Rewind to Issue #109 of Singletrack Magazine for Chipps’ review of the SRAM XX-1 Eagle 1×12 Drivetrain.
It’s hard to believe that SRAM’s first 1×11 groupset only came out five years ago. Since then, the ‘one by’ revolution has truly swept through the land.
With typical panache, SRAM launched its newest groupset – 12-speed XX1 Eagle – to a collection of the world’s bike media in the sunny Italian mountains. Rob Crayons headed over for us to try out this new 12-speed groupset and he returned impressed. What we wanted to know, though, is how well the groupset would do in the less sunny UK. After a short wait, our own groupset arrived and we were free to fit it to a bike.
Any bike? No. This is where we learned that SRAM is VERY keen to differentiate between XX1 Eagle and X01 Eagle. XX1 is for cross-country bikes and X01 is for trail and enduro bikes. Despite them looking similar and having almost identical specs, don’t you be putting the gold gears on an enduro bike or there’ll be trouble. Apparently.
SRAM XX1 Eagle Crankset
The chainset is a lovely bit of work. Carbon crankarms with a veiny single ring bolted to them. The chainring looks purposeful and cut away to reduce material wherever possible. The hollow crankarms look both light and reliable. Those chainring teeth, though! The teeth look hooked and already worn, but the carefully designed shape is aimed to keep a tight hold on the chain when driving, and then release it easily at the bottom of the ring, reducing noise and drag.
SRAM XX-1 Eagle Chain
There’s no mistaking this chain. It’s not gold-plated; it’s coated in Titanium Nitride, a super-tough and hard-wearing coating that’s used on machine tools and drill bits. Interestingly, on splitting the chain, it’s apparent that the coating is applied after the chain is assembled, so there’s no apparent protection against wear between plates and rollers, though all external wear – against the chainring and cassette should be greatly reduced. You’ll need the special 12-speed split-link, but it’s conveniently (and beautifully) rainbow anodised for easy spotting.
SRAM XX1 Eagle Cassette
Which brings us to that 12-speed cassette. With a tiny 10T sprocket at one end and a massive 50T at the other, it boasts a 500% range – which is as wide a range as we ever had with three chainrings. It requires a SRAM XD compatible hub, but these are now widely available and not really an issue any more. The first 11 sprockets of the cassette are machined from a single piece of steel, hollowed out to the nth degree to give a light, airy, hollow cassette body. This is topped by the biggest, 50T sprocket, which is machined from aluminium and which curves backwards over the spokes of the wheel. This sprocket is black, which has the visual effect of making it pleasingly hard for your riding pals to spot at first glance.
SRAM XX1 Eagle Trigger Shifter
The Eagle shifter leans heavily on the existing SRAM XX1 shifter only – in a Spinal Tap Plus moment – this one goes up to 12.
SRAM XX1 Eagle Rear Derailleur
The rear mech is at once enormous, with huge jockey wheels, and yet about the same size as a two-by XT rear derailleur. The lower jockey wheel has a narrow-wide profile to keep the chain running sweet and the clutch mechanism is said to have increased in (non-adjustable) tension. There’s a nifty plastic tool to help get your B-tension screw adjusted into the sweet spot. The whole system looks good together, with gold and black accents on everything.
About X01 Eagle
It would make sense to mention X01 Eagle about now. This is the groupset that is more intended for trail and enduro bikes. It’s also better for the shy as the black and red colours are far less showy than the blingy gold of XX1. Apart from a few grams difference in the crank arms (the XX1 chainset is fully hollow, the X01 is not) and the Ti-Nitride coating on XX1’s chain and cassette, the two groups are identical in construction, yet intended for different uses.
It would be doing the years of engineering experience at SRAM a disservice to say ‘It’s just like 11-speed, only with one more gear’, but that’s meant as a compliment. In use, the gear range feels natural and intuitive. There’s no giant pause when selecting the 50T and the other gaps are the same ones we’ve all quickly got used to with the 1×11 that SRAM has pioneered.
Shifting is smooth and you could even persuade me that it’s slightly lighter and quieter in use than 11-speed. The gear shifting sounds a little less ‘clicky’ than last year’s SRAM shifters and the whole ensemble works together with boring efficiency.
The gear range itself is enough for near enough any rider for any purpose. Tweak the chainring (from 30T to 38T) to suit your legs, load and ambitions and you have gears enough for loaded touring or cross-country racing.
There’s no denying that the XX1 Eagle groupset price is eye-watering, but given SRAM’s statement about never developing another new front derailleur, combined with its aggressive trickle-down to lower groupsets and I think we’re likely to see 1×12 dropping from top-flight Formula One vapourware to more affordable Ford Focus levels in months rather than years.
I was all set to damn XX1 Eagle as just another ‘plus one’ innovation that we don’t need, but its nonsense-free use and triple chainset-range of gears is ushering in a future where the front derailleur is dead. Give it a year or two and gears, and bikes, will be changed forever.
|XX1 Eagle 12-Speed Drivetrain
|£1276 (full drivetrain): Cassette £388, Chainset £421, Rear mech £258, Shifter £131, Chain £78
|by Chipps for 9 months