Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow
When SRAM introduced its XX1 group, over 4 years ago now already, it kicked off the first real wave of significant (r)evolution in mountain bike drivetrains for some time. Sure, we’d been steadily gaining cogs out back and Shimano had introduced the clutch derailleur as a way to help keep chain slap at bay, but essentially, we were still talking about the same old stuff. The advent of the wide range, 1x11 transmission changed all that. On the back of SRAM’s big move, cassettes started getting wider and front derailleurs were discarded by the container load. Aftermarket solutions that modify existing cassettes, like the 42T sprocket from OneUp Components would help bring wide range gearing to the wider masses, as would the introduction of less pricey groups from SRAM. Shimano joined the 1x party for real in 2016 with an 11-46T cassette, although its commitment to the front derailleur runs deep and the company still talks about the “Rhythm and Range” benefits of a 2x drivetrain. E*thirteen went for the jugular with an 9-44T cassette that delivers 489% range over 11 cogs, but it was not to remain the widest 1x solution out there for long as SRAM was gearing up (ha!) for a counterpunch of epic proportions: the 12-speed Eagle transmission with a 10-50T cassette. Meanwhile, over at Hope, the CNC wizards were tinkering away with a cassette project of their own, which we were shown some iterations of at various tradeshows. Never ones to be rushed, Hope took their time and finally came to market with a recently launched 10-44t cassette. We’ve had one out on the trails for a couple of months now, read on to find out what we think of it.
Hope 11-spd Cassette Highlights
- Larger four sprockets machined from single aluminum billet
- Smaller seven sprockets machined from single billet of steel
- 11 speed spacing
- Range: 10-40t and 10-44t
- Maximum 20% ratio changes
- Requires a unique freehub, available for both the Hope Pro 4 and Pro 2 EVO hubs
- Includes QR/12mm/X12 drive side spacers
- 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24, 28, 32, 36 and 40t
- 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24, 28, 32, 38 and 44t
- 10-40 only 273g
- Weight: 275 grams (10-44T, verified)
- MSRP: Cassette: $240 USD, Cassette + Freehub bundle : $310 USD
It’s no secret that we’re diehard fans of wide range, 1x transmissions here at Vital. Getting rid of the front derailleur drops weight, reduces handlebar clutter, simplifies shifting and allows for greater flexibility in frame design, all in return for giving up a bit of range. For most riders, the hardest decision involved in going 1x is the choice of the size of the chainring, which will be dictated by where and how they ride. Sure, if all your climbs are 2-hour marathons up steep walls and all your descents require you to pedal your ass off at 30mph, you might find that most 1x systems are not enough for you. But let’s face it, that is not how most people ride. A 30T chainring paired with a 10-42T cassette will get you up most climbs (or you’ll get fit tryin’), and if you’re shredding singletrack on the way down, by the time you’re spinning out that 10t sprocket, you’re probably more worried about slowing down than going any faster. Having said that, more is always better, and you don’t have to ask us twice if we think wider gearing range is a good thing to have on a trail bike. Hope’s new cassette showed up offering just that in the form of 2 extra teeth on the big plate, and while that might not seem like much, everybody knows that every little helps – especially when it comes to going uphill.
Hope played around with a 9T sprocket on their prototype cassettes for some time, but eventually ended up settling for a 10T as they found some issue with chain wrap and general transmission efficiency on a 9T. As the sprocket shrinks but the chain links remain the same, a more acute angle is required for each chain link to wrap around the cog. Additionally, each link now transmits more force to the sprocket – leading to higher pressure and thus more friction. At some point, there is a significant loss of smoothness and efficiency, and for Hope, the cut-off point is 10T.
On the other side of the equation, bumping the big plate to 44T created too big of a jump from the 36T sprocket preceding it, so Hope stretched that second sprocket to 38T. The rest of the cassette mimics the steps of a standard SRAM 10-42T cassette (note that there is also a 10-40T Hope cassette if for example your shifting setup can’t handle a 42T or 44T, but you still want the benefits of the 10T high end cog). The weight of the Hope cassette is close to a SRAM X01 at 275 grams on our scales.
