a climber. He’s 5’11” and around 145 lbs. He mostly rides on the road. So, like he said, he’s not very hard on wheels.

    1. Hey Matt, our writer definitely thought his upgrade to 11-speed was well worth it. It’s just as durable, with more progressive shifting, and a wider range of available gearing. It did however require some wheel upgrades, and a little more maintenance time. But if you’re the type of rider who wants to squeeze every ounce of performance out of your ride bike, then 11 is the way to go.

    1. Hey Josh, it would be a question of “who jumps first”. If a component manufacturer makes a 12-speed group that required 135 spacing, then they would need to make sure that they had a wheel and frame partner lined up who could offer wheels and frames with 135mm spacing. And even then, there would be at least a year or so when that group could only be run on a handful of frames and wheels. It’s a big risk for which ever company goes first.

      But, again, anything is possible and it’s hard to know what’s going on in the dark corners of the world’s bike labs.

  3. I have had my bike in the smallest cog never! So why is going to eleven a big deal? Oh, that’s right, a marketing ploy!

  4. The additional gears offered and having to swap or have two wheels with various cassettes seems like an expensive option for most riders. I’ll keep my triple and have all the gearing I need. The conversation surrounding 11 speed versus 10 speed mimics the transition to road bike disc brakes in my view. New technology is great for the mfg. to push more and newer products on the consumer in an ever growing effort to “keep up with the bike riding Jone’s”1

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  6. If I was buying a new bike I’d probably consider a 11-speed. However I would not upgrade my existing bike to add just one cog. I’d rather invest the money on a new set of wheels or other gear.
    But for what is worth I’m a recreational rider doing nothing more than a few long rides and a few centuries here and there. I don’t need the latest and greatest.

  7. I have a 2012 Roubaix Ultegra 10spd, I did however purchase some HED wheels that allow a 11 speed cassette, do I just have to get the 11spd cassette and then do some gearing adjustments or do I have to get new shifters, derailleurs and everything to upgrade to 11 speed?

    1. Hi Matt,

      Unfortunately you’ll need to get a new set of shifters, rear derailleur, chainrings and chain as well.

      The reason is that modern shifting systems are indexed, which means that each component has a specified number of positions it can move to. Your 10-speed Ultegra shifters and derailleur will only be able to move across 10 cogs spaced at specific intervals, versus an 11-speed drivetrain that can move to 11 different positions.

  8. Good feedback. Any ideas please:
    I’d like to up my average 17mph to a 20mph … got some work to do. When I relocated from the flat plains of Texas to the hills of my new Clifornia neighborhood my average speed dropped 25%. I quickly got it up again and am now back at 17 mph. Though I have been seriously considering changing my 10-speed drive-chain. In Texas I never ever touched first gear (granny gear) and in California I am in first far too often :-). Should I go the whole way for an 11-speed?

    1. Hi Sally,

      Glad to hear your training is getting back on track. First off, let us say that 20 is a very impressive pace on any ride, even for competitive cyclists– it’s also a pretty big jump to make in speed, especially in a single year.
      As far as improving your climbing…An 11-speed drivetrain may be a direction to look at, since it will give you more gearing combinations to work with, but you might also want to reconsider what gear combinations you’re currently using with your 10-speed drivetrain.

      If you aren’t already on a compact crankset, then moving to a crankset with a 50/34 gearing can make a huge difference. You might also want to look into switching to a 12-28 cassette– or even going to a medium-cage rear derailleur that can let you use a cassette with a 32T large cog.

      The most important thing to remember though is that it takes time to acclimate to new terrain. You’ve gotten back to where you were, which is great. But if you want to improve your speed, you have to invest in improving the engine. Now is the time to work on climbing technique, more focused workouts, and workouts that improve your ability to aerobically recover after hard efforts. You can also try riding with a fast group ride to really push yourself.

      For more information, you can check out our climbing article (link below) or visit the Performance Bicycle Learning Center for more info.


    2. I have an older Roubaix, and I switched to the new SRAM WiFli mid range DR on the back. I was going to run the 11-32 10 speed cassette, but my rear hub only accepts the Shimano hub, so I’m running an ultegra 11-30. Its Awesome. I was able to keep my cadence higher, and ended up picking up about 1 mph on average on my rides, including my last 70 miler which had some decent hill climbs. It cost a total of about 200, including the install at my LBS. I ride a lot, but don’t compete. My average beforehand was about 16-17, and managed to hit 18 on my last couple of rides. I’d look at that route first
      (front chainring is 50-34)

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  11. I thought I had read a few years back, say about 5 years, that Shimano had patented a 14 speed rear cassette

  12. With the addition of more cogs I would have liked the option of starting with a 13 tooth as my “high” gear. It is all the high gear I need. If the downhill is fast enough, I can actually go as fast in a tuck position. With these additional cogs I would have liked to have been able to have more closely spread cogs but since generally one can only get an 11 or 12, the extra cogs are more of a waste to me.

