Gravity junkies and freeride fiends have been espousing the benefits of running single-ring setups nearly as long as they’ve been using shuttles and ski lifts in order to maximize their down time.
But why lose gears? At one point in the ‘70s—when a few boys in Nor Cal riding 1940s Schwinns figured out that grafting road gears onto their “klunkerz” allowed them to climb up as well as ride down—being able to shift was the single greatest innovation in the blossoming sport of mountain biking. We’ve been adding gears and complicating things ever since. More is better, right?
In theory, yes, but if you weren’t much concerned with climbing, it made sense to ditch the front rings—it was simpler, and, with the addition of a chainguide, all but eliminated dropped chains and the cacophony of chain slap.
So many a ham-fisted freerider went to work—not unlike those Nor Cal incendiaries years before—mixing and matching parts. They paired a single front ring with a rear cassette, then slapped some sort of chain-chastity containment unit around it. Which was fine, considering the extent of climbing on their “big” bikes was rather limited.
But what if you do climb and want a wide range of gears for a wide range of trails? And what if you climb mostly to reach the same kind of rowdy, chunky downhills capable of rattling the fillings out of your head, and don’t want to add guides and pulleys and gizmos just to avoid dropping your chain? We were trying to simplify things, weren’t we?
SRAM’s new golden child pairs a single, front chainring—available in 28, 30, 32, 34, 36 and 38-tooth flavors—with an 11-speed rear cassette for a wide range of gearing conducive to today’s all-mountain and enduro riders. But that’s not to pigeonhole it; everyone from cross-country hammerheads to aforementioned gravity junkies can find something to like here, especially with the wide range of rings available—rings designed not to drop chains. Seems like common sense.
Traditional rings are designed to drop chains, and traditional chain management then is designed to attempt to negate another component’s intended purpose. It all sounds a bit convoluted, doesn’t it?
In addition to lacking the ramping of traditional rings meant to dump the chain, XX1 ring features teeth of alternating thickness designed to fill the different size openings in the chain. SRAM calls it “X-Sync.” As it will be doing all the work all the time, SRAM made the front ring of durable aluminum, and paired it with carbon crank arms for a light-yet-strong package.
Even the chain gets some special treatment here. Aside from playing nicely with the aforementioned X-Sync design of the front ring, the XX1 chain is coated with HARD CHROME—a friction-reducing coating to prevent wear, elongation and weakening. We see no reason this technology shouldn’t trickle down to other chains (it probably will), but it particularly makes sense here, where a thinner profile is necessary to mate with the tighter spacing of the 11-ring cluster.
Along with the Type 2 chain-tensioning clutch-style tech on the rear mech, all this means dropped chains essentially don’t exist. Sure, some riders may still opt for a guide of some sort, but most will likely never miss it should they ditch it. It also makes for a quiet ride—a really quiet ride. And anything that allows for greater appreciation of the sweet sounding duet that can only be performed by tires and dirt is fine by us.
Aside from the Type 2 technology, the XX1 rear derailleur moves in a “straight parallelogram” as opposed to the traditional “slant parallelogram” of traditional modern derailleurs. All this mumbo jumbo really means is that the shifting path moves perpendicular to the chain line, since the rear derailleur is now dedicated to rear shifts—not attempting to compensate for changes in chain length due to front shifts. Again, simple. Nice.
Shifting duties will be handled courtesy of an 11-speed shifter available as a trigger or the recently revived Grip Shift.
While we can only guess what the next addition or subtraction might be to mountain-bike technology, SRAM’s XX1 seems like a simple-yet-elegant solution from which most riders—regardless of bike or riding style—can benefit.
Have you ridden XX1? Give us your impressions in the comments below.
Want to ride XX1? We’re giving away a complete XX1 drivetrain here.
The only real question now, is what will you do with all that newly vacant real estate on the other side of the bars? Maybe it’s time for a bell.
by Don Stefanovich