The rumor mill has been cooking for a while on the topic, and recently, spy shots emerged of what seems to be the imminent release of SRAM 1×12. The forum posts quickly disappeared, only to pop up in a number of places again. The leaked pictures indicate the new 1×12 group, codenamed „X01 Eagle“ comes with a 10-50 cassette – a massive range of gears.
Actually, it is not a big surprise, is it? We all knew by the time 1×11 hit the shops, the industry would already be working on wider gear ranges. Remember when we’ve all been on 9-speed with 11-32 cassettes? If there’s one constant in the bike industry, it is that cassettes are getting wider.
The big two, Shimano and SRAM adhere to different philosophies, when it comes to shifting. Shimano emphasizes finely tuned, smooth steps of the cassette – they call it Rhythm Step – for maximum pedaling efficiency. They are convinced that you should rather keep a front derailleur than compromise on gear grading.
They maintain “the rhythm“ is especially relevant for a racer or performance rider. It shows in the cassette range: Even in a one-by setup, Their XTR uses an 11-40 cassette to give racers a smaller change in cadence when shifting. Their XT group puts more emphasis on the overall range, offering a 11-42 cassette for 1×11, and a 10-40 cassette for 2×11 and 3×11 cranks.
The front derailleur seems to be Shimano territory, with SRAM dropping it altogether for many applications. Their philosophy is to get rid of it and offer the widest gear range possible on the cassette. Yes, they do offer a 2×11 setup on their GX group. With the new NX group out, GX is their second-lowest 11-speed offering, with no less than three one-by groups sitting above it in line. Perhaps this can be understood as an indication of how highly they rank the two-by setups. I’m not blaming them, because they stay their course: They’ve always been working on reducing chainrings, and have been the first to promote 2×10 with their XX group in 2009. And with the introduction of XX1 in 2012, they have succeeded to ban front derailleurs from bikes all over the world. Subsequently, they’ve brought 1×11 to the masses with their X01, X1, GX, and, recently, NX group offerings.
But there’s still a stalwart few front derailleur adherents, and their voices are heard on the forums. The chorus goes like this:
„1×11 does give me enough gear range, because…“ (tick circle)
- I live in big mountain terrain
- I like to race the roadies on my way to the trails
- I’m an ex-roadie with a high cadence
- I need the granny gear
Now SRAM seems bent on shutting these people up. With a 10-50 range, you get what essentially amounts to a super-mountain goat ring and only lose little at the top.
Who is it for? Will racers now run larger chainrings? I don’t think so. In my view, SRAM actually approached Shimano’s philosophy, at least a part of it. By rolling this new group set out as an X01, not an XX1, they make it more affordable and address a wider audience. The reasoning could be that the pro riders don’t need that range and the step from the 50 tooth cog would be too big, too. For us, however, the added range can be critical: The 50 is 19% bigger than the 42. This means that on a 32 chainring your 1×12 drivetrain will have a lower gear than a traditional 2×10 setup (38/24 on 11-36), and on the top-end, the 2×10 will only have an 8% advantage over your highest gear.
What does this imply for the industry? We’ve seen frame design move away from the front derailleur step by step. Some companies simply drop the front derailleur mount altogether on their frames. Others engineer special solutions, such as cleverly positioned mounts that allow a frame to at least retain the option (e.g. Specialized Taco Blade). On the new Plus compatible frame designs, the front derailleur mount is gone – and with cassette range going wider than ever, this could be the future for the other wheel sizes, as well. Another side effect could be that the smaller companies that have invested in larger cog offerings lose some of their business. But I’d be surprised if they’d be surprised. After all, cassettes have been getting wider for decades.
The main question is whether it will fit existing hubs – or will it force us to adopt Boost to benefit from it?