Tested: 8 months living and racing with SRAM XX1

It’s definitely common knowledge that XX1 ain’t cheap, but it also isn’t heavy, short ratio, poorly made or naff looking! So after living with this much sought after drive-train for nigh on eight months now, how exactly did it perform?


Sram’s XX1 drive-train really did make big waves when it was bought out around a year ago, not only was it going one up on Shimano, with the addition of that extra gear, but the massive range from 10-42 teeth on the cassette and thick/thin single front ring, functioning with no chain-guide whatsoever! Weight was also a massive selling point, with the trick little carbon shifter coming in at a minuscule 91 grams, rear derailleur 220 grams and the beautifully crafted one-piece cassette, plus chain and front ring 670 grams.

Beautifully crafted one-piece rear cassette

Beautifully crafted one-piece rear cassette

The XX1 kit was sent to me during late summer 2013 with the standard 34 tooth front ring, the bike was then changed from a 26” to a 29”, so for those with normal power legs, that means downsizing to a 30 or 32 front ring, counteracting the larger rotating mass of the rear wheel. For this I decided to ditch the standard SRAM front ring (this fits onto a spider, which fits onto the fantastic carbon cranks) and go for a thick/thin Works Components 32 toothed chainring, this eliminates the spider and attaches directly onto the crank. This chainring comes in at 72 grams, with lots of colour options. Works Components, based in the Midlands, UK, make a massive selection of chainrings and angle-set headsets, their Angle-sets being some of the most reliable on the market.

I had plenty of use out of the standard chain, and even when it was time for removal it was still going strong without missing a beat. But to retain a lengthier life of a drive-train it is always best to change chains a little more often, this reduces cassette and chain-ring premature wear. In this instance I went for the trusty reliability of (largest chain manufacturer in the World) KMC for their real snazzy looking gold X11 SL chain. KMC chains are used the all around the world by top racers, they offer a chain for all kind of riders. KMC’s 11 speed chains are designed to work perfectly on 11x shifting systems. KMC’s X11 series offers great advantages on your current 11-speed system, such as very high durability, super lightweight and easy to mount connecting link. The specifications of the chain are 1/2″ X 11/128″ – 114 Links, pin length 5,5 mm, titanium nitride gold coated, double X durability superlight, 228g only, comes with 11x missing link.

KMC Chain, a bit of gold bling

KMC Chain, a bit of gold bling

No chain device or guide is the norm with this set-up, and believe me if I didn’t race I would never have bothered with a chain guide at all. This set-up runs a thick/thin chain ring and thick/thin large jockey wheels plus a very strong sprung clutch mech, keeping everything solid and in check. But in racing every fraction of time counts, a big crash can cost overall time in Enduro and even the XX1 can come off after a bike has gone cartwheeling down a rough track! If you do have to put the chain back on in a hurry, you also have to line it up with the correct thick/thin link, this could be a nightmare situation on a timed stage, so I chose to eliminate this by using one of the lightest and trickest looking guides out there, the C-sixx. This is real light and so simple, the seat-tube mounted one coming in at a mere 75 grams, with a selection of different spacing rubbers, custom bolt combinations and virtually noise-less motion. This comes out of South Africa from a chap called Mark Hopkins, who originally helped design the Leatt neck brace, where he learnt about making fully solid molded carbon products.

Light weight and sleek design CSixx

Light weight and sleek design CSixx

Simple lines, noiseless running, racers choice

Simple lines, noiseless running, racers choice

Well obviously, as we all know in the MTB world, there is always a price to pay for top ‘tackle tart’ equipment and the XX1 is definitely no exception to this. But pay it people have, with the top of the range huge silver rear cassette now to be seen as a regular occurrence at your local trails, so lots of people don’t mind forking out for the merchandise. But now after putting mine through it’s paces in a big way, how exactly does it run and last, especially under the added pressure of a shitty British winter.

After 8 months of pure abuse the XX1 still works a treat

After 8 months of pure abuse the XX1 still works a treat

Out on the trail I can honestly say this set-up works impeccably, obviously I have never once even come close to loosing the chain. The shifting from the carbon clicker is so easy and precise, and with the odd occasional tiny ‘on the trail’ adjustments done with real ease, maybe after the stretch of a new cable, adjustment is effortless. On close inspection the rear cassette has a remarkable lack of noticeable wear on the teeth, with not one ghost-shift or jumped chain from fitting-time up till the present day. The carbon cranks may have a couple of small dents in them from large rocks, but absolutely nothing to worry about. The operation of the rear mech is still like new, obviously this has taken a good battering and may not look new anymore, but there is literally no play in the linkages at all, incredible!

So it comes down to one question really, if you can afford it, is it worth it? Well, with the rumors of a rival brand about to release a 1×11 10-42 system (with and without electric shifting) they definitely will have stiff completion, but I’m sure that will be at a big cost too. The other option is some of the cassette adaptors that replace the 1st gear on your cassette, these fit XTR and XT, but I would definitely say the longevity of the XX1 system is second to none. In my opinion, at this current time, this is the best Enduro bike drive train money can buy.


XX1 chainset (chainring and GXP cups not included) 229.99 GBP

XX1 rear derailleur 239.99GBP

XX1 trigger shifter 139.99GBP


CSixx chainring HD, LD, XC type 99.99GBP


Works Components chainring 32 tooth thick/thin 49.99GBP

KMC X11 chain 57.99GBP

Words and Pics Jim Buchanan

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