If we’re being trustworthy, SRAM’s foray into gravel bike drivetrains has been a bit complicated. Beginning with a hydraulic “clutch” on all of their eTap AXS street bike derailleurs, introducing “Drive Large” to accommodate gravel’s bigger tires, and an assortment of derailleurs that nearly required a diagram to seek out appropriate cassettes, it was sufficient to make you look away.
Then, lastly, they launched a whole XPLR group that features Zipp wheels and a Rockshox Rudy fork. If the product has XPLR on it, it really works collectively. Which, in relation to drivetrains, solely actually refers back to the rear derailleur and 10-44 cassette. It’s solely appropriate with 1x drivetrains, however you should utilize any crankset and 12-speed 1x chainring.
So, whereas all the pieces can nonetheless be blended and matched, working an Eagle 12-speed mountain bike derailleur and cassette, paddle or drop bar shifters, and so on., the XPLR “group” optimizes cage size and equipment ratios and equipment steps for the overwhelming majority of gravel conditions.
And now that I kind that out, maybe it doesn’t actually simplify it, nevertheless it follows in SRAM’s obvious logic of “let’s optimize every element for a particular, comparatively slender gear vary in order that it performs as crisply as potential.” And with that in thoughts, right here’s my assessment…
SRAM XPLR drivetrain assessment
The SRAM XPLR teams provide two cassettes, the top-level 1271 with alloy backing plate proven right here, and a 1251 with totally pinned development. Each are 10-44 and use their XDR freehub physique.
The vary actually is the candy spot for gravel. From flat to rolling hills, it provides the correct unfold, with the flexibility to simply swap their direct-mount chainrings from 38 as much as 46 tooth to accommodate the course du jour. Should you’re routinely driving large mountains and wish extra vary, simply go for the Eagle AXS setup with a 10-50 as an alternative.
For comparability, the Shimano GRX teams (for now) are designed to work with 11-speed street and mountain bike cassettes, with the latter utilizing MTB derailleurs slightly than the GRX derailleur, identical as SRAM does. The Campagnolo Ekar 13-speed group has 9-36, 9-42, and 10-44, which all add an extra cog for smoother gear steps on the small finish of the cassette, however the identical gear vary on the most important cassette.
So, regardless that SRAM XPLR has a single cassette, the fact is you’ll be able to combine and match throughout elements for nearly each model, or for Campy, select from a wide range of cassettes and chainrings to get it the place you want it. Apples to apples, simply perhaps Pink Girl to Purple Scrumptious to Honeycrisp.
Oh, and the XPLR derailleurs are additionally appropriate with SRAM’s 10-36 cassettes, too, however these aren’t branded XPLR.
Obtained it? Good.
The beauties of the SRAM system are the extra trim ranges and the derailleur’s hydraulic Orbit damper that’s not a clutch.
XPLR derailleurs are provided in Rival ($269), Drive ($369) and RED ($749). Mixed with the 2 cassette choices, there’s one thing for many budgets.
Just like the street bike derailleurs, the Orbit is a fluid damper that merely slows the cage’s motion to forestall wild chain motion over harsh terrain. Not like a spring-loaded clutch, it’s not including stress to the system (though, like all derailleurs, the cage continues to be spring loaded to take care of acceptable chain stress).
So, technically, it’s not combating the motor (as a result of all trim ranges are AXS, no mechanical choices provided), however it’s ridiculously good at taming chain slap.
Irrespective of if it’s root gardens, chunky gravel, drops, or large bunny hops, the chain stays quiet and on monitor.
The group can be actually good at executing shifts underneath energy, even when driving by tough stuff. Clean supply, simple shifts, and dependable efficiency are the highlights.
The bigger, textured shift paddles make issues simple, even with full finger and winter gloves, and braking ergonomics are fairly good.
Out of the field, the levers are very far ahead, so I like to recommend taking the time to regulate the attain for optimum security and the perfect ergonomics. As soon as I had it dialed in, one-finger braking is sufficient for informal stopping, and getting two fingers into place is simple sufficient and supplies greater than sufficient leverage for many conditions.
I nonetheless want getting within the drops on quick, aggressive, and steep descents, and having the levers in simple attain (see above advice) is essential right here, too. Thankfully, SRAM’s drop bar levers have loads of adjustment vary.
Total, XPLR is a dependable, well-performing group with a cornucopia of choices to suit any type of motorbike or driving.
Rockshox Rudy XPLR & Reverb AXS assessment
With nearly each suspension model providing a gravel fork now, the Rockshox Rudy XPLR (notably within the gloss black) has the sleekest seems. It seems slim and petite by comparability, with curves and contours on the dropouts and arch that assist it disappear on the bike. This can be a good factor.
My testing up to now has been on the 30mm journey model, which helps spotlight the Zipp wheels (maintain studying), however in all actually, simply get the 40mm journey model. Until you completely have to maintain the bottom potential entrance finish, there’s no motive to not have a bit extra journey.
