[splitpost intro="true"]If we didn’t have some kind of transmission on our bikes we’d be little better than those annoying scooter things, so it kind of goes without saying that it’s an import part of any bike. Being stranded on a hillside without any form of propulsion is as annoying as those scooters too, but using quality kit can help avoid those kinds of situations. That said, we are lucky these days in that even the entry–level offerings from the likes of SRAM and Shimano are pretty decent. In fact they’re better than some of the high–end kit from back in the day, and if I was building a bike up on a budget this is one area where I’d try and make a saving, especially because a load of the parts are going to wear out and need replacing at some point anyway.
This selection though is all about the very best kit though, and not necessarily the best value. That said you will find the likes of a Shimano Zee rear mech on the following pages, because we’re never going to ignore products that give you a real bang for your buck. If you’re really strapped for cash I don’t think you can go too far wrong with Shimano’s incredible value Deore groupset, but if you have got a bit more cash to spend then think about treating yourself to something on the following pages because we reckon you’ll love it.
Just click below to see our selection of the best drivetrain products for 2014, as featured in our latest Dirt 100. And, if you missed our other 'best of' picks then the links to those are below.
[part title="SHIMANO XTR"]
It’s hard for us to ever imagine a time when the three letters X, T, and R won’t start us drooling. Even as hardened journalists who’ve become almost numb to fancy kit, we’re still able to appreciate the beauty of XTR. It’s not only about the looks or low weight either, it’s just the way in which it works. Yes XT is bloody good too, but XTR just has that Swiss watch feel going on, you know you’re using something special. It also has to be said that Shimano really have got the whole clutch style rear mech thing dialled with their Shadow+ system. As much as SRAM have tried to copy the idea, we still think that the Shimano system works the best. Of course Shimano have recently announced the forthcoming release of their new 11 speed XTR, and although we are yet to ride it, we can only imagine that it's somehow a step up again from this stuff. Even if it does prove to be better though, that still doesn't take anything away from just how good this version is.
Rear Mech: £174.99
Shifters: £174.99 (RH only £89.99)
Front Mech: £74.99
[part title="SHIMANO SAINT"]
When Shimano first released their Saint groupset it was almost a moment of acceptance for DH. Before that point if you were into riding or racing DH you just had to make do with a drivetrain that was never really intended for the job. Often it wasn’t even designed to venture off tarmac. Saint though was designed from the ground up to meet our needs, and although the first incarnation was a little on the overbuilt side, since then Shimano have refined Saint to the point where we now have components that are light enough to race on, yet they’re still bombproof. The introduction of a Shadow+ chain stabilizer rear mech just made the groupset even better, and now if we are looking for ultimate reliability and strength we find it very hard indeed to justify building up a DH bike with anything else.
Rear Mech: £139.99
Chainset: £239.99 (W/O ring)
Dura–Ace Cassette: £189.99
[part title="SRAM XX1"]
SRAM’s XX1 groupset is nothing short of revolutionary. You might think that’s big talk for an extra gear, but XX1 is about far more than just being 11 speed. The ultra wide range cassette enables you to ride with just a single ring up front, without any real compromise in terms of gear ratios. That means there’s no need for a front mech whatsoever (which pleases suspension designers in particular no end), and because of the combination of a clutch style rear mech and a cleverly profiled chainring there’s also no need for any kind of chain guide (that said, if you are racing you still might want to use a top guide, just for safeties sake). It sounds to good to be true, but it really does work and once you’ve ridden a bike with XX1 you’ll really feel like you’re stepping backwards if you have to ride a more conventionally geared bike. With the introduction of the cheaper X01 and X1 versions, and the fact that Shimano's new 11 speed XTR doesn't offer the same wide range of gears, perhaps XX1's biggest competition comes from its own stablemates, and the new DH version has massively impressed us too.
Rear Mech: £239.99
FISHER OUTDOOR LEISURE 01727 798 340
[part title="SHIMANO ZEE REAR MECH"]
SHIMANO ZEE REAR MECH
For those of you that don’t know, Zee is Shimano’s cheaper alternative to Saint. In general you get less features, a bit more weight, and not quite as fine a finish. Nothing to write home about I hear you say. Well if you haven’t got the money to stretch to Saint then it probably is something to get excited about because it’s still a very impressive groupset, but if there’s one bit of it in particular that stands out it’s this rear mech. It’s Shimano’s cheapest short cage mountain bike rear mech, yet it still features the all important Shadow+ chain stabilizer. The only thing it lacks compared to the Saint version is the ‘mode converter’ for switching between narrow and wide ratio cassettes, but we don’t think that’s an issue. For any 1x10 setup, whether it be trail or DH, this is the smart choice.
