Back when I built up my Pivot Mach 6 SRAM’s XX1 was fairly new and one of the blingest drivetrain options. I was on a mission to build a light & bling all-mountain rig so I gave it a shot. There was no doubt that it was light and that it offered a lot of gear range for a single ring setup. What wasn’t clear was how well it would stand up to abuse on a 6″ travel bike.
Looking back on 3yrs of shredding with the same XX1 parts I can finally comment on that question.
What I tested:
- XX1 shifter
- XX1 cassette
- XX1 chains [~3 of them]
- Race Face Next SL cranks [RF 28T ring and Wolf Tooth 28T oval ring]
- Hope “XD” driver
Although I’ve had this gear for 3yrs the actual number of months of riding was ~21 because I have a winter bike I trash in the depths of the coastal BC winter. I’m 185lbs without gear and pretty middle of the road when it comes to power, speed and aggressiveness on the bike. I ride an average of 3 times a week during the summer. Although the XX1 was used during a lot of dry dusty summer conditions the spring/fall locally can be quite wet so it also saw a reasonable amount of mud.
I changed my chain relatively frequently because chains are cheap relative to the XX1 cassette. My pre-ride ritual is to wipe down my chain with a cloth. Lube it and wipe the lube off after 15mins. I don’t deep clean the chain or the cassette. If things are grim from mud I’ll use a dry brush on the drivetrain before lubing it up.
The shifting has been excellent throughout my use of XX1. Not better than the other options, but you press the trigger and it shifts. That’s all I care about. I am not a shifting connoisseur who can spend 10mins describing the subtleties of various groupos. For meat and potatoes riders XX1 delivers what you need. Once setup I rarely had to fiddle with it and make adjustments. It was set and forget for the most part.
The only times my shifting has suffered was when I had worn out freehub bearings. Until I started using these wide range cassettes I never had freehub problems, but with all my 42T setups [not just XX1] I wear out my freehub bearings every year. I assume this is due to the greater leverage of the big cogs on the freehub. It’s not a big deal. I just add freehub bearing replacement to my annual maintenance list. It’s a reasonable trade off for the benefits of a wide range cassette.
Chain retention has been solid. Despite much pounding down steep rocking/rooty terrain losing my chain off the chainring has been exceedingly rare. Part of the credit is due to the derailleur clutch and the rest due to the narrow-wide tooth profile on the chainring. I have not felt any need for a chainguide.
Durability has also been excellent. Our steep techy terrain means I spend 80% of my time in the big 3-4 cogs. Because I don’t allow chains to get too worn I’ve managed to get 3yrs of use out of the expensive XX1 cassette. The derailleur has taken a few hits, but it’s going strong and the shifter works like new. I just installed a E13 TRS+ 11 speed cassette on that wheel and I plan to use the rest of the XX1 components for another 3yrs. If I can get 6yrs of use out of these parts [~6 chains and 2 cassettes] I’ll feel like it was a good purchase.
I didn’t use a SRAM crank or chainring. My GF’s Pivot came with stock SRAM XO1 cranks and ring. They worked just fine. My Next SLs have been solid. They are very light, but have been trouble free despite many smacks into rocks and roots. I’ll post a specific Next SL review at some point this year.
So what’s not great about XX1?
- it’s expensive
- requires an “XD” driver on your hub
- expensive cassette needs replacing when a few cogs are done
- chainline issues with short chainstays [not a XX1 specific problem]
SRAM has addressed the cost issue by offering lower cost 11 speed drivetrains. They look excellent although I haven’t tried one yet. SRAM has also released a 12 speed drivetrain called Eagle that’s even more expensive! By comparison XX1 seems a lot more reasonable. 😉
To use XX1 you need an “XD” driver. So if your hub is not convertible forget about it and even if it is you’ll have to buy one more thing to use XX1. If are sourcing new hubs you can just get a unit with an “XD” driver so that’s not a big deal.
Since I use the big 4 cogs most of the time on my XX1 cassette I’m replacing it when the rest of the cogs are still fine. That’s big $$. So this time I got an E13 cassette that is sold in parts so I can replace the big 4 cogs only next time at a fraction of a full cassette cost.
Short chainstays and single ring drivetrains are resulting in extreme angles at the ends of the cassette. That’s not a big deal in the small cogs because you don’t spend a ton of time there and you don’t apply a ton of torque in those gears. On the other hand in the big cogs it’s a pain. You’ll wear parts out faster and any backpedalling will result in the chain fall off the big cogs and down to a harder gear. Not ideal on a steep climb. This isn’t an XX1 specific issue, but I had this annoying problem.
The solution I used was to buy a Wolf Tooth chainring. which has less offset than the stock Race Face ring. That moves the chain inboard improving the chainline in the big cogs. If you have a Boost hub on the rear and use a non-Boost crank/chainring you are doing the same thing.
Would I buy XX1 again?
I’d happily use XX1 again or even SRAM Eagle if you gave it to me or if I got it on deep discount. Having used a 10 speed + 42T cog hacked Shimano cassette on a different bike that is a pretty sweet setup at a far lower cost. Not quite the same gear range, but I mostly care about the low end of the gearing range. I don’t mind coasting at high speeds, which we hit rarely on my local trails.
The new Shimano 11 speed drivetrain parts looks nice and is available for a far lower cost than XX1. As a bonus it uses a normal old style 10 speed freehub and it’s compatible with SRAM 11 speed cassettes. I’ll probably try Shimano 11 speed next time.