rotor2.jpg
A Light and Well Priced 12spd Option

Rotor's 12x Cassette Ridden and Reviewed

Words Cam McRae
Photos Cam McRae
Date Mar 12, 2020
Reading time

Options have never been more important for mountain bikers. Until recently SRAM had a stranglehold on drivetrain components for higher end mountain bikes. Or at least they created a stranglehold by making components that were head and shoulders ahead of the competition in almost every regard. Price was and is an exception and Shimano's relatively recent entry into the 1x12 market provides some much needed choice in a package that shifts incredibly well. But that is still just two choices, aside from boutique options like Rotor's 13 speed group, Box's 12x drivetrain and cassettes from Sunrace, Garbaruk, e*thirteen, Leonardi, SEQlite and others.

The keen-eyed among you may notice that the header image is actually a 13x cassette, which is part of Rotor's own drivetrain group. Aesthetically they are identical, but the 13, obviously goes two entire cogs past 11.

While I like options, I'll only choose them when there is a parallel or an advantage in either performance, price, durability, or in rare cases weight. As I think about it, that's not entirely true. I will occasionally sacrifice in one of those areas for something that has an interesting story, incredibly engineering, or if it looks really dope.* When you invest piles of money, energy, and research into your bike, as many mountain bikers do, it's nice to be able to add some originality and personalize your ride.

*I'm too old to use that word in conversation, but I thought I'd try it out here

rotor1.jpg

Maybe it's not made of Mithril, but it's a beautifully made piece nonetheless.

My affection for options made Rotor's 12x cassette catch my eye at Sea Otter 2019. It leads in several categories, being lighter (323g), less expensive (365 USD), and able to fit a conventional Shimano HG driver body. Remember the one everyone used before SRAM's XD driver showed up? As a result it has an 11t smallest cog, but it compensates by going to 52 for the bottom end so you can use a larger chainring and preserve your range.

The Rotor cassette also scores points for sweet engineering and stunning presentation. It's the sort of component you want to put on your bike because it appears to be hewn from Mithril by elves with skill and precision that puts both humans and machines to shame. That may be taking it a little deep, but it's an accurate reflection of my affection for finely crafted bike parts in general, and the Rotor cassette specifically.

rotor-11-52-cassette-2.jpg

I installed the Rotor cassette on a 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy. It seemed like to make sense to install it on the keenest pedal bike at our disposal.

The install is easy if you have a 12x SRAM drivetrain (Shimano isn't recommended) and a wheel/hub with a Hyperglide driver. I pulled a Shimano Microspline driver of a DT Swiss hub and slid an HG on in its place. I realized that I'd need to use SRAM's Eagle B-Gap adjustment tool, but I decided to see how it worked without completing that adjustment. The results were poor and the shifting was abysmal, particularly moving to a larger cog under load. After toughing it out for a couple of rides I dug out the tool and tweaked things appropriately. Shifting improved, but not enough. There were times when it didn't seem like the problem was the derailleur, so I checked the hanger alignment, which was good, and lubed the cable in case it was getting hung up. Again there was a slight improvement, but nowhere near enough, and there still seemed to be a cable or housing issue.

rotor-11-52-cassette-5.jpg

Rotor's aluminum and steel 11-52 cassette.

rotor-11-52-cassette-6.jpg

SRAM's XO1 cassette.

Final Performance Analysis

I rolled up my sleeves and replaced the cable. Again there was a marginal improvement but much more was needed so I yanked the housing. Some how the portion of housing that resides inside the upper stay in the swingarm had become crushed in one spot and kinked in another. I slid in some new housing, using Shimano product, and once again adjusted everything so that it was working well in the stand and got ready to take it out on the trail.

My first shifts seemed to be another improvement, and possibly even a significant one. I tried some out of the saddle changes on the fireroad up Mt. Fromme with decent results. Once I hit the singletrack and did some more demanding shifts, the improvements were less pronounced. The chain hung on many shifts to a larger cog under power. Instead of a simple click I often needed to keep the cable in tension to accomplish the shifts. Upshifts were generally better but occasionally they hung up as well.

After sorting out the cable issues, I still wanted to be sure there were no lingering issues preventing solid shifting, so I swapped in a wheel with an XO1 cassette and did some riding. Shifting was immediately crisper and I could perform demanding downshifts with only a click of my thumb. Upshifts were faster and smoother as well. This is only a guess, but it seems the ramps on the Rotor 12x cassette are less effective than those on SRAM Eagle cassettes.

rotor-11-52-cassette-4.jpg

Rotor 12sp.

rotor-11-52-cassette-7.jpg

SRAM XO1 12spd.

