Toby Henderson is not afraid of a fight. He spent the greater part of his life competing head to head with the heroes of BMX and downhill mountain bike racing, but nothing in his professional racing career could prepare him for the battle he would face shortly after he founded Box Components.
Box Two: Difficult, not Impossible
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Henderson announced to his team at Box that they were going to develop a derailleur based drivetrain that would compete with the likes of SRAM and Shimano. I’m quite sure that Henderson’s presentation was followed by a moment of silence while the dumfounded guests were thinking, “Did you hear what I just heard?”
When the team managed to catch their breath, I imagine Henderson was blasted by a litany of concerns regarding the viability of such a project. When I asked Toby why Box Components took on such a humongous project, his reply was both simple and on point:
Box Two Drivetrain Rear Derailleur
: Wide or X-Wide cage options, user-adjustable clutch.
Weight: Wide - 284g/X-wide - 290g
Price: $109.99/$119.99 USD11-Speed Cassette:
HG compatible, 11 x 46 or 11 x 50
Price: $99.99/$119.99 USDShift lever:
Dual-action release lever, up to 4 downshifts in one throw
Price: $44.99 USDChain:
Nickel plated, 116 links, quick-link, 11-speed cross-compatible
Price: $24.99 USDContact: Box Components
Box Two is not the brand’s first foray into the drivetrain business. Box planned to lead with a flagship system, sprouting with titanium bits and a matching MSRP. That was the Box One
project, which resulted in a seven-speed DH ensemble that has been competition proven on the World Cup circuit, and a sweet shifter and derailleur for their Box One trail bike drivetrain. The cassette, however, would have to wait.
Henderson says that Box One provided a steep (and expensive) learning curve for the team–but Box needed a more realistic goal if they were to make headway in such a competitive market. Henderson temporarily shelved the development of Box One’s showcase aluminum and titanium cassette in favor of producing Box Two – the culmination of everything that the team had learned, streamlined into an affordable 11-speed trail bike group that could spark the imaginations of both aftermarket and OEM customers. It was a good call.
Box Two Derailleur
“Sturdy” is the word that best describes the Box Two rear derailleur. Its critical parts, the linkage plates and upper pivot body, are 3-D forged aluminum. Both sides of the pulley cage are also aluminum, while the lower “knuckle” assembly is glass-fiber reinforced nylon. Like Shimano, the cable actuates the parallelogram from an arm that extends above and behind the mechanism, but Box hinges it, so it can deflect upon impact.
Box is justifiably proud of their “Tri-Pack” adjustable clutch, which emulates the multi-plate clutches used in motorcycle transmissions. Box Two owners can fine tune the clutch friction with an Allen key to either increase chain control, or reduce friction to attain smoother shifting with less effort at the lever.
Box offers the changer with a medium-length cage that shifts up to 46 teeth, or a long-cage version that can handle their 50-tooth cassette. The pulleys ride on bushings, instead of the ball bearings you’d expect to find on top-tier changers. Weights are 284 and 290 grams respectively, while the MSRP is $109 USD. Click here to watch it in action.
Box Two Twin Shifter
Box's Tri-Pack multi-disc clutch (under the red cap) is user-adjustable. An Allen screw (right image) preloads a pair of spring-washers to ensure the three friction plates generate consistent resistance. The needle bearing is the one-way clutch.
Box Two owners can drop down four shifts with a single push of the thumb lever when faced with a surprise climb. That’s a helpful feature, and as the shifter’s name suggests, the cable-release lever operates in both directions. Similar to Shimano, the ergonomically shaped forward lever will happily shift either with a push of the thumb or with a pull of the index finger. Weight is pegged at 119 grams, and the MSRP is $44.99 USD
Future plans call for integrated mounting options to fit the Box Two shifter to Shimano I-Spec and SRAM Matchmaker direct-mount brake levers, but at present, it is only offered with a discreet handlebar-clamp.
Box Two 11-Speed Cassette
I paired the Box Two shifter with Shimano brake levers (which typically offer the most interference issues with bar-mounted accessories) and it provided a wide range of angular and lateral adjustment options.
Construction is economical and designed to go the distance. The well-contoured thumb levers are molded over stamped metal, so there is some flexibility apparent when changing gears in anger. I didn't pull the shift pod apart for a look, but the internals seemed very robust, with consistent action and pronounced index intervals that clearly communicate each shift. The cable adjustment follows suit, also with positive stops and a firm feel.
Box designed the matching 11-speed cassette to be compatible with the very universal Shimano HG freehub standard, which limits it to an 11-tooth cog on the small end. Keeping the costs to a minimum, the team opted not to machine the cassette cogs from a single piece of steel like SRAM does with their XX1 cassettes. Box Two cassettes are separated into three units: Two groups which are riveted to aluminum spiders, followed by a stack of five smaller cogs that slip on individually. The 50-tooth cog (or the 46 if the XC cassette has been chosen) is machined from 7075-alloy aluminum, while the rest are steel.
