1x11 on the cheap - Dirt

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Brakes & Gears Etc

1×11 on the cheap

Keeping it simple, light, quiet... and affordable

Single chainring transmission set-ups are now common-place and with 11 speed at lower prices we take a look at how cheap you can go.

SRAM were early pioneers of eleven speed, and we instantly fell for the silence, wide gear range, and great chain retention (even without a guide) and this kit soon earned a place in the Dirt 100 – as it does again this year. The price to join this club was high, and a dedicated XD Driver fitting on the hub was needed adding further to the cost of making the switch to eleven cogs. With many riders sticking to ten-speed, innovations such as expander cassette sprockets (Hope’s T-Rex being an example) and wide range ten speed cassettes (such as the Sunrace) allowing a wider gear range with a lower investment. SRAM’S tech soon trickled down however, opening up opportunities for a wider audience. SRAM GX (main image above) appears on many of our favourite bikes but it was the arrival of the new NX transmission earlier this year that caught our attention. Here is a 1×11 set up that is economical to buy and runs on a standard freehub body. Have Sram really killed off the front mech? This budget SRAM option along with the recently launched (and about to become available) Shimano SLX eleven speed opens up the doors for upping your cog count on the cheap. With many brands now designing frames around a single-ring-specific transmission, is now the time to make the switch?

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

These new options, from both SRAM and Shimano use a cassette range that starts with a 11 tooth sprocket (instead of a 10 tooth that the Sram transmissions from GX upwards use) hence the compatibility only with a standard freehub body. If you’re running a chainring smaller than 32T you may well run out of gears on faster straighter downhills but really it is a very small price to pay for the benefits. Both SLX and NX offer a cassette in a 11-42T range giving you a climbing gear that will get you up most climbs with determination. Anything steeper or muddier and we’re happy to push if we’re honest.

If you’re looking at a 1×11 set-up then chances are you will currently be running a converted 1×10 transmission or refreshing an older set up completely. Many modern trail or enduro bikes have a 1×11 transmission as standard and if you take a look at the bikes in our 2016 Dirt 100, there’s not one that has more than a single front chainring. We’ve been fans of 1×10 for years but in most cases you’ll find gear ratio compromises (even with an expander cog thrown in the mix) that you may feel could be improved on. A standard rear mech can be pushed beyond its original design parameters too. A dedicated 1×11 system takes all these potential compromises away, giving you a wide-ratio set up with total reliability.

Any negatives?

Until recently the first barrier would be the price. With a complete transmission (including chainset) starting at £251 for the NX, this is less than the full price of a Sram XX1 cassette, so if you’re looking to revamp your gearing or replace worn out components it makes sense to go eleven.

If you’re used to high end (XT, XTR, X0 etc) kit on you bike then you may feel this cheaper kit is letting the side down. The finish is naturally less polished and the materials used of a lower cost. It’s functional and does the job well but lacks a touch of the ‘wish list’ factor.

The weight is a key issue though and this may well put some off these entry-level groupsets, with the cassette being the main culprit. With a Sram XO1 cassette weighing in at 268g and the NX at 538g that’s a 270g chunk of added (rotating) weight. The Sram GX cassette hits the scales at 394g, the 11-40T SLX cassette weighs 467 grams. We can see a spot of pick ‘n’ pix going on here to get the best blend of price v weight by mixing different levels of shifter, mech and cassette.

With both NX and SLX 11 speed being new to the market, durability is yet to be monitored but it’s all reasonably affordable if you prang it in a crash.

Let’s have a look at the options available:

SRAM NX

There’s some real plus points to the new NX kit from SRAM especially at the prices it’s being offered at. It’s the first eleven speed ‘one by’ transmission from SRAM that fits a regular hub, which as mentioned above keeps the cost down by simply starting with an eleven tooth cog. A real benefit though is the choice of when it comes to the cranks. With NX you can can choose to go to a 165mm crank arm length (for better ground clearance – now often seen on custom spec enduro race bikes) and choose from standard chainrings starting at 28T and through to 40T. This is way more choice than you would expect at this price and proves that it’s aimed at the enthusiast rather than just being a budget option.

You might even want to run this kit even if you’re already on a 1×11 with a dedicated XD rear hub. Keep smashing or crashing your bike? Bang on an NX rear mech and maybe a GX shifter (for a slicker feel) and you have a very good value but high performance set up.

