WHAT: SRAM X-9 Drivetrain
HOW MUCH: $235 (shifters, front and rear derailleurs)
It might seem odd—what with a new, carbon-fiber festooned, already- previewed suite of shiny SRAM shift pieces on the horizon—for us to review SRAM's X-9 shifters and derailleurs. Old news, some might say, never sells. However, since these are long-term tests, they are better suited to gear that is well used rather than barely ridden. And these well-used bits have stood up to a full year of steady abuse.
The basis of SRAM's entire drivetrain philosophy is the 1:1 actuation ratio. The amount of cable pulled by the shifter is exactly the same as the distance that the derailleur moves for each jab of the thumb. Shimano, by contrast, utilizes a 2:1 ratio where the rear derailleur moves twice as far as the cable pull for every click on the shifter. SRAM engineers claim that the 1:1 ratio is less likely to fall out of adjustment and is less inclined to have shifting performance impaired by contaminants.
So, with its deco styling, Shimano XT pricing, push-push trigger shifters and 1:1 actuation ratio, X-9 talks the talk, but can it walk the walk?
In this case, yes. The rear derailleur held up to some ham-fisted use, took some rag-doll falls and got a stick wedged in it, all without shattering into a million pieces. It shifted cleanly and crisply even after the aforementioned stick mangled a rear dropout.
The front derailleur (labeled X-Generation, partly because it spans several price points in the SRAM line, but also because the guys at SRAM are huge Douglas Coupland fans) is a little more ornery. A nifty clamp uses shims to fit between three different seat tubes sizes, and a similarly nifty cable pinch-bolt works with either top- or bottom-routed cables, but there were a few flies in the ointment. A beefy spring led to a heavy feel at the lever, and on our Santa Cruz Blur test bike, the outboard cable-mounting position caused the shift wire to rub on the bike's seatstay.
Up at the handlebars, the X-9 shifters did their job without complaint. Unlike the venerable Shimano Rapid Fire triggers, they preferred to be operated by thumb only, as opposed to thumb and finger, and they had a longer lever throw.
Overall, performance is on par with the competition. While more notchy than silky in its shifting behavior, the SRAM goods shifted accurately, held adjustment well, and defied the elements with remarkable tenacity.