Long Term Review: SRAM XX1 1×11 Mountain Bike Drivetrain

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

Our long term test of SRAM’s XX1 group started in December with the weigh in of all parts, followed by some early impressions from Marc (which includes some great info on actual and comparable gearing ratios).

Now, after seven solid months of riding, including a punishing tromp through the Trans Sylvania Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race, we just as stoked on it as when we first got it dirty. And it’s still working just as well. Which is to say virtually flawlessly. Not only is the XX1 group quiet and smooth, but it’s rock solid. In seven months on two different frames, I’ve dropped the chain exactly once. And that was the result of a rapid endo that sent the bike flying sideways.

In addition to the darn near perfect performance, it’s also cleaned up the aesthetics of my bike. And it dropped a full half-pound from XX setup I had previously. Thinking about upgrading? Shift down for the full review…

DETAILS & INSTALL NOTES

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

With SRAM’s 2×10 mountain bike groups, their recommendation is to set the chain around the largest chainring and cog, then add two links. For XX1, they’re recommending wrapping it around chainring and largest cog then adding four links. You’re then adding the quick connect link, so technically this gives you five extra links of length. This small extra bit of chain allows for the massive range of the 10-42 cassette.

They say this gives you enough wiggle room to go between two different chainring sizes, but I managed to set it up around a 36t and drop all the way to a 32t chainring with no problems. The image above shows it with a 36t ring in the extreme ends of the cassette.

Note: On full suspension frames with noticeable chain growth, the chain should be measured at the point in sag where the chain is stretched the furthest. This might limit the range of chainrings you can use without adjusting chain length.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

Installation is pretty straightforward. There’s no front derailleur to mess with, which saves a lot of time. A chiseled spacer takes the place of the inner chainring and provides a nice little resting place for the chain when necessary (or in the very rare event that it drops).

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

A built-in preload adjuster makes it easy to adjust bearing/crankset tightness. I’ve found that just twisting it until it’s finger tight works well, then lock it into place with the pinch bolt. The one downside is that it’s diameter creates potential interference with some bottom bracket designs. I’ve had a bit of trouble getting it to work with the new Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket, but they’ve made it work on their bikes, so we’re still troubleshooting that one since it is working fine with an X0 crankset.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

Both crankarms come with helicopter tape on the half closest to the spindle, which tends to be a heel rub contact area.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

The rear derailleur uses a severly offset upper guide pulley. As the bottom of the cage is pulled forward, the pulley comes down, staying just below the gear it’s lined up with. Proper B-screw tension is key to making it work properly – just tension it until the pulley is far enough off the cassette to allow the chain to move freely between them. (Yes, the cassette can completely hide a 160mm rotor from view!)

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

Cable routing is smooth and clean, running around a large wheel and curved lever, around the bolt then straight out the front. Yes, I put a cable end on it before riding.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

As the cable pulls, the parallelogram links move horizontally rather than at an angle. It’s the offset location of the guide pulley that brings the chain up or down in the vertical plane. The massive P-knuckle houses SRAM’s Type II roller clutch mechanism. Technically, it’s just a very strong retention spring since there’s no on/off switch, but we’ll go with the common nomenclature here. The Cage Lock seemed silly when it was first introduced, but having used it, it’s money.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

The Driver Body and XX1 cassette are also amazing. They make cassette installation and, more importantly, removal super quick and easy. There’s no marring of the freehub body that causes cogs to get stuck in place – the whole thing slides on and off effortlessly.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

The trigger shifters are virtually identical to the 10-speed models, offering adjustable positioning of the downshift lever.

From a technical standpoint, XX1 is impressive. It shows SRAM’s not afraid to change things up and do something differently if it means making a better product. I applaud their spirit of experimentation, especially when the results are this good. And I haven’t even gotten to the ride yet…

RIDE REVIEW & NOTES

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

The first thing you notice, after the weight loss of course, is how much cleaner the cockpit looks without a front shifter. Above is shown with a separate remotes for the fork and shock and Magura brakes.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

Put together an entirely SRAM based drivetrain and brakeset, lose the rear shock remote, and things get beautifully sparse.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

After registering for the TS Epic, I stocked up on an extra chain and a few extra 11-speed quick links, just in case. I’m happy to report that after seven months of riding all over, in mud, crud, dust and rocks (lots of rocks!), I have had a total of zero problems. No broken chains, no mis-shifts, no jams and, barring the aforementioned endo incident, no dropped chains.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

Even when dirty, everything runs smooth…

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

…and quiet. The open design of the cassette coupled with the “silent pulley design” seems to work to minimize chain noise, and the clutch all but eliminates chain slap. It’s not until you get back on a bike without a clutch rear derailleur that you realize how much they help, and SRAM’s seems to be a bit stronger than Shimano’s without adding undue resistance to the shifting. Plus, not having an on/off switch reduces moving parts and, theoretically, improves durability. More importantly, it just means one less thing to think about.

