26in trail bikes: still pretty awesome

Feb 15 Update 2:  Graphic comparison with double- and triple-ring setups added.

Recently, while descending a rough, loose descent, my attention was drawn to the rattle of a pair of hydraulic lines.  Annoyed at first by the intrusion, I soon realized the reason that the hoses’ noise had come to the forefront was the fact that nothing else was making noise.  No chainstay slap.  No rattle in the front derailleur.  No whir of a chain guide.  Nothing but the soft thrum of the tires- and the faint rattle of hydraulic hose.

Even before laying hands on hardware, the more I thought about SRAM’s new XX1 group, the more it made sense.  Sourcing a new freehub can be a hassle and the exquisite cassette is extortionately priced- but the logic is sound:  What if you could remove the gearing redundancy inherent in even 2×10 setups?  What if you could de-clutter crowded handlebars?  What if you never dropped another chain?  What if you could drop between 0.5 and 1.5lb from your bike?  What if you gave up virtually nothing in return?  All are big questions and exciting possibilities- and are the promise of the 11 speed drivetrain.

But I never thought to ask if it would be so wonderfully, eerily quiet.

High and low ratios and ranges for XX1 and other common gearing combinations.

So SRAM aren’t suggesting that a 1×11 setup will replace everyone’s 2×10 or 3×10 drivetrains.  But those who are running a trail-style double should take note:  an XX1 group with a 30t chainring covers the slightly more ground than a 24-32t chainring/11-34t cassette combination.  It just does so in slightly fewer steps, with considerably less overlap.  Take a look at the graph above.  The blue lines represent the gear ratios provided by a 24-34 2×10 setup.  (Want gear inches?  Multiply the ratio by your chosen wheel size’s diameter.)  The red line represents the ratio provided by an XX1 group with a 30t chainring.  The XX1 group covers the same ratios- matching the 2×10 setup’s high and low gears almost exactly- just in fewer steps.

Wait- who decided to machine the anodizing from the charinring face but leave it on the teeth?

So, if you’re a rider who rarely shifts into the big ring of that triple, then XX1 may be for you.  Even if not, there’s a good chance that XX1 will cover most of your existing gearing:  the high gear on an XX1 32 is equivalent to a 42×13 while the low is close to a 24×32; the high gear on an XX1 34 is equivalent to a 42×12 and that ‘ring’s low works out about the same as a still-manageable a 24×30.  To make a long story short: the 10-42 XX1 cassette packs a surprising range.

Smooth meets sharp... right here.

While Tyler and Saris have gone into the technical details in depth, there are a few key things to call out.  At the front, a version of SRAM’s proven X0 carbon fiber crankset uses a dedicated spider that accepts 28-38t XX1 chainrings.  The ‘rings themselves have tall teeth of alternating thickness, to better fill the alternating narrow and wide gaps in the chain and reduce the liklihood of the chain derailing.  The chainrings can be swapped without requiring the cranks’ removal and are handsome save an odd smooth:sharp transition between the spider and ‘ring and anodized teeth that look tatty awfully quickly.

The 11s XX1 chain is ever-so-slightly narrower than a 10s model (which will rub on the cassette- don’t be lazy) with gram-shaving outside link cutouts.  That chain is given direction by the substantial XX1 rear derailleur.  The tightly-sprung mech uses Sram’s Type 2 clutch, which uses a 1-way bearing to  forward (slack-creating) cage movement while allowing for easy rearward (slack-reducing)  movement. The derailleur geometry is optimized for the massive 10-42t cassette and single front ‘ring.   It’s a big chunk of aluminum and composites- and it works well.

It can't be the most cost-effective way to build a cassette, but XX1's block sure is impressive.

Moving rearward, it’s hard to understate the size of the XX1 cassette.  The 42t cog is bigger than a 160mm disc rotor and somehow manages to make American Classic’s trademark high hub flanges look… small.  All but the aluminum top cog are machined from a single chunk of steel.  That and the captive lockring contribute to the staggering $425 retail price.  To make room for the 10t cog, an XD driver (freehub body) is required- but should be easy to find before long.  Our most recent list of supporting manufacturers is here.

