Were it not for the disclaimer at the bottom of the press release, which states in part that SRAM “remains completely committed to 2x drivetrains,” one might get the impression that the Chicago-based component maker was trying to kill off the front derailleur — on all bikes.
Already it’s helped make 1x drivetrains for mountain and cyclocross steeds commonplace. Now SRAM’s unveiled a collection of new parts designed to bring 1x shifting systems to road bikes, gravel bikes, fitness bikes, crit bikes, time trial bikes, triathlon bikes, urban bikes, and well, you get the idea. [See which company’s are spec’ing 1x drivetrains here.]
“Two-by shifting has been around for a long time and has many great purposes. This is not a replacement,” said SRAM road product manager JP McCarthy during a small press event last week in central California. “So why the fascination? Obviously we’ve seen huge success in mountain biking and cyclocross where the main story was of chain retention and cleaning up the bike. For road it’s a different story. Here we’re talking about simpler sequential one-handed shifting, and a super secure chain-chainring interface that really gives the bike a different, quieter feel. Yes, you are sacrificing something when you cut the number of gears in half. But what you get back is a bike that is simpler to interact with.”
That’s a bold statement — and one that’s surely to get shouted down from many corners of the cycling world. The jokes about how SRAM ditched the front derailleur because they couldn’t make one that worked are already flying around the interwebs. But before we delve into the right or wrong of 1x for road, here are the key specifics of what’s new and what you need to know.
Opening the Road
That catchy headline is not reference to some seasonal thoroughfare in the Rockies; that’s SRAM’speak for what 1x will (could) bring to the road bike world. Their stance is that the definition of a road bike and what a road bike can do has greatly evolved. Think disc brakes, wide tires, and “road” races and rides that include extended time on unpaved roads and you get the idea.
SRAM is also a big fan of efficiency and simplicity versus excess and complexity (paging Shimano). Perhaps they’ve also realized the best way to combat ongoing complaints about its road group’s front derailleur shifting was to get rid of the damn thing all together. (Our words, not theirs.) This leads us to SRAM’s new 1x drivetrain systems, SRAM Force 1 and SRAM Rival 1. (Note that SRAM Force CX1 is now just called SRAM Force 1 and that there’s no Red level yet “in part due to issues of weight.” More on that in a minute.)
Like its predecessors, the heart of the new system are SRAM’s X-SYNC thick-thin-teethed single chainrings, which expand from the previously available 38-46-teeth options to now include 48, 50, 52 and 54-teeth versions. These are combined with cassette options that include 11-30, 11-32 and the 11-36 that was released late last year and works with standard freehub bodies, and the brand new (and incredibly wide) 10-42, which requires an XD driver body. (Not coincidentally, SRAM subsidiary Zipp has launched three XD driver body compatible road wheels in the last month. You can learn all about that here and here.)
As a refresher, SRAM’s X-SYNC technology utilizes tall square teeth edges that engage the chain earlier, and have rounded chamfer edges that help keep the chain in place. If you’ve not ridden them, they’re worth a go. It’s a quiet and secure experience.
And in case you’re wondering, the 10-42 cassette gives you roughly 95 percent of the gear range you’d have were you running a traditional 2×10 drivetrain with an 11-32 cassette. In other words, you’ll still be able to sprint for the town limit sign — and crawl up steep climbs. What wont be replaced are the evenly spaced gaps between gears. So if you love small jumps in cadence when switching gears, 1x may not be for you. At least not until SRAM offers other XD driver body cassette options that pair the 10-tooth cog with something smaller than a 42t. If for instance they offer a 10-32 or 10-36, you’d have smaller jumps, a sprintable gear, and plenty of range for steep climbs. [If you want to dive into how various gearing combinations compare, check out this handy on-line calculator.]
The Rear Derailleur is Clutch
The other key to this system is SRAM’s Type 2 clutch rear derailleur (now called 2.1), which extends or shortens based on the situation in order to maintain ideal chain tension. Otherwise every time you shifted into the small cog the chain could come flopping off. SRAM calls this straight parallelogram design, which limits horizontal axis movement and makes ghost shifting nearly impossible while maintaining that constant chain gap across gears.
For the road version of this rear derailleur, SRAM added a barrel adjuster and will be offering three cage lengths, including a new long version that accommodates the 10-42 cassette. The short cage can handle up to a 28-tooth cog, with the mid-cage handling up to 36. The clutch rear derailleur also has a cage lock button, which locks the derailleur in place, making it easier to take wheels off and put them back on. Trust us when we say it’s a wonderfully helpful feature.
Finally, it’s worth noting that all these new 1x goodies will be offered in traditional and hydraulic disc braking packages (HydroR), and that SRAM’s also launched a new 1x trigger shifter for flatbar bikes, which brings us to the why part of this equation.