A Call for an XD Cassette with a Wide Range AND Tighter Gear Steps

Dear SRAM,

I’ve long been a fan. Yes, I know that some people prefer the feel of Shimano or other brands’ components, but I love the crisp, hard shifts of a SRAM drivetrain. The reassuring clunk of my chain firmly and quickly finding the next gear starts me reminiscing of driving a sports car with a stiff clutch and tight throws on the stick. Whether on my mountain bike, road bike, or my gravel rig, I never find myself trying to interpret vague shifts from my SRAM bits. Much like my conversations in real-life, I want my dialogue with my drivetrain to be very concise and matter-of-fact.

On the flip side, I love my bikes to be lust-worthy to look at.  This isn’t so much about impressing others, rather for my own ogling eyes.  I often find myself pulling my bikes down off the rack, propping them up, and just gazing at their lines and the beauty of the complete package.  I love that my SRAM components ooze subtle beauty in their form.  I imagine that your designers had talks about using black to the point of “none more black” so that the little nuances of color would pop even more against the “negative space” of the rest of the drivetrain.  The combination of aesthetic beauty matched to hard mechanical precision is a wonderful dance to witness.

Your push for the “less is more” attitude plucks at my heart strings, as well.  Simple things like Matchmaker clamps bring a sweet tear to my eye when I see the reductionist elegance of them on my bars.  While I understand some people’s love and/or need of a front derailleur, my affinity for them was strained early on and died before you officially launched 1x drivetrains.  My friends and I were hacking together 1×9 and 1×10 drivetrains well before 1×11 was a reality.  1 less shifter, 1 less cable and housing, 1 less derailleur… all added up to more value than any trade-offs we might have experienced.  But, there were tradeoffs.

My affinity for [the front derailleur] was strained early on…

Then, you did it!  You solved the biggest issue I had with 1x drivetrains.  You introduced the world to a wide range cassette that had reasonable steps between gears.  Yes, this required an new freehub standard (XD driver) and 11 gears versus the common 10 speed drivetrains of the time.  But, I was bought in, and XD driver is nearing ubiquity these days. Rarely, have I found myself needing more than the massive expanse of gearing in my 10-42t cassette.  If I know a particular road trip ride will challenge my power, I simply swap my chainring for one with 2-4 less teeth.

Some will argue that having to swap rings defeats the purpose of losing the front derailleur… and, they are right (although, I would argue that there are many other benefits).  But, like I said before, exceeding the capabilities of my 1×11 drivetrain is the exception, not the norm.  I can count on one hand the number of times I thought it necessary to swap rings.  For those who might need/want even more range, you’ve answered that call with the latest line of 1×12 Eagle components.  Now, with a 10-50t cassette, even more range can be found with the same familiarity of reasonable steps.  Plus, you’ve brought this to the masses with the very reasonable pricing and excellent performance of GX Eagle.

So taken by your 1×11 drivetrains was I, that I took a metaphorical sword to the last bastion of front derailleurs in my quiver of bikes… my CX (gravel) bike.  Since my days of true road riding have all but disappeared, and morphed into b-road and gravel adventures with a smattering of single-track mixed in, I have found my collection of road focused bikes finding new homes to make room for my do-it-all road warrior.  Enter the Black Rhino (my gravel bike).

I decided to build this rig from the bottom up, choosing every piece with intention.  This bike needed to be spritely enough to hang with my friends while we racked up miles on the tarmac, and stout enough to take on true single-track and the occasional moments of taking to flight.  I wanted a mix of tough and light, aggressive and comfortable.  The end result is about damn near perfect.

There, is little to nothing I would change about my gravel bike.  It is fast on the asphalt, and confident on the dirt.  It is comfortable for long hauls, and fast enough to claim PR’s and KOM’s.  All this history brings me circuitously to my point.  The one thing that could get me to upgrade and change my setup… 1×12 Force Eagle (or whatever you want to call it).

My plea to you, SRAM, [is] to not increase the range of the 10-42 cassette…  

Keep that same range and cram in some tighter gear steps.

 

So, why would this get my upgraditis condition going?  Simply; gear steps.  In fact, this is my plea to you, SRAM, to not increase the range of the 10-42 cassette.  On my gravel rig I don’t need a 50 tooth bail out ring.  The 10-42t range, matched to a 44t chainring, is more than enough to conquer steep climbs, and mob down fast descents.  It is a ample range for a bike that sees equal time off road as it does on road.  Add in the effective change in gearing of rolling bigger tires than your typical road bike, and that range becomes a necessity.  So, keep that same range (or something close to it) and cram in some tighter gear steps.

On my mountain bike, somewhat large gear steps are not very noticeable due to the highly-varied terrain surface.  This also applies to the times that my gravel bike steers me on to my local single-track.  But, when the roads are covered in pavement or gravel, I sometimes find myself wishing I had a gear somewhere in between.  It’s for those moments when I’m spinning at 90+ RPMs, and the grade shifts just slightly.  Or, when I’m grinding away slowly and need just a touch of relief.  These are the times where I need/want a more subtle step that doesn’t shock my legs or cause me to spin out.

As the season of bike trades shows and new item releases is upon us for 2017-2018, this is my request to you.  I believe that, if you want to see more and more roadies adopting the 1x gravel/CX life, an ample off road range with tighter road-style spacing is the key.  Plus, these cassettes could be used to allow riders of all genres to further personalize their 1x setups to match their specific riding styles and terrain.  I’d love to see a gamut of tighter spaced 12-speed cassettes from 10-36t up to 10-42t, in addition to the existing 10-50t version.  Hell, I’d be stoked to see this happen for the 11-speed XD cassettes too.  This would likely be enough gearing for most riders heading up or down, with more nuanced jumps to keep efficiency steady.  Plus, you might find more of your cassettes making their way on to bikes with non-SRAM drivetrains (gasps).

Hopefully, this is already in the works, and I’m just preaching to the choir.  If not, maybe one of the other brands out there can make my dream come true at a decent weight, performance, and price.

Sincerely, Seth

For Those of Us Who Like to Geek Out on the Numbers

Below is a chart that is composed of theoretical versus available drivetrain configurations, so if you’re like me you can nerd out on what your ideal setup would be.  This table is by no means complete, and there are many other configurations and mods one can do to their drivetrain to customize one’s setup.  Also, this table was created in the wee hours of the night after not sleeping because I was ruminating over bike builds and stats.  This is my disclaimer to any miscalculations or errors in the numbers.

Currently Available Drivetrain Setup Range Unique Usable Gears Redundant Gears Average Gear Step
Yes 1×10, 11-36t 327% 10 0 14.10%
Yes 1×11, 11-36t 327% 11 0 12.60%
No 1×11, 10-38t 380% 11 0 14.32%
No 1×11, 10-40t 400% 11 0 14.91%
Yes 1×11, 10-42t 420% 11 0 15.47%
Yes 2×11 (Sub-Compact, 46/36), 11-28t 326% 15 7 9.84%
Yes 2×11 (Standard, 53/39), 11-28t 347% 16 6 9.84%
Yes 2×11 (Sub-Compact 46/36), 11-32t 372% 15 7 11.30%
Yes 2×11 (Standard, 53/39), 11-32t 395% 16 6 11.30%
No 1×12, 10-38t 380% 12 0 12.93%
No 1×12, 10-40t 400% 12 0 13.47%
No 1×12, 10-42t 420% 12 0 13.98%
Yes 1×12, 10-50t 500% 12 0 15.80%

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