Review by Evan Turpen // Action Photos by Joel Harwood, Product Photos by AJ Barlas and Evan Turpen
Over the last 20 years there have been incredible changes in mountain bike technology, but drivetrain technology still seems to change at a snail’s pace. We’ve only added three additional cogs to our cassettes in that 20 year span. Gearboxes are the potential holy grail of durability, gear range, and weight placement, but they may never be ready for the mainstream yet. Narrow-wide chainrings, clutch-equipped derailleurs, and add-on cassette expanders are recent steps towards greater performance, but consumers still want more. There seems to be an overwhelming consensus that we need more gear range than what’s currently on offer as indicated by all of the aftermarket products trying to capitalize on this.
Most companies have taken baby steps towards wider gear range, but all of these options are somewhat give-take and compromise one thing (or multiple things) in order to achieve another. Instead of taking the slow and steady approach, e*thirteen decided to catapult themselves ahead with their freshly released 9-42t 10-speed and 9-44t 11-speed cassettes. Utilizing the readily available XD Driver as their design’s platform makes this a bolt-on, turn-key upgrade for customers.
e*thirteen TRS+ Cassette Features
- Material: EXA+ Alloy and Heat-Treated Chromoly Steel
- Drivetrain: 1 or 2x10 or 11sp
- Cog Sizes 10sp: 9-10-12-14-17-20-24-28-35-42
- Cog Sizes 11sp:9-10-12-14-17-20-24-28-32-38-44
- Utilizes current XD Driver mounting standard
- Maintains the range of a 2x system, but in a 1x package
- Compatible with SRAM and Shimano shifting systems
- Colors: Black
- Weight: 10sp 300g, 11sp 320g
- Lockring, lockring tool and grease packet included with purchase
- MSRP: $279 USD
The e*thirteen TRS+ cassette is a beautifully machined and engineered piece of kit. From the shifting ramps to laser-etched finishing logos, there’s no expense spared. For this review we tested both the 11-speed and 10-speed cassette. The 1x11 cassette was installed with an entirely new SRAM chain, X01 derailleur, GX shifter and fresh cable and housing. The only old piece of equipment was the 34-tooth narrow-wide front ring which didn’t have enough wear to justify replacement. The10-speed cassette was installed on a different bike and replaced an 11-36t 1x10 Shimano setup. Being very familiar with the shifting performance and gear range on both bikes was a great baseline to compare the various setups.
Previously the widest gear range available was SRAM’s tried-and-true 10-42t 11-speed cassette which offers a 420% range. Compare that to the older 10-speed standard 11-36 cassette, with its 327% range, and that extra 93% seems to nearly satisfy everyone’s needs. We say nearly because even though a 420% range is very wide, there are still situations where an even wider range could be beneficial. Specifically, very high-speed descents and very steep, extended climbs. This is MOUNTAIN biking after all, and what goes up must come down. By squeaking in a 9-tooth and 44-tooth cog, e*thirteen bumped 1x11 gear range up another 69% to the current all-time high of 489%.
To make the 9-tooth cog possible, e*thirteen had to think outside the box and ditch the one limiting factor, the standard splined cassette tool. They did this by breaking the design of the cassette up into multiple pieces. First you must install the single-block CNC-machined alloy piece, which is your three biggest cogs, utilizing the XD Driver splines and e*thirteen’s supplied tool for mounting.
Then things get a little complicated. In order to install the remaining eight gears (which for simplicity come as one complete interlocked piece from e*thirteen) you have to carefully line up the backside of the smaller cassette cluster with the exposed front side of the three largest cogs. There are small notched interfaces that need to be aligned before a chain whip can be used on the lower eight cogs to rotate them clockwise (to a stop), locking all 11 gears together as one. To aid with this there is a laser-etched arrow on the lower eight cogs that is used to align with the locked and unlocked symbols on the upper three cogs. Once installed, the lower eight gears transfer all of their torque up into the upper three cogs which then transfers the torque to the splined XD Driver and eventually to your wheel. Seems complicated, but it works, and that’s all you need to know.
In order to remove the cassette you either need two chain whips (which most people don’t have) or to simply shift your chain to one of the largest three cogs with your wheel still on the bike, then use pressure at the pedals to counter the force of unlocking the lower eight cogs with a counter-clockwise rotation of your chain whip.
With the cassette installed make sure your shifting and b-tension adjustments are properly set. Our setup needed no additional tweaking. We found the shifting performance of the e*thirteen TRS+ cassette is entirely on-par with SRAM’s own offerings. Not better. Not worse. Just the same, which is good.
On The Trail
The first time pedaling the road to our local trails became somewhat of a learning experience. Instead of double shifting when accelerating from a stop, the larger gear jumps require single shifts. On the road this can sometimes be annoying as certain situations had us feeling like the ideal gear we wanted was in-between the gears available. While less shifting is required with the e*thirteen cassette, we had to adjust to slightly changing our typical cadence range, both higher and lower, to accommodate the larger gearing jumps. Winding each gear out a little further before making the shift was all it took for things to become a bit more natural.
Once on the trail, the larger gear jumps are no longer an issue and actually seem advantageous on certain sections. When encountering a steep, punchy climb mid-trail, we didn’t have to frantically shift half way across the cassette to find the appropriate gear. Just a few clicks would do. While climbing very steep sections of fire-road and trail, the 44-tooth cog was a welcomed change. It gave us the ability to spin just a little bit faster and easier up the climb. Once pointed downhill we almost never found ourselves using the 9-tooth cog. Perhaps we could have gone with a smaller front chainring such as a 30 or 32-tooth to really take advantage of easier climbing gears without any loss of top-end speed compared to our prior setup.
Surprisingly, the drivetrain was nice and quiet on our first few rides, even when in the 9-tooth cog. It was so quiet in fact, that a friend riding behind us on our first ride complimented on our drivetrain’s lack of noise. However, this changed after a few rides and we started hearing a slight ticking sound that was only audible while pedaling in certain gears. It sounded as if the shifting was slightly out of adjustment, but no matter what we did we couldn’t get the noise to go away, except by shifting into the upper-three cogs where the noise would magically disappear.
While we may not be rocket scientists, we are pretty mechanically inclined. After removing and inspecting the cassette, we noticed a bit of wear to the outermost edge of the XD Driver. While this so early is a bit disconcerting, after applying liberal amounts of waterproof grease and reinstalling the cassette, the noise never returned.
Besides the phantom noise issue we experienced early on, we found the added range of the e*thirteen TRS+ was an improvement over our previous setup. We'll likely be switching over to a 32t front ring once our current 34t wears out. This will allow us to use the full range of the cassette and give us a bit more ground clearance. But even with the 34t currently being used, we found the added range and gear-jumps to be beneficial to our ride.
Long Term Durability
We can’t foresee any long-term issues with the e*thirteen cassette. Even if the upper three cogs do wear out prematurely (as they are made out of aluminum instead of steel) they can be replaced individually. In fact, all three different sections can be replaced individually, depending on where you spend most of your time in your cassette. This is a nice change from having to scrap the entire cassette if something as small as one tooth is damaged. While we did have the noise issue early on in our test, the problem seems to be resolved and we haven’t noticed any further wear to the XD Driver.
Things That Could Be Improved
Noise: e*thirteen could take a small lesson from SRAM’s original XD cassette design and put in some kind of isolator between the inside of the eight steel cogs and the XD Diver’s metal surface. A simple nylon or delrin sleeve towards the outer end of the inside of the cassette could stop the creaking issues and wear that we experienced on our XD Driver/cassette interface. Perhaps this would be impossible with the dimensional limitations of the smaller 9-tooth cog, but we’re hoping this isn’t the case. Maybe teflon tape would be a quick fix?
Gear Jumps: Nothing really can be done about the larger gear jumps so we’re just going to give them a pass here. They seem to have done the best they could do selecting appropriate cogs to fill the gaps between the 44t and the 9t cogs.
Rust: Rust was something that seemed to appear quite quickly on the steel teeth as they wore. We tested the TRS+ cassette in a humid coastal environment and most, if not all, of the rides were wet and muddy. But, it still seemed to rust at a much quicker rate than the SRAM cassette it replaced. While performance never degraded, it would be nice to see some future efforts towards maximizing its corrosion resistance.
What’s The Bottom Line?
e*thirteen has created a product that expands the possibilities of 1x10 and 1x11 drivetrains to new heights and ticks the all-important boxes of gear range, durability, shifting performance and weight. Throughout the duration of this review, shifting performance remained consistent with no issues. Despite the rust issue we mentioned above, wear and tear seemed close to on par with other industry-standard cassettes.
As long as you don’t mind cleaning and greasing your cassette’s mounting interfaces at a more frequent than normal interval, the benefits of this cassette far outweigh the negatives. e*thirteen has a winner here that, with minor improvements, could very well earn the coveted 5-star rating.
For more information, go to bythehive.com
About The Reviewer
Evan Turpen has been racing mountain bikes for over 15 years. He raced downhill as a pro for the last nine years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He is an aggressive yet smooth rider who loves to flick the bike around to put it on the fastest line or to smooth out the rough sections. Fast flowy trails and long technical descents (Garbanzo style) are his favorite. With an extensive knowledge of the mountain bike industry and its technologies, Evan is able to take all things in to perspective during a review. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.