LAUNCH AND REVIEW
SRAM Launches new 52-tooth Eagle Drivetrains
It appears we have an arms race on our hands - or make that a tooth race. After several years as the undisputed mountain bike drivetrain leader - both in technology and overwhelmingly in units spec'd and sold - SRAM predictably conceded some of that hard won ground to Shimano with the rollout of SLX, XT, and XTR groups that all included 12-speed drivetrains with 51-tooth cassettes (the recent announcement of three new Deore group sets will further bolster Shimano's defenses). This was news we'd all been waiting for, because whether or not you favour one brand's drivetrains or the other, competition breeds better product and lower prices. Sure enough, despite no one accusing SRAM's groups of being inferior or old in the - there it is again - tooth, today they are announcing that Eagle GX, X01, and XX1 groups are being updated with 52-tooth cassettes, as well as some small refinements, both cosmetic and performance-oriented.
Unlike the usual practice with these rollouts, SRAM is focusing the most attention on the fact that GX is getting a lot of the same trickle down as its top tier siblings; namely, that cassette that outnumbers Shimano's by a single tooth, with updated derailleur architecture to make it all work.
We'll lay out the key info of this release with specs and pricing (no big surprises there) and follow that up with some ride impressions (we've had two test groups for the last several weeks) and a transcript from an interview Cam conducted with SRAM drivetrain product manager Flynn George and .
New SRAM Eagle - Key Changes
1) The new 10-52 tooth cassettes mean that drivetrain range increases to 520%. This is the biggest change, although opinions will differ about the true impact of this change.
- All three drivetrains - GX, X01, and XX1 - get the new 10-52t cassette.
- To accommodate the change, all three mechanical derailleurs get revised architecture, whereas AXS is forward compatible.
- If you're running AXS now, you can bolt any of the new cassettes onto your bike and, after accounting for a b-tension adjustment and chain length, you're good to go.
- The new derailleurs are backwards compatible, and SRAM will continue to sell 10-50 and 10-52 cassettes.
- You don't need a new shifter or chain (as long as the length works) and there are no new standards - xD is still the free hub interface.
A critical detail is that other than the change from 50 to 52 teeth on the biggest ring, the cassettes remain unchanged. They all will have the following tooth pattern: 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24, 28, 32, 36, 42, 52. So, your bailout gear got easier, but the rest of the cassette is identical. Depending on how you look at it, your steepest climb just got a bit more spinnable, or you can now switch to a larger chainring up front if more top-end speed is important to you. Depending on where you ride, one or both of those options may appeal. Cam gets into this a little lower down in his conversation with SRAM Product Manager Flynn George, but it's pretty clear SRAM would have considered rearranging tooth counts, but there are a lot of reasons to stay the course other than the big ring, mostly to do with engineering time, tooling costs, inventory bloat, and consumer confusion. It also presents a clear delineation between SRAM and Shimano's approach to tooth spacing: at the low end of the gear range, SRAM goes from 42 to 52 teeth, whereas Shimano's Rhythm Steps means the jumps are smoother and smaller, with the last one going from 45 to 51 teeth. We won't dig deeper here, but the takeaway is that for some, that large jump may matter, for others it's just an easier bailout gear, which is the reason SRAM gave for the change. Their premise is that a lot of their rider and racer feedback called primarily for an easier bailout gear - enduro racers needed to be able to spin easily on long days without blowing out their legs (and spinning is preferable to walking if it's not too strenuous) while regular Joes and Jills were asking for more help handling steeps.
2) GX Eagle sees improved shifting and aesthetics. We don't have a lot of real specific info here, other than to say that SRAM says they worked hard to make GX perform more closely to X01 and XX1 with more robust architecture, better shifts, chain wrap, and retention
3) New colourways for cassettes and chains: Black, Gold, Rainbow, and Copper. GX cassette comes in a Lunar/Black colour which is made to be compatible with the other colours and mesh effortlessly. We've seen three of the colours before, but Copper is new, and it's hot.
4) As mentioned, Eagle AXS is forward compatible with the new 52-tooth cassettes and comes in new X01 and XX1 colours, but the main news is that AXS owners just got an extra option and won't need to do anything to take advantage other than pick up a new cassette.
5) There's a new Eagle 'unified chain gap tool' that replaces all other Eagle chain gap tools across both cassette sizes, and it's easier to use. Nifty.
New SRAM Eagle GX Specs and Pricing
New SRAM Eagle X01 Specs and Pricing
New SRAM Eagle XX1 Specs and Pricing
SRAM Eagle GX Riding Impressions
I've spent a good chunk of time on GX Eagle and I wrote about the experience a couple of years ago. I came away impressed with shifting performance, value, and durability. For the most part my impressions remain intact with this new version, but I did have a couple of issues. Occasionally I would over shift off the largest cog and drop down two and I was also burdened with SRAM's original 1x flaw; the chain would derail when spun backwards on the stand.