Clearance for 700x50mm tires supplies all of the room anybody would want earlier than simply utilizing a mountain bike. Software-free cable administration seems clear and means no stress over dropping a component or stripping out a tiny screw.
Controls are easy, simply flip the knob to regulate the Race Day damper’s compression damping from open to closed. Full vary rebound adjustment is on the underside with a detachable knob.
Fender mounts behind the arch work with a customized Rockshox fender, however there are additionally hidden mounts beneath the dropout for attaching a full protection fender from different manufacturers.
Flat mount brakes come from their street bikes, no XPLR particular brakesets are provided. The Rudy locations the calipers in place for 160mm rotors with no adapters; they’re appropriate with 180mm rotors with an adapter.
Driving the Rudy felt managed, and its 30mm journey labored nicely with the Zipp Moto wheel’s means to mildew to the terrain (maintain studying). One of the best phrase I might consider is “supportive” whereas nonetheless opening up the bike (and me) to extra aggressive terrain.
I experience this drop-in loads on all my gravel bikes, however the management supplied with this setup let me go sooner with extra confidence. As an alternative of choosing rigorously round every root, I might simply roll by them, focusing extra on the exit.
With such a small quantity of journey, I didn’t miss any further compression damping controls and simply left it open on a regular basis. There’s minimal motion underneath spirited standing efforts as a result of, nicely, there’s minimal journey, and Rockshox’s newest damper designs and air springs do an awesome job of offering mid-stroke assist. And all of it appears like “mid stroke” on such a brief journey fork.
Rebound changes are sufficient, and a pleasant function. The air spring may be tuned with quantity spacers, which is unquestionably price fidgeting with even right here.
What concerning the Reverb AXS XPLR?
The Reverb AXS might be the perfect factor to occur to dropper posts…for mountain bikes. The easy activation is the perfect use for wi-fi, and it’s in all probability tripled my dropper utilization.
For gravel, I like the thought of it higher than the execution, for 2 causes. First, it’s extra cumbersome than it appears to press each left and proper shift paddles concurrently, which is how the XPLR mannequin is actuated. It requires simply sufficient fingers-off-the-brakes to make it really feel uncomfortable at finest and unsafe at worst.
I discovered myself having to both anticipate utilization nicely prematurely, or sluggish excessively earlier than utilizing it whereas on a descent. Conventional, mechanical dropper levers positioned mid-bend on the handlebar really feel extra intuitive and comfy for me on this use case, and that they can be utilized one-handed is even higher. I really feel like SRAM can resolve this, and I hope they do, as a result of the operate of the Reverb itself is implausible.
Second, although, the “suspension” function is difficult to make use of. It requires the submit to be dropped into its journey, at the same time as little as 1mm, with a view to provide some cushioning. Appears sensible, however getting it to drop only a couple millimeters such that it doesn’t alter your seated place an excessive amount of is all however not possible throughout regular driving. Once more, I really feel like that is one thing SRAM can discover a higher resolution for, hopefully with a firmware replace, however as is, the function is simply actually arduous to make use of efficiently.
ZIPP 101 XPLR gravel wheels assessment
The Zipp 101 XPLR gravel wheels are a narrower model of their 3 Zero MOTO mountain bike wheels, that are wonderful. They’ve the identical ground-taming profit, and the identical weight detriment, making them a wheelset that’s devastatingly efficient…with a reasonably slender use case.
Just like the MTB wheels, they use a single-wall design with “ankle flex”, primarily letting them twist alongside the spoke mattress’s aircraft to adapt to the bottom beneath. The impact isn’t as dramatic because the MTB wheels as a result of they aren’t as huge (so, much less leverage from the bottom), nevertheless it’s there.
Mixed with the fork, there was a sure one thing about driving this bike that was arduous to place a finger on, nevertheless it was simply uncannily in a position to monitor the bottom. Roots? Rocks? Crunchy corners? No downside. Traction, even with the pretty low-profile Zipp tires, was subsequent degree. It gave the bike a brand new persona that made the identical previous trails and roads extra attention-grabbing, and let me push a bit more durable.
The caveat is, they’re heavier than some other high-end gravel wheel, so I’d solely pull these out for the correct races. Suppose Grinduro, the place it’s nearly extra mountain bike race than gravel. Gnarly terrain is the place they shine, and the place they’re price the additional grams.
Any one in all these elements, save (and I’m pained to say this) for the Reverb AXS XPLR, are nice on their very own. Put all of them collectively (particularly the Rudy and 101 Motos) and the sum is bigger than the elements. The flexibility of their drivetrain elements to be blended and matched is bigger than both of their opponents’ collections, even when they do generally take a little bit further analysis to kind out.
I’ve been driving all of those on and off (I’ve quite a lot of bikes) for a bit over a yr, in moist, dry, chilly, and sizzling circumstances they usually’ve held up admirably. Typically I’ve had no undue sturdiness points with any of the SRAM stuff I’ve examined and suspect these will proceed to experience robust for years to return.