Conducting the whole orchestra is either an XX1 trigger or GripShift shifter.  As would be expected, the shifters can be mounted via their own handlebar clamp or combined with Avid brake levers and/or RockShox remotes for a clean cockpit.  Less expected, they also play very nicely with arch rival Shimano’s latest brake levers. Once a compatible wheelset is located (or an XD driver is installed on your existing wheels), XX1 setup is easy: the crankset and cassette install using standard tools.  A nice coated shift cable is included, as is a stretch of housing.  The chain is designed to be run without slack with any suspension fully compressed: setting your largest anticipated ‘ring up this way will allow changes of up to two sizes without any chain length tweaks.  SRAM’s excellent Powerlink makes for fuss-free installation (and chain cleaning, if you’re so inclined).

Plays well with others (but best with family members).

On the trail, XX1 really is all it’s cracked up to be.  Chain slap is nonexistent and I have yet to drop a chain.  Clicks at the shifter are distinct but the action lighter than even some recent Shimano groups, proving that the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction.  With about a month’s use, shifting is smooth- even by today’s high standards.  Compared to the XTR triple group (with lightweight carbon cranks) it replaced, XX1 has shaved almost a pound from the bike shown here- the group has the potential to take trail bikes that much closer to XC bikes with a fraction of the travel- and XC bikes into freakishly light territory.

The clear-eyed among us will balk at the (consumable!) cassette’s $425 price tag or for paying $175 for a single shifter.  And they’re right to.  They will complain about the chainring’s dedicated bolt pattern- even if the carbon fiber crankset itself is the deal of the group at $325.  Real tears will likely be shed when the $305 rear derailleur ingests its first (and last) stray branch.  But those concerns quickly fade in the face of the group’s smooth, secure, and near-silent performance.

The pulley contributes to the shifters' light action.
A cable pulley contributes to the shifters' light action.

It’s early yet, but I already believe that in XX1 we’re seeing the future of mountain biking.  SRAM have managed in one fell swoop to substantially simplify the drivetrain, improve its performance, and knock off a big chunk of weight- all with minimal compromise.  It will take some big days in bigger mountains to say for sure, but it sure looks from here like the 1×11 drivetrain is the way forward.  SRAM are not shy about asking for top dollar for their latest and greatest- but if history is any indication, the technology will quickly trickle down to more attainable price points.  I can’t wait for the day that it does- and I can recommend the group without reservation.  More as the miles rack up…

Plan on setting aside about $1,300 (plus $60-100 for an XD driver) if you’d like your own XX1 group.




  1. I am most interested in what Shimano comes up with as an answer to this. Perhaps Another cass body standard??

    I have ridden this group and it is awesome. I still prefer the push/pull that the shimano shifters offer. I know this is nit picking..

  2. Don’t mind me, i’ll keep wiping the drool off my mouth until X91 is released. I love the idea, but being XX level means the “consumable” cassettes and rear derailleurs are out of my price range.

  3. $1300 for a mountain group (without a chain even)? NFW! SRAM, you’re forgetting how you got into the market and captured market share – price. Shimano *still* shifts smoother and looks better, if SRAM prices keep climbing into the NFW area I’m going back to Shimano.

  4. Cassette lists at $550 here in Canada. A half grand cassette? I appreciate the technology, but most people I know can’t afford that on a regular basis.

    Cool test rig BTW.

  5. I’m like most here. I like the concept, but that price is just a bit too much for me. I’ll wait til it hit about half of retail before I would considered it,. Hopefully Shimano has something plan too.

  6. One word: Pinion.

    I first loved the idea of a single ring in front and the ability to match a normal 2×10 gear range but the cost is staggering for that cost I would prefer to invest in a Nicolai Pinion and have something truly bleeding edge (not original by any means but pretty good look at the future).

  7. Is this the first world problem comment section? Hi my name is Nick and
    the only thing I really like about single speeding is the quietness of the bike. For $1300 I can have that quietness on my full squish with a dropper. Expensive, yes. But roughly the same price as entry level single speed.

  8. A step in the right direction, but still headed down the wrong path. The biggest impediment to suspension design is the need for a front derailleur so a 1×11 frees up designers. That being said there is still the problem of having a fragile, dangly bit hanging off my frame with the abundance of rocks and branches available to break it off. Fortunately, so far I have never broken a rear derailleur, but I have gone through an absurd number of bent derailleur hangers. When is somebody going to build a light, efficient, internally geared system? (I know there is Rohloff, but I hear about way too many problems with it–weight and inefficiency to name two.) Wouldn’t have to worry about “consumable” $425 cassettes and what happens when a “$305 rear derailleur ingests its first (and last) stray branch”. Until that’s available, I’ll probably still try XX1 at some point in the near future.

