Whether you like it or not, 1X drivetrains are the way of the future, just ask Sram. They have engineered and focused on building the best 1X’s for downhill, enduro, and of course cross country for at least the past 5 years. So when they announced the 1×12 earlier this year, there was a lot of excitement, not only in their offices, but throughout the cycling community. Personally, I thought it was a joke, but I’m extremely happy I was wrong.
I know there are a lot of you that still run and enjoy 2X, or even 3X drivetrains, mainly because it’s what you have. I can’t blame you, but if you are shopping for a new bike, or already have, you likely have noticed fewer options as far as drivetrains are concerned. That’s because manufacturers have realized that this is the way of the future. We could talk about what gearing and options are best for your intended application for days, but for the sake of time I want to share with you my early thoughts on the Eagle, and how it is beneficial for the bikepacking application.
Sram announcing it’s time for change, always remembered, never forgotten, but no longer necessary.
First and foremost, the 1X allows you to get rid of a few moving parts, one of them being the front derailleur and the motions that the chain makes to hop from chain ring to chain ring. The other is the derailleur shifter and shifter cable. Eliminating these parts not only saves a bit of weight, but it also saves the headache of those parts breaking or malfunctioning while out in the field. Yes, you can likely get away with a broken front derailleur and limp out to civilization, but knowing that won’t happen with a 1X drivetrain gives me a calming peace of mind.
What Sram has done over the past few years is developed crisp, clean, and concise shifting. Yes, a lot of that has to do with how you set up and tension your rear derailleur and derailleur cable, but for me (not a pro mechanic), setting up any Sram 1X is a breeze. The best part about this is that it makes adjusting your shifting on the fly that much easier, and to be honest, should make you more willing to do so – I know it has for me. Now, with the Eagle, it’s a little more complicated dialing in your b-tension, especially on a full suspension bike, but they truly make it as easy as possible. See this video if you are having trouble setting up your Eagle.
That leads me to the big cog and the pancake looking cassette. It appears that Sram basically threw on the a 50 tooth cog and kept the cassette range the same from their 11 speed cassette, but not before tightening up each cog to allow a 12th gear, which makes the chain slightly more narrow than an 11-speed chain. The Eagle will allow a 500% range with the added 50 tooth, compared to a 420% range with a 32 tooth Sram 1×11.
When I road with my 1×11, I would always have to switch out chainrings depending on what I was doing. If I was going to ride the Colorado or Arizona Trails, I would throw a 28 tooth on. This would leave me completely spun out on descents. If I was riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike route, I had to be careful with how big of a chain ring I put on, because I was worried how tired my legs would be. But now that the 50 tooth is available, I can run a larger chain ring, and have the peace of mind that I have the “bailout” ring, something that will keep me on the bike and make my riding that much more efficient.
So the main question is, how does it perform? I know it’s cliche, but honestly, this is the most efficient drive train I have used. I have used the driver for the past month now both for day rides and overnights. The Sram Eagle XO1 comes stock with a 32 tooth, to me a perfect complement for bikepacking. In fact, I found myself in the 50 ring a lot with my loaded rig this past weekend, it made for easy pedaling up steep grades, yet still kept me going fast enough to remain in control of my bike. If I were to go any slower, I would rather just walk, meaning a 30-50 or 28-50 would just not make sense for me or most people.
The jump from 50-42 was not nearly as noticeable as I thought it would be. Considering I’m extremely used to the other 11 speeds, I was very comfortable with the range, and how it could climb in mountain terrain with a 45lb loaded bike. One specific instance that stood out to me a few weeks back was riding the Dyke Trail in Crested Butte, Colorado. There is a significant climb in the middle of the trail, a steep and technical climb that is slow moving. I had the legs to clean it on a 11-42, but it was ugly. When I rode it with the Eagle, I may have been going slower, but it was at a much more efficient and comfortable speed. In the end, I beat my personal time by, believe it or not, going slower and being more efficient through the technical sections.
I have also gone through some significant mud the past few weeks, and I have been pleasantly surprised with how well the bike continues to shift and perform. After going through puddle after muddy puddle, I did get the inevitable grinding of the chain, but nothing a little lube wouldn’t fix. Whether or not it may have been quieter than my 11 speed chainring, it’s really hard to say.
Aside from the gearing, the rest of the drivetrain has some significant upgrades, starting with the cranks set. It is more stiff, lighter, and transfers power extremely well, another potential reason for the efficient uphill pedaling I have noticed.
The shifting is also so crisp and clean compared to the XX1, and while I still prefer Shimano’s two-way release shifter, it’s hard to complain about the performance of the Eagle’s shifting. I also didn’t have to adjust the barrel much, which may or may not have to do with Srams provided cable.
The chain shifts like a charm. Sram developed the new X-Sync chainring to give the chain better retention ,while also reducing friction which prevents chain wear. It’s too soon to say how long the chain and chainring will last, but I can say that I’m happy that I saved money and went with the XO1 build rather than the gold color scheme that comes with the XX1.
The big take away here is that the Eagle gives you nearly the same range as most Shimano 2X and Sram 2X’s, with the exception of the Sram GX2x11. It also provides a larger range, by a long shot, than any other 1X system on the market, and after long countless days on the bike, that is exactly what your body wants. Between crisp shifting, the extremely lightweight design, and a stock range that most should be fine with, it’s a winner.
That being said, the price point is certainly a turn off, even the XO1 build. But, if you are someone that wants the latest and greatest drivetrain on the market, now is your chance. As time goes on, we will certainly see lower end 1×12’s similar to the progression of the 1×11 a few years back. Thus, if you are not ready to spend top dollar, I would hold off.