Rotor Cassette Stats VS SRAM Eagle XX1 and XO1

Rotor Cog Sizes 11-12-13-15-17-19-22-26-31-37-44-52t SRAM XX1 and XO1 10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32-36-42-50t

Rotor Weight - 323g (measured) XX1 and XO1 - 357g (claimed)

Rotor Price - 365 USD XX1 - 449 USD XO1 - 385 USD

Final Analysis

I was really hoping the Rotor cassette was going to steal the show. I would have been very keen to be able to tell you this is a viable option for challenging terrain that requires difficult shifts, but that wasn't my experience. I can get by with the Rotor cassette but it means I need to plan and think about any shift that has to happen under power or very quickly. On my last ride a missed shift caused me to hop off and push up a small rise. Obviously this is no big deal when you are out riding with your buddies, but it's not ideal either. If you live somewhere without highly technical terrain and rough steep climbs in particular, I wouldn't steer you away from Rotor's 11-52 beauty. Otherwise, I'd opt for something else.

Related Stories

Trending on NSMB

Comments

bailey100
+14 Etacata 4Runner1 Merwinn JT pdxkid ManInSteel Velocipedestrian goose8 Pete Roggeman AndrewR IslandLife Metacomet cedrico Tjaard Breeuwer
william bailey  - March 12, 2020, 4:38 a.m.

I'm a huge fan of the honest and thorough reviews on this site. 

I wish it was more common in the industry.

Thanks Cam.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - March 12, 2020, 12:22 p.m.

Thanks!

I haven't ridden Curas but I certainly trust Andrew's opinion. One thing I'd mention is that lately I've been noticing the downsides of mineral oil in the cold. It really doesn't work well below about 2º celsius and gets worse as temps drop. I'm a big fan of Codes though, particularly after having ridden a set of G2s - which I have not been happy with at all. Great power and modulation and decent feel at the lever. I don't think you can go wrong with Codes.

Reply

GladePlayboy
+1 Andrew Major
Rob Gretchen  - March 12, 2020, 2:48 p.m.

Hey Cam,  I've been riding the Cura4s in the interior this late spring and well below 0 Celsius and no issues... the levers feel a tiny bit sluggish but performance has been on point.

Reply

danimaniac
+1 Andrew Major
danimaniac  - March 13, 2020, 5 a.m.

you are asking the wrong questions:

It's Cura4 or Dominion A4 :D

Reply

Kenny
+1 Pete Roggeman
Kenny  - March 12, 2020, 6:02 a.m.

Thanks for the review, Cam!

Since it's marks are for a 50t, do you think it's possible that the SRAM b tension tool doesn't quite set the tension properly with a 52t cog? I guess the difference should be negligible but just a thought given how picky my eagle setups are about b tension. 

Does rotor have a recommended procedure?

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - March 12, 2020, 12:24 p.m.

I wondered about that as well. I was speaking to a Rotor rep who didn't mention anything about a special b-tension procedure but it would be worth checking out more thoroughly.

Reply

rwalters
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
Ryan Walters  - March 12, 2020, 7:29 a.m.

I understand executing the "worst case scenario" when doing a product review - but do people actually shift gears while under drive load?? Am I the only one who religiously lets off the gas before shifting gears? I mean, the amount of time required is literally less than a second, and I've never thought to myself "I really wish I could continue pedaling through this shift."

I also just recently replaced my 5-year-old 11-speed cassette, so maybe I'm onto something?

Reply

fartymarty
+2 twk Pete Roggeman
fartymarty  - March 12, 2020, 9:02 a.m.

I do on my Shimano 10 speed set up.  I don't do it often but it does work when needed.

Reply

Captain-Snappy
0
Merwinn  - March 12, 2020, 11:30 a.m.

Yes. Not all the time, but yes. 

Any steep techy climb, and you're always in the right gear?... Where do you ride?

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
Cam McRae  - March 12, 2020, 12:29 p.m.

When you have a drivetrain that encourages it, like the new Shimano 12spd stuff, there doesn't seem to be much downside. It's like butter. And without trying that you can't really evaluate shifting IMHO. I used to ride more like that but on modern drivetrains that aren't bagged and are well-tuned, it doesn't make sense to avoid it. And there are times on certain trails that go up and down (7th-Leppard-Krinkum on Fromme for example) where it becomes necessary if I blow a line or otherwise lose momentum. In those situations, it's a huge advantage to be able to move up the cassette.