I fussed and adjusted and tweaked and redid the B-tension with the new and improved tool, without luck. A closer examination revealed a tooth that was scored from contact with something hard and immovable - which explained the randomly inaccurate shifting and the derailing when pedaling backwards. Luckily I could lean on Pete's impressions. For him coming off AXS, the move to GX 52, and then that same 52t cassette with his AXS setup, was seamless after everything worked similarly to his 10-50.
After a year spent on Shimano XTR, I gained an appreciation for Shimano's dedication to even spacing between cogs, and of course the smooth shifting the company is famous for.
Shimano's 10-51 12-speed cassette cogs read like this: 10 – 12 – 14 – 16 – 18 – 21 – 24 – 28 – 33 -39 – 45 - 51.
SRAM's 10-52 has nice incremental spacing up until the 42, in fact the steps are identical to Shimano's up until the 4th largest cog, but then there is a 10t jump to 52 with the end result being these sizes: 10 – 12 – 14 – 16 – 18 – 21 – 24 – 28 – 32 -36 – 42 - 52.
There isn't a single odd tooth count on the SRAM cassettes, which results in tooth count increases of 4, 4, 6, 10 for the largest four cogs, while Shimano manages a more evenly incremental 5, 6, 6, 6. This isn't a major obstacle for me, but given the choice I'd prefer the gradual approach Shimano relies upon.
On the trail the 52 got me up some steep climbs in a slightly different fashion. There is a climb up the Old Buck Trail from Indian River Rd. that includes a tricky stepped ramp up to a bridge. I'm a little better than 50% on it I'd say but I hadn't reeled it in recently. On my last ride I consciously pushed it up into the big pie plate and smoothly winched myself onto the bridge without drama.
For the riding I do on the North Shore, I only need the appropriate chainring for grinding up the steepest singletrack I tackle regularly. My 10t sees no off road use when I'm home and a smaller chainring means I spend less time in my largest cog where chainline has the biggest impact on drivetrain wear. Most of the time that's a 30t chainring, and I'm more than happy with the range of 10-50 or 10-51 using a 30t or 32t chainring. I won't shy away from 10-52, but given the choice I think I'd select 10-50, simply because of the smaller cog size difference for the last two cogs and because I don't feel the need to go to 52. Or 10.
A Conversation with Flynn George and Chris Mandell From SRAM
Eagle wide range cassettes didn't get a warm welcome from keyboard warriors when they were first released. Commenters were pretty quick to judge and say things like, 'what kind of slow lazy-ass needs a 50t cog?' It got worse from there, but many people who hadn't tried Eagle were missing the point; it's about range rather than simply a low gear. If 50t is too low for your powerful and hairy legs you can always size up your chainring and get taller gears throughout the range.
SRAM reps told us consumer and athlete research revealed there were many riders looking for a lower bailout gear without sacrificing range, which is apparently where 10-52 came from. And this includes EWS riders. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
I got on Microsoft Teams with Flynn George, a Product Specialist for brakes and drivetrains, and Chris Mandell, the Grand Duke of Product Communications for North America, and peppered them with questions to get to the bottom of that new low gear.
Cam McRae - One of the big reasons I wanted to talk to someone and go a little deeper is because I'm anticipating some questions from readers mostly on social media - that seems to be where the most skeptical and cynical types reside – about why anyone needs 52. Chris was talking about athletes and consumers asking for this. Where we ride the range is more than adequate because we're either going up something fairly steep or we're coming down something quite technical so the smaller cogs are pretty lonely, really. Where did your information about this market demand come from?
Flynn George - It really came from listening to our athletes and our riders and realizing there was an opportunity to expand the range and allow people the choice to have that 52, if if they want that more spin-to-win game. But we'll be maintaining the 10-50 as well to give riders that option. But one of the nice things with the expanded range, in addition to that spin game is to avoid the hike-a-bikes on the climbs and still be able to size up and chain ring if they want. And we're seeing athletes who want the bigger range for climbing as well as more top end.
Cam McRae - It was mainly internally then, so obviously SRAM-sponsored athletes and other SRAM testers and employees, and sort of staff riders, is that accurate?
Flynn George - Talking to our customers, talking to the riders out there in the world, but those weekend warriors as well as our athletes, so trying to get a good scope of the market to understand where that range could benefit riders.
Cam McRae - One of the things we were curious about is how much of this change would be driven by OE and how much spec you were seeing for next year's models of the 52. And it makes me wonder if it's like the days when you would see a mediocre spec'ed bike with a nice rear derailleur on it. And to draw people in to a bike because they see something or hear something that is impressive.
Flynn George - I mean, we always take into consideration our OE spec and there's going to be substantial amount of 10-52 on bikes in the future. But I think fundamentally we wanted to offer riders the best range that we could and that is that 10-52 cassette.
Cam McRae - Do you have a sense for me of how many of your customers, or what sort of percentage, would be spec'ing 10-52 over 10-50 from GX to AXS?
Flynn George - I think I could say a majority.
Cam McRae - Cool. I can certainly see the rationale for taking the 50 to a 52, but it leaves a fairly big jump from 42 to 52. Is the future going to maybe include a more linear step in those largest three cogs?