Hope created their new cassette in two main parts, with the 4 largest sprockets CNCed from a single billet of aluminum while the remaining 7 are cut from a block of stainless steel. This saves weight where it has the most impact (on the biggest sprockets), while offering better longevity on the smaller gears. This also means riders can replace only one part of the cassette when it wears out, lowering the total cost of ownership over the life span of the cassette.
Fitting a 10T sprocket requires a specific freehub. Rather than go with SRAM’s XD driver, Hope came up with their own solution: by making the body of a standard Shimano freehub shorter and the lockring longer, they freed up enough space to accommodate the smaller sprocket. OneUp components were also working on something similar, and when the two companies got wind of each other’s efforts, they thought it would be a good idea to align their designs. It may be too early to call the result a new “standard”, nevertheless, the specs are open and out there for anybody to use, and we know DT Swiss and Stan’s are also onboard with others said to follow. Hope supplies the new cassette with a specific freehub for either their Pro 4 or Pro 2 EVO hubs, and this is clearly their target market for it. Know however that if your wheel features a Star Ratchet DT Swiss hub, you could also run this new Hope cassette with OneUp Components’ “MiniDriver” freehub.
Replacing the freehub is a simple, tool-less affair on a Hope hub, and the rest of the cassette installation was straightforward, requiring only a standard lockring tool. We did have to add one link to our chain to accommodate the bigger plate, and adjust our b-screw tension to ensure smooth shifting on the two largest sprockets.
The Hope cassette only has tabs at the base of the big plate. Whilst the freehub body extends into the top end of the cassette, it doesn’t engage the tabs here, it merely sits against them for lateral stability. An internal spacer provides support for compressing the cassette to avoid it deforming if you get ham fisted with the lockring tool. All the pedaling torque is transmitted via the big plate, and whilst we wondered about the choice of not also having the small block engage the freehub body tabs, this is similar to an XD driver which has proven that one set of tabs is enough. On that note, time to go see what the story would be on the trail.
On The Trail
Once we got the b-screw tension right, the Hope cassette provided smooth shifting across all the gears. We’d say it’s comparable to a SRAM X01 level cassette across the smallest sprockets, with a slight difference in the climbing gears. SRAM’s 10-42T cassette has 6 “up-ramps” onto the 42T sprocket, while Hope’s 44T only has 4 (maybe because you can’t divide 44 in 6 equal parts and 8 would be too much). The result is that you sometimes have to wait a bit longer for the chain to climb up on the 44T sprocket, but once it goes, it shifts crisply.
So what does that extra range do for you? 2 extra teeth on the cassette does not sound like much, but when paired with a 32T chain ring we found it to be that much more of a bailout gear. Steep climbs that usually have us redlining became just a bit more tolerable, as you can literally drop your cadence to walking speed and wait it out. But we also found that the 38T sprocket becomes an interesting alternative on some climbs where we often find ourselves between gears. It sounds almost too obvious but where the 36T was just out of reach, the 42T could be too easy – it’s almost like Hope’s cassette gives you 2 bailout options now at 38 and 44. And, this allows the rest of the cassette to keep a very standard progression between the gears.
Overall pedaling performance and chain management is excellent on the Hope cassette. With a well-oiled chain the cassette is quiet, and we found it possibly even less prone to ghost shifting than our previous setup. We tested it with a well-worn derailleur and a shitty shifter cable, and we still enjoyed crisp shifting and excellent consistency.
So who is this new cassette for? It is of course mainly targeted at Hope hub users, but the new freehub “standard” introduced here is already opening up compatibility with other brands as well. If you find yourself in need of just a bit more range than a 10-42T setup, it offers an interesting alternative with well-engineered gear ratio progressions and a very high quality finish. The Hope cassette costs $310 USD including the required freehub ($240 USD for the cassette alone), certainly not cheap by any means but still significantly cheaper than the comparable product from SRAM (MSRP on SRAM’s 275 gram, 10-42T XG-1195 cassette is $369 USD, not including a freehub body).