  13. well, I’ve been running the 11 speed for 6 months and here is my thoughts,
    1, much smoother shifting – Ultegra VS Ultegra
    2, if you have Velocity hubs/ rims, all you need is a new hub shell and the wheel can be re built and dished VS buying new wheels
    3, no need to switch out cassettes any more, running 11-32 as we have some BIG hills in So. Cal.
    4, broke my first chain ever last weekend but,, I’d say it was me , not the chains fault. – dropped something on the road and tried to muscle down through the gears going back up hill
    5, the biggest , and best thing about the 11 speed is being able to run a 52/34 chain ring combo up front , I bought the mid chain ring combo @ 52-36 and the changed out the small ring for the compact inner ring- and don’t believe it when they tell you it won’t work – a bit of soft peddling during the upshift is all that is needed

  14. BT,

    Great post. However, I encourage you to conduct a little more research. With respect to Campagnolo, You are mistaken regarding the “Do you need new wheels” portion of your write up. Contrary to your assertion, all 9 / 10 speed Campagnolo hubs are compatible with 11 speed Campagnolo. There are no exceptions. I ride Campy 11 and use the same wheels (Easton EA50) that were originally equipped with a 9 speed groupset. I have 2K miles with the 9 speed cassette and have added 5K miles with the 11 speed. No issues … ever. Indeed, your post is the first time I have ever heard of someone mentioning this particular problem, and I know a lot of campy riders who have upgraded on the same wheelset. I suspect that your Mavic issue was one of going from a Shimano/Sram hub to a Campagnolo hub…. which is a different issue than your post seemingly intends to address. The bottom line is that with respect Campy you do not need to obtain a new wheel set when upgrading from 9/10 to 11.

    Readers need not take my word for it though. Campagnolo addresses this concern on their website: http://www.campagnolo.com/AU/en/Support/can_campagnolo_wheels_with_freewheel_body_at_9_10_speeds_also_be_used_an_11_speed_groupset

    Sheldon Brown has addressed this matter on his site as well: http://sheldonbrown.com/k7.html

    That said, I’m with you all the way regarding the Sram compatibility problem (the other groupset that I use). With Sram, you do indeed need a new hub when upgrading to 11 speed.

    1. Hi P Frantz,

      You are indeed correct on this particular issue with regards to Campagnolo (and about the issue being converting from drivetrain types instead of speeds). We’ll update the article to reflect your feedback. We love working on bikes, but always enjoy hearing from riders who contribute their own knowledge and experiences.


  15. So I am curious about 10-11 speed MTB group’s. They offer the extended range 40-42 cogs from various companies. I use a 11-36 10speed cassette but if I bought the XTR9000 11 speed shifter – could I just throw a 40 tooth on the back of my 10 speed cassette ( for 11 teeth total). And make it work?
    Or will I need to have the 11 speed cassette.
    Also would a 11sp road cassette spacing work with my XTR MTB shifters? – Thanks

    1. Hi Nathin,

      We checked with our tech people, and unfortunately it doesn’t look like there’s any adapting 10-speed to 11-speed.
      Firstly, you would need an 11-speed specific derailleur. A 10-speed Shimano ATB derailleur doesn’t have the capacity to manage the chain on a 40 or 42t cog because of how those larger cogs are designed to fit on the free hub.

      Secondly, the 11-speed road and ATB cassettes use different free hub bodies, so you would not be able to put a road cassette on your mountain wheels.

      Lastly, you might be able to get your 10-speed shifter to work with an 11-speed cassette if the index spacing is close enough,but you would have to sacrifice one gear at either end, since the shifter will only have 10 index positions instead of 11.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading.

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  17. ok so who makes an 11-27 11 speed cassette? With the gearing Shimano has out, it makes no sense to go to 11 speed from 10 speed as the only thing I gain is a 28 which I don’t need or an 11 which i would rarely use and I lose my beloved 16 on both. No thanks.

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Campagnolo makes an 11-27 speed cassette. If you’re a Shimano user, SRAM also offers some cassette combinations that aren’t available from Shimano, but will still fit on the Shimano freehub.