CRANKS: £92

GXP/BB30 fittings, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40T chainring options, 155, 165, 170, 175mm crank options, Weight: 680 – 780g

REAR MECH: £58

X Horizon, CageLock, Roller bearing clutch, Weight: 322g

RIGHT HAND SHIFTER: £22

X-Actuation shifting tech, standard bar clamp, Weight: 142g

CASSETTE PG – 1130£68

11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 22, 25, 28, 32, 36, 42T option only, Compatible with standard freehub bodies. Weight: 538g

PC – 1110 CHAIN: £11

Chrome hardened treatment, Powerlock link,

Weight: 232 -273g

TOTAL TRANSMISSION PRICE: £251 with chainset, £159 without.

sram.com

fisheroutdoor.co.uk

SHIMANO SLX

Recently launched as a mid range alternative to Shimano’s eleven speed XT transmission (and no doubt cropping up as original equipment on 2017 bikes…) this SLX level is a similar price bracket as SRAM NX. With the cassette also fitting on a standard freehub body, you can use your regular wheelset and keep costs down, a key benefit to these new groupsets. Got a second bike sitting idle in the shed? Chances are that this new SLX will fit.

The overall finish of the new SLX is good, with a nod towards Shimano’s premium XT and XTR in terms of styling. The details are good too, the shifter is I-Spec compatible allowing you to attach it to your brake lever for a neater handlebar. The Shadow-Plus ‘clutch’ is switchable so you can run it on or off depending on your set-up.

There are two SLX quality 11 speed cassettes available of 11-40T (which seems anorexic in the age of Sram Eagle) or 11-42T, with 1x riders able to choose between 30T, 32T or 34T chainrings. The 11-40T cassette weighs 467 grams, which makes it lighter than the NX by 70 grams (with a smaller range) but far from sprightly. This is an area where this cheaper kit has a noticeable compromise.

CRANKS (SINGLE RING SPECIFIC): £79.99 – £84.99
(+3mm Boost model costs £5 more)

SINGLE CHAINRING: £29.99

BOTTOM BRACKET: £29.99

REAR DERAILLEUR, SHADOW PLUS: £59.99

RIGHT HAND SHIFTER: £29.99

CASSETTE: 11-40T or 11-42T £64.99

CHAIN, HG-601: £24.99

TOTAL TRANSMISSION PRICE: £319.93 with chainset, £179.96 without.

SHIMANO DEORE XT

With SLX sitting below the legendary XT (and not much cheaper on some products) the lure of going to this benchmark groupset or transmission will always be there. There is another benefit though…. As revealed earlier this year, there will be an XT eleven speed 11-46T cassette that will work with both mid cage (GS) and long cage (SGS) XT, XTR and new SLX rear mechs but only on a single chainring transmission. Throw this in the mix at a little extra cost to the SLX and you have even more flexibility when deciding on gear ratios at the top or bottom end of the range, although there will be wider jumps between some gears. This new XT cassette should arrive in the UK in mid July and weighs in at 450g. We’re not sure of the price on it yet though.

bike.shimano.com

madison.co.uk

 

OUR VERDICT (SO FAR)

We’ve yet to spend much time on the NX (which is available now) or the SLX (which is due in the UK very shortly) but feel it could be money well spent if you take an open-minded view of bike building. We’re about to fit NX to a Dirt test bike and check it out in the real world.

On a budget:

Sram and Shimano have moved things in the right direction with NX and SLX. Sure, XT eleven speed and Sram GX can be found at discounted prices, but these two new entry-level transmissions drop the price even further with only weight and finish being (as yet) the only real compromises. If you have a single-ring 1×10 transmission already, with a narrow/wide chainring from Superstar, Renthal, Hope or RaceFace (amongst many others) you’ll find these rings will be 11 speed compatible and you’ll only need a new rear mech, R/H shifter, chain and cassette to get going.

Put your money in the right places:

With many riders now realising that good frame sizing, well-dialled suspension and quality wheels (rather than what rear mech you’re running) improves the dymanics of the bike and its overall ability, putting more money into those areas makes a whole heap of sense. Keeping the transmission affordable, cheap to replace and maintain, means more of your bike build budget can go into the areas that make the difference to your ride. With the exception of stiffer cranks, most of the transmission (if operating correctly) will not affect the dynamics of the bike. With these lower prices you’ve got loads more options.

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