SRAM EX1: Does ‘E’ stand for ‘Everyone’

Words Andrew Major
Date May 18, 2016

“Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?”
-EMINEM

Depending on how many corpses you leech your mountain bike product news from, you may already be intimately familiar with SRAM’s new EX1 group. If you read sites that cater mainly to the Germanopean market then you’ve likely been inundated with photos; if your preferred sites have taken the Moral-Stand/Head-In-Sand (all a matter of opinion) position on E-Mountain-Bikes (yes, mountain bikes with electric motors) then it is likely that EX1 has escaped your notice.

Either way, for the purpose of this re-purposed press-release, I’m asking you, pretty please, to willfully ignore the context of SRAM’s latest groupset, EX1, and consider for a moment that they may have inadvertently taken us down the path towards a better drivetrain for… everyone choosing to power their bike by Meat-Engine only.

SRAM_MTB_EX1_Cassette_XG899_Side_M

SRAM EX1 Cassette: 11-48t range gives a 436% range over 8-cogs. 8-speed chain compatible and awesome chainline in more gear ratios compared to 10, 11, or 12 speed drivetrains. Oh, and it’s compatible with an ‘industry standard’ (non-XD) freehub body.

SRAM claims that “the heart and soul of the EX1 system is its E-BLOCK™ cassette, which is designed to provide the optimum E-MTB gear range” but I’m going to have to call bullshit. Other than DH racers who don’t need the range, and competitive XC racers who may prefer tighter jumps between ratios to maximize output and efficiency, the EX1 cassette could keep many human-powered riders very happy.

1) Tool steel construction for longer life/improved durability? Sounds good, I’ll take a few grams penalty and save the weight on a non-wear item.

2) Significantly cheaper, than 10/11/12-speed, and possibly more durable 8-speed chain compatibility? Sounds great.

3) 11-48t, 436%, range over 8-cogs for better chainline in more gear ratios? AWESOME — less wear from cross-chaining and no more dropped chains while backpedaling!

4) Compatible with ‘industry standard’ (used half-seriously) non-XD freehub bodies. I guess this isn’t great news if your wheels are XD compatible, but better you have to buy a new freehub body than me, right?

SRAM_MTB_EX1_RD_Side_Black_MH (2)

SRAM EX1 Derailleur. Looks like a SRAM X-Horizon derailleur? “Engineered to handle high-torque, low-cadence shifting.” Sounds like it would work great on any mountain bike, even ones that use meat engines exclusively!

 The EX1 groupset’s derailleur and 8-speed, Match Maker, compatible shifter look like standard SRAM fair. The derailleur has been optimized for the 8-speed range and “engineered to handle high-torque, low-cadence shifting across the 11-48 tooth E-BLOCK™ cassette” and the new “Type 3” clutch mechanism is promised to offer a “smoother torque curve for a quieter, more consistent operation and feel” and hopefully more durability compared to past efforts.

“Okay, fine” you say, “I guess I could handle larger jumps between gear ratios in exchange for better chainline and the other features you’ve listed, BUT, you made it sound WAY more impressive than that… What is up?”

Hear me out: if non-E-mountain-bike riders look at this drivetrain and see potential, the kind of potential that has them buying it for non-E-bike purposes, then perhaps the industry will refocus.  Instead of the ‘just-add-a-cog status-quo’ of the last few years, perhaps there will be consideration of what the average rider actually needs. For some people, this is probably nice tight “Rythm Step Gear Progression  from ratio-to-ratio but I certainly know a lot of riders who would trade the benefits for the E-BLOCK™ cassette and its 2, 3, or 4 fewer cogs.

SRAM_MTB_EX1_Shifter_Front_Black_MH (1)

EX1 Shifter. It’s like an X1 shifter but this one only goes to 8 (not 11).

There is another, much bolder, opportunity for EX1 to drastically change the drivetrain wars landscape. If a 436% spread over 8 cogs is perfectly acceptable for the average trail/all mountain/enduro rider, then what about 436% over 7 cogs, 6 cogs, etc? And it isn’t just standard drivetrains this type of re-imagining could influence, either.

Gearbox drivetrains have the potential to be simpler, cheaper, lighter, smaller, and more efficient if they were simplified to cover a greater range across fewer gear ratios. ‘Derailleur in a box’ systems like the Petespeed that promised derailleur efficiency and gearbox longevity could prove practical over a narrower width (fewer cogs) and the original system used 8 cogs.

guide_re

Guide RE brakes are another win. They combine Guide levers with the power of Code calipers. Some riders have been doing this for some time. Again – these are a great option for gravity focussed riders with or without electrification.