Speaking of shifting, everyone has their preferences. I’ve ridden bikes with both drivetrain brands that had plenty of cable drag and bikes that felt like butter. Much of that has to do with quality of cables, housing and frame design and routing. I’ve been running my XX1 on two different Niner Jet9 RDO bikes, one with the original cable design and the newer one with continuous rear housing. The former has a curvy, tight bend in the housing between BB and chainstays and the latter, well, it has full length housing – both of which can be potential sources of drag. Fortunately, SRAM’s included cables and housing are very good, and I’m now running newer cables from Alligator that will be reviewed separately, so things have been smooth. Regarding the actual shifting action, SRAM’s levers have a much shorter throw than Shimano’s. Short enough that lazy shifting generally pays off just as well as intentional efforts. That means very quick shifts. The upshift lever is so quick that on bumpy terrain it’s easy to tap it two or three times by accident, but I’ll take that occasional inconvenience for the rapid, easy shifting. The downshift lever can throw the chain through four cogs with a full push but takes just a tiny bit of movement to sling up a cog.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

SRAM’s Matchmaker mounting system helps keep things minimal and allows a small amount of fore/aft positioning of the lever. Combined with the two mounting positions on the lever body and the adjustment on the downshift trigger, it’s pretty easy to get things where you want them. The cable adjustment bezel is easy to turn even with full finger gloves.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

I’ve worn through several layers of carbon on SRAM cranks before, so the protective tape is a welcome addition.

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

It’s showing scratches, but doesn’t appear to be wearing thin. A few flying rocks have made their mark on the crank arms, but it seems mostly superficial so far:

SRAM XX1 1x11 mountain bike drivetrain long term review

From a pure riding perspective, the XX1 has been flawless. The only downside is running out of gear (or having too much) when my days involved too many feet of elevation gain and loss. The only time that really actually mattered was during the TS Epic on a couple of the downhill fire road Enduro segments where I maxed out with a 32t but was wishing I had a 30t for the climbs. Other than that, smart selection of the two included chainrings means an entirely useable range of gearing with quickly swappable option for days away from normal trails.

I haven’t once missed my 2×10. I haven’t once thought “maybe I need a chainguide”. And not for one second have I thought about taking it off my bike.

Further reading:

Comments

Mat Long - 07/10/13 - 3:36pm

I’ve been running XX1 34t on my Tallboy LTc for about 3 months now and I absolutely love it, and have had no problems at all so far.

Zap? - 07/10/13 - 4:04pm

I think this is a brilliant system, and I want to build up a gravel grinder bike with this drivetrain, but the cost just seems a bit out of whack, for a system that is basically giving you less, for more.

Does SRAM plan on introducing a lower cost version, or will the cost of this drivetrain ever go down a bit? That’s the only thing that’s currently keeping me from buying it.

Nice review!

Chunky - 07/10/13 - 4:06pm

I can’t afford such crazy prices for parts the essentially wear out. So I went the Wolfooth route, a fraction of the cost, works just as well in my opinion and experience.

Not cussing XX1, if you want to spend that kind of money then that’s cool.

rider - 07/10/13 - 4:11pm

Same here, bought a wolftooth chainring and a General Lee cassette adapter, way cheaper.
Now I´m happy on 1 ring. I´ll get the sram when it´s down to x9 prices…maybe.

Ck - 07/10/13 - 4:17pm

Looking forward to being able to bite this at the x9 level. Or at least get x9 level cassettes and chains. This is XX-level stuff after all, which I would never buy as a 2×10 setup even if XX1 didn’t exist due to cost of wear parts and lack of value. Get me an affordable cassette and i’m totally switching to 1×11.

John - 07/10/13 - 4:34pm

I thought XT or XTR shifted great until I tried XX1. Holy cr#p, XX1 is on an entirely different level.

Claire Quilty - 07/10/13 - 4:45pm

Be aware that SRAM changed their documentation that ships with the parts to update the number of links the chain requires. The Rev A and B were incorrect; you’d end up with a chain that was too short.

The Rev D, which is now on their website, addresses this, um, shortcoming.

