Preview: SRAM XX1
Will SRAM's new dedicated 1x11 groupset finally spell the end of the front mech? Or is it a step too far?
Official details of this new 11 speed groupset which is aimed at enduro and XC racers is still a bit thin on the ground until the official launch at Crankworx Les 2 Alpes on July 9th-15th, but we already know a few key details. Firstly, as was long suspected, this new SRAM groupset is 11 speed in order to offer a truly wide ratio, without big steps, whilst running just a single ring up front. It might sound crazy, but as far as we know the new cassette will be offered in a 10-42t size. That is a genuinely massive range, and it's easily comparable with a double, or even triple ring set-up.
There's probably a whole load of you now going 'aaarrrrrggghhhhh, we don't need yet more compatibility issues', but we've got a feeling that SRAM might well have made this cassette fit on a current freehub body (it looks as if the biggest cog is mounted off the 2nd largest rather than the freehub body), and made it so that it can be used with a 10 speed chain. If that is the case then top marks to them for keeping compatibility in mind. Of course you're still going to need a shifter and rear mech at the very least to go alongside the cassette, and judging by the 'XX' part of the name this stuff is likely to be pretty expensive when it goes on sale later this summer.
SRAM might not have said outright that this new groupset is 11 speed, but if that isn't an 11 speed cassette I'll eat my hat. As you can see it's also bloody massive.
Easily the biggest question we've been left with is regarding the front chainring. SRAM say this new groupset has 'innovative chain management technology, including Type 2'. I.e. the new clutch rear mech is only part of the story, and as you can see from the picture above there's definitely something funky going on with the teeth on that chainring. They look very deep for starters, but what is going on with every second tooth? It looks like something is stuck on them. Is it simply that they've made every other one wider so that it properly fills the wider outer chain links. Whatever they've done they seem pretty confident in the overall reliability of the system as they are clearly suggesting that it works so well that there is no need for any kind of chain device, not even an upper guide.
If we're right in thinking that this system still uses a 10 speed chain then we don't see any reason why you couldn't use one of these rings with a 1x10 setup. It'd be great if that is the case as we know a lot of riders already feel that a 1x10 system with an 11-36 cassette already offers a big enough spread of gears for them, and so they're unlikely to want to spend loads of money on this new groupset, but they might like the idea of being able to do away with a chain device up front.
So, is this the future then? Do we need a cassette with such a large range? I suppose like most things it depends on how and where you ride. For those riders who have already gone down the single ring route for trail riding and are happy then this will probably seem like overkill, but then on the other hand there are still plenty of riders who find a double or triple setup better. I think for that latter bunch of riders this new XX1 groupset could be just the thing that they're looking for, albeit possibly in cheaper format. There's also no question that if a single ring setup can be made to work for everyone and the front mech can finally be forgotten about, then it gives suspension designers (and particularly 29'er designers) far more of a free reign.
So, what do you lot reckon? A step forward? Or bonkers?