  9. price never bothers me. it’s not having the money part that does. i just buy at a parts level relative to how much i don’t suck. it’s easy honest math.

  10. I’ve been riding a Shimano 1X10 since June last year (2X8/9 since 2000). When i got the parts the chain guide I ordered wasn’t in yet so I built and rode it for a couple weeks without. XT/XTR drivetrain w/ a Renthal chainring. With Shimano’s R-der clutch system I never had a chain drop. I’m pretty confident I could go without a chain guide.

  11. 1X11? Great concept. Chainrings that are easily swappable and prevent chaindrop? Great ideas. Clutched derailleur? Awesome. I’ve had the chance to run a 1X10 Saint/XTR combo w/ chainguide and running a single chainring really is the way to do it. But being able to drop the chainguide and get a bit more gear range? Sign me up.

    XX1 as an idea, a concept, is great. But it’s been executed by SRAM and that’s an issue. My longer term experience with SRAM isn’t good, nor is that of most people I know. Looking forward to hearing about long-term durability aspect, as well as a more in-depth review of design features and performance.

  12. Marc, great review of a great group. The silence is what hooked me on single speed, but now I can have it with gears. Been riding this myself for a month now. From a Shimano guy, this is an amazing group! The clutch rear derailleur was a start of the revolution, but this group is the first of things to come. Yeah, the cassette is a bit pricey, but cheaper models will come.

  13. @D That happens to be a Maverick full susser (aka Klein Palomino and the ilk, although the Kleins used bushings where the Maverick uses bearings). Very rare these days, and the shocks are hard to repair. Knock it if you want, but it’s one of the sweetest handling bikes I’ve ever ridden. Wouldn’t hesitate to buy one myself.

  14. Maverick robs any credibility from this ‘test’, that’s just not a bike that is going to put XX1 through it’s paces.

    What’s next? Someone with a Trek Y33 tests a Cane Creek DB Air?

  15. high priced mediocre……

    so i can’t afford to break anything
    scratch that i can’t afford this groupo
    i cannot go too fast or too slow because of limited gearing
    need to get used to chain suck and chain drop
    i now need a rocket scientist to adjust my rear derailleur

    i don’t like 2×10’s and i like this even less

    why are we being punished by the manufactures so they can sell us a more expensive(and cheaper for them) and less ridable product?

    this is all leading to a million dollar single speed sram groupo in the future.

  16. That price is… staggering. Seriously, we are not all dentists people.

    @Tony, I hear ya (pun in there somewhere). The louder the hum the better. Hope, King even DT. Love the buzz and it’s a safety feature on shared trails.

  17. I loved my Maverick, but it had two fatal flaws….The rear hanger was crap and the front derailleur was such a pain. Other than that, it was an excellent bike. The XX1 solves one of the issues.

  18. Makes an already lightweight trail bike even lighter? Sound great to me.

    Frame is a 2009 model right? Pretty much indestructable, best Maverick made IMO.

    Maverick haters most likely could never afford one or rode a Palomino. Best light sub 6-inch trail bike ever.

  19. @simple: +1

    What’s with the Maverick hate? So what if it’s a couple of years old- it’s a rare design that climbs like a 4in bike and descends like a 6in bike. It was ahead of its time- most companies are just now catching up. Too bad they just kind. of.. faded… away.

  20. Would love to buy this but don’t have the money. Like others have said I can’t wait for the X9 version.

    Currently using a 1×9 X9 setup after swapping out the XT parts. The ergonomics for thumb shifting is better on SRAM and I prefer the solid click rather then the lightweight Shimano action.

    Keep up the good work SRAM and trickle it down next year please.

  21. @Anders: I had the chance to ride XX1 during the Amateur race of the XC Marathon world championships in October. The race took place in eastern France and it was probably the muddiest, most disgusting day on my bike, ever. I completed the course in over 6 hours, and I had to take the bike entirely apart afterward to clean it properly. The mud at the beginning was very liquid, but it became sticky towards the end.
    Let me tell you: I was so glad not to have a front derailleur! Clearance around the BB area was great, I didn’t have to stop to clean the bike very often. My drivetrain worked flawlessly throughout the race, which wasn’t the case of everyone. I did see 5 guys walking their bikes after their derailleur hanger broke – most of them were the new style of hanger that Shimano released last year.
    From my experience, muddy condition is truly one of the many areas XX1 excels at.

  22. i bought sram from the beginning so my chain wouldn’t rattle around like a POS shimano. b-link garbage in the MTB arena. their road stuff is better, but SRAM dominates the mtb market for drivetrain. plain and simple.

  23. also who the f–k complains about the race grade parts being expensive? christ. wait a year or two and buy the trickle down. did you flog xx too? do you not know how manufacturing works? you are all idiots.


  24. I’ve been looking forward to a lightweight IGH for a long time now. Maybe it would just make too much sense and not enough $$$ in replacement parts for the big companies to put one on the market. I don’t know.

  25. What was the old cliche about statistics & lies again?

    Who uses a 24 x 34 on a 2 x 10 speed set-up..err no one. When you use a real world 26 x 39 w/11-34 the “give up virtually nothing in return” line is exploded.

    An XX1 has a 19.3 – 81 gear in range w/30t chainring.
    A 26-39, 11-34 has a 20 – 95.7 range..14 gear inches to a racer is 14th place instead of a podium. Put a 36 to get the top end & you lose the granny gear..ie. NO FREE LUNCH

    What is even more disturbing to the superanuation crowd, the ave. gear spacing is 15.4% as compared to 13.3% with some yawning gaps (20% on the 12 -10 shift).

    If you are going to write press releases disguised as “tests”, don’t be surprised when you get called on it.

  26. Anal,

    I, and plenty of others here in the Rockies, forgo the big ring of a triple: I’ve owned and run race-style doubles (26×39) and find that they force too much front shifting. Others just like the clearance a double/bash combination provides- keep in mind that this is a trail-oriented review. That said, the 32 has been just fine for me so far.

    Putting on my Cat 1 hat (and matching socks, shorts, and jersey), I’ve looked at the the numbers, your suggested 26/39×11-34 yields a 0.8:1 to 3.5:1 range; an XX1 cassette with the stock 32t ‘ring gives you 0.8:1 to 3.2:1 range. Your tallest gear becomes equivalent to a 39×12- half way between an XX cassette’s 11t and 13t bottom cogs. I have a feeling that most racers would find that an acceptable tradeoff for the 1/2lb savings over XX- but that’s up to them. NO FREE LUNCHes are implied: few changes come without compromise- but think about what other cost/performance tradeoffs people make for similar weight savings.

    As far as the steps go, that’s a personal preference- and something that makes far less difference off road than on. Also, bear in mind that “yawning” 20% step from 10-12 is little different than the apparently acceptable 18% hop from 11-13 on a standard cassette.

    Sorry if I take offense at your implication that I’ve used statistics in this piece- I only ever use simple arithmetic. As far as lies go, could you be more specific? This piece was written without SRAM’s input or support- and I try to be very clear about the shortcomings that I’ve found so far. In any case, this is a product that I feel has great potential for a huge group of riders. It’s too bad that you’ve already made your mind up.


  27. @marc,

    1/2lbs is nothing to “in shape” racers compared to gearing. race for 10 hours straight at higher intensity, come to the bottom of a long long steep mountain and tell me what is going to get you to the top faster, 1/2 lbs less or gears that allow your drained body to spin and keep up your strength instead of standing and mashing until you drop dead.

    i ride a SS 80% of the time and have no problem in bigger gears. the only time i ride the geared bike is for long races. the body has only so much brute strength in reserve for big gears. after a while they get depleted. spinning in easier gears wins races.

    even in shorter races i have used the top gears(42×11) on some downhill sections and passed the trendy 2×10 crowd. where was their weight saving there? they did not pass me back on the hill……

  28. Not a racer boy…
    Not a money whiner. A Porsche is a Porcshe, if you can’t afford one FN go buy a yugo !…

    That said, and I just LOVE “that said”, I’ve been riding an XX1 for a month now w/a 28 tooth up front AND I live i the Rockies.

