12 gears. Really? Do we need twelve (12!) gears.
That has been a very simple question to answer up until recently, because the only way you could get a 12 speed drivetrain was to sell your house, your car and a kidney to get enough money together to get yourself a SRAM XX1 groupset, (or, if you like your car or house, you could keep one of those and get the XO1 version). For most of us who don’t race professionally and have other REAL bills to pay it has been an easy question to answer. Well, things just got a tad more complicated; this black and white question just got a whole lot greyer, as SRAM have just recently released the 12 speed Eagle drivetrain at the kidney-friendly GX price point.
In case you don’t know what the fuss is about, with the advent of 1x front chainrings taking the world by storm, some people do actually find themselves missing that granny ring. I’ll admit, I’ve been one of those people on occasion. Sometimes you find yourself grinding up some god-forsaken hill in your 42t rear thinking “do I get off and walk up this hill? A granny ring would be really good about now”. Well, suffer the shame of walking no more! A 50 tooth rear sprocket means YOU CAN RIDE UP ANYTHING. Yes, caps-lock means this is the real deal. If you can’t ride up a hill with a 50t it is officially time to give up mountain-biking and move to a flatter sport. Lawn bowls comes to mind.
When I first heard about SRAM releasing a 12 speed drivetrain I must admit I was one of the haters. “Do we really need that?” I scoffed. After a few months on the GX kit I’m converted. And even though the GX range is essentially the third tier in SRAM’s drivetrain rankings, it left me wanting for nothing. I’ve had a fiddle on XO1 and it does sound a bit more ‘metallic-ey’, a bit ‘clickier’ at the shifter maybe, but this GX stuff is the biz. It’s fast, snappy, easy to tune. About the only critical thing I can say about it is that changing the front chain-ring over to a ‘Boost-spaced’ (3mm offset) version was a job I hope I never have to do again. Only three Torx bolts holding the chain-ring on, but they obviously have Hulk Hogan working at the factory tightening those up as they were so far beyond tight. I don’t want to go into it, I’ve processed it and moved on, but I’m just saying, be prepared to battle with those Torx bolts. I’m going to come out and say it - on the trail Eagle is quite simply the best drive train I have used. The 500% range is incredible. I thought mud might gunk up the narrower spacing a bit, but in practice it wasn’t an issue.
The standard kit includes a cassette, derailleur, BB, cranks, shifter and a chain. The cranks are available in 175 or 170mm, and there is an oval chainring available as well. I’m not really one to worry too much about weight, but if you’re interested the cassette weighs 450 grams, the derailleur 290 grams, and the cranks from 610-660 grams depending on the configuration.
Is Eagle for you? Ok, it’s still $800. If you are due for a drivetrain replacement then I say bite the bullet and do a full upgrade. If not, well you will unfortunately have to choose to put yourself first and basically tell the kids Santa got lost and they don’t get any Christmas presents this year. Fortunately if you can do that, their sad faces will only last a moment, especially when they see how happy your new 50 tooth chain ring is making you. And it’s a lot cheaper than the $2250 or so for the XX1, so you’ve actually saved $1450! If you can’t do that to your children, do not, I repeat, do not borrow your friends bike and find out what you are missing out on. Available at your local bike shop now.
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