Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday News And Views

SRAM marketing strikes with a new 11 spd cassette that is aimed at 1X riders.
SRAM NX 1 X 11 Parts Announced:

If you've been paying attention for the last few years, you know that SRAM has been pushing its 1 X 11 gearing for mountain bikes quite heavily. I've used it, and it is a fascinating idea that ends up being "just okay", in my opinion. (More on that coming up here.) The biggest issue I, and many others have had, with this format is that (a), it requires a specific free hub body and (b), the cost is outrageous for the cassette. Mostly this is due to the outlandish, wasteful carving of a huge block of steel into a single, 10 cog unit, to which a final, aluminum cog is fitted to. The waste in the material and cost to machine the huge chunk of steel forces SRAM to charge exorbitant prices- anywhere from $260-ish to a bit over $400.00 depending upon where you purchase and what level X-Dome cassette you buy. Compare that to $160-ish for an XTR 11 speed cassette from the UK online dealers, and you can see why xx-1 is a bit of a big bite to chew for riders. That's just the cassette too. You still need a special derailleur, shifter, chain ring, and chain.

The obvious solution was for SRAM to find a way to make the 1 X 11 idea cheaper. They tried the GX platform, which still required an XD free hub, which was riveted together and consists of separately made cogs. However; the barrier of the special wheel was still there. Meanwhile, quietly and in typically sedate Shimano style, the Japanese component giant offered an 11 speed, wide ranging cassette that fit on a standard free hub body. Now, SRAM has announced a cassette which also fits on a standard free hub body dubbed "NX" in response. There actually is a whole suite of 1X parts to go with this. Differences to GX are minor, and the NX crank is almost identical to a GX 1X crank, only made with a different aluminum alloy. To wit: SRAM claims both crank sets weigh in the 680 gram range. Functionally they should be identical. The derailleur is a cheaper version of GX probably with lower level materials, as SRAM is wont to do with their groups.

Shimano's XT 11spd, 11-42 cassette- A SRAM 1X alternative
The big deal here is obviously the cassette, and the ability for OEM bikes to be set up 1X in the Far East, shipped here to North America, and hit a retail price point that should be far more palatable to more budget conscious riders. The NX stuff can arguably be said to be "X-5"-ish quality, which means that the materials and construct of the cassette and components will reflect the $75.00-ish dollar asking price for the cassette aftermarket.

But hold on here. SRAM, by ditching most of their proprietary technology like the XD cassette carrier, X-Dome cassette manufacturing technique, and lowering the materials and construction techniques to almost hybrid bike levels, have put themselves into a playing field where Shimano dominates. Check this out.....

A savvy shopper can source an XT 11 speed 11-42 cassette for under $75.00, which is going to have a far better shifting quality and construction than an NX 11 speed cassette will ever have. No.....I haven't seen an NX cassette, but I have seen and handled a GX cassette, and this NX cassette is one level below that. You have a Shimano cassette for about the same asking price as a lower quality SRAM one, and if you have a Shimano Shadow Plus clutch style rear derailleur, it probably can already handle a 42T cog. Want better shifting quality? The replaceable hangar on a Shadow Plus derailleur can be replaced with a Goat Link from Wolf Tooth components and bang on shifting is at your finger tips. While you're at it, you can grab one of Wolf Tooth's chain rings, slap it on your current crankset, and you have a 1X set up as good if not better than XX-1 at a bit more than maybe a NX set up will cost you. Well.....that is if your rig is 11 speed. Of course, you can easily approximate the same deal in 10 speed for similar amounts of cabbage and have a far better quality set up than NX.

So, a great marketing campaign, a good way to get OE spec, but otherwise, not really all that big of a deal in real terms for the performance minded riders that demand durable, great performing parts. I still think Shimano outperforms this stuff, and that 2 X 11 or 2 X 10 is still a better option for riders. Shimano has front derailleurs dialed, and with a two ring crankset, there is absolutely no way that a 1 X 11 covers the same range of gearing for most technical mountain biking with any appreciable elevation changes. Not only that, but your gearing can have closer ratio jumps between gears, helping to maintain momentum, and cadence speeds don't change all that much, making you more efficient.

Will 1X take over the mtb world? I am rather skeptical of that. Especially when wheel technology and the spaces we have to work in for components is what it is. Does 1X look better? Maybe. Does 1X appeal to the mind as being easier to understand? Most definitely. Is it better for "your motor"? Well, there is the real question, no? I will say that a closer ratio gearing is generally preferred by racing folks, and for a good reason. I think average folk can also benefit for similar reasons, and that's why I am not sold on 1X.

Okay, enough ranting for one day! Have a great weekend and hopefully you can hit some cycling up where you live.


spruceboy said...

While the XD driver thing isn't the best thing in the world, the sram 11spd cassettes last almost forever, at least in my experience. So while they are pretty expensive, they can be a pretty good value over the long term, yes?

The 11 speed stuff works very well for snowbikes. At last years ITI, I think half the field was using it. It is hard for me to see how the 2x10 (or 2/3x9) is better for that purpose.

Guitar Ted said...

@spruceboy: Fat bikes used for what they were meant for- flotation- have gone for short chain stays and the biggest tires one can fit. That is a limiting factor for sure. That more than anything, (tire clearances), is why 1 X anything trumps a multi-ring crankset. Speeds are slower as well, so perhaps the bigger jumps in gearing are not as bothersome.

For sure, 1X in these terms makes sense, but you don't have to run an XD driver or X-Dome parts to get there.

Longevity of parts is always a very tough thing to judge. For every person that runs something "X" amount of miles, you can find instances of people wrecking the same stuff in half the amount of time. Conditions, maintenance schedule, (or lack thereof), and riding styles can all alter the useful life span of parts dramatically.