Pete - 07/10/13 - 5:01pm

Tyler, any problems with excessive chainring wear on your test rig? I’ve heard the drivetrain burns through chainrings because of the alternating tooth retention system. I have been riding my XX1 pretty hard for about six months with no ill effects.

I’m not sure I get the logic in paying less for cheaper parts because you believe the part will wear out. You are more likely to wear through an X7 or X9 derailleur than an XX. The $400+ cassette is a bit of a smack in the face, but the cheaper XO version is already out there and if you keep your drivetrain clean, you should get many miles from this stuff. All of that of course is dependent on my first question being answered…

Mike - 07/10/13 - 5:05pm

@ John – I totally agree about the shifting. The XTR shifting is consistant and solid. The XX1 shifting is consistant and solid as well, but it is much faster with much lighter touch. MUCH lighter touch.

My only gripe about the XX1 system is the Q-factor (this applies to most higher end SRAM cranks too – X0 and XX). It is very narrow compared to some of the Shimano offerings (admittedly, I am coming from SLX). As someone who likes a wide Q-factor and who spaces their cleats out maximally outwards, it took some time to get used to the XX1 system. Although I would prefer if the cranks came in Q-factors >170mm.

Mike - 07/10/13 - 5:08pm

Also, one other small gripe I have with the XX1 system is the derailleur. Compared to Shimano’s Shadow design, this derailleur is in a very precarious position. The Shadow design is so elegant and tucks the derailleur away so nicely. The XX1 derailleur is way out there. I have fallen a couple times, and the XX1 derailleur has some scrapes on it (however, it’s performance has remained unchanged).

dogboy - 07/10/13 - 5:19pm

@Pete, I have a solid 5 months on mine and haven’t seen any excessive chainring wear. I am alternating back and forth between a 32 and 34t ring depending on where I’m riding.

EpicThroatBeard - 07/10/13 - 5:28pm

i’ve been through 2 front rings now (28 th and a 30 th) and 1 chain but the same cassette after nearly a year.
As they wear the front rings start making a noise, like a bad alignment noise. it’s the noise rather than chainsuck that has me changing them.
Shifting is tight and precise.
no chainguide. no loss of chain or movement of the chain on the cassette while descending.

fred - 07/10/13 - 6:19pm

Anyone riding this wish they had a bash guard?

ccolagio - 07/10/13 - 6:22pm

@rider – can you comment more on the general lee cassette adapter? ive been really interested in this as a possible upgrade from my 1×9. any issues with shifting up/down? you go sram or shimano route?

Matt - 07/10/13 - 6:47pm

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Rico - 07/10/13 - 11:04pm

I’ve been on XTR and Sram 1×10 and 1×9 for years with a MRp or e-13 chain guard. I think the smallest front ring I’ve used is a 33. 34 seemed ideal with 11-36 in back. Of course tech climbs are hard in the smalles gear even, but it’s kind of a fun challenge to ge throught a tough loop without stalling out on a climb. I think a 11-38 cassette would do it all easily. Last I checked the widest range was 11-36.

These new rear derailleurs look sweet.

Tyler (Editor) - 07/11/13 - 12:31am

Pete – no, nothing worth noting, and I haven’t noticed any additional noise over time, but I’ll listen for it and report back if I do.

Nick - 07/11/13 - 2:06am

@fred – yes, I have. Although I have yet to actually hit my chainrings (30T) on anything, the possibility is nagging at the back of my head.

Icarus - 07/11/13 - 5:52am

“The only downside is running out of gear”…. It seems a pretty big one.
I guess it is a good system if you always ride the same trails. And don’t care too much about shifting quality/feel? can not not figure why nobody mention the lousy shifting? why top xc racers run hidden chain guards? Personally don’t like SRAM boy band graphics and overall flimsy-plastic feel.

wheelz - 07/11/13 - 8:23am

Been running XX1 since Feburary and no issues so far. Highly recommended.

Rob - 07/11/13 - 8:29am

I understand that the 1×11 (38T) setup covers virtually the same range as a 2×10 (28-42)and eliminates some redundancy. But, I wondering if anyone can comment on the how large the jumps are between gears?

Tyler Benedict - 07/11/13 - 10:18am

Claire – I’ve linked to Rev E in the article, which I’m presuming is even more up to date than Rev D and shows the four links.

Rob – There are more noticeable jumps in gears as you work your way up to the larger cogs because the number of teeth between them increase, but I never found it to be disconcerting. Actually, as I was looking for easier gears on the big climbing days, those growing gaps were quite welcome. I started out with a 36t ring for our local, mostly flat trails, and ended up staying in the upper 2/3 of the cassette most of the time, but also used that size to push my pace a bit. With a 34, I’m using more of the cassette, and any gaps are slightly less noticeable. All in all, the jumps didn’t bother me.

