I have seen the light. I have also seen the future and it has two chain rings. Like many of you I have been running two front chain rings (with a bashguard) for a number of years already so two up front ain’t exactly new. What SRAM has done is optimise the setup, not just unbolt one of the chain rings. With 10 gears out the back there is simply no longer the need for three chain rings, unless maybe you’re climbing Mammoth Mountain or racing down it. I have been riding a 2x10 setup which has consisted of a wallet-draining but highly desirable set of carbon XO cranks with 39 and 26 tooth chain rings. The cranks really are a thing of beauty with the carbon visible and graphics that I have yet to smudge. They come in a variety of bottom bracket options too, whether you run external or pressed bearings. Just as beautiful are the XO shifters and rear derailleur and 1070 cassette and 1070 chain. It’s so unusual to see Avid brakes branded XO or hubs branded X9 that it almost seems out of place. Really, it’s no different to what Shimano has done all along with their groupsets. All SRAM is doing is catching up. And well they should. The SRAM empire includes brands like RockShox, Avid and Truvativ, so it isn’t a big stretch to go the whole hog with a branded groupset. Interestingly, the brakes are referred to as Avid XO and the cranks as Truvativ XO, so they manage to maintain their brand independence while unified under a simple performance banner.
I am a fan of the Elixir, and the XO brakes maintained the performance expectation of strong but well modulated braking power. They come with a sexy carbon lever as standard. Unsurprisingly, at the XO level the groupset worked flawlessly. I put it to the test in some horrendous conditions of mud and rain, changed under load with a small degree of neglect and it never missed a beat, shifting quickly and sharply every time. But many nine speed setups do this already, so what makes the 2x10 different? It’s all about how you use the front chain rings. I split my time evenly between each of the 39 and 26 tooth chain rings, often using the middle of the cassette for an optimised chain line. That said, I wasn’t afraid to cross the streams and use the full range of gears on offer. The enhanced chain line is promised to reduce wear, resulting in a longer life for chain, chain rings and cassette. Even though this drivetrain has been bathed in mud for the entire time I’ve had it, with no problems, it will need a lot more to truly determine its durability. At this point I have no complaints; after more than six weeks of tough conditions it still rides as new.
The way I use my front chain rings has changed. No more stomping up climbs without wanting to admit defeat by dropping to the granny. The granny rule simply doesn’t apply here. At no point did I run out of gears or not have enough on offer. The 10 speed cassette ranged from an 11 tooth through to a saucer sized 36 tooth, giving me more than enough to choose from, whatever the task at hand. Interestingly, the 2x10’s biggest traditional competition is from its own brother, the HammerSchmidt from Truvativ, but the attitude is quite different. The HammerSchmidt is aimed at aggressive all-mountain or freeriders (as it works also as a chain guide, has better chain ring clearance and immediate shifting even when stopped) whereas 2x10 targets trail riders and cross-country kids. To be honest, the simplicity, ease of performance and lighter weight makes me favour the 2x10. SRAM believes it has a game changer here and as such is backing this concept by making it available right down to X7 to keep it accessible to everyone. I’m not sure how many people are going to rush out to retool their existing rides, but with some very reasonable prices it’s not as prohibitive as you may think. There is still the option to run three chain rings up front if you desire, giving you a whopping 30 gears, but this is crazy talk. What’s important here is not the number of gears, but lighter weight, improved chain line, and the ratios and how you use them. One thing is for certain—when I look to replace my drivetrain the 2x10 option will be at the top of my list. The 10 speed is long dead. Long live the 2x10 speed. MARK DANGERFIELD