Reply

andy-eunson
+1 Pete Roggeman
Andy Eunson  - March 12, 2020, 12:35 p.m.

Pretty often although having survived friction shifting from the olden days I think it is ingrained in me to let up a bit without thinking.

Reply

rwalters
+2 Pete Roggeman Andy Eunson
Ryan Walters  - March 12, 2020, 1:33 p.m.

Agreed. I've been at this so long, I don't even think about it. I don't stop spinning the pedals, but I let off just barely enough to give the chain a bit of slack.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+1 Andy Eunson
Pete Roggeman  - March 13, 2020, 7:27 a.m.

All of us old bastards do it, but like a few mentioned, now that drivetrains handle shifts under load much better than they used to, it's like a last bullet in the chamber. Also, we're covering all types of terrain faster than we used to and I know that means that even on familiar trails, I occasionally put a shift in where I might not normally have done in the past.

Reply

IslandLife
0
IslandLife  - March 13, 2020, 10:28 a.m.

Yep, I do all the time, especially while racing.  I bent teeth on my SRAM GX cassette twice last year.  This year I'll be on the 2020 Shimano XT... so it'll be a moot point for me.

Reply

shoreboy
+5 Cr4w Sandy James Oates ManInSteel twk Pete Roggeman
Shoreboy  - March 12, 2020, 8:34 a.m.

I guess its the times we live in when a 365 USD cassette is considered 'well priced'.  Sure, its marginally less than the high end offering of SRAM, but I would still consider that price as the expensive option.  As a non gram counter, Ill take a Shimano XT 12-Spd for 159 USD  and the 100g weight penalty if I were running 12-spd.

Reply

craw
+8 Shoreboy Cam McRae ManInSteel twk Jerry Willows Andrew Major cedrico Tjaard Breeuwer
Cr4w  - March 12, 2020, 8:44 a.m.

I'm glad I'm able to push 32x 11-42 and enjoy those cheap XT 11spd cassettes. The Idea of a $400+ consumable part Is absolutely bananas.

Reply

shoreboy
+2 ManInSteel twk
Shoreboy  - March 12, 2020, 8:49 a.m.

Im with you on that.  Running an 11-42 or 46 XT or even a Sunrace 11-46 or 50 11-spd can be had for under under 100 CDN.

Reply

fartymarty
+2 twk Tjaard Breeuwer
fartymarty  - March 12, 2020, 9:04 a.m.

11-42 10 speed here and I have no interest in changing.  Plus I can change the whole drivetrain (chainring, chain, jockey wheels and cassette) for £90.

Reply

4Runner1
0
4Runner1  - March 12, 2020, 9:11 a.m.

I hear ya. However, there is no getting around the shortcomings of the 11 spd xt cassettes. I always felt like there were weird gaps and I found the gearing awkward. 

Then again I could have weak legs! 

All that being said I am def not looking forward to the day I need to replace my 12 spd xo1.

Reply

xy9ine
+3 twk Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
Perry Schebel  - March 12, 2020, 10:11 a.m.

i like how the 42t keep you honest on the grunty climbs. can't use the 50t bailout if you don't have one! plus i'm cheap. more the latter, really.

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - March 12, 2020, 9:24 p.m.

On some bikes, and for some use cases (I.e. regularly riding the road to get to your ride) going to a smaller chainring can work. I tried 11spd 28x11-36 for a while and It worked great. Such tiny rings. But oh the horror If you had to spin on the road at all.

Reply

fartymarty
+2 Cr4w Andrew Major
fartymarty  - March 13, 2020, 12:28 a.m.

It's Andrew Majors single speed evangelism that's to blame (I am now a disciple at least on one bike).

But on a serious note my local climbs in Surrey UK can be punchy but aren't overly long / high.  Therefore 42 is fine as you can power up and rest at the top.  It maybe a different story if the hills were bigger.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - March 12, 2020, 12:32 p.m.

Point taken. Certainly not cheap, but cheaper than what it replaces. At least the current SRAM cassettes have incredible lifespans. We'll have to wait and see with the new Shimano, but the previous generations didn't get great durability reviews from shops and B.C. Bike Race mechanics I've spoken to.

Reply

LoamtoHome
0 Andrew Major 4Runner1
Jerry Willows  - March 12, 2020, 5:13 p.m.