Two cassette options are offered. The more closely spaced XC cassette (11-13-15-18-21-24-28-32-36-40-46), and the extra-wide range Trail version that we review here (11-13-15-18-21-24-28-32-36-42-50). If you like what you see and your wheels are HG compatible, Box Two cassettes are cross-compatible with SRAM and Shimano 11-speed derailleur systems, and use the same spline tool. The 11 x 46 weighs 480 grams and costs $99.99 USD, while the 11 x 50 weighs 556 grams, with an MSRP of $119.99 USD.
Where's the Crankset?
Box Two Chain
Hey, it's a quality 11-speed chain, and the links are stamped with the Box logo. It's not rocket science, but if you are going to root for the underdog team, you may as well fly the flag proudly. It's nickel plated and made from heat-treated alloy steel. Box ships the chain with a quick link for $24.99 USD. Weight is pegged at 255 grams for 116 links. If you want to spiff things up, the Box One chain has hollow pins and weighs 243 grams, for only $39.99.
The absence of a crankset from the Box Two ensemble was not a mistake. After SRAM successfully converted the sport to one-by drivetrains, there was little incentive for customers to purchase matching cranks. No front derailleur means no special shifting ramps on the chainrings, so any crankset with a narrow-wide sprocket will suffice (SRAM and Shimano were probably disappointed to discover this).
Smaller crank makers like Race Face and e*thirteen quickly swooped in to tear flesh from the two giants, leaving Box Components free to concentrate all of their resources upon the more technical aspects of their new transmission. We may see Box cranksets in the future, but presently, the team has bigger fish to fry.
Box Two Ride Report
My Box Two ensemble came wonderfully packaged, but without assembly instructions. If you have previous experience installing a Shimano drivetain, however, then you will be well equipped to tackle this job. Toby Henderson says that they are in the midst of developing online instructions, but it's easy to figure out. The cassette assembles to the HG freehub splines almost exactly like Shimano's XT does, and uses the same spline tool to torque the lock ring. The only other tip I can offer is to run the chain one link longer than Shimano recommends. (I put the derailleur into the smallest cog and cut the chain one link shorter than the maximum length that would tension the pulley cage). That, and using the B-tension screw to ensure that the upper pulley cleared the 50-tooth cog by 8 to 10 millimeters created the best shifting across the cassette.
On the trail, the Box Two system pops off shifts with minimal noise. There are one or two places in the middle of the cassette that clank a little when there is no load on the chain and the derailleur is moving it towards the smaller cogs. Shifting to larger sprockets can be done under power without complaints from the mechanism, cogs or the chain. Individual shifts are slightly slower that I'd expect from a Shimano XT transmission and on par with SRAM's GX-level wide-range systems. To be clear, that represents good performance.
Lever feel was very good ergonomically. I liked the contours of the molded paddles and I have come to appreciate being able to shift with my index finger.
It's easier to access the release lever while I am leaning over the front of the bike. (Shimano riders will get that.) However, I didn't like the slight amount of flex that the thumb lever had when I was shifting more forcefully. That said, I had been riding SRAM Eagle XX1 and Shimano XTR before jumping onto my Box Two bike, so I had been spoiled rotten by forged aluminum levers riding on precision ball bearings. To Box Two's credit, the mechanism was accurate and responsive to every command throughout the review. I never missed a shift.
The Box derailleur requires more thumb pressure than both Shimano and SRAM to access the 50-tooth cassette cog. That may be caused but the reduction of leverage that occurs when the derailleur's parallelogram is reaching the end of its travel, but that is just an educated guess. It's not a deal breaker, but it can be sensed. I spoke to Toby Henderson about that and he said that the derailleur breezes up to the 46 tooth XC cassette cog, but admitted that it needs a little more push to reach the 50. Box is working on that for the next-gen changers.Notes on the Cassette
Eleven cogs seems so yesterday since the introduction and widespread acceptance of SRAM's Eagle 12-speed, but there are a busload of riders out there with HG-style freehub rear wheels who could use the extra range that an 11 x 50 or 11 x 46-tooth cassette can provide. Compare SRAM's 12-speed ratios (10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32-36-42-50) with those of the Box Two (11-13-15-18-21-24-28-32-36-42-50). The progression between shifts is identical in the middle and lower gears where most of the important shifts take place.
The first three shifts (11 through 15) provide a seamless progression, just like the Eagle cassette does, so all you're missing is the Eagle's ten-tooth cog. The advantage of Box's 11 x 50-tooth option is that it allows 11-speed riders to jump up to the next size larger chainring to get a faster top speed with their HG freehub's 11-tooth limitation without sacrificing a low gear for tough climbs. Pinkbike's Take: