by Wil Barrett
March 10, 2017
Yes - an entire SRAM NX groupset costs less than an Eagle 12-speed cassette. Tom Hill tests SRAM's bargain basement 1x11 drivetrain.
It had been raining since we set off riding. It was the second ride of a winter getaway to the north west of Scotland, and once again the weather was not playing ball. Bog, standing water, wild “stream” crossings; sub-optimal riding conditions under wheel. Riding through a loch, the SRAM NX rear mech missed a downshift, eventually clunking into position after a bit of complaining. It was the first time I had reason to think about SRAM’s bottom rung 1×11 groupset, months after first fitting.
It feels like a long time since SRAM launched their first 1×11 groupset. A quick google tells me it feels like a long time because it is now 5 years ago. Never one to rest on their laurels, they have now squeezed in an extra cog and extra gold on the top flight (get it?) Eagle. At the other end of the bling (and price) scale, we now have the NX groupset. The joys of trickle down now mean that you can enjoy turning the volume up to eleven for a modest retail price of £277. To put that in context, that search engine once again tells me it’s possible to buy the entire NX grouppo for less than an Eagle cassette. Wowsers.
To break all of the prices down, here’s how much a SRAM NX groupset will set you back:
- SRAM NX Trigger Shifter: £24
- SRAM NX Rear Derailleur: £64
- SRAM PG-1130 Cassette: £75
- SRAM PC-1110 chain: £12
- SRAM NX GXP Crankset: £102
That’s a total of just £277. The only thing you’ll potentially have to add on there is a compatible bottom bracket. For your reference, I’ve been using a SRAM GXP threaded bottom bracket, which retails for £36 – putting the whole groupset just a lick over 300 squids.
Unlike the rest of the SRAM range, the NX PG1130 cassette does not use an XD Driver screw on cassette, instead going with the Shimano approach. While this has some weight implications, it does make for even more economic upgrade, assuming you are keeping an existing wheelset. No need for a new hub or freehub.
The 11-42t cassette weighs in at a somewhat hefty 527 grams with lock ring, although realistically, this is about on a par with an equivalent Shimano SLX 11-speed cassette. It sports the same stealthy all-black look as pricier models too. It’s interesting to see Shimano, Hope and top-end SRAM now sporting an even wider range, with 44t, 46t and even whopping 50t winching options available. At the NX level, there’s not that choice yet – not a criticism in itself, but if you’re a committed gear twiddler, then you may need to look elsewhere, or consider a different crankset that allows you to go smaller on the chainring size.
Fitting and Set Up
Fitting was as straight-forward as you’d hope, as was tuning shifting. No surprises, no quirks. The NX groupset went straight onto a new build for me. Nothing beats the feeling of new components gliding onto a clean, brand-spanker of a frame. Cranks are available to fit pretty much all common bottom bracket ‘standard’ compatible options. My test version (700 grams) came with the classic external BB and 24mm axle, and a 30t ring. Alternative chainrings are available from SRAM, ranging from 30t to 38t.
One thing to note is that the NX cranks came fitted with SRAM’s newer steel X-Sync chainring. Compared to the lighter alloy chainrings found on the X0-1 and XX-1 groupsets, the steel chainring is a touch heavier, but offers significantly better durability. Expect to get two to three times the life out of the steel ring versus an alloy chainring.
The shifter is not MatchMaker compatible, but it has played perfectly nicely with a few different brake levers. One of the nice things about a one-by approach is it also frees up bar space on the left hand side for dropper levers and the like. We were sent a trigger shifter, but while checking on some details for this review, I noticed that an NX Gripshift is available for those who want to relive the mid-90s.
In The Field
I’ve been really impressed with the shifting quality of the NX set up. The shifter (143 grams) housing and triggers are entirely plastic, and looks a little cheap. Given that, blindfolded, I’d love to say that I’d be able to tell the difference between this and further up the range, but I’m honestly not sure whether I could. Plus, riding blindfolded might be a bit dangerous anyway, so I’ll refrain.
On occasion, shifting has felt slightly vague, and it doesn’t seem to cope with big ugly shifts as well as the higher end groups I’ve used in the past. Sensible shifting under normal conditions only yields clean and crisp gear changes, though. Yes, that lever does feel a little plasticky, but it is hard to criticise its function. Those who have used SRAM previously will be familiar with shift technique. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Shimano user, it’ll take a little getting used to the thumbs only lever operation.
The cassette’s black anodising is now beginning to show signs of wear, although this is still in the cosmetic category. For me, a side benefit of 1x set ups is that I am more inclined to use the entire cassette range, which has the benefit of evening out wear across all of the cogs.
Winter is always the least fun time of year to be out testing, but it does put drivetrain components through the mill in quick time. I have thoughtfully helped this process by largely failing to do much in the way of cleaning my bike, other than the odd wipe down of the chain with a rag after truly awful rides. Even at its barely lubed, mud-packed worst, the NX set-up has cracked on without complaint. I’ve not needed to adjust cable tension since the initial bedding in process and full cable outers have let me get away with a less than perfect cleaning regime for longer than I rightly should have. Downshifting is now getting a little lazy, but nothing a blast of GT85 through the outer won’t solve.
We’ve all wiggled our way through a rocky trail, wincing as rear mech scrapes against rock. The back of a bike isn’t exactly the safest place to dangle a relatively fragile and expensive piece of machinery. At least with cheaper models, the pain of the impact is lessened should the worst come to the worst.
Fortunately as well as being good value, the NX rear mech (320 grams) sports much of the technology of more expensive models. A clutch is, effectively, always on – with a neat little button to hold back the extended mech arm (and therefore releasing chain tension) when removing the rear wheel. In combination with the X-Sync narrow/wide chainring, I haven’t suffered a single dropped chain yet, despite plenty descents rough enough to test its effectiveness. After six months of use, the clutch spring remains strong and hasn’t required any adjustment during the test period. This is better than I’ve experienced with SRAM mechs in the past, but something I’ll keep an eye on. If I were racing enduro, I’d be tempted to fit a minimalist chain guide, largely for peace of mind, but I’m not so I’m not.
Perhaps the strongest recommendation that a tester can give is when a piece of kit remains in use after the test period. That is certainly the case with this groupset. This is currently hanging off my ‘best bike’, with theoretically better drivetrain components waiting in the wings. As it is, I’m in no hurry whatsoever to swap things over, and will continue to happily use and abuse the NX kit until it eventually dies. Which is likely a long time away.
If you like SRAM shifting, and have a non XD-Driver compatible wheelset, then the NX is a great, affordable, route into the world of 1X11.