Ccolagio – Haven’t tried the General Lee adapter, but we are running an Absolute Black chainring with a 10-speed 36t cassette and it’s a good range for rolling XC stuff. Haven’t taken it to the big mountains yet, but if the ups and downs aren’t too dramatic in your area, a 32t ring with normal cassette provides a pretty good range without having to get special freehub bodies. Look for first impressions of the AB rings next week.

Felipe - 07/11/13 - 2:01pm

This report confirms my experience; I`ve had my XX1 installed on my Epic Sworks for 6 months of hard training, just finished BC Bike Race (close to the podium) on it and can`t rave enough about such a simple and outstanding functionality. Probably never going back to a front derailleur. I havent had a single chain drop or missed change either, and in my opinion de grip shift is quite superior to thumb clicking. Congrats SRAM this makes a huge difference to any existing Shimano system.

Matthew - 07/11/13 - 3:46pm

I am loving the XX1,Great system ,no troubles:-)

john - 07/11/13 - 5:55pm

Tyler, put two FSA Pedal Washers between your pedal & the crankarm on each side (so you’ll need 4 total washers). Will prevent most (if not all) of the heel rub. Should also help your biomechanics as it sounds like your neutral is a bit toe out.

Jeremy Ling - 07/11/13 - 10:41pm

XX1 rocks! I have been using it for almost half year. The only complain is the knocking/creaking noise coming from the roller clutch bearing of the RD. I am running XX1 on a full suspension bike. Is it setup wrong? I am surprised the reviewer does not mention this problem running on a niner full sus bike.

Shifting is so crisp and accurate compared to the 10 speed XT.

MissedThePoint - 07/12/13 - 2:42pm

@Jeremy Ling – Niner FS design has minimal chain growth. Certain Maestro-equipped bikes come the closest to rivaling the Niner FS design in this feat.

Joao Gomes - 09/16/13 - 4:28pm

That’s a master piece of engeneering! I love it! This is the future! Shifts like butter and works sweet on my Bronson Carbon with enve wheels!

Chris - 09/24/13 - 12:18am

You will need a 34 tooth chainring to get a similar range to a 28-42 2×10. On a 29er with 170mm cranks the 34T will give me almost the same range as my 26er with a 30-42 2×10 and 175mm.

Larry - 10/20/13 - 4:03pm

I’ve used XX1 for 5 months. When its working, I love it. That said, in 5 months I’ve snapped 5 chains, broken 2 twist shifters, and busted 1 cassette. I weigh 145 and ride xc. SRAM has promptly replaced every busted part but after the last snapped chain (45 miles on it) I think I’m giving up on XX1.

Tony - 11/04/13 - 12:25am

I had an XX1 installed on my Santa Cruz Highball 6 months ago. I had it installed by a professional bike shop. I’ve had two problems with it so far. I was climbing a hill and shifted into the 42 tooth cog and the chain went up over the cog and down into my spokes. I broke one aluminum industry 9 spoke that I had to have replaced. The bike shop also noticed that my 28 tooth chainring was worn out. The narrow teeth were worn to have the thickness. ( I know why!). I ride a trail every weekend in Los Angles that is a 6 mile hill. I’m using the 42 tooth cog a lot. The angle of the chain from the 42 tooth cog to the front chainring is what is chewing up the chainrings. Your chainring will last longer if it is mounted inward as much as possible to your bottom bracket. This will allow the angle of the chain to be less when using the 42 tooth clog.
I hope this information helps someone.

noox - 12/02/13 - 5:45pm

I ride XX1 on my Specialized Enduro. I’ve ridden about 1600 km including some Enduro races and additionally I had 9 bike park days. I really love XX1 but I had some issues:

Chainring wear: After about 700 km the 30T chainring started to rattle when muddy. After 850 km and a new chain it rattled even when clean. The chain sticks on the teeth when it should run off the chainring especially when I pedal hard. My second chainring still works – only slight rattling when muddy. Till I read this article I only heard of one other guy who hat the same issue with two 28T chainrings already after about 500 km.

I’m not that impressed with the shifting performance. In my opinion the tension of the chain and the Roller Bearing Clutch is so high that the chain does switch to harder gear quick enough (especially at the smaller cogs). But this got better over time. Additionally after about 1450 km the bearing in the pulleys where completely torn and I could not switch all gears anymore. I had to replace the upper pulley.

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