Saturday, May 26, 2012

As Retro-Grouches And Spinal Tap Fans Groan...

SRAM announced Friday that a new XX1 group was being developed for sale later in the summer. That in itself isn't all that newsworthy, but the details behind it are. The one thing that seems to be catching everyone's attention is the fact that the cassette on the new group is 11 speed.

Image provided courtesy of SRAM
The obvious Spinal Tap references aside, this might be a concern for many who fear being "forced" to use less durable, more expensive, odd mountain bike components. I can see where the mere thought of 11 speed mountain bike componentry is going to ruffle some feathers and for good reasons. However; I don't think this is where SRAM is "sticking it to ya". Rather, I see this as something that might be good. 

Oh sure, I went and rolled my eyes a couple months back when an industry contact whispered the words "10-42 eleven speed" over the internet to me in an e-mail. "42 tooth cassette cog? Really!?", I thought, "That's nuts. That's insanity. It can't be for real, can it?"

Well, crazy like a fox......maybe.

You see, this new stuff is not meant to have a front derailleur or multiple front rings. It is meant to be only a 1X option with a wider gearing range. In many ways, this makes a lot of sense.

I've always said front derailleurs were the weak link in a derailleur drive train. They shift harder, and in the case of mountain bikes, foul easier than the rear does. Front shifting makes you lose momentum because the jump in ratio is not a close one, and probably will require you to make multiple shifts in the rear to get close to where you were in terms of cadence and speed. If a system has a wide enough range to climb your terrain without a front derailleur, why not use it? I think it makes loads of sense.

Then there is the aspect of full suspension design, and to some extent, hard tail 29"er design. Getting rid of a front derailleur allows designers a lot more leeway in terms of tire clearances, chain stay lengths, and suspension designs. The possibilities are enticing in this regard.

The 1X10 on this bike has been really good.
 Obviously, there are some proprietary bits. The shifter and derailleur are specific to this group. And really- do we need a 10 tooth cog? Finally, one has to wonder why we even have to do this with eleven speeds at all. Why not just stick with 10?

Durability is often brought up in discussions dealing with 10 or 11 speed systems for mountain biking. It is true that early 10 speed road stuff was abysmal as far as longevity. However; I've been finding that has improved. In fact, my 1 X 10 titanium Mukluk has been holding up rather well through snow, mud, sand, and dirt. This with a Shimano 105 10 speed chain, by the way.

Of course, an 8 speed, or heck, a 7 speed drive train would last far longer and may be all anyone would ever need. I still think an XT level, all aluminum 7 or 8 speed group "for the masses" should be produced with durability, efficiency, and moderate costs as design goals.

But this new 11 speed XX1 group might be pretty dang cool on the right bike. There will be several drive ring choices all the way down to 28T and Grip Shift and triggers will be supported. I may just look into it for By-Tor the Titanium Mukluk. I think a tad lower end on the range would be just what the doctor ordered here, sans front derailleur and shifter.


Steve Fuller said...

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I am somewhat in agreement on the 10 tooth small cog, but when you figure that you'll likely be running a smaller ring up front, it may make more sense than one would think.

Byron said...

It's the PR sleight of hand...1 x 11 on the dirt, but not on the road from SRAM.

Guitar Ted said...

@Byron: Undoubtedly, one has to assume that the road side is being developed as we speak for 11 speed. With Shimano's imminent 11spd intro coming, (Tour de France), I am not at all going to be surprised to see SRAM unleash an 11spd proto group on some rider's bikes there.

Whatta ya want ta bet it'll have an entirely new name as well?

Captain Bob said...

I wonder how many pedal strokes it will take to get you comletely in a 42t cog? I find it takes a noticeably long time to get cranked up into my 36t when going up a steel climb already. I am a huge fan of 1x somethings though so I hope this is good.

Steve Fuller said...

I wonder if any of the roadies with want the SRAM Tunfel grouppo on their road bike? :)