Bringing Down the Cost - The Difference is in the Details
SRAM TRAIL HOUSE: TERLAGO, ITALY
WORDS Rachelle Frazer
PHOTOS Adrian Marcoux
Two years ago SRAM released XX1, a system intended for the elite, made from premium materials, employs the most expensive manufacturing techniques, and, more interestingly, removes the need for a front derailleur by paring a single chain ring with an ultra-wide range cassette. It was met with some early apprehension by many riders, however, with concerns about gearing for the average Joe that was faced with serious climbing. But then something happened that SRAM wasn't expecting - a lot of people, all sorts of people, every day mountain bike riders, decided that they wanted it. SRAM had struck a somewhat unexpected chord, and it turned out that a lot of riders wanted to see their front derailleur take a hike. Unfortunately, many of those who wanted to get on board with XX1 couldn’t necessarily afford the price tag that came along with it, so hacks began popping up address this need - cassettes and chain rings that converted dual 'ring systems into single 'ring systems. In the background, SRAM were listening but weren’t rushing to deliver an answer. “Our intention is not to shortcut people on 1X by experience because if we do that we will make compromises on the way it works
,'' Chris Hilton, Drive Train Product Manager told Pinkbike. ''It’s important to us not to mess it up, and that’s why it takes time to bring all of the features and benefits down.
'' X01 was released a year after XX1 and at some savings to the consumer, but more notably to bike manufacturers wanting to spec a single 'ring drivetrain. Still, the beckoning call of the crowds grew louder for a more affordable 1X product. “We didn’t create X1 because it seemed like the next thing to do, we did it because people asked for it. In fact, some demanded it,
” he went on to explain.
So, here we were at SRAM Trail house in the foot hills of the Dolomites in Terlago, Italy, to experience the long awaited solution to an affordable 1X system. X1 Details
• Single ring, eleven speed drivetrain
• 10 - 42 eleven speed cassette and proprietary XD driver body
• Eleven speed X1 X-Horizon rear derailleur w/ Cage Lock
• Aluminum crank arms
• 30, 32, 34, 36 or 38 tooth X-Sync chain rings
• PC-X1-specific eleven speed chain
• Eleven speed trigger shifter
• MSRP: $898 USD base priceEleven Speed Cassette and XD Driver
The bulk of X1’s savings boil down to the XG-1180 Mini Cluster hybrid cassette. With the exception of the 42 tooth cog, XX1 and X01’s cassettes are fully machined out of a single piece of steel, but the X1 cassette consists of three small cogs that are CNC-machined out of a single block of steel, with an additional eight individual stamped steel cogs that are pinned together. This layout allowed SRAM to retain the hollow design found in the XX1 and X01 cassette, as well as see it come in at a still reasonable 315 grams. The machining of the single piece XX1 and X01 cassette is essentially easy to make, but requires a lot of time and a lot of machinery, hence the decision to find another design and manufacturing process for the X1 group to reduce the price point. The cassette is equipped with the same 10 - 42 gear range and fits onto same XD driver body that’s found in XX1 and X01, but at $313 we may see companies purchasing an X1 cassette to run with an otherwise XX1 spec’d bike, lowering the overall cost to the user. X1 X-Horizon Derailleur
The $231 USD X1 derailleur functions exactly the same as the other 1X systems in the family but it’s constructed out of aluminium - there is no carbon fiber to be found here. Apart from this, it has the same horizontal parallelogram design and pulley offset that keeps chain gap consistent as it moves across all eleven gears. By limiting all movement to the horizontal axis, the design is intended to reduce both shift force and chain slap, and eliminate ghost shifting. The same roller bearing clutch and Cage Lock design is used so that the removal and installation of wheels is an easier task to manage. Claimed weight sits at 256 grams. X1 Trigger Shifter
Like X01, the X1 trigger has an aluminium pull lever and cover, but the dollars are saved in the removal of the adjustable pull lever. Apart from this, the mechanics inside the system are the same as those used in X01, and it is still Match Maker compatible, which means that you can mount your shifter to your brake lever for a cleaner cockpit set up. A Grip Shift option is not currently available for X1, but this may change with demand in the future. X-Sync Chain Ring and Cranks
The X1 chain rings are the same as the one’s spec’d in the X01 group. The rings are available in 30, 32, 34, 36 and 38 tooth options - there is still no 28 tooth option. The reasoning behind this is because when XX1 began there was no significant market for a 28 tooth ring (remember, it was intended for elite riders at first
), and so the decision was made to remove it as an option in the X01 and X1 lines. Instead, X1 uses existing crank arms with a 94 BCD which could already accommodate a 30 tooth ring. The choice not to have a 28 tooth option may change in the future, though, as we see a lot of riders wanting such an option.
Unlike XX1 and X01, there is no carbon crank option for X1, with a hollow forged aluminum and two forged aluminum options being available instead. All can be had in either 170mm or 175mm lengths and are available in GXP or BB30 bottom bracket options.Riding the X1 Drivetrain
It's less expensive, but does that translate to less performance? As always, our limited first introduction doesn't give us the chance to make any bold claims as far as real performances goes, but it does allow us to gather some initial thoughts as to how the group performs. And how does it perform? It feels very much like X01 and XX1 at the shifter, with crisp and solid feedback that is very SRAM-esque. And it moves the chain fast, just as fast as we've seen from its more expensive siblings. Chris Hilton, drivetrain product manager, told us that he would challenge just about anybody to ride an XX1 and X1 bike back to back and have them tell him which is which. This is a pretty bold statement, but having ridden XX1 for over a year and then jumping onto the X1 bike, we can see how he has the gumption to make this wager. Zero dropped chains as well, although we have discovered that exceedingly muddy conditions can be an issue in this regard when talking about XX1 and X01, so we expect the same of this new group as well.
The bottom line is that we fully expect X1 to perform as well as X01 on the trail, and it will only be a matter of long term reliability that will determine how the lower priced group compares to XX1 and X01. If reliability isn't a factor, we might have a hard time recommending either of the two more expensive groups to the average rider who's not concerned about grams or ceramic bearings. Time will tell.
For beginners, X1 could be just the ticket given its simplicity - the caveat is the lack of a 28 tooth 'ring, though. Learning to mountain bike can be frustrating, and perfecting the skill of shifting a front derailleur without mauling your drivetrain, slipping pedals, and fumbling in general takes time. By using a single 'ring system the beginner can put more focus on the trail, rather than figuring out which button they need to press and which chain ring they are in. The simplicity of the system transfers to the rest of the mid-level to top performers too. Although there is still apprehension within the market about whether one ring is “too hard,” you can take it from someone - an average mountain biker who made that switch to a single 'ring system - that SRAM have provided a range of gearing to suit the rider, the bike and the terrain that you choose. It might take some trial and error or asking around to get chain ring choice dialed, but once you have found a setup that works for you, it’s more than likely that you will stick with it. X1 will be available in June. www.sram.com