In the last 3 years, two biggest bicycle component manufacturers have released their 11-speed MTB groups, along with press releases, containing high quality picture and video content (aka "sick edits") creating the desire to own them. Just like in early 2000s, the true advantage of going "one more speed" was increasing gearing range. From Shimano side 9 speed hasn't really brought anything new to the table than smoother gearing ratios for those who (pretend to?) care. Some liked that shifting got smoother and less clunky but I myself still get pleasure-filled flashbacks of 9-speed Sram X0 shifter derailleur combo going Cling! Clang! Clong!, making me more than sure that the selected gear is on, VS Shimanos soft cleng-bfleee-click. 10 speed attracted many due to larger cog going from 34t to 36t which created a psychological illusion that NOW I can finaly crank it up on single chain ring. Unless you were riding a 29er, 2 more teeth didn't make much of an actual difference. Illusion or not, along with chain guide development, 10 speed drivetrains really made many people dare to go for single ring setups and that was great due to chain retention, less cables, less elements to fail or just maintain. Then clutch mechanisms in the rear mechs came and further decreased the chance of dropping the chain. I was still dropping it, but very very rarely.
10 speeds has finaly killed the lame tripple chainrings. Why do I think tripples are lame? Because if DH pros are running 36t up front for most of the time, 38t very occasionally, then please don't pretend that you crank so much going downhill and that Super-D or Mammoth Kamikaze is your everyday bread - cut the bullshit baby:
A - if you don't have the strength and fitness to ride up 32t front 36t rear then you probably can't spin it out on flat having any reasonable MTB tyre size and pattern.
B - if you don't have that fitness you are also very unlikely to have that skill allowing you to be brave enough to pedal downhill on 40-42t.
C - if you are truly a guy with muscle /nervous system structure preferring higher cadence, then hard geared 40-42t doesn't fit the picture either, isn't it?
D - if you ride a 29er modifying your gearing ratios in a way that 32t chainring front to 36t rear equals more or less 26er on 1:1 ratio (like 36t-36t) then you also have to take notice that consequently 32t front to 11t rear on 29er is not the same as on 26er. So not much changes,the only thing I can buy is that yes 29ers do roll faster on small bumps, when rider does not provide any input to handle the obstacle. I love 29ers but not for roll over or grip, as they do not roll easier over the boulders and through rockgardens - above certain size of obstacle, the suspension and most importantly to the largest extent, the riders input takes over.
E - I do get that there are some super fast spinning powerhouse terminators. Please keep your chain rings, two chainrings but ditch the front mech... Anne Caroline Chausson, the legend uses a very clever setup, that is she keeps the granny but without the front mech. That cycling siren, devourer of men with even above-average fitness and skill level, uses the granny only on long uphills, then she puts it up on narrow wide chainring 4by her hand. MTB apparel makers take note - enduro specific finger ends for your gloves, DDT coating, good both for brake levers and touching the chain - got that? we move on... to our final solution...
KILL THE FRONT DERAILLEUR!!!
I think Sram has built their XX1 exactly on that unprecedented exodus from tripple/double chainsets to single rings. Large portion of potential buyers were prepared to take a leap of faith to go for single ring up front. Probably each rider in the world had at least one of his peers riding up on single ring, so many many "Joeys" were mentally prepared to go for this range of products. I am sure there were many big wheel, maybe even fat wheel rider who wanted to go for ingle ring but 36t in the back wasn't enough for them. So XX1 came and the MTB world got positively shaken thanks to actual innovations. Narrow wide chainring virtually killed the chain guide, at least it's weakest link and that is the lower roller (what a horrible set of words, that device was simply impossible to market to people from Asia). Some, like me still need some sort of chainring protection though, bash or taco. But again the key factor for the last of the salvageable pagans, those who deep in their hearts were prepared to repent and go single, was increased gearing range - from 36t to 42t in the rear. Now front mech is virtually dead baby, let's sing psalms and go to a mass in a sanctuary like Lourdes, then to some devil hole and perform week long sex rites. What? not dead yet?... Sir! in a heroic effort Shimano saved the abomination called front mech from inevitable death, by killing it's most annoying part: the front shifter. Why is front shifter bad? Because too many cables are bad and easily accessible remotes of dropper posts are good, because dropper posts are fucking amazing. Back on track! Di2 makes it possible to shift both front and rear mechs using one shifter and one imput at a time in various pre-programmed configurations. There's a lot that could be written here but electronic gears are plain stupid so end of story.
What matters is that many companies - just like non-pagan, sensible riders - thought that we do not need yet another rear cog, we just need a cog large enough in the rear. It is a fantastic example of how evolution works, even though 42t rear cogs and narrow wide chainrings could have been made back in mid 2000s XX1 had to come, to kick it off. And so it happened, we can enjoy wonderful and simple drive train, I think the last missing piece is a durable, large steel cog, preferably on alloy spider, preferably someone making a complete 10-42t 10sp cassette... Wait...at the same time... I know exactly why I changed from 8 to 9 speed. Because at the time I busted my 8 speed rear mech, 9 speed setups were costing exactly the same as 8 speed ones. In 2010 I went from 9 to 10 for exactly the same reason. This time the good old XTR 960 shifter failed on me while cassette and chain were really worn out. I was really keen on trying single ring setup because I was tired of dropping my chain. Those stupid two more teeth on cassette made the deal. No point of shouting 9-speed for life. Would I go 11 speed? If I bust my rear mech in the moment I need a new cassette and chainring? Yea, why not? But I will definitely go for Shimano, because my experience with Sram is that while their 9speed was hands down, the best performing shifting mechanism of all times, Shimano has beaten them on 10sp front. And there's one more thing, the price... Check out the prices on attached pic, they are not much higher than what we were paying for 10 speed back in the days. That is all jolly good with large cogs for most folks, single ring is the way forward, but for me personally riding the hard gear is a way of keeping my fitness up, kind of benchmark where do I sit in fitness department, so if I ever do go 11sp I will totaly run 38t in the front.