Preview: The XX1 Hack
Creating a single-ring drivetrain on a budget
By Vernon Felton
About a month ago OneUp components burst onto the scene with their new 42-tooth cog. If that doesn’t sound “burst onto the scene” worthy, consider this: They claimed you could use that cog to build a single-ring drivetrain with the same kind of low gearing available on SRAM’s XX1 and X01 groups for a fraction of the cost.
We’ve begun to assemble our affordable XX1 hack, but before we get into the details, here’s a bit more background on why you should even give a damn.
SINGLE-RING DRIVETRAINS–NOT JUST FOR MASOCHISTIC WANKERS ANYMORE
SRAM changed the game when they created XX1–it was a bold move. No one (okay, not a whole lot of us, anyway) was clamoring to suddenly be rid of the front derailleur. Sure, front derailleurs have been finicky bastards for a decade now, but we were used to them. Besides, single-ring drivetrains were the domain of very fit, masochistic types who didn’t need a granny ring anyway. For most of us, a single-ring was simply infeasible.
But then XX1 came out with that massive pie-plate of a 42-tooth cog and a huge range of chainring sizes. With XX1, anyone, really, could kiss their front derailleur goodbye. What’s more, XX1 promised fewer dropped chains. And by “fewer” I mean something damn close to “none at all”.
XX1 had a lot going for it: light, simple, sturdy, precise and pain-free. Well, except for the price tag. As high-end drivetrains go, it was comparable to the other caviar-level groups, but a lot of us ain’t eating caviar. XX1 was out of our league. XX1 came out and…well, there was no big price drop there.
It’s in that environment that OneUp made their bold release. As I noted in our initial story on the monster sprocket, you can run it with either SRAM or Shimano drivetrains. For chainrings, you have a variety of options: MRP, Race Face, Wolf Tooth Components and, of course, SRAM. The 7075-aluminum 42-tooth cog sells for $100.
So, here’s the question–can you create an affordable XX1 alternative (an XX1 hack, if you will) that actually offers XX1-level performance? We’re going to find out.
I ravaged one of my bikes of its Shimano SLX clicky bits and begged our gear editor to borrow the staff’s Race Face Next SL crank, to which we’d snugged up their narrow-wide 30-tooth chainring.
THE CRANK/CHAINRING COMBO
The Race Face crank is a pricey bit of gear, but those hollow carbon arms are light and sexy, and this thing is in need of some old- fashioned bashing about, so it got the nod for our test. That said, you can bolt a narrow-wide style ring ($60 to $80) to a lot of cranks. I’ll probably also experiment with an MRP Bling Ring mounted to a SRAM X0 crank at some point.
SLX REAR DERAILLEUR/REAR SHIFTER
Clutch derailleurs go a long ways towards reducing chain slap and dropped chains, so it makes the obvious pairing with the narrow-wide chainring. There are a lot of Shimano-philes out there, so I wanted to create an affordable SLX-driven group. No one raves about SLX, but they should. It’s almost freaky how good this stuff is. No, it ain’t XTR, but a lot of us can afford it and that goes a long ways in my book. It’s worth noting, however, that you can’t pair the OneUp sprocket with an SLX cassette. For Shimano folks, its XT and XTR, and that’s that. SRAM riders have more cassette compatability–the same OneUp sproket plays nice with X5, X7 and X9 cassettes.
AND WE’RE OFF….
So there you have it. I’m mounting all of the above to a frame in the next few days and we’ll get down to being abusive with the whole set up. I’m truly intrigued to see whether you can cobble together an alternative to a group that SRAM purpose built to work together. Each of the XX1 and X01 bits was designed to make sweet mechanical love to one another. I’m just pulling together what I have in my garage. Can they truly be on the same level?
We’ll be showing the results in an upcoming print issue of Bike magazine. Check out the full review when it hits newsstands.