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I ride what was formerly a 2011 Specialized Rockhopper Expert. Cracked the frame, and Specialized kindly replaced it with a 2012 Carve Pro frame. I love the new frame, but it is outfitted with a mediocre drive train as follows:

Crank: Shimano FC-M430-8 Octalink (44/32/22)
Cassette: Shimano HG30 11-34
Rear mech: Shimano Deore Shadow Long Cage
Front Mech: Shimano Alivio Top Swing, Dual Pull
Shifters: Shimano Deore SL-M590

I ride this bike daily as a commuter (about 14 miles per day) and then swap to my tubeless wheelset for weekend singletrack fun (using the same cassette). I live in an apartment while I am finishing my PhD (one year to go), so I dont have room for a second bike. In 2.5 years, I have put at least 7000 miles on this drive train, off and on-road combined. I have never replaced anything, except for the chain. Since I commute with it on the road, I am in the large 44 chainring and the same 2 or 3 gears on the cassette for most of the miles I ride. These gears are all badly worn, and the 44 chainring is also beat to hell from getting bashed when I am off-road. When on the trails, I am exclusively in the 32 chainring. I am noticing some skipping when cranking hard, which I believe is mostly due to a few worn rings on the cassette. Its obviously about time to replace some things.

I am really not sure how to go about replacing these drive train components in a way that maintains the versatility that I need and makes sense from a dollar standpoint. Sticking with the 9 speed setup in either a 2x (with the proper chainring selection) or 3x crank setup would probably be fine, but I worry about parts availability in the coming years. A 2x10 setup with proper chainring selection and 11-36 cassette would do everything I want, but is expensive since Ill have to replace shifters and derailleurs as well. I would like replacement parts to be at the slx or xt level. Also, I think the crankset should be replaced since a new 44 chainring alone costs a good fraction of a new crankset. The Shimano Octalink setup is also quite heavy.

Anybody have any advice or suggestions for me? I should also note that my wife and I are hoping to move to the Colorado Front Range in about a year, so Ill probably be doing lots of climbing. Additionally, this bike probably will only be used as a commuter for another year until I finish my Ph.D. and get out into the real world. It will eventually be a trail bike exclusively. Thanks for your help ahead of time!
 

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I changed both of my 3x9 bikes - one to 2x9 (FS for offroad only) and 1x9 (rigid for road and light offroad). Love it.
Expense is minimal, for 2x9 keep the crankset, get 36T chainring instead of the common 32T (eg, Shimano has one - Deore M532) , keep front derailleur till it breaks, then get double specific (Shimano SLX 665 or 7, for instance). Rear der with medium cage is nice, but can wait. You may also need shorter chainring bolts, or you may improvise some spacers out of old big chainring.
Of course, removing the biggest chainring only helps with climbing, as the bike gets lighter.
 

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I'd recommend sticking with 3 x 9 for on/off road gearing versatility and cost savings, for less than $200 you can have a brand new drivetrain. When you finish your PhD reward yourself with a new bike and keep the Rockhopper for a beater.
 

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I'd replace the worn cassette, chain and get a 36t n/w ring all for under a $100. If your shifters and derailleurs are still working good there's no need to replace them until you break or wear out your components. I live on the Western Slope close to Beaver Creek and ride 1x9. All the climbing has turned me into a monster man!!!!
 
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