    It’s an “almost” perfect drive train for me. The ONLY issue I have is that I’ve had the chain break once and I’d like to see SRAM beef up the chain and make it stronger. I repaired it w/a powerlock and haven’t had any issues “so far”.

    Get it if you can….

  29. Marc

    My objection was to your “what if you give up virtually nothing” comment & ad worthy praises throught the review. I seem to have missed the shortcomings.

    I’m skeptical of your assertion that this has highest cost/performance benefit. I’d buy 1/2lb lighter wheels & not incur the wear replacement costs with no compromise.

    You gloss over the fact that you mention 2 different chainrings(30-32) for the desired effect. I doubt many riders are used to buying/changing chainrings when they ride at different locals. Not being a well dressed Cat. 1 like you, the larger gaps between gears DOES mean something to me.

    I do think the elimination of the front derailleur IS a big improvement, I’m just not convinced $425 cassettes, narrower chains, & wide cross-chaining are the best way to accomplish it.

    Just because I question something doesn’t mean I have “made up my mind”, I look past such hype as “the future of mountain biking” & “the way forward” hyperbole before buying.

  30. I would love to ride it personally but as a cat 1 racer enjoy the front shifting that allows me to drop several gears with one click and the over lap in gearing means that i can climb a short hill with out ever shifting the rear and then just shift the front and be right back in the same gear for he flat. I also agree that the jumps at the extremes of the xx1 cassette do seem a little big and i would like to seem them better distributed. As far as cost i’m used to replacing expensive parts thats what you agree to when saving weight and have the latest tech. what sram should do is learn how to make fron shifting instead of forgoing it all together as there are those out there that like the large range and have no problem running a FD. and don’t get me started on their brakes. I had a sram rep come to my LBS and show off the ‘new’ elixer brakes and they still feel like garbage and some how sram doesn’t see it, i would take $60 shimano brakes over $300 sram brakes any day, even on a race rig, there is a reason scott didn’t spec there brakes 99% of their bikes this year, so if they can get the essentials sorted before they go about making these impressive but rather ridiculous high end groups i can’t take them seriously, as for now is will sit back and enjoy my trouble free xtr and continue to recommend shimano to any one who is open enough to listen.

  31. It’s typical of people to critique new products- especially when they are innovative. There are so many armchair engineers out there its quite disturbing (a number of them commented above). I have a policy not to hate a product too much until I ACTUALLY ride it! I don’t own XX1 yet. I would like to though. I race some, I mostly ride big days on technical terrain, and I can see the benefits of this type of system. It will probably be refined further at some point and go through some changes- that’s cool, the first version of all sorts of products we all use are often very different from today’s versions. There is an excellent quote in the movie “Moneyball” that describes this type of thing. It goes something like “The first guy through the wall always gets bloody”.

    As for the Maverick haters and those that question Marc’s authenticity: you are full of it! I have ridden with Marc and he will slay all riders, with the exception of true professionals, up and down the mountain- on his Maverick. I have also ridden Mavericks for years and although they have the front shifting difficulty, they still ride better than or equal to anything out there. Yes, I still ride one. Yes, I have other bikes too, but it is still the go-to bike for long days in the Rockies.

  32. I’m confused about the complaints on price point here? Price Shimano XTR which is the likeliest equal competition to this group. I understand that the price of the cassette is high where it is a wear item but looking at the entire package I think that this is the next step of drive trains. Losing the FD is a really big step in the right direction, offering the grip shift option is really nice (personal preference but I’ve always liked the 9 spd versions of Sram drivetrains). I think Sram will really give Shimano a run for the money with this one. I’ve been a mechanic since the inception of 9 spd drive trains (read, not all that long but…) and I think the score card could easily be filed as: 9spd era = Sram wins, 10spd era = Shimano (hands down), and so far in the 11 spd era Sram really is coming out on top with a great alternative to Dynasys. Too bad they can’t figure out the disc brake game as well… I think Sram realized that they really needed something above and beyond as their current offerings in the 10 speed arena were pretty poor. Looking at this and the new Red group gives me hope that they have found a better path once again. Hoping they don’t continue with the cheapening of the “trickle down” groupos though….

  33. I have been riding the XX1 on My newly built Yeti and absolute love it , there is no down side only gains all around.

    Im running a 30 tooth ft sprocket and just in love with the new system.

    All the haters just need to run it one time and they will see what they are missing !

What do you think?