First Look: SRAM's 7-Speed X01 DH Drivetrain Takes Downhill Gearing to the Next Level
Ride report by Sven Martin // Photos by Adrian Marcoux and Sven Martin
Last year was quite a year for SRAM with the widespread adoption of their 1X drivetrain technologies. From Nino Schurter winning XC World Champs and the overall title to Jerome Clementz winning the Enduro World Series and even Kyle Strait and Cam Zink with their freeride performances at Red Bull Rampage, it’s about time we can reap the benefits in DH too. Today SRAM is officially launching the 7-speed X01 DH drivetrain - the same system Steve Smith used as he marched to a last minute 2013 World Cup Downhill Championship.
With the delayed winter storms finally hitting the North Hemisphere with rain, snow and deep freezes, the Southern Hemisphere is a good place to be right now. What better destination than Queenstown, New Zealand to test out the soon to be available DH groupset? Long sunny days offering the perfect riding temperatures for the multitude of trails and types of riding are on offer. Queenstown, with the Skyline Gondola and their trail network and easy access to some World Class terrain, made it a logical choice for SRAM’s annual Trail House adventure. They invited a couple of us journalists to spend some time getting to know the products and trails and each other over a relaxing few days. Late wake up calls but long days on the bike and good food and drinks hot and cold all around.
Unluckily for me I already live in New Zealand and was making my way over from Chile after the Andes Pacifico Enduro. This meant I was to miss the first day of bike park fun and while others slept in I was plagued with 4AM jet lag induced early wake ups. This does however have an upside as I contemplated life and bikes over fresh coffee in the predawn hours watching the pink glow and light show of the sunrise over Lake Wakitipo from the deck of the awesomely situated SRAM Trail House.
I’m not a huge geeky product tester and I’m not super into all the stats and numbers, but I’m a big fan of real world situations. For me to draw any real world test comparison I like to base my experience on familiar trails. Being based in New Zealand means lots of trips to Queenstown for the riding and racing each summer, so I was happy to learn we would be riding Rude Rock which I have ridden many times before on both my trail bike with XX1 and my DH bike with 10-speed Type 2 SRAM derailleurs. In other words, a perfect track for subjective comparative testing.
The bike was a Devinci Wilson set up much like Steve Smith’s was for his World Cup Series winning season, complete with the new X01 DH drivetrain. Super grippy, confidence inspiring soft compound Schwalbe Magic Mary DH tires and perfectly custom tuned suspension made getting used to a new bike a breeze.
The 7-speed Mini Block X-DOME cassette has a 10-24 range and is the lightest cassette on the market. It’s compatible with wheels that can fit the XD driver body, and the space between the gears and spokes gives more safety clearance. Up front my test bike used a X-SYNC 34-tooth chainring. This gear range allowed me to still make the two pinch climbs that proceed the beginning of the Rude Rock track.
Even with the smaller 34-tooth ring up front (compared to my current 10-speed DH bike with a 36-tooth front and traditional 11-26 cassette) I could also push a harder gear at the other end of the cassette while having a touch more clearance. Make sense? Basically a bigger overall gear range than I had with fewer gears and a smaller front ring. Those really wanting to take advantage of that extra clearance have the option to go guide-less or to install a slightly smaller guide. The front chainring features the same alternating thick/thin X-SYNC tooth profile that has been so successful in XX1.
But what of the ride itself? Well Rude Rock is not a full on steep DH track, so that combined with the amount of traffic (and thus brake bumps) makes it a good track to test out shifting and drivetrain performance. It still has some steeps and flying fast sections but there are more than a few flat turns and blind rises. This adds up to plenty of sections to test up and downshifting, all while riding fast bumpy terrain.
As I dropped in, out of habit I immediately made the mistake of dumping a bunch of gears in the first steep shoot like I would normally do on my own 10-speed setup. This isn’t necessary anymore. Each gear shift up and down is a much bigger ratio, and using half the amount of shifts to go through the same range of gears makes it a lot easier for precise gearshifts to match the changing terrain. Less shifts also means less mental fatigue on memorizing multiple shift points while racing and making sure you are in the right gear. It was surprisingly simple to adapt to, mostly because it just feels so right. Finally we have a production drivetrain with fewer gears - something we have been asking for and some of us have been custom doing for several years now. But the benefits of X01 DH extend far beyond just fewer gears and a better range.
