Both SRAM and Shimano would likely tell you that if you want the best results, you shouldn't mix and match components from other brands with their drivetrains. They might also use the word 'ecosystem' sternly. There's a good chance that most of us stick to the same, er, ecosystem when it's time to replace a cassette. But what if you didn't have to?
e*thirteen's new Helix R 11- and 12-speed cassettes fit onto SRAM's common XD freehub, but they're saying that it's ''engineered to bridge the compatibility gap between SRAM and Shimano components.'' In other words, you can use the same $289.95 USD Helix R cassette with either a Shimano or SRAM ecosy... Drivetrain.
e*thirteen Helix R Details
• Compatible with SRAM, Shimano drivetrains
• 12-speed range: 556% (9-50)
• 11-speed range: 511% (9-46)
• Fits XD freehubs
• Replaceable alloy large cogs
• Steel cluster available separately
• Weight: 355-grams (12-speed, actual)
• MSRP: $289.95 USD (11 and 12-speed)
e*thirteen also says that it's lighter, less expensive, and offers more range than either brand's high-end 12-speed cassettes. Oh, and they'll also sell you the aluminum and steel sections separately.
The $289.95 USD Helix R cassette fits SRAM's XD freehub body, but e*thirteen says it's also compatible with Shimano drivetrains. There are 11 and 12-speed versions, different colors, and you can buy the aluminum and steel sections separately.So Many Numbers
The Helix R cassette can be had in a 12-speed version with 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 20, 23, 27, 31, 36, 42, and 50-tooth cogs that offers a massive 556% range. For comparison's sake, SRAM offers 520% and Shimano 510% range for their widest 12-speed cassettes. My scale said 355-grams for the Helix, 363-grams for an XX1 X-Dome, and 376-grams for XTR.
None of them are inexpensive, of course, but the Helix costs the least at $289.95 USD. If you want XX1 or XTR, that'll be $449 and $379.99, please.
With 9-tooth small and 50-tooth big cogs, the 12-speed Helix R is the range champ.
There's also an 11-speed version (available early December) of the Helix R cassette that gets 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 20, 24, 28, 33, 39, and 46-tooth cogs for a 511% range. It retails for the same $289.95 USD, and e*thirteen says that it weighs 325-grams. I'll let you dig up the numbers for the comparable SRAM and Shimano 11-speed bits.
The Helix's two-piece design means that e*thirteen can sell the larger, faster-wearing aluminum cogs separately. Orange, purple, black, or bronze will cost $129.95 USD on their own, or there's a $159 USD, PVD-treated blue option that's said to offer "double the durability compared to anodizing.
'' We'll be putting that one on a long-term test bike. The hollowed-out steel section that makes up the rest of the cassette should last much longer, but you can also buy it on its own for $159 USD. It's like Build-a-Bear but pointier. SRAM... and Shimano?
Now that we're squeezing way more cogs into the same amount of space between the spokes and dropout, there's not much difference between SRAM or Shimano's 12-speed cassettes when it comes to where the cogs are sitting. To give you an idea of how tight it is down there, a SRAM shifter moves the cable roughly 0.15mm more than Shimano does, or about the thickness of a piece of paper.
That rather tiny gap is why you can use a 12-speed SRAM cassette with a Shimano derailleur and shifter or vice-versa and have it be close to bang-on, even if they'd rather you didn't.
The steel section (left) is machined from a single piece and helps contribute to the low 355-gram weight. The 9-tooth cog (right) means you can drop to a small chainring size without losing anything on the high-end.
So, is it as easy as just splitting the difference between the two drivetrain giants? Not so much.
''Both SRAM and Shimano use different spacing and sprocket thicknesses in different parts of the cassette,
'' e*thirteen told me. ''While the spacing is important for a cassette to work properly, the biggest challenge to designing the Helix was to make it work well with Shimano's new chain design. We also had competitor IP to consider, which surprisingly factored into the sprocket spacing as well. The net result is decidedly not what you would get if you split the difference between SRAM and Shimano, but it works well.
I paired the 12-speed Helix R cassette with both mechanical and electronic drivetrains from SRAM, as well as Shimano's XTR system.Does it Work?
e*thirteen's cassettes use a modular, two-piece design, with the bottom section slotting onto the XD freehub's splines and getting locked into place via 3mm pinch-bolt at a low 3Nm of torque. Your freehub bearings are under there, so best not over-tighten it.
Next, you slide the steel cogs (with its bushing) onto the freehub, making sure to align the indexed locking section on the two pieces before using a chain whip to rotate and lock it into place. If your chain whip is in the shop for repairs, you can put the wheel on your bike, shift onto one of the steel cogs, then hold your rear brake while pushing down on the pedals, just like how you'd lock a quick-link together.
The two halves of the Helix R cassette interlock, and there's a 3mm hex key to ensure everything stays put.
Turning the steel section to the right sees fins machined into its backside interlock with the aluminum section, and there's a tiny image of a padlock for you to line up and make sure it's done correctly. Next, thread the 3mm hex screw (3Nm again) into place and you're ready to roll. Wait, you put grease where the instructions told you to, right? Good.
Embargo timing meant that I haven't put in a ton of miles on the new cassette, but I did pair the 12-speed, 9-50 tooth block with three different drivetrains to see if e*thirteen's claims of cross-compatibility hold true: SRAM's wireless Eagle AXS XX1 and cable-controlled XX1 systems, as well as Shimano's XTR drivetrain. And yeah, everything seems peachy. Shift quality with either SRAM system matches the stock performance, with shift speed and noise seemingly unaffected by the third-party cogs. This wasn't always the case with e*thirteen's previous cassettes; I've had good luck with them, but some riders weren't able to get their shifting bang-on perfect and without the odd delay or tick, tick, tick sound. While I can't comment on durability, the new Helix R seems to match the performance of SRAM's stock components.
Okay, but does it play nice with Japan? Shimano's Hyperglide+ tech, and specifically the design of their chain, lets you shift under heavy pedaling loads in a way that just wasn't possible before, but do you lose that if you're not using a Shimano cassette with it?
I put the Helix R on Giant's new Trance X Advanced Pro
, pairing it with a Shimano XTR derailleur and XT shifter, then went out and shifted like a ham-fisted gorilla up every single hill. In other words, just a normal ride. The results: While maybe just a hair away from matching a full Shimano setup, the chain moved over the cogs silently and without any bangs or worrying noises, much like a full Hyperglide+ setup. Impressive.
Shimano's Hyperglide+ components let you shift under load without issue, and that doesn't change if you pair them with the Helix R cassette.
As for reliability, I have no clue - it hasn't been long enough to talk about that yet. That said, the PVD-coated blue option that's claimed to offer double the life of the standard anodized cogs sounds interesting, so we'll put that in the long-term plans for a review down the road. Also, both SRAM and Shimano cite friction and chain wrap issues for not using the 9-tooth cog that e*thirteen has at the bottom on their cassettes, but I suspect that it won't be trouble given the limited time the chain spends in that gear. We'll see.