Prior to the launch of its new Eagle 1X12 drivetrains, SRAM released a video eulogizing the deceased front derailleur, slyly alluding to the upcoming product while in somber tones bidding farewell to an old friend. However, when it comes to dancing on the grave of the front derailleur, SRAM has had itchy feet for almost a decade. Case in point: the 2008 release of Truvativ's HammerSchmidt two-speed crank.
At the time, freeriding was still big. Hefty, gravity-oriented sleds were an accepted norm, alongside a contingent expectation that they could be pedaled up the hills they were so adept at smashing down, regardless of how ungainly that upward progress was. Multiple chainrings and front derailleurs were sorely taxed by long-travel suspension working over rough ground, chain guides were generally only good for single rings, and single-ring systems at that time were limited in range. This was the zeitgeist into which the HammerSchmidt was born.
Utilizing planetary gears encased within a crankset surrounding a 22- or 24-tooth chainring, the HammerSchmidt leveraged SRAM's ownership of Sachs and a century-long history of building internally geared hubs. It offered lightning-fast and precise shifting between two ratios: 1:1 and a 1:1.6 overdrive. This yielded gearing similar to a 22/35 (or 24/38, depending on the chainring), did away with any chain alignment or retention issues, improved ground clearance and came with a built-in bashguard. It could even be shifted while coasting or backpedaling. It cleaned up a difficult area of suspension design, allowing builders to compose their suspension kinematics around a single chainring.
If it was so great, why did HammerSchmidt disappear? For all that potential, there were factors that colluded to keep it from becoming the standard-bearer for drivetrains. It was heavy, according to SRAM product manager Chris Hilton: "HammerSchmidt was radically overbuilt to work in extremely gnarly conditions. System failure had to be engineered out, because nobody could fix it. Broken chain, no problem. Broken gearbox crank? Different story." It was, for the time, relatively expensive at around $600. There was noticeable drag in the overdrive ratio, ISCG tabs and the bottom-bracket shell had to be precisely machined with a proprietary tool to fit the crank, and the addition of a freewheel in the crank led at times to some disconcerting lag.
More than anything, though, the market was shifting away from freeriding toward a lighter, more all-mountain/trail identity. Hilton recalls that "bikes either became lighter and benefitted from a lightweight 2×10 system … or they became more dedicated DH rigs using one-by. Now of course any serious performance mountain bike is one-by, so the demand for HammerSchmidt has moved to a different product."
And therein perhaps lies HammerSchmidt's greatest contribution to mountain biking: It set the stage for the arrival of wide-range, single-ring drivetrains. "I think it was successful," Hilton concludes. "We had about seven years of constant sales in both aftermarket and OEM. I doubt that anybody has ever produced a mountain bike gearbox that had that kind of lifespan. It did pretty much exactly what it was supposed to. We also learned quite a lot in terms of product development, use and market appetite."
Check out our other stories on important pieces of mountain bike gear.