I am, personally, not a fan of the Pandora’s Box of trail issues that E-Mountain-Bikes present to many trail communities but the potential for SRAM’s EX1 to inadvertently change the status quo of drivetrain development, for people-powered mountain bikes, is intriguing.


Thanks for playing along; any, preferably, non-E-Bike related comments to share about the potential for the new-and-improved 8-speed drivetrains?

Comments

christopher-evers
0
Christopher Evers  - May 23, 2016, 9:48 a.m.

I'm the "stand up and hammer" kind of climber anyways…SS ways die hard. I would be all for it on my Stache where I can get away with not staying in the saddle on a climb and I usually skip 1-2 gears when I shift up anyways so this could potentially work but I'd like to see less gears weigh less…

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 23, 2016, 5:28 p.m.

That's a great point Christopher. I come from an SS background as well and in a given week ~50% of my riding is SS. I'm used to varying my effort to match my gearing so I can understand that someone trying to spin X rpm (varying gearing to match effort) may be into the smallest possible jumps vs. EX1.

It's an aside, but one of the things I like best about the Jekyll I've been testing is how out-of-the-saddle climbable it is in the short travel mode.

Thanks,

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mountainmike
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MountainMike  - May 20, 2016, 6:47 a.m.

$400 USD for the cassette?

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kenn-dubeau
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Kenn Dubeau  - May 19, 2016, 8:49 p.m.

Those brakes have me very interested. If they really are the guide levers with 4 piston code like calipers…that is exactly what this 250lbs rider is looking for! (tall not fat)

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 19, 2016, 9:37 p.m.

Hi Kenn,

I'm sorry I didn't include more information about the brakes (photo/caption added in editing). I love the feel/architecture of the Guide brake and totally agree that more power at the lever would be a great thing.

I didn't include them in this re-purposed press release as, while they could be game changing for SRAM, there are many more powerful brakes on the market currently (Shimano Saint, Magura MT-7, etc) so it didn't seem as interesting - beyond a press release - as the 8-speed kit.

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grinder
0
Grinder  - May 19, 2016, 7:33 p.m.

Interesting article. On the point about weight vs durability and price, SRAM has a couple products that seem to have gone a bit under the radar. The GX1 1150 cassette has a steel 42 tooth cog whereas the higher series cassettes use aluminum and cost twice as much. Shift quality seems just as good. True there is a weight penalty relative to the higher end SRAM offerings, but it is still lighter than the Shimano XT 11-42 cassettes. SRAM is also offering steel 28, 30 and 32 tooth front chain rings in the $30 range.

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xeren
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xeren  - May 23, 2016, 10:18 a.m.

yeah but you're paying 160% of what an XT 11 speed cassette costs ($108 vs $67 on jenson), in order to get that 10T cog and save an ounce. i guess if you're already running an XD driver it can make sense, but the XT cassette is still by far the better choice

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tehllama42
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Tehllama42  - May 19, 2016, 9:18 a.m.

Those Guide RE's look like the ticket for having an All-Mountain bike for a fat git (me) that can share wheelsets with an XC-Trail hardtail on 180mm rotors. Awww yis!

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andy-eunson
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Andy Eunson  - May 19, 2016, 9:11 a.m.

What is the advantage to an 8 speed over a 10 or 11 speed cassette?

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boomforeal
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boomforeal  - May 18, 2016, 2:50 p.m.

keep zigging drew!

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 3:47 p.m.

Thanks?

(I don't know what 'zigging' means)

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tim-lane
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Tim Lane  - May 18, 2016, 1:05 p.m.

But it's not significantly cheaper, Sram's website has the E-block listed at $390USD.

Shimano's 11-46T XT cassette will likely list at $90, or you could assemble an 11-speed SLX shifter, derailleur, chain and XT cassette for about $220. There's enough left that you could get a Wolftooth sprocket if you needed the extra teeth for the big cog.

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 4 p.m.

Two reasons I didn't include pricing:

1) What does SRP even mean?! Do you actually expect that you'll pay $390 USD for an EX1 cassette? It's basically impossible to provide apples:apples 'street price' comparisons. Also, if durability is significantly, comparatively, improved then at some point you have to measure value instead of price?