At 440% range, the 275 gram Hope cassette beats the Shimano XT 11-46T (418% and 450 grams) while also offering the benefit of the smaller overall sprocket size (which lets you run a smaller chain ring to improve ground clearance and possibly pedaling efficiency, depending on your frame’s design in regards to anti-squat). If you already own a SRAM 10-42T cassette, you could replace the biggest sprocket with OneUp’s 44T, which involves prying off the large sprocket and pressing on the replacement. This solution will only set you back $90 USD, but of course, this doesn’t give you the benefit of the 38T sprocket that bridges the jump on the Hope cassette (and it involves taking a screwdriver to your cassette). For Shimano users, OneUp also offers a 50T large sprocket upgrade to the 11-42T cassettes, providing a whopping 455% range. This solution also involves swapping out the derailleur cage and replacing the 17 and 19T cogs with an 18T cog, setting you back $125 USD. Or go all in, add OneUp’s 10T cluster (with “MiniDriver” freehub upgrade) and get 10-50 range across 11 gears (by then you’ve actually replaced 5 cogs out of the original 11).
The list of options goes on, we previously mentioned e*thirteen’s 9-44T offering a whopping 489% range. This cassette also features bigger jumps between the gears in the 14-21T range, with the advantages and potential disadvantages of the small, 9T sprocket. It uses the XD driver freehub standard, and will cost you $279 USD. And to wrap it all up, no drivetrain discussion would be complete today without mentioning SRAM’s all-new Eagle. Leaving Spinal Tap’s famous 11 in the dust, Eagle takes XX1 and X01 to 12 gears with a massive 10-50T spread on the cassette. You have to replace everything to get there though, which costs a pretty penny. We can expect it to take a couple of years before we start to see real trickle down of Eagle tech to lower price points, so for now, most people will still be wanting to get the most out of their 11-speed drivetrains. Hope’s new cassette is certainly a quality alternative for those looking to squeeze out a bit more range from their 1x setup.
Things That Could Be Improved
As previously discussed, shifting up to the biggest sprocket on the Hope cassette is aided by 4 specific up-shift ramps. Adding a few more would speed up shifting in this area of the cassette, as it stands, you sometimes end up waiting ¼ of a crank turn for the chain to jump up on the largest sprocket. Other than that, shifting quality is excellent and chain management is first rate.
Hope made a choice not to make the new cassette XD driver compatible but rather to introduce a new freehub “standard” (at the time of making that choice, they were de-facto choosing to only sell the new cassette to Hope hub users). Hope wanted to provide a simpler, more economical solution based on an open standard, hence the introduction of the shortened Shimano freehub solution. Since they already sell their hubs with an XD driver option, it is still a somewhat curious choice – effectively reducing the size of the potential target market for their new cassette. As fate would have it, the market may well be adapting this new solution making this less of an issue over time, nevertheless, we think the new cassette is a good product that would certainly appeal to more users if they could simply swap out their existing cassette and keep their XD driver freehubs.
Long Term Durability
We’ve put in close to 2 months of trail time with the Hope cassette, and the first thing we wanted to know was how the freehub body would hold up with just the one set of relatively small tabs transferring torque between the cassette and the freehub. We’re happy to report that there isn’t much to report. There is no sign of the cassette tabs eating into the freehub body, nor have we noticed any suspicious creaking from the cassette under load, which is especially impressive given that we were sent an aluminum freehub (a stainless steel version will be available for extra durability and peace of mind).
The seals of the new freehub body have also been doing their job, with little to no sign of any contamination found inside the freehub mechanism. Granted, this test did not include much foul weather riding, but we typically trust UK-based Hope to deliver in this regard as well.
As for the cassette itself, there is surprisingly little wear on the cogs. A few little chips here and there (likely the result of rocks flying into the drivetrain/cassette), but overall the finish has lasted well so far and the teeth have yet to show any significant wear from the chain. The fact that you can replace each part separately is a nice touch and helps take the sting out of a worn cassette replacement purchase. On that topic, we also checked for wear at the contact points between the 2 different parts of the cassette, without any alarming findings. We will report back later if anything pops up as we continue testing, but all signs point to good durability at this time.
What’s The Bottom Line?
The drivetrain market is brimming with wide range, 1x transmission solutions. Ranging from complete solutions to various cassette/derailleur modifications, riders living life without a front shifter have more options than ever. Hope’s new cassette delivers a well-built solution that offers a range upgrade over the regular 10-42T cassette, and introduces a simplified freehub “standard” at the same time. Whether or not this new standard will proliferate across other hub makers remains to be seen, but if you are an existing Hope user the new cassette will certainly serve you well.
More information at www.hopetech.com.
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.