  18. I’ve got my first 11 speed bike and honestly, I’d prefer 10 or even 9. 11 is past the point of usefulness. What I notice most is that I have to shift more.

    1. You don’t have to shift more unless you’re highly conscious of your RPM’s which I think is anal but then again I was racing back in the day with only 5, 6, and 7’s and we didn’t shift as much as they do today, we just had to up our power more to keep the RPM’s up which is why Eddy Merckx in his prime could easily beat anyone today…ok let’s not argue that one here. But the point is, it is getting ridiculous with all the gears. The only thing I might agree on in regards to more gears on road bikes, this wouldn’t work on loaded touring bikes though, is going to 13 gears and eliminating the front derailleur which may be the way things will go. I don’t see the purpose with all the gears we have to have a front derailleur, and the front derailleur never could shift fast anyways so in my mind, ever since I raced those 5, 6, and 7 speed systems that the front derailleur was virtually stupid to have on any road except the steepest mountain roads which could be tamed with a 13 speed rear if a rear road derailleur can handle taller gears than they do today. The only problem with more gears is that the chains get thinner and in that process they get more delicate and have to be replaced more which I’m against less reliability and more maintenance on anything bikes included. Yeah, I know, I’m weird for thinking stuff should last longer, and chain replacement every 3,000 miles for $35 is cheap…whatever.

      1. Sorry, that is what I meant by shift more. By the time I shift I shift 2 gears, not anal about shifting. I still own a 6 speed bike.

        I find any grade over 12% or so is where I use the front derailleur. We have hills in the 14-20% range here and I find a compact with a 9 speed does them just fine.

        I’m all about durability too. I was on a long group ride and kinked my chain. The 6-speed kept working enough to get home (about 25 miles away). An 11 speed would have skipped so much I would have been breaking the chain and inserting a master link.

        13 speed?? NO. Those giant cassettes look stupid. The 10t rear cog wears too fast. The chain line starts getting extreme. Those GIANT cogs can’t be light….

        Give me my compact 2×9 and I’ll be happy.

      2. Be From Me; the weight issue is an odd one, not sure if the extra 2 gears to make a 13 gear cluster would be heavier or not since there would not small ring gear it could balance out to be the same weight.

        It seems though there has been more incidences of chains breaking with the modern thinner chains then there was with the old school wide chains.

        My newest bike has 2×9 and have no desire to go to more than that, the rest of my bikes have the old wide chain stuff. So far after over 6,000 miles on the thin chain it’s still going strong but i’m anal about cleaning and lubing which is probably why I average 14,000 miles on my old school chains.

      3. There are shimano cassettes and hubs with 9t high gear, for 20” wheel road bikes. Put one in a 700c road wheel and run a 2 ring mtn bike crank, 22/42. All the high gears and stump pulling low gear.

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  20. Thanks for all the info. One question remains for me though. To accommodate 11-sp, Must my Shimano 50 x 34 crankset also be replaced, or just the chain rings? And why? Thanks.

  21. Hi Duane,

    You’ll just need to replace your chainrings. The reason is that the crank spider doesn’t care how many speeds your drive train is, so long as the chainrings are the right size to bolt on to it. For an example, there are still some pro riders using 11-speed chainrings on their old 9/10-speed Shimano SRM powermeters. While Shimano, Campagnolo, and FSA have moved to a 4-arm crank design for their newest groupsets, there are plenty of companies making 11-speed chainrings for the older 5-arm cranksets. FSA, Praxis Works, SRAM, and others make 50/34 11-speed chainrings in a 5-bolt 110BCD pattern that should work for you.

    -The Performance Bicycle team

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  23. Well, well, well. Here we are talking “bike” while component companies are talking about fishing. Yep, that is right, fishing. You see they already know they have the hook well set in most cyclists brain, but they smartly practice “catch and release.” They love to sit around and act real important, but they are really just making new expensive lures. You know, 10 vs 11, electric vs manual, boa vs Velcro. Man, the list is endless. Every cyclist should, on a regular basis, grab a six pack of good beer, sit down with some pizza and watch the movie Tin Cup, paying close attention to the scene where Roy brakes all is clubs, but his trusty 7 iron and qualifies for the Open. That is all he needed. Please ask you self this question. Does Shimano make more money selling biking stuff or fishing stuff. ( You do know that Shimano does make real fishing stuff.) Hell, to them its all “fishing stuff”

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