[part title="RACE FACE SIXC CRANKS"]
Race Face SixC Cranks
When we’re looking for a bike product an impressive strength to weight ratio is always high on the wish list, after all we don’t want kit to break, but on the other hand we want our bikes to be as light as possible. The old saying goes; strong, light, cheap…pick two. So yeah, you can’t have it all, but if you have got the money then we think these Race Face SixC cranks are unbeatable when it comes to their strength to weight ratio. You’ll struggle to find many high–end XC cranks that are lighter than these, yet we’d be more than happy to use a set on our DH bike. They’re impressive to say the least. Throw in one of Race Face’s ‘Narrow Wide’ rings and you’ve got one hell of a set–up.
Silverfish 01752 843 882
[part title="MRP G3"]
It was a very close call for top honours in the chain guide category this year. MRP’s G3 and e13’s LG1+ are very hard to separate, both are easy to fit, supremely reliable, etc, etc, but at the end of the day we feel that the MRP just edges ahead. Why? Well mainly because we love that you can choose to run the lower part of the guide as either a roller or a slider. Rollers work great when it’s dry and dusty, but when the rain comes down and the mud starts piling up the slider rules the roost. It’s great to have the ability to tailor the G3 to your needs/ preferences. All that said, if you’ve got a particularly awkward frame design you may find that the extra adjustment on an LG1+ comes in handy.
ISON DISTRIBUTION 01353 662 622
[part title="E*THIRTEEN XCX+ CHAINGUIDE"]
E*THIRTEEN XCX+ CHAINGUIDE
If you’ve decided to run a 1x9/10/11 set–up on your trail bike then you’re probably going to want to run some kind of chain guide. I say probably because the introduction of ‘narrow/wide’ chainrings has meant that you can now get away without running anything in most situations, but if you’re going down the chain guide route then all you really need is a top guide like this one. Yes you could run a full one for ultimate chain security, but then it wouldn’t be silent and drag–free like one of these.
This XCX+ is our favourite of its type firstly because it is available in a huge range of different mounting options, so you can always find one to fit, and secondly because it’s so well made and easy to use.
Price: £44.95 – £89.95
SILVERFISH 01752 843 882
[part title="CHRIS KING BOTTOM BRACKET"]
CHRIS KING BOTTOM BRACKET
We don’t know a single rider who isn’t fed up with constantly having to replace their bottom bracket. Actually that’s not true, we do know some who aren’t, and they all happen to be running Chris King bottom brackets. I know, you’re probably sat there thinking that these can’t possibly last much longer than anything else, and they’re definitely not worth the extra money, but that’s exactly what people thought when Chris King first started making their legendary headsets all those years ago. How wrong they were. Chris King took a long time to enter this market simply because it took a while to make something worthy of carrying their name, and a full five year warranty! With both threaded and press fit versions on offer you really should do yourself, and your bike a favour by sticking one of these in the next time your bottom bracket wears out.
Price: From £152.99
EVOLUTION IMPORTS 020 8290 0807
[part title="RESPONSE 11-40T 10 SPEED CASSETTE"]
RESPONSE 11-40T 10 SPEED CASSETTE
There are a whole load of us who are currently running a 1x10 drivetrain on our trail bikes, putting up with any compromises in terms of gear ratios in return for no chain–loss performance and overall simplicity, but at the same time most of us would admit that we’d love to have the kind of gear range that XX1 offers. The problem is we can’t afford it. Well here’s the solution you’ve been waiting for, a 10 speed 11–40t cassette. Yes it might not quite match the range of an XX1 cassette but it gets pretty bloody close (and it does match the new 11 speed XTR) and this is the maximum that’ll work fine with your current rear mech. That’s the beauty of this cassette, unlike XX1 you don’t have to replace everything else, you can keep the stuff you’re already running. This particular cassette is made from titanium, steel and aluminium, but a cheaper non–Ti version will also be available to make this an even more affordable upgrade.
Since we first tested this cassette a whole pile of 'wide-range converters' like Hope's T-Rex have hit the market, and whilst we love the fact they they do offer an even cheaper route to a wide-range cassette, we still think this product stands out. Why? Mainly because no matter which cog we remove in order to fit a converter we still find the 'jump' a bit annoying, whereas this cassette has a nice even spread throughout the range, and secondly because if your cassette is worn and in need of replacing this probably works out cheaper than a new cassette and converter anyway.
RESPONSE PRODUCTS +33 676 786 069
All photos by Andy Lloyd - www.alpictures.co.uk