2) This is, in my opinion, a very cool opportunity to re-imagine what the average, enthusiastic, aggressive, trail rider needs/wants from their drivetrain. I really hoped for it to come across as a conversation starter, encouraged by a new SRAM product release, rather than a SRAM press release coaxing out all the usual, and boringly predictable, "it's too expensive", "I love SRAM", "FU SRAM, Shimano for life", "I buy all the last generation stuff for cheap online you guys are suckers", "I bet it's heavy", "HB Cut The Course", and "etc" comments.

Thanks for engaging all the same!

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0
Ted Roome  - May 18, 2016, 4:08 p.m.

Cost would provide a lot of context for the conversation, dude. I'm all in favor of function and bang for buck over form and marketing.
Cheers

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 4:23 p.m.

I don't see how providing a cost for one example of a wide range 8-Spd gear system adds anything to the conversation about whether or not it is a better system?

We can assume that if wide range, better chainline, 8-Spd systems were adopted they would be available at all the price points currently on market?

It's no different than discussing features on the new XX1 groupo understanding that while the price may be outlandish the best features will come to be available at lower price points.

Separately:

As I said above it is really impossible to provide apples:apples pricing for product. If it helps the SRP on EX1 is ~ 10% higher than X1. So if you know what you would pay for X1 add ~10%.

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0
Ted Roome  - May 18, 2016, 4:42 p.m.

But still merely leaves us to speculate on what possible advantages there may be which is typical of the industry. I'm not pointing a finger at you on that one Drew, just pointing out how inaccessible new gear is and how difficult it is to formulate an informed opinion. In practical terms, unless there were a substantial financial motivation most of us wouldn't bother trying one, even if it were time to swap out drive trains. Speculate all you want on the advantages of a simpler yet more effective drive train. In a way you are right, if it ever caught on, price wouldn't matter.

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 10:35 p.m.

That's fair Ted. This is a an entirely theoretical riff off of a press release. In practical terms if I get a chance to ride EX1 on a human-powered bike (I only go in for bikes powered by meat engines) I'd love to be able to extrapolate the idea much further.

Thanks!

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tim-lane
0
Tim Lane  - May 19, 2016, 1:16 a.m.

MSRP doesn't mean that much, for many brands I think it's just posturing, but that's a whole other conversation, I didn't go there because convention dictates that comments be shorter than the above the fold article. Current, comparable cassettes from Sram and Shimano are around $280 and $65 respectively. Durability may or may not be improved, it's conjecture either way but I'm guessing that the durability of steel cassettes from either manufacturer could be somewhat proportional to the total number of teeth on the block, this will be offset by improved chainline..

I understand your motivation for starting the conversation and thank you for bringing this to our attention. Nothing new or great would happen without thinking outside the box and I'm sure this will be helpful. My contribution to the conversation, based on having recently switched a bike to 1x with an 11-42 cassette, struggling to adapt to the more limited gear range and perceiving the larger steps between gears, is that if you're intrigued by the E-Block cassette, perhaps some other solutions are worth looking at. Those situations might not require hybrid 8/11 speed drivetrain components. My position is not that it's too expensive, or heavy, or that blue is better than red, or that all progress is a conspiracy, or that HB cut the course (the UCI said it was cool). It's that with similar expense there are other options which avoid the wide gaps between gears that many find uncomfortable. Sram, Sunrace and others have competing cassettes, perhaps I shouldn't have used the competitor as an example.

Sram's information indicates that the motivation for the E-block cassette is to reduce shifting by offering less sprockets, because the e-assist removes some of the discomfort of being in the 'wrong' gear and chains break less when there's less shifting and less chainline offset. There's something in there about meat and motors having different torque curves and I suspect that the chain encroaching on the motor and arcane international safety standards might be a factor too.

You're welcome, and I look forward to hearing your long term review!

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austen-bickford
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Austen Bickford  - May 18, 2016, 12:29 p.m.

I'll be mounting up a set of the brakes as soon as they are available

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slimshady76
0
Luix  - May 18, 2016, 12:09 p.m.

The PeteSpeed was buried into the oblivion by Hayes. They bought the patent and then sent it over to the same hangar where the Arc of the Alliance resides, along with the bodies of those poor little green men who crashed in Roswell.

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 3:44 p.m.

True; however, when you think about it being a derailleur in a box (really) it's not that different from the last gen Honda bikes or what Alex Morgan at BCD was playing with. It's a cool example because it was World Cup proven but there's an opportunity for anyone to make something similar.

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slimshady76
0
Luix  - May 18, 2016, 4 p.m.

This has been covered in great detail in RideMonkey in the past. Turns out between the Hayes and Honda patents there isn't room for any alternative designs. That's what has been stopping this alternative from moving forward.

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 4:30 p.m.

