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I have a 18t rear cog but would like to try a 19t and 20t cog. I have a Niner dealer near me and Niner has aluminum cogs but I don't know if they last as long as steel cogs or if they are just for racing. Just want to know if I should stick with steel cogs.
 

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Let's ride
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Steel lasts the longest by far. Aluminum cogs aren't bad, and will save a little weight. I've used Endless cogs for a few years with good success. The do wear and start to bulge on the leading edge, but they go 3-5k miles easily.
 

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I have a Niner cog (20T), and after 2 months of using, I had to flip. So I can tell it won't last long. Yesterday while I was riding, the chain came off and found this (see the pic). This is a WTB cog (cro-mo), and lasted about 3 weeks (about 10 rides).
 

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I was using an 18t Chris King aluminum sprocket. The teeth started denting after about 30 miles of ridding. Within 200 miles or so the chain started slipping while climbing.
No fun. Now I am running the stainless version no more problems.
 

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Jam Econo
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I have a cheap a$$ 17t 7075 aluminum cog I primarily use for racing, but I've been surprised at it's durability.
I seem to remember Endless Bikes preaching the virtues of using larger cogs and chainrings for a smoother longer lasting drivetrain, which makes sense. A 20x36 would give you about the same ratio as a 18x32, or 22x36 about the same as a 20x32.
 

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Ripmo
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So I buy this used SIR 9 s.s.,

and I go for some bling NINER rings front and rear 32/20. Very sweet looking setup. Do you know how many times on the trail people say " awesome chainrings, I like how they match the frame!" Zero. Zero people ever even notice. HaHAHa. I like it though. I probably have 300 hrs on these and they are about ready to flip. I CLIMB alot, so these are subjected to as much stress as any, outside of a pro rider. They have held up well for aluminum. My stamped steel $5 cog on other 29er look new after almost same # of rides. Steel is cost efficient for sure.
 

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and I go for some bling NINER rings front and rear 32/20. Very sweet looking setup. Do you know how many times on the trail people say " awesome chainrings, I like how they match the frame!" Zero. Zero people ever even notice. HaHAHa. I like it though. I probably have 300 hrs on these and they are about ready to flip. I CLIMB alot, so these are subjected to as much stress as any, outside of a pro rider. They have held up well for aluminum. My stamped steel $5 cog on other 29er look new after almost same # of rides. Steel is cost efficient for sure.
Colorful bling is the only reliable way to get noticed. Shiny and polished can do it too but you have to do a whole lot more before it crosses the threshold. Go for red or purple or gold if you want compliments. Us people who think it's tacky will keep to ourselves while the image-conscious people high-five each other ;)

The HBC 2-piece cogs are the perfect combination of reliable steel (or titanium) and flashy aluminum, plus they're lighter than straight-up steel. Too bad he doesn't make a 6-bolt ISO cog version for fixed riding!
 
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