I thought that I would undertake a review of a product that’s been out for about 18 months and I’ve been using for around 12 months: Namely SRAM’s 12 speed drivetrain. Indeed at the point of writing this review, it’s not even the latest technology as SRAM has produced an electronic groupset, with wireless shifting. However, that’s still a premium product and one that not everyone will consider, at least for some time.
This comes in several variations to fit most budgets. Everything from the ultra lightweight XX1 through to the more budget conscious NX and GX ranges. Again, I’m not sponsored, paid, receive any inducement from anyone in relation to any products I review. The chances are, if I review something, I like it and think that others who share my passion for mountain biking may also enjoy them.
For a few years I’ve been a major advocate for a 1x drive train; essentially having a single chainring at the front and a wide spread of gears on the cassette at the rear. This reduces wear and tear from shifting the chain across the chain ring and reduces stress from ‘chain stretch’. I’ve certainly worn out and snapped far fewer chains since going to a 1x system.
My comparators are having spent several years riding on Shimano XT and a brief period on SRAM’s 1×11 XX1 over a demo weekend in Switzerland.
SRAM marketed their Eagle Groupset as revolutionary, stating that the front derailed is now dead. I’ve had this argument with several people I’ve ridden with, many of which disagree… until they try it.
Thankfully, at least in my opinion, a 1x drivetrain is largely becoming standard on any mountain bike worth buying from new. Also, Shimano and a couple of others are playing catch up and producing a 12 speed cassette and another company is now producing a 13 speed cassette.
The Eagle Groupset has a 500% range, running across a spread of 10tooth – the enormous 50tooth ‘dinner plate’. I recall staring in awe at the cassette when I first saw it. It is quite literally massive.
Now there are some distinctions between SRAM and Shimano, for those who aren’t aware. The thumb shift on a SRAM shifter only allows for a thumb pushing change, whilst Shimano does allow for either a thumb or forefinger. For some people I think that this is a matter of taste, but in my opinion, I prefer keeping my forefinger over the brake level, so therefore I prefer to use my thumb.
Now I am using a high end range, the price has gone down as variations are added, but the groups itself retails in the region of £850.00. It’s not their flagship model, but it’s considered ‘race ready’, with carbon cranks and components being lightweight.
At first use, I was impressed by how smooth everything felt, gear changes were responsive and crisp, even (dare I say it) under load. The 50T on the cassette meant that I could more or less climb anything and it felt a huge benefit from my previous 46T.
I’m cautious to ensure that the drivetrain in cleaned after every ride, especially a dirty ride as dirt causes excess wear on the chain and that in turn causes greater wear and tear to the whole system and, replacement parts aren’t cheap (£40.00 for a chain) and when I replace parts I usually use this as an excuse to improve upon them, where possible. This said, my chain wear indicator tells me that the chain is still good.
I’ve dropped a chain once, in fact a week ago, but frankly we were riding in an absolute ‘bog-fest’ and I blame the thick clawing mud rather than anything else.
In short, the system still responds as it always did, shifts are smooth (possibly not Shimano smooth) but there is a distinctive click as the lever engages and the shift is rapid and engages without incident.
So, personally, will I upgrade to the slightly lighter, better XX1 in due course?
Well, next year is a new season and I’m going to hold off until then, unless parts need replacement before. But in short, yes and no.
Yes: XX1 is lighter, has more exotic materials and will technically perform slightly better…
No: I’m going to start using a Power Meter in the new year. Also, with the advent of SRAM Eagle AXS, the electronic wireless shifting Groupset, why would I buy something that’s not at the top of it’s game?
So the plan is to get a SRAM XX1 power meter with cranks and then the AXS upgrade kit, which simply is the wireless shifter, battery & charger and the the wireless derailed. I’ll replace the chain with an XX1 model and therefore the bike is ready for the next season and beyond.