Pizza is great and all, but if you've only ever eaten pineapple or pepperoni pizza your entire life, you're going to be pretty damn interested in downing a hamburger if the chance comes up. It's a safe bet that the derailleur and shifter on your bike are from either SRAM or Shimano, the pineapple or pepperoni go-to pizzas of the drivetrain world. The American and Japanese component companies make some great stuff, and some of it is also relatively inexpensive while offering very similar performance compared to their much pricier options - it's hard to complain about GX or XT components these days.
But what if there was a viable third alternative to choose, a hamburger of sorts? Box Components, a brand better known in BMX circles, is that hamburger, and they're hoping to become an alternative to the two current drivetrain giants with their $174.99 USD 11-speed One derailleur and novel $74.99 USD single-paddle One PushPush 11-speed shifter that functions unlike anything else on the market.
We have a rule about only testing production-spec products - we need to be using the same gear that's available to purchase - but seeing Box's unobtainium drivetrain components at tradeshows over the last three years made getting on these pre-production samples too enticing to decline. Besides, we want to know if Box can offer the kind of performance we’ve come to expect from SRAM and Shimano.
Box One Derailleur
• 11-speed derailleur
• Proprietary CamClutch system
• Forged & cast aluminum
• Carbon fiber / Nylon composite body
• Aluminum inner and outer cages
• Proprietary Pivot-tech spring-loaded cable stop
• Maximum cog size: 46 teeth
• Compatible with Box and Shimano 11-speed shifters
• Availability: December 2016
• Weight: 264 grams (including all hardware)
• MSRP: $174.99 USD
Box One PushPush Shifter
• 11-speed shifter
• Single paddle to operate upshifts and downshifts
• Push paddle forward to shift down; push paddle inward to shift up
• Up to four downshifts at once; single upshifts
• Compatible with Box and Shimano 11-speed derailleurs
• Forged aluminum / Nylon composite body, Forged aluminum paddle
• 10mm left / right 'Pod Adjustment'
• Availability: December 2016
• Weight: 125 grams (including clamp and hardware)
• MSRP: $74.99 USD
You might have seen Box's derailleur and shifter before - they've been showing prototype versions of both over the last three years since Pinkbike's own Richard Cunningham first photographed an early example of the Box One PushPush shifter at Sea Otter back in 2013.
Things have evolved since then, with the system going from a 10-speed to 11-speed, and a ''progressive force clutch'' being added to the derailleur to mate better with single-ring drivetrains. The shifter's single paddle has also changed, moving from an 'L' shape on the early 10-speed prototype shown in the photo at right, to the design you see here.
The One derailleur and shifter, as well as the upcoming 11-speed One cassette, will eventually sit just below their yet to be released Hexlab high-end components. Box will also eventually offer less-expensive, third and fourth-tier groups under the Box Two and Three names. The One group is targeted at riders who are considering XT-level components, and while the One derailleur and shifter do cost more than an XT alternative, it gives us an idea of what we should be expecting, in terms of feel and quality.
The Box One setup isn't an inexpensive hamburger, with the derailleur and PushPush shifter costing a good chunk more than options from SRAM and Shimano that perform near flawlessly. For example, an NX 11-speed derailleur and shifter cost $74 and $27 USD, so you're getting a very capable system for around $100; you can spend $115 on a GX derailleur and $43 on a GX shifter. Shimano's XT derailleur sells for only a bit more, at $82.99 USD, and an XT shifter costs $48.99 USD, or about $132 USD for both at MSRP prices. The PushPush shifter's single lever works in two ways: push it forward with your thumb on the large paddle to shift down, and push it inward with your thumb on the smaller inner paddle shift up.
All of those options cost less than Box's $174.99 One derailleur and $74.99 One shifter, but when was the last time your properly adjusted GX or XT setup didn't work as well as you'd want it to? Close to almost never, I'd guess, which is why you'll have to really want something different than the usual SRAM and Shimano pineapple and pepperoni pizzas in order to be choosing Box's One group. Different may be good enough, however, just so long as it works well on the trail.
Box says that all of their new drivetrain components will be sold only as aftermarket items for 2017, which means that neither SRAM or Shimano are shaking in their boots at this time, especially given the wide range of associated components that both companies prefer to bundle together for original equipment sales. Box is working on their own brakes, stems, and handlebars, however, and they are aiming for some solid OE spec in 2018 and 2019. Who knows what the future will bring?
When SRAM entered the drivetrain market, they became a viable alternative, at least in part, because they were offering something different to what everyone was used to, first with their Grip Shift system and later on with trigger shifters that did the same job as Shimano's but in a very different way. This is exactly what Box is trying to do with their PushPush shifter, and it means that a direct price and weight comparison might carry a bit less consequence for some riders. Simply put, there will be mountain bikers who just want something different, regardless of if there's nothing wrong with their GX or XT drivetrain.
The question that needs answering is this: Is being different actually worthwhile?
These days, a lot of mechanics can install a SRAM or Shimano derailleur with a beer in one hand, a Leatherman in the other, and both eyes closed. Not quite, but you get the idea - it's a straightforward job, and while derailleurs and the rest of our drivetrains have evolved over the years, not much has changed when it comes to bolting them to our bikes. Thankfully, Box didn't mess with this process; if you know how to install stuff from either Big S, then you'll know how to install the One derailleur and PushPush shifter.
Box's CamClutch system on the derailleur can't be turned off like the clutch on a Shimano derailleur, and while SRAM's can't be turned off either, their Cage Lock button holds the cage in an extended position so you're not fighting the clutch when installing the chain.
