by Lee Trumpore
A few years ago, quietly and without much warning, SRAM re-wrote the book on MTB drivetrains and more or less caught everyone else with their pants down with the release of XX1. A slow response from the competition combined with a considerably steep price tag opened the door to several clever manufacturers seeking to fill what amounted to a gaping hole in the drivetrain market. While some offered larger add-on cogs or aftermarket derailleur links, Praxis Works has opted to skip what some saw as a bandaid approach and instead developed an entire wide range 11-40 tooth 10-speed cassette with 100% cross compatibility with existing non-XX SRAM and Shimano drivetrains. At $130 it is far more reasonably priced than most other options and has the potential to be the quick 1x fix many happy 10-speed users have been looking for. Before declaring it a winner for the everyman looking to make the jump to a 1x system 2 questions need to be answered: does it work, and is it more cost effective than other aftermarket options?
Praxis Works 11-40 Wide Range 10-Speed Cassette Highlights
- 11-40 tooth 10-speed cassette
- Shimano and SRAM mid & long derailleurs only
- 8 steel cogs with 2 large machined 7075 aluminum cogs
- 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28-34-40 spacing
- 1x and 2x compatible
- Weight: 320g
- MSRP: $130 USD
I'll admit it, I'm spoiled when it comes to my personal components and SRAM's XX1 cassettes are a thing of beauty. That said, I was impressed with the look and quality of this 'bargain' cassette straight out of the box. From fit to finish the Praxis Works rivals any Shimano free-hub compatible cassette on the market. It would have been easy enough to stamp out 10 steel cogs with a decent finish and call it done, but Praxis has clearly taken the time to design a cassette that compliments other top tier drivetrain components, even if they are 'only' 10-speed.
To keep things legit I'd been running my bike 10-speed for a while in advance of this test to get a better idea of what the conversion entails and to better assess the benefits and potential drawbacks. My experience should mirror that of any consumer looking to upgrade (or at least up-gear) their 10-speed drivetrain. Installation was a snap. With one extra link added to the chain and few turns of the barrel adjuster at the shifter I was ready to hit the trail in under 10 minutes.
On The Trail
The cassette the Praxis Work replaced was a top-of-the-line (and pricey at over $300) SRAM XX 11-36 10-speed unit and it would be a massive lie if I claimed for a second that I could feel any discernable difference in shifting performance from my previous setup (matched with an X9 shifter, KMC chain, XO derailleur). Shifting has been quick and crisp across the range and I've yet to experience any ghost shifts or odd jumps across gears due to trail chatter or suspension compression.
To be fair, modern drivetrains are incredibly precise and efficient so to say the only noticeable difference Praxis brought to the table was an easier climbing gear is in fact paying a massive compliment. I looked at this test as a do-no-harm type of scenario. I wasn't looking for better performance, but rather no loss. On this front the Praxis Works cassette delivers with the added benefit of what I would consider a more usable 1x10 gear range. If I were a 10-speed user, this is the cassette I would want on my bike. No question.
Now, that doesn't mean there weren't compromises depending on how you choose to crunch the numbers (or grind the gears). Praxis's choice of 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28 is a fairly standard spread across most 11-36 10-speed cassettes. This means that the vast majority of my riding was done in the same gear and with the same interval that I was used to. Praxis doesn't diverge from the standard spread until the biggest 2 gears, opting for a 34-40 as opposed to the usual 32-36. This didn't bother me in the least on a 160mm travel bike that leans very much to the downhill side of the spectrum. Living at sea level and doing my initial testing at 11,000 feet with a heavy camera pack on my back clicking up to the 34 and 40 and matching my pace to an appropriate pedal cadence was perfectly fine for cruising a couple miles up the hill.
However, if you're the more competitive climbing type you might find yourself wishing for a little tighter interval at the climbing end rather than between the smaller cogs. Though I didn't do so in this test you might need to experiment with different chainring sizes to find your sweet spot. Such is the tradeoff of a wide 10-speed setup. When asked why they aren't offering anything larger than 40 teeth, Praxis says they haven't ruled it out, but at the moment 40 teeth meets the needs of most riders without the need for additional derailleur modifications to maintain shifting quality.
Things That Could Be Improved
Scanning the comments sections of various forums over the years it seems obvious that many riders harbor their own preference (justified or not) for the precise steps or intervals between gears. I think it's best to leave that assessment up to the individual rather than cite it as an area in need of improvement. However, the Praxis Works 11-40 does have its drawbacks, though they tend to be more the result of the concept of a wide range 10-speed cassette rather than Praxis's execution of it. With a 30 tooth chainring the 11 tooth rear cog is not small enough for competitive use but the climbing is spot on. Bumping up to a 32 tooth ring helps a bit, but then climbing isn't much different from my 30-36 setup with a standard cassette. I can't fault Praxis for this, it's the reality of spreading more teeth over the same number of cogs, but it's worth highlighting the fact that the 11-40 cassette is not a 10-speed drivetrain's magic bullet. There is required compromise with this setup that really can't be rectified without a move to a larger 42 tooth or smaller 10 tooth cog, but that would require additional drivetrain modifications and defeat the entire purpose of what Praxis is trying to do.
Long Term Durability
I don't anticipate wear on the bottom 8 cogs being any different from what I've experienced with any other quality cassette. Construction and quality appears top notch, so aside from some catastrophic failure the only areas of concern would be the largest 2 aluminum cogs. Yes, they will wear faster than steel but in theory they are the most seldom used and are not shifted across or generally torqued as hard as the gears in the middle of the range. Time will tell, but I'm confident they should last as long as the rest of the cassette with proper drivetrain maintenance.
What's The Bottom Line?
As a stand alone bolt-on upgrade to your existing 10-speed drivetrain the Praxis Works wide range cassette is a winner. And while it does have its drawbacks compared to the most optimized 1x11 systems it was never really designed to compete with that kind of drivetrain in the first place. If you are a dedicated 10-speed rider looking to dabble with a 1x setup or simply want to expand the range of your existing 2x drivetrain, the Praxis Works cassette is $130 well spent. Though some might cringe at the price initially when compared to a $60 XT cassette of nearly identical weight, you'll need another $80 for an add-on 40 tooth ring to replicate the range of the Praxis cassette. Or, when you consider the $300 price tag of a SRAM XX 10-speed cassette (which does happen to be over 100-grams lighter but is limited to 36 teeth) it almost looks like a bargain. If you want to enjoy the benefit of a wider gear range but aren't willing to pony up big bucks for a full 11-speed groupo, I would recommend upgrading to the Praxis Works 11-40 without reservation.
For more information, head on over to www.praxiscycles.com.
About The Reviewer
Lee Trumpore has been riding bikes for more than 20 years on just about every material and technology the bike industry has come up with. In more than a decade of professional DH racing, Lee won a Collegiate National Championship and was a mainstay at major North American races as well as occasionally snagging a last page result in the World Cup series. Testing prototype components and suspension setups was common during his racing days. He has a smooth, light style on the bike even while holding it wide open. An East Coast native, his favorite trails are fast and flowing technical descents with as many corners as possible and just enough moisture to keep things interesting. Nowadays, rather than racing the clock, he'd rather enjoy a rad descent after a hard pedal to the top. A closet nerd with a Master's degree in education policy Lee currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan where he splits his time teaching mathematics to the next generation of computer geniuses and behind the lens as a photo mercenary for Vital MTB and other industry clients.