Hi Luix,

I'm not by any means an expert on patent law, BUT I have a couple of thoughts for you:

1) What is the difference between Pete Speed and literally putting a derailleur in a box/bike like Alex Morgan did in 1999 ()? Not much. That patent may be worth something defensively but good luck to Hayes if they actually tried to sue someone for infringement.

2) Hayes isn't exactly dominating any categories any more (their portfolio includes Hayes brakes, Manitou forks, Sun wheels, and Wheelsmith). Do you think if someone wanted to partner with them to develope Petespeed or buy it that they wouldn't be interested?

If there was a will there would be a way.

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slimshady76
0
Luix  - May 18, 2016, 6:10 p.m.

I get your point, and I'm not asking you to go get your tinfoil hat. As usual, money talks. I guess bringing another gearbox mount standard into the market -with all the associated inconviniences, such as getting some frame manufacturers into the boat- wasn't appealing enough for Hayes or anyone else.

I however wondered a couple of times what would had happen if some smaller, niche company would had picked up that concept, in the same way Zerode or Nicolai embraced the Pinion one for their rigs.

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Jerry-Rig
0
Jerry Willows  - May 18, 2016, 12:08 p.m.

I think it's a great idea and would try it out. As long as the top 3 or 4 gears are spaced correctly (that's where you spend most of time in climbing mode). I don't think you need steel cogs if the chain line is good. I got almost 5 years on a XX 10 speed cog.

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 3:46 p.m.

Good point; with the improved chain line alloy cogs would be fine.

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zigak
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ZigaK  - May 18, 2016, 11:05 a.m.

Petespeed looks like effigear?

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extraspecialandbitter
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ExtraSpecialandBitter  - May 18, 2016, 6:46 a.m.

E stands for Enduro…

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GladePlayboy
0
Rob Gretchen  - May 18, 2016, 6:44 a.m.

Interesting Andrew… there is merit in the discussion… now if only Shimano would do it instead… 😉

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 9:29 a.m.

I'm a big fan of Shimano's manufacturing quality and, generally, well thought out component evolution. But, you have to hand it to SRAM of late -- they have their fingers on the pulse of what riders want and have been pushing a number of categories (1x drivetrains, dropper posts, fork air springs with tuneable and very progressive spring curves).

I think if any company is big enough, but bold enough, to move forward with trail bike drivetrains by taking a step back it is probably SRAM and they've proven they'll take a Hail Mary once in a while -- see Hammerschmidt which worked brilliantly but for weight, drag in the aduction gear, and the small size not being ideal with some suspension designs/pivot placements.

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GladePlayboy
0
Rob Gretchen  - May 18, 2016, 7:22 p.m.

Yeah. The way i see it SRAM is the innovator and then Shimano takes their time and gets it right…

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avner-b
0
Avner B.  - May 18, 2016, 6:32 a.m.

Great article that shows thinking out of the box!

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 7:18 a.m.

Thanks Avner!

Really hoping SRAM will send us a Deraileur/Shifter/Cassette and we can put theory into practice!

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morgan-taylor
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Morgan Taylor  - May 18, 2016, 6:32 a.m.

I like the viewpoint and the discussion. I'm not sure I like 33% jumps between gears.

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 7:14 a.m.

I know right… Let's make the jumps even bigger and remove a couple more cogs!

🙂

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ChampfT
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Chris Cogsdil  - May 18, 2016, 7:38 a.m.

I always thought that small jumps between gears was just some BS left over from road bike influence anyway. Just like skinny wheels, drop stems, and high top tubes.

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drewm
0
DrewM  - May 18, 2016, 8:19 a.m.

Me too, or possibly the outsized influence XC racing has held over mountain biking for 30+ years.

It is notably the driving force in drivetrain design though? It's why Shimano can't give up on the front derailleur, SRAM has released 12-speed, and the GEAR section of every mountain bike forum is 1/2 full of posts asking ~ "is it normal for my chain derail when I back pedal in my easier gears".

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Henry-Chinaski
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Henry Chinaski  - May 18, 2016, 8:46 a.m.

The jumps would be a deal breaker for me as well. Even on 1×11, I often find myself searching for smaller intervals (to no avail). I’m sure it would be perfectly suitable for some. I wonder if we’re not moving in the direction of “design your own custom drivetrain”. You want 1×12 with smaller jumps on the low end? Login and configure:-)

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Cheez1ts
0
Garrett Thibault  - May 18, 2016, 5:28 a.m.

Thank you Andrew and NSMB for making sure this didn't go under the radar.

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