Our expert mechanic and sometimes futurist Daniel Slusser offers his thoughts on the effect of SRAM’s XX1 group on mountain bike design.
Last Friday SRAM leaked pictures of its preproduction XX1 11-speed mountain group. The new group is intended to be used with one chainring only. Through the use of a wide range 10-42t cassette, XX1 can deliver the normal range of gears offered by a 2×10 system that most riders require to get them both up and down the mountain. Front derailleurs have never worked all that well, and chain retention has been an issue on mountain bikes since their genesis, but are these the only benefits to be had? Some argue that the new 11-speed group is just another example of the industry creating new standards or gee-whiz features to either compel or cajole riders into buying new equipment. I disagree and submit that this innovation is the key to unlocking a new golden age in mountain bike technology development.
My friends at the shop know that I have been patiently waiting for a group like this to be made for many years. However, I am not interested in the wide range or that it “goes to 11”. I only care that it kills the front derailleur. To be clear, I have no animosity towards the humble mechanism, and adjusting them has never been much of a headache for me. What the death of the front derailleur means is that all suspension and frame design possibilities will finally be unlocked. Just like on downhill bikes, trail bikes will now be able to have rearward axle paths and high pivots that utilize pulleys located at, or near the pivot. This will allow trail bikes to achieve incredible performance over square edged bumps. Better still, the new pivot locations will mean that every bike will pedal well once the front derailleur is gone. Single pivots will return with a vengeance and the mountain bike will finally be allowed into the evolutionary track that the motorcycle has enjoyed since its inception.
Current full suspension mountain bike designs have to account for a wide range of chainring sizes and pedal well in all of them, a very difficult engineering feat, and something motorcycle design has never had to accommodate. Moreover, the front derailleur takes up what is arguably the most valuable real estate on a mountain bike. It occupies the same location as the main pivot, the rear tire, the seat tube, bottom bracket, and the crank and chainring. This one clunky cage made of chrome plated stamped steel, connected to an aluminum linkage that slaps the chain on and off of chainrings, has hobbled bike designers more than any other component. I have no doubt that it has literally caused nightmares for scores of engineers. This one component may even be the primary reason that full suspension 29ers have not replaced their 26″ wheeled cousins due to the added chainstay length that the front derailleur requires when it is used in conjunction with a 29″ wheel.
The 1×11 solves all of these problems and open the floodgates of possibilities. The potential for new standards means that we are in for a wild ride, but isn’t that why we all got into the sport in the first place? The excitement, exploration, and subsequent discovery that this adventure brings will also deliver newfound capabilities for riders of all abilities. Can you imagine a world where reliable, high quality, full suspension bikes are available at prices made affordable to the masses? Once bikes are simplified to a point where reliability approaches that of the motorcycle world because frame design is not radically changed from year to year; design, manufacturing, maintenance, and retail costs will all drop to a point where this affordability is possible. Here’s to the future!
Daniel Slusser is a professional bicycle mechanic with over ten years of experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from HSU and a master’s degree in history from Cal Poly University. When he is not riding, wrenching, or writing he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.