This has never been done before. Not in the history of bicycles has one brand engineered a hack for another brand’s shifter. There have been add-on cogs and after-market pulley cages, but the shifter has been considered a black box never to be opened. The folks at The Hive have decided it’s time to open it with the e*thirteen 12-speed upgrade kit and TRS+ cassette.

What?

There are a lot of juicy details in this news, but the one you’re probably waiting for is how much more range you’ll get. Will the new cassette offer 550% range? 600%? A million%? Actually, the answer is none. That’s not what this is about. It’s about closer gaps between cogs. In the middle of its range, the size difference between gears narrows slightly. The existing 11-speed e*thirteen cassette reads 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 20, 24, 28, 33, 39, 46 while the new 12-speed goes  9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24, 28, 33, 39, 46. 

I heard news of this happening while at Sea Otter this year, and it got my tender little punk rock heart beating a hard, up-tempo 4/4. A small brand just empowered us to cast off the shackles of planned obsolescence. Then, I told fellow editor Will Ritchie about it, and he immediately de-winded my sails with a single word.

“Why?”

Why? WHY?! Because stick-it-to-the-man, that’s why!

But after I thought about it, he kinda has a point.

The new cassette mounts just like e*thirteen’s old one, with a pinch bolt and a chain whip.

Why?

Riders with the SRAM 11-speed drivetrains that are compatible with this system have long been able to get Eagle-beating range with e*thirteen’s existing 11-speed cassette for $250 (instead of this 12-speed system’s $300) and no black-box-dissection is required. “Who’s asking for tighter steps between gears?” Will asked. Not many of us.

But the truth is, we haven’t had much choice. The 1x revolution has enough benefits that we’re just willing to accept its drawbacks. And the drawback of wide gaps between gears is twofold. One is the fewer choices you have to find your cadence. Not a big deal. But the other is about shifting. Smaller steps means smoother shifts. That’s kind of a big deal. And it’s an area where e*thirteen’s 511% 11-speed cassette lagged behind SRAM Eagle. E*thirteen’s 12-speed system’s steps are essentially the same size as Eagle’s. On top of that, e*thirteen system is simply smaller than Eagle. That means less chain weight and better ground clearance

How?

The kit is designed to work with existing GX, X1, X01 and XX 11-speed drivetrains. NX is excluded because this is an XD-driver-only affair. It includes e*thirteen’s new 9-46 12-speed cassette, a set of derailleur pulley spacers to help the derailleur reach the largest, now more-inbound cog, and a kit for modifying your shifter.

Count ’em! The SRAM ratchet ring (left) has got 11 clicks. The e*thirteen cassette has one more.

The kit includes a tool that helps hold the shifter together while you’ve got crucial bolts removed, some new bolt and washer hardware for the new guts, and a brand new ratchet ring with 12 notches in it, not 11. There are also a couple other bits, including a different but similar ratchet ring. Each only gets used on the slightly different XX1 shifter. A well-made YouTube video walks you through the whole process. I wouldn’t call it easy. There is some unfamiliar manual gymnastics to be done, but I managed after just a couple pauses and rewinds on the video.

The Ride

Here’s where I would normally tell you about how the system works on the trail. Just before the rest of the staff and I packed up for Bible Summer Camp two weeks ago, e*thirteen shipped a 12-speed kit to the office, and this past weekend would be my orientation.

But as tends to happen when tasks are left to the last minute,  something went wrong. After several attempts, two shifters and two weekend phone calls with our contact at The Hive, an unidentified issue kept the modified shifter from clicking properly through its gears. Things like this often happen with the early production items that we in the media get access to. It nearly always turns out to be a pre-production fluke or (dare I admit it) user error. Technically, both are possibilities. We’ll have a replacement kit to re-install and report on very soon.

Overall, the system is simple and smart. It may not solve a problem that all of us have, but it reflects an incredible out-of -the-black-box approach to product development. I can’t wait to take it for a spin.