written by: Matt Williams
Do you really need XX?
SRAM changed the look of mountain bike
drivetrains with its introduction of the SRAM XX 2x10 group last year. For 2011
SRAM will offer 2x10 drivetrain options throughout its product range, and
Shimano has followed suit with its own take on the system. SRAM XX will remain
the lightest complete group on offer though, begging the question—should it be
the go-to group for racers putting together their rigs for the coming season?
I recently had the opportunity to ride full SRAM
XX and XO groups back to back in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Both XX and XO
share a number of features that make them different from the 3x9 or 2x9 that
you likely have on your bike now. What stands out? Your eyes are drawn first to
the crankset—ramped and pinned 26-39 chainrings, carbon crankarms, and a
dedicated 10 speed front derailleur.
Having been riding a modified XT 2x9 setup
for two years, my first question was: how much better does the dedicated two
chainring crankset shift? Let’s put it this way—I don’t ever want to go back. The chain shifts with speed and
precision. Period. Out back, I experienced similar things with the performance
of the 11-36 cassette on both groups.
Together, the two-ring crankset and the
wide-range cassette translate into the best racing platform out there. When you’re
riding down the trail, 2x10 rides like a 13 or 14 speed drivetrain, and I mean
that in a good way. With such a big cog on the rear cassette you can ride in
the big ring for all but the steepest, longest climbs. For those, drop down to
the 26 and ride in the top three or four cogs. It’s like riding a 1x10 with a
bail out gear. And even for 100 mile and stage racers, the granny gear should
One way or another, racers are going to want
to be on 2x10 for the 2011 season. The performance benefits are huge. Not only
do SRAM’s new groups outperform any homemade 2x9/10 setup you could jerry-rig
in the garage, they also work better than any 3x9 drivetrain out there too.
There are critics out there crying foul on durability, but plenty of riders
rode XX to victory in NUE races, stage races, and cross countries this summer
But which group (XX or XO) should be the
go-to race group for the 2011 season? Really it comes down to this: if weight
is your biggest concern, you love tinkering in the garage, and money is no
object, get XX. For everyone else, SRAM’s XO group will do the trick.
XX makes a number of compromises for the sake
of weight savings. The trigger shifters feel softer and less precise than their
XO counterparts. And the XX brakes I rode lost adjustability in order to cut
the grams. The no-tool pad contact adjustment of the XO brakes is a welcome
feature for endurance racers in particular, as it allows for mid-race
adjustments. With the XX brakes on my demo bike pad contact adjustment was a
more involved procedure.
Also keep in mind replacement cost. With XX,
those costs are higher across the board. An XX cassette, for instance, costs in
the neighborhood of $330. The XO cassette is considerably less.
Let’s not forget SRAM designed XX for the
World Cup circuit. If your components are free and you have a full-time
mechanic to keep your ride dialed, well, XX is as good as it gets. The rest of
us will probably appreciate the greater adjustability, more exact shifting
feel, and lower costs of SRAM’s XO group. For would be 2011 race bikes the
choice is clear: buy XO and you can blame the components.