Perhaps the biggest benefit you feel is the precise, crisp, tight shifting even in the roughest and chattery of surfaces. That and the disappearance of ghost shifting under heavy pedal load in the same situations add up to a remarkably less clunky experience on the DH bike. You can pedal your way through each gear shift without a break in your cadence or second thought, and you know that when you start pedaling it won’t immediately slip like so many DH bikes often do.
This is likely a result of the whole system being designed under the “all for one” philosophy. Each component is designed to work better with the next, all offering separate benefits individually and a much better ride experience collectively. X-SYNC in the chainrings and pulley wheels of the derailleur provide maximum chain control - the tall square edge teeth, rounded chamfers and thick/thin tooth geometry grab the chain earlier and hold it longer. The recesses also allow the chain to get rid of mud (which we got none of) easier. The new X01 DH X-HORIZON derailleur, which only moves in a horizontal direction, eliminates vertical movement of the derailleur when smashing through the rough stuff, giving you faster shifts and no ghost shifting. This is a huge benefit, especially for racers. Combined with the Roller Bearing Clutch the system is very quiet, too. This is where this system really shines if you are looking for performance gains. There are a whole lot of other features, advantages and benefits like weight savings, reduced friction surfaces, mud shedding, spoke clearance, etc, but for me the two that I’m sold on are the gear range and the performance advantages with the X-SYNC and X-HORIZON. That’s enough for me right there.
For those that have just upgraded to 10-speed and not ready to sink money into a whole new drivetrain, fear not. SRAM have also made the derailleur available in a 10-speed configuration. Why upgrade from a clutched system? That horizontal derailleur movement is the key, and it really does make a remarkable difference on a DH bike.
When SRAM first introduced XX1 it was clear that there were a lot of potential benefits that would be applicable to downhill. It’s great to see this system come to life. This is what downhillers have been asking for for years, but done far better than we ever expected.
X01 DH Benefits and Features Overview with SRAM's Chris Hilton
We sat down with Chris Hilton, one of the faces behind the development of XX1 and all the high-end SRAM drivetrains, for a quick chat about the new groupset. Listen in for his thoughts about using a chain guide, compatibility, hints of future developments and more.
X01 DH will be available in April 2014.
X01 DH Specifications and Prices
XG-795 X01 DH MINI BLOCK 7-speed Cassette
10 to 24-tooth gearing (10-12-14-16-18-21-24)
2-tooth steps are safer in shifting than 1-tooth steps under big loads
Durable JET black finish
Currently fits any XD compatible wheel and driver body
Machined steel with JET finish, alloy spoke protector
Weight: 136 grams
Price: $303, € 269
X01 DH X-HORIZON Rear Derailleur
7 or 10-speed options
12-tooth X-SYNC pulley wheels
X-ACTUATION with more cable pull
Two cage lengths for various applications, including abnormally long chain stay growth
ROLLER BEARING CLUTCH
Aluminum outer cage
Red and Black
Weight: Med cage – 263 grams // Short cage – 257 grams
Price: $277, € 245
X01 7-Speed Trigger Shifter
Multi-adjustable trigger shifter
MatchMaker X compatible
Aluminum cover and adjustable forged aluminum pull lever
Includes discrete clamp
Weight: 91 grams
Price: $143, € 125
X01 DH X-SYNC Carbon Crank
Carbon composite / aluminum spider
AL-7075-T651 CNC alloy single ring - 94 BCD, 30, 32, 34, 36, or 38 teeth
Compatible with SRAM 1X 7- and 10-speed DH drivetrains
Alloy pedal lug
165, 170 and 175mm arm lengths
Red and Black
Carbon guard available
Weight: 740 grams with BB
Price: GXP: $315, € 280 // BB30: $347, € 310
1X specific chain
HARD CHROME finish
11-speed power lock
Weight: 252 grams
Price: $63, € 57
X-SYNC Chain Rings
X-SYNC technology with alternating thick/thin tooth profile
Tall, square tooth design
Rounded chamfer edges
30-, 32-, 34-, 36-, or 38-tooth single ring
CNC machined 7075, two-tone anodize
Mud-clearing recesses for the inner chain links and rollers
XD Driver Body
Allows use of SRAM cassette with a 10-tooth small cog
Provides a more stable hub connection
Weight: XD driver body is 6-8 grams lighter than a standard freehub body