I remember way back when 42t was a bailout gear....  next drivetrain will be back to 10speed for the pedaly bike.  People got soft.

Reply

tehllama42
0
Tehllama42  - March 12, 2020, 5:16 p.m.

I remember having 22T granny chainrings too...
Realistically, I can climb all the same stuff I have on older setups (basically right up to the point where it's more efficient to walk), but I spin out around 28mph with wider range cassettes, which is pretty awesome.

Reply

Timer
+1 Velocipedestrian
Timer  - March 13, 2020, 2:36 a.m.

Really? Even back when we had 3(2)x9 setups on 26" with granny rings and i was at peak fitness in my 20s, we were using the smallest gear all the time. It depends a lot on terrain and style, though.

But when i am 1000m into a 1600m climb and the grades are sufficiently steep, me (and my knees) are super grateful for the granny gear.

Reply

LoamtoHome
0
Jerry Willows  - March 14, 2020, 8:07 a.m.

can't remember the last time I used the first 2 gears on my 12 speed.

Reply

4Runner1
0
4Runner1  - March 13, 2020, 9:15 a.m.

Back when people had three rings up front?

Reply

cyclotoine
+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
cyclotoine  - March 12, 2020, 11:22 a.m.

I live in a dry climate with several trips to the BC coast each year. After every ride I wipe and brush and then lube and wipe. My last 3 bikes have all been sold with the original cassette and a new or newish chain and were running just fine with life left. I realize that if I lived on the coast I might not be so lucky, but modern cassettes last and last. I have GX eagle cassettes on two bikes.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+1 4Runner1
Pete Roggeman  - March 13, 2020, 7:32 a.m.

The mud doesn't help, but a mitigating factor re: durability at least in the Sea to Sky is that a two-hour ride can sometimes be only 15kms.

Reply

Captain-Snappy
+3 JT ManInSteel Andrew Major
Merwinn  - March 12, 2020, 11:31 a.m.

The cost of 12 spd cassettes blows my mind.

Reply

jt
+5 Cam McRae ManInSteel twk Luix Pete Roggeman
JT  - March 12, 2020, 12:20 p.m.

Totally, with exception for the Sunrace jobbers coming in under $100US for the HG bodies and around $120 for the XD versions. They're not 52t equipped nor the jewel quality appearance of the Rotor's, but the shifting performance has been damn fine. I'd slip it between Shimano and SRAM on that end. For the price and performance I think they're worth the extra 200 or so grams. Just my two bits.

Reply

Jenkins5
+1 Pete Roggeman
Jenkins5  - March 12, 2020, 1:19 p.m.

Nice review. I was wondering how that cassette performed. When my X01 cassette wore out I tried the E13 9-50 12 speed and have been pleasantly surprised by the shifting. I find it's on par with the SRAM and cost me a lot less (they're on sale for about $200 at the moment). Weight was about the same too (under 400g) so all in all not bad! I agree high end cassette prices are getting stupid though....

Reply

tehllama42
+3 Luix Pete Roggeman dave_f
Tehllama42  - March 12, 2020, 3:24 p.m.

Kinda makes me feel better about the e.13 9-46T option, warts and all, for the cost/weight.  I'm excited there are options, and the 13spd might be a marked improvement... but I am still on that 11spd life, because cheap components and chains are addictively good.

Reply

UFO
0
UFO  - March 15, 2020, 2:30 p.m.

On that note as long as Sunrace keep making the 10sp 11-46 cassettes, I'll be more than happy to stick with 10sp. I've got 10sp xt and xtr shifters stocked up until the apocalypse comes, which may only be a matter of weeks to months at this point.

Reply

UFO
0
UFO  - March 15, 2020, 2:30 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

danielshiels
0
danielshiels  - March 16, 2020, 2:33 p.m.

I'm on the sunrace bandwagon, had xt 11 speed and hated the last jump but because only cockroaches are harder to kill than an xt cassette I had to wait to try the 11-50 sunrace cassette that my mates were riding on the steep grinds to the top of golfie in Scotland and curse their 50 tooth. Having got shimano everything else and the sunrace cassette I can gladly avoid 12 speed for now as the shifting is great and I can avoid the expense of new freehubs as well as the rest of the drivetrain. I'm aware that my 40+ age puts me in the automatic no load shifting and anti sram demographic though so given the shifting isn't noticeably worse than the stock xt cassette and I couldn't bring myself to go eagle even if I had xt 12 speed I probably still wouldn't be able to bring myself to shift standing up

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.