SRAM XX1 Drivetrain — an On The Bike Review

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At the Sea Otter Classic 2013 we had the opportunity to try out a SRAM XX1-equipped bike featuring the new 1×11 drivetrain.

Our impressions were recorded in real time in the attached video review, another in our On The Bike Reviews. We rode a SRAM-labeled Kona 29er equipped with the 1×11. The bike had a 32-tooth chainring and 10×42 rear cassette.

The first thing that threw us was the shifter. We instinctively reached for the trigger and found… nothing. Instead the bike was equipped with SRAM’s patented GripShift — the old motorcycle-style twist shifter.

We hadn’t ridden GripShifts since they first came out in the early 1990s. We tried ‘em on a couple of bikes and gave up. The response was slow, cable action was delayed, mis-shifting was common and in general — although we loved the idea — they didn’t deliver.

We stayed with SRAM drivetrains, in part because SRAM worked better than Shimano, and in part because we were a little tired of the Shimano monopoly. Whatever.

Over the years, we hadn’t paid much attention to GripShift.

On our tests of the 1×11, though, we soon came to like the gripper. SRAM has done much to improve the action and response. But there was another factor.

When you’re dependent on only the rear cassette, you find yourself flipping through multiple gears much more often. Without the front derailleur to rely on for step-up or down gearing spreads, you often want to jump two or three cogs at a time.

We came to think we should seriously consider this matchup for using 1×11 gearing, which our next bike will have.

One caveat: Troubling negative feedback
on GripShift in forums. Some riders are reporting failure. Some have asked SRAM for a response. So far, nothing from SRAM.

That’s too bad, because 1×11’s success may ultimately rely in part on GripShift adoption. We will be monitoring this as the season proceeds.

Back to the 1×11 test.

We found the rear derailleur to be smooth and responsive. Not much more to say there. It shifted as it should. We haven’t found any huge leaps in derailleur technology since index shifting, really. Refinements, yes. But let’s face it, if the gear changes precisely and quickly — which it does for nearly every brand of derailleur — that’s plenty good enough. Performance often is far more dependent on cable adjustment, tension and action.

The ride with a 1×11 is almost spooky quiet. Despite taking stutters at speed and tossing the bike around under us, we never experienced a single whisper of chain slap. When we checked the chain stay, we found it unprotected, unmarked and un-nicked. This setup lacked any chain tensioner or guide. The chain just doesn’t move around.

Our experience was confirmed by several months-long 1×11 users. Most started with a chain guide of some sort, but soon abandoned it as not needed.

What we really liked about the 1×11 had to do with … NO shifting!

With 1×11 of course, you lose the front derailleur and front shifter. And cable. And housing. (You even lose the chainstay protector, whether it’s a Velcro fabric or stretch tape.)

It’s like a whole chunk of stuff goes away, and you don’t have to worry about it any more.

The drivetrain as a result is going to be lighter. Because SRAM has made XX1 its new gold standard, the machining, weight and finish of the 1×11 is nonpareil. The stuff is really well made. (Again, they absolutely need to address the GripShift question.)

That leads us to the second part of our 1×11 experience. At Sea Otter we asked everyone from Pivot founder Chris Cocalis to the dude on the carbon Scott 27.5 (650b) from Los Angeles about how they liked 1×11. To a person, they all raved. They unreservedly gave it one thumb’s up — one, because that’s all you need with just a single shifter.

We had heard early rumors of chain fatigue and breakage with XX1, which made some sense given the amount of spread in an 11-cog cassette. Most feedback was that there’s less stress on the chain because it isn’t always having to hop back and forth among front chainrings.

We’re persuaded enough by experience and feedback to be eager to equip our next bike with 1×11. In the meantime, we’ll monitor the rumor mill and try to get a response from SRAM on GripShift issues.


Carbon 29er Comparison: Ibis Ripley and Pivot Mach 429

Mountain Biking at UC Santa Cruz: No more “don’t ask, don’t tell?”


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