Spoke Magazine

Spoke vs XX1: First Impressions

Posted by Seb Kemp on Monday August 20 2012

See the thing at the top? Remember Avid Rollamajigs? To keep friction down and reduce the stress on the cable SRAM have borrowed old technology to add to this very modern derailleur. Also note the Cage Lock, Type Two systems, horizontal parallelogram and massive jockey wheels, the top one being offset in order to clear the huge cassette.

“It’s like riding rodeo”, blurts out Greg Herbold. “I can now grip with my left, and hold onto the bucking bronco while I sort out my controls with the right”. He breaks into a little demonstration of bull riding style while the assembled hacks chuckle.

He has a point though. XX1 makes things simpler so you can just ride harder, whether you’re taming a beast of a trail or galloping on singletrack.

This new drivetrain isn’t more complicated. Yes, it has more gears on the cassette but it’s tidied up and simplified a lot of the rest of the drivetrain. And even though there is added weight in certain places (we’re talking mere grams here and there) the overall drivetrain on the XX1 is 200g lighter than XX. It could also make drivetrains stronger and more resilient to wear. Why? Well, with the chain line stresses are reduced (no more cross gearing now), the chain is made stronger because it doesn’t need to shift up huge chain ring gaps, and with the single chain ring designed only to hold the chain and not intentionally drop it for shifting, parts can be stronger and less prone to wear.

The chain ring really does hold it. It feels sort of like magnets when you have it in your hands.

The last thing might surprise the naysayers who bemoan more cassette cogs and who wish for a return to the halcyon days of nine, eight, seven or six speed cassettes, but it’s true. You see, XX1 isn’t about introducing more gears and adding complexity, it’s about remedying some of the issues that drivetrains have had since, well, forever.

No longer does the drivetrain have to be designed to deliberately derail the chain in order to get more gears. Look at a drivetrain in motion; the bottom portion of the chain is under very little tension, hence why it slaps about making a racket and eating your bike alive. Meanwhile the top portion is under a huge amount of stress and torque as power is pulled from the crank arms through to the rear wheel. To then derail the drivetrain while under such tension is difficult to engineer and comes with hazards and issues. But that’s what we’ve been doing with triple and double chain rings for years. We’ve had a mechanism which derails the chain, and then chain rings that can lose the chain and help move the chain to shift between gears.

Now instead, the chain rings actually grab the chain and really try not to let go. The tooth profile on the chain ring is deep and pronounced. There are also hooks on the inboard side and cross-headed teeth. All of this is designed to hold the chain onto the single front ring at all times, without the need for a chain guide.

To test this SRAM kindly took us to the Top Of The World, the new trail that leads from Whistler’s peak and snakes nearly 5,000ft to the village. The trail is rough, dry, rocky and, at times, fast. Like, face-meltingly, eye-bleedingly, scarily fast. We followed the same route that the Crankworx Canadian Open Enduro raced down the weekend prior which included a large portion of Whistler’s Garbanzo and Fitzsimmons Bike Park trails. This is the kind of place that’s a downhill bike-only affair. That we were on 27lb highly pedalable XCish machines and wearing no pads and half-lids didn’t seem to phase anyone. Nor did it phase the poor bike’s drivetrain which not once even hinted at a dropped chain.

Here’s me trying very hard to keep in Curtis Keene’s dust vortex on the Top Of The World trail in Whistler.

Only once we got down safe and had a cold drink in hand did the realisation about what SRAM have achieved really hit us. They’ve managed to make a system that is lighter, stronger, and solves some of the most prevalent problems with mountain bikes. We can now have less clutter on our bike’s handlebars, at the bottom bracket and on the frame. We don’t need a front shifter, nor front mech, nor chain guide. This isn’t a small development, this is a radical new direction of thinking that will benefit riders and engineers. Riders, because they can have much more for less, and engineers because now they don’t have to engineer around the front mech while designing frames that more and more these days have less and less space at the BB junction. Suspension design pivot location can be harmonised too. And this all benefits us, the riders.

After the Top Of The World ride I stole the test bike and have absconded for a few weeks with it for some more demanding evaluation on trails with more climbing and as much descending. Keep an eye out for the full XX1 review in the December issue of Spoke Magazine.

There’s heaps more info we have posted up here on XX1 if you’re keen for a read.

Caleb also fired me through a few questions that Spoke readers have asked regarding XX1.

Is it possible to run the new XX1 chain rings and chain with a 2012 style SRAM 10 speed cassette?  i.e for people to upgrade slowly. 
You will need to upgrade all parts to 11 speed.  The chain is very specific and chain management will only work with all 11 speed parts and chain.

Can you run the current cranks and just buy the spider and chain rings?
You can use an X0 crankset but for the correct Q factor (the Q factor is the distance between crank arms at the pedal) XX1 crank is better and it all is matching.

I bumped into Easton’s MTB marketing manager Dain Zaffke and asked him if Easton had any plans to make a XX1 compatible freehub?
No. No plans for that right now.

Image Gallery (4 Photos)

  1. See the thing at the top, remember Avid Rollamajigs? To keep the friction down on reduce the stress on the cable SRAM have borrowed old technology to add to this very modern derailleur. Also note the Cage Lock, Type Two systems, horizontal parallelogram and massive jockey wheels, the top one being off set in order to clear the huge cassette.
  2. Here's me trying very hard to keep in Curtis Keene's dust vortex on the Top Of The World Trail in Whistler.
  3. The chainring really does hold it. It feels sort of like magnets when you have it in your hands.
  • Pieter Reichwein

    I have a question Seb.
    Can you change gears, while pedaling over ruff terrain?

  • Doug Hamilton

    It’s interesting how manufactures come up with fixes for problems that don’t need fixing. The dropped chain problem is not a problem if you choose the right derailuers and chainrings for your riding and set them up properly.

  • Cam

    Doug you’ve missed the point. Front mech, multiple chain rings, chain device all adds complexity and weight, no one is saying that you cant have a 2x or even 3x and not keep a chain on, what this does is keep it simple with one shifter. Less cables, less messing about, more room on the bars for other stuff and one hand shifting. Sounds good to me.

  • Doug Hamilton

    Your’re right Cam, simple is good. I’m with you there. I just hate they way the marketing man comes out with stories about this amazing new stuff, when really, alot of it ain’t. This groupo will be just the ducks nuts for certain riders I’m sure who don’t have big variation (up and down) in their riding terrain, for those that do, totally useless. Not really a steep forwards, just slightly sideways and a bit back.

    • James

      My understanding is that with the 10-42 cassette you actually still get a very wide range of useable gears. Does anyone have a chart comparing gear ratios for a 3×10, 2×10 and 1×11? The fact is, with a 3x or 2x drivetrain you have a lot of overlapping gears. Everyone knows that you don’t have 30 or 20 different sequential gear ratios! Going to a single chainring removes this overlapping, giving you the gears you need, without the excess! Sounds like a win to me.

      I’m hoping I can afford XX1, if not, I’ll be VERY keenly awaiting the trickle down to more affordable levels.

  • Cam

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there Doug, its a sideways step. Its an alternative to the traditional set up and for someone like me (whos in the process of going 1×9) its an interesting alternative. Now all I need is the tech to trickle down to something I can afford!

  • Doug Hamilton

    Hi James, if you compare a 2×10 with 24/36 up front and 11 to 36 at the rear, with the 1x 11, regardless of front chainring size, the 2×10 has it all over the 1×11 for both climbing and top speed. Sure a bit more shifting but way more usable. If you run Blackspire or similar front chain rings and a Saint or new Shadow Plus rear D, chain droping problems will disapear.