SRAM XX1 100 Mile Review
By Ben MF Jones
I originally bought SRAMís new XX1 group with the intention
of hanging it on my full suspension bike, but because I couldnít get my hands
on the compatible XD driver body for that bikeís wheel set yet, I decided to
throw the new group on my Focus Raven 29 and give it a spin on a hardtail
while I wait for the other driver body. After giving the group a few good rides
on my hardtail, I can honestly say it might never come off. I really like this
The bike I installed the group on is a Focus Raven 29 inch carbon hardtail (size large) with an American Classic MTB 29 Race wheel set.
The new group replaced a SRAM XX group in good working order Ė a pretty good
comparative. Installation was straight forward. If youíve installed any
previous drivetrain components, these arenít much different. Easier really, as
thereís no front derailleur to adjust, sweet! I did take extra care to follow
the included instructions regarding cutting the chain to the proper length, but
otherwise it was a piece of cake.
Crank: I went with a
GXP crank (156 Q factor) even though my bike is PF30, mainly to keep the drivetrain
compatible with my other bikes. The
stock crank came with a 32 tooth chain ring and I ordered an additional 34
tooth ring, which is what Iím running on my 29er. I felt the 34 gave me enough
low end without losing too much of my high end compared to the 39/26 combo I
was running with XX. I like the design
of the new spider, too, which allows for easy ring replacement should I decide
to gear up or down for different terrain. Iíve heard itís possible to go one
ring size up or down without chain length issues, though I havenít had to find
out if thatís true yet.
Shifter: Grip shift? I havenít used that since 800
X-RayÖ but after trying it in the new XO
iteration on a buddyís bike, Iíve been intrigued. Installation was a breeze,
though I ended up ditching the stock grips for my familiar ESI grips. The stock
grips were fine. Comfort and quality-wise, they were actually pretty nice, but
I found the shifter-side grip a bit too long for my liking and since itís a
lock on grip I canít cut it down. Plus I found I prefer a more noticeable step
between where the grip ends and shifter begins as it helps me orient my hands on
the bar without looking down. The tapered design of the stock grips made it
difficult to feel the transition between grip and shifter. Of course, grips are very much personal
thing is substantial. While the cassette may steal the show off the bike, I
think itís the derailleur that really stands out once the group is installed.
It looks big and mean compared to the XX derailleur it replaced. And if thatís
what it takes to help it shift so well, Iíll take it. The large pulley wheels
are grooved in a similar fashion to the front chain ring, so you have to match
up the chain properly in the back as well as the front. Otherwise, set up is similar to other derailleurs.
Cassette: Youíve seen the pictures, it really is that big.
But to be honest, I thought the same thing the first time I saw a 36-toothed
rear cassette. Iíve already adapted to this one, too. It does bum me out a
little that it requires a proprietary driver body (I have so many wheels, now
all needing new driver bodiesÖ ugh), but Iíll take the tradeoff for the gear
range I get in return.
So how does it ride? In a word: solid. Seriously, this stuff
is awesome. The shifting just feels more substantial than my XX drivetrain, but
not in that clunky sort of way. Also, upshifts into harder gears feel faster
compared to my XX. I always felt a slight lag in upshift speed with XX, not bad
mind you, just a little. I adapted to it by timing my upshifts slightly sooner
as I was cresting a hill, but with XX1 I find it to be perceptibly faster. I
like that a lot.
As for the grip shift, Iím digging it. Iíve been with
triggers for so many years now, I do find myself feeling for a paddle sometimes
when Iím an hour into a race and getting tired, but otherwise I notice Iím
cycling through my gears a little more often in undulating sections than I was
with triggers. Itís so easy to pop up or down a gear with very little effort.
In terms of shifter feel, itís super smooth. I almost wish it were a little
more tactile in the down shifts with a louder, more perceptible click. But
again, I think part of that is just getting accustomed to a new shifting
The drivetrain is quiet, real quiet. Itís my first time
using a clutch-equipped rear derailleur which I think is a big reason for the
silence, but thereís no denying the added silence of not having a front
derailleur packed with sand and crud. No grinding, no scraping, no snap/cringe/zing/pop
of forced front shifts. Itís just quiet.
And how about chain retention? Iíve ridden on some moderately rough trails
up in Orange County with it, hit the local singletrack with it, and raced it in
a local mtb race with not a single dropped chain. Not one. I couldnít claim
that with my double ring drivetrain, regardless of manufacturer. Back pedaling
through G-outs, skipping the rear sideways through rocky turns, bad lines, poor
form. I havenít dropped the chain yet.
Do you have enough gears, high and low? This too is a little
personal, isnít it? Only you can truly know that answer, deep in your heart.
But here goes: I would say yes, with a
caveat. I would use this drivetrain for all of the trails I commonly ride,
without hesitation. I would also use this drivetrain for every race course and
US Cup we have in California. OK, that climb at Fontana would hurt, but it does
anyway. I would use it in a heartbeat for something like Downieville - suck it
up for an hour going up, and reap the benefits of an awesome drivetrain on the
way back down. I would use it at the Whiskey 50. I plan on using it at 24H of
Old Pueblo as well as the Gunnison Growler this year. The only venues that would give me pause are
races like the Breck Epic and maybe Leadville where I might prefer higher highs
and lower lows. So, other than long drawn out slogs and multi-day sufferfests
at altitude (Breck Epic is rad, BTW, you should totally do it regardless of
what drivetrain you have) with handlebar chewing climbs, I think I would pretty
much use this drivetrain for all my riding.
I really canít comment on the durability yet, but a silent,
smooth drivetrain with usable gears, that shifts better, and weighs less than
XX? Heck yeah, I like it so far.