Spotted at the Fort William World Cup was a slimmed down SRAM 7-speed drivetrain system, this one specifically for downhill applications. There has been rumors of SRAM working on something through its Blackbox program – an advanced development cycle which operates for its most elite sponsored athletes – and at the first World Cup race of the year Stevie Smith, Aaron Gwin and Sam Hill have bikes with the mystery derailleur that looks like a shrunken XX1 derailleur, 7-speed cassette and the same crosshead tooth profile we have seen on XX1 chainrings.
There is no official word from SRAM at this point, but we did track down Jon Cancellier, Blackbox’s man on the ground, and squeezed some information out of him.
"This is nothing official, we are just trying things out. When the Specialized/Monster Energy tried out micro gearing a few years back we took notice and wanted to see where the benefits lie. What we found through quizzing our athletes is that some want a wide range of gears, some don't. But most of them explained they wanted more noticeable difference between gears – distinct gearing steps."
"We have Gwin on our product now so it has been very interesting working with him because he has experience of other drivetrain systems, knows what he likes and can critically analyze our product. One thing he said was that he enjoyed the ability to shift through two gears on the Shimano product. We asked why and his answer wasn't that he wanted to shift two gears at once, but that he wanted to get into the right gear faster. So we gave him a cassette with more step between the cogs, giving him a real difference between gears. Now when he comes out of a corner and wants to drop the gears and power out, he doesn't have to have the system shift twice to be in the correct gear, it's just once."
Jon also pointed out that this system has already been ridden at three different races (including the two races that Gwin attended in Port Angeles, Washington) this winter, just no one had noticed it.
Gwin has been spending a lot of time on it and his experience with other brand’s product is invaluable.
"It's like getting a fresh set of eyes now we have Gwin onboard. It's refreshing because many of our riders have only ran our product for many years now, so it's possible they overlook certain things. Gwin was excited to ride our product but he is also critical and will identify stuff he doesn't like and that we can work on. That's great feedback to get from a racer."
"Sam Hill has also ridden the micro drivetrain system when he was at Specialized so he knows what he liked about that system and that can help our development."