Box doesn't employ a button, though, so you do have to fight the clutch tension, but if it does feel much lower than anything from SRAM or Shimano. The clutch is supposed to be progressive and proportional to cage movement, and I was also told that Box is still tweaking clutch strength before the One derailleur goes into production. I would expect final production versions of the One derailleur to feature a much stronger clutch that's on par what SRAM and Shimano employ.
The PushPush shifter features a two-position mount that lets riders move the shifter independently of the clamp, which is important because the single paddle needs to be in exactly the right spot for it to work well. You can get a SRAM or Shimano shifter in the ballpark and then get used to where their two paddles end up, but I quickly realized that this wasn't the case with the PushPush's single paddle setup and it took some tinkering before I had it up against the brake perch where it seemed best. I would have preferred to roll the shifter up by a few more degrees, but it was already against the underside of the brake perch. Box says that the spring-loaded cable stop is designed to limit the chance of damage in a crash by allowing it to swing in towards the bike and of harm's way. The derailleur's carbon fiber / Nylon composite body looks and feels more Nylon than carbon.
Cable installation is very similar to the same job on a Shimano shifter, with a small captured rubber door blocking an equally small opening on the business side of the shifter. Drop down to the highest gear, pop the door open with a fingernail, and you can slide out the old cable and install a new one with no drama. I had to add half a turn of cable tension after clamping it at the derailleur, and it then required zero tinkering or attention. If you know how to use a 4mm hex key, you can do this job. First Impressions
Do anything for long enough and it'll eventually stop being a conscious effort and become a reflex, which describes what we've been doing with our thumbs and pointer fingers since the first time a lot of us rode a mountain bike. When was the last time you deliberately thought to yourself, ''Okay, here comes a climb so I better unwrap my thumb from the grip and use it to push the larger paddle three times and then move it back to the grip''? Much like how we don't think about tying our shoes, I'm guessing that the answer is zero if you've been riding mountain bikes for more than a month; you just do it without thinking, of course, which is why my first ride using Box's single paddle PushPush shifter was a bit of a clusterf*ck.
In that quick, hour-long ride, I think my thumb went searching for a second shifter paddle at least two dozen times, and, no surprise, it obviously never found one. I would stab blindly at it for a second or two before realizing that I needed to actually think about what my thumb was doing, but, thankfully, this didn't last for more than a few rides, after which using the PushPush shifter's single paddle became second nature.
I bet you're wondering how strange it feels to push the thumb paddle in towards the shifter to drop to a taller gear? As it turns out, it's not that strange at all once you get used to it, which I'm kinda surprised about. I was expecting to sometimes miss the smaller perpendicular contact area with my thumb, or maybe to accidently push it at an angle and shift up instead of down, but neither issue ever happened.
You need to depress the paddle by about 5mm to drop to a taller gear, which turned out to be well within the comfortable range of motion of my thumb, and shifts are firm, crisp, and felt as precise as anything else on the market.
Selecting a harder gear with the PushPush shifter is a one-push-equals-one-cog action, much like a SRAM shifter, whereas Shimano can drop two cogs by pushing on the high-gear paddle (or one cog if you pull it instead). Going in the opposite direction, up to an easier gear, can happen four cogs at a time, just like a Shimano shifter, which is one less the what SRAM offers. All three work well, but Shimano's setup is probably the most adaptable - you can push or pull the release trigger as you see fit, which is nice. That said, all that matters is that the thing shifts when I'm breathing through my eyeballs and completely uncoordinated, which the PushPush system does.
Ergonomics and getting the PushPush shifter in the right spot relative to your hand is more important with the Box shifter than with anything from SRAM or Shimano - the release trigger needs to be easy to hit without actually thinking about it, and I had to move the shifter a few times to find the sweet spot. It ended up being rotated right up against the underside of my brake perch, but it felt like the large paddle was still angled up and out a bit too much for my liking. I can and did get used to it, but I would have liked to see the large pull-paddle rotated inwards under the grip by at least a few degrees. The Box One derailleur and One PushPush shifter have been flawless so far, other than a few dropped chains. Look for a stronger clutch on the production derailleur to prevent this.
Another change that I'd like to see is a massive increase in the derailleur's clutch tension. It's noticeably lighter than anything from SRAM or Shimano, so much so that it feels roughly on par with a Shimano derailleur's clutch after it's been turned off. As expected, I've dropped the chain a handful of times already, which is annoying for obvious reasons, and it's something that Box will have to address. To be fair, Box does recommend pairing up a narrow/wide chainring (which I was using) and some sort of top-guide for extreme conditions (which I was not using).
Reliability? I won't pretend to have an idea at this point, but we'll find out in four or five months time after I've dragged the Box components through a messy Pacific Northwest winter season. There's nothing like a load of peanut butter mud, a lot of crashing, and spending all my spare change on pressure washing every other day to see how things last. As of now, everything is great, but we'll see if that changes. Pinkbike’s Take:
|I'm lucky to have high-end drivetrains from both Shimano and SRAM to choose from, both of which are on the shelf right now while I continue to test Box's new derailleur and shifter over the coming months. But even if I could choose to run any of those two options, I don't really see a reason to replace the Box One components with anything else at this point, which says a lot in itself. Longterm reliability is the question that I'll need to answer, and something that you'll be able to read about down the road, but I'm pretty happy to be eating a hamburger instead of pineapple or pepperoni pizza right now. Stay tuned. - Mike Levy|
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