Flynn George - We've been really happy with the step and shift performance throughout our Eagle drive trains. The incremental gain of that 10-52 was kind of improving the experience overall by taking that small step. We've been maintaining the shift performance that you expect by keeping the rest of the cassette that tried and true technology the same.
Cam McRae - So no plans at this point. You're happy with the way it shifts and you're happy with the jump in terms of ratios?
Flynn George - Yeah. We're really happy with the way that it shifts and and the range that we're able to get out of that, that 10-52. It was pretty awesome.
Chris Mandell - And I think Cam one thing to add to that is we do feel like 52 ended up being the gear where people are looking to sit into the gear and like, you know, like that is your steepest hill climbing, like get me out of jail free card. I mean, it's not free unless you're on an e-bike. Actually, it's not free unless you're on a motorcycle and you should be on a motorcycle anyway. But that's really where we see that coming in and this is the simplest feedback for me to go back to, but EWS athletes were basically saying, we don't want to expend any more energy than we have to on the climbs, but we want to run fricking massive chainrings in the front. And that's really where that 52 comes in there and given the fact that we were able to get the shifting to be as good as it is on the 50, like it's a clean, crisp experience moving to the 52, obviously with some other changes to the system. That kinda made us feel good about that change, but I think your other question, what we're going to see in the future. I think it's very clear that future states of drivetrain could be miraculous and, you know, save the world from everything. But that's not where we are at right now. Where we are right now is: this is really the best solution and the solution that people were asking us for.
I also wanted to talk about the little changes in the derailleur. Can you tell me about how that's changed? Is it parallelogram changes as well as jockey wheels and spacing and everything?
Flynn George - It's a fundamental architecture change in the length of the parallelogram as well as the pulley wheel offset built into the cage.
Sorry, pulley wheel offset?
Flynn George - Pulley wheel offset like that upper pulley wheel position.
Okay. So a little bit, a little bit of everything. I want to ask you what chainring sizes you see for EWS athletes? Is anyone going to 38?
Flynn George - It's the ability to size up two teeth if they want, without having to have any sacrifice in that climbing range. So totally dependent on personal preference. Obviously there are some of the fastest people in the world running notoriously small chain rings, instead of give them the opportunity to size up, because we know that they can spin out, but we also know that they want to realize that spin to win. That's a pretty sweet opportunity for an athlete to be able to maximize their total range.
So before this, some of your top level athletes were running thirties, say or 32?
Flynn George - Thirties. I want to say thirties was probably the smallest. We'd see some of those folks go down, too.
Chris Mandell - Sam Hill's notorious for running a small ring, so he can save more energy. 'Cause the liaison stages aren't so fast that you need to worry about speed. Basically you just need to save energy. And that's why those guys ended up walking all the hard parts of liaison.
Re-using the existing X dome smallest 10, and then adding only the 52, obviously there are cost savings there because there's not nearly as much retooling. Is that part of the reason why it's happening this way right now?
Chris Mandell - In general, based on the feedback we got, we feel really happy about where we are in terms of the steps and that the spread of the 10 to the 42. And really like the key piece of feedback that we got again from like GX riders to EWS riders, is that they wanted a bigger bailout gear. So we're giving them that.
And so a lot of our effort was in, hey, we need to like come out with his expanded range, but we can't just bring the expanded range at AXS where it's actually already compatible. You can just put a 52 on your AXS today or just come out with it at the XX1 level. It's really important for us to make it come in at GX in that first year and just elevate the entire GX product line in terms of like performance and ride aesthetic. So I think that's really the positioning there and that's why we're leading with GX. We saved tooling on not redoing the 10-42, but we also brought it all out across the full line so that everyone could have that expanded range experience from the first year. I'm a hundred percent confident that the internet will pick apart our product management decision making process there. But the reality is we wanted to try to benefit the most riders with this effort. And this was the way that we could benefit the most riders.
Well thanks very much, gentlemen. Here's one more. And because again, this is going to be asked is how important is it having one more than Shimano? And to be able to say "This one goes to 11."
Chris Mandell - (laughing) I mean, we want to give riders the best experience we possibly can? I'm not going to say it's not important.
Perfect. Well, that's an excellent end point.
Are you keen to go to 52? Happy with 50? Or maybe 42 or 51? Let us know below.
Height: 6'1 // 185 cms
Weight: 195 lbs // 88 kg
Inseam: 32" // 81 cm
Bar width: 780 - 800mm // Reach: 475 - 500mm // Dropper: 170 - 190mm
Flats or clipless: both, but mostly flats right now
Trail(s) of choice: Dreamweaver, Boundary, Lower Digger, Ladies Only, 5th Horseman
Age - 55
Height - 6'/183cm (mostly legs)
Weight - 160lbs/72.5kg
Ape Index - 0.986
Inseam - 32"/81cm
Trail I've been stoked on lately - Fifth Horseman
Bar Width - 760mm
Preferred Reach - 475-490mm