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e*thirteen Helix R Cassettes

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First Ride: E*thirteen Helix R Cassette – More Range, Less Weight

E*thirteen's new cassette delivers more range while weighing and costing less than its main competition.

Rating: Vital Review
First Ride: E*thirteen Helix R Cassette – More Range, Less Weight

E*thirteen jumped into the cassette game a few years ago, looking to disrupt the market with a unique take on how to eke out wider range from a 1x drivetrain. We’ve had good results with their two-piece cassettes to date, although we did note that shifting could sometimes be a little bit “clunkier” than with original SRAM or Shimano cassettes. The Helix R is a full redesign that looks to improve shifting performance with both SRAM and Shimano shifters, and it has managed to drop a serious chunk of weight in the process as well. The cassette hits the market today - keep reading to learn more and get our first impressions fresh from the trail.

E*thirteen Helix R Cassette Highlights

  • Range: 556% (12-speed), 511% (11-speed)
  • 9-50T: 9,11,13,15,17,20,23,27,31,36,42,50 (tested)
  • 9-46T: 9,11,13,15,17,20,24,28,33,39,46
  • Replaceable steel and 42/50 tooth clusters, reverse compatible with TRS+ 9-50t 12-speed
  • Weight: 345g (12-speed), 325g (11-speed)
  • Helix R 12 is 60g lighter than the TRS+ 9-50t 12 speed, and the Helix R 11 is 80g lighter than the TRS+ 9-46t 11 speed
  • Colors: Grey, Naranja, Bronze, and Eggplant, and Intergalactic (uses ‘PVD Film’ to double the durability compared to anodizing)
  • Compatible with SRAM and Shimano 12-speed drivetrains
  • Improved shifting performance including Shimano 12-speed compatibility
  • Improved interface between steel and aluminum clusters
  • Compatible with SRAM XD freehubs only
  • MSRP: $289 USD

Initial Impressions

Compared to the previous generation (TRS+), the new Helix cassette makes quite the entrance with a raw finish on the steel cluster and a choice of five colors for the large aluminum cluster. One of the colors, “Intergalactic” has a bit of an oil-slick theme going and it also sports a special "PVD" coating that e*thirteen says doubles the durability compared to regular anodizing.

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Backing up its good looks with some impressive stats, the Helix offers more range than either SRAM or Shimano’s high-end offerings, weighs less and crucially, is a lot more affordable too. The fact that you can replace either cluster individually is another advantage, as this may allow you to not have to replace the whole cassette if you find that one of the clusters wears out before the other.

image provided by e*thirteen

The Helix uses a two-piece construction which allows it to cram a 9t cog onto the small end of the cassette, which in turn enables it to develop that impressive 556% range without resorting to making the 50t cog any bigger. The two clusters are held together via series of tabs, and there’s a small bolt to lock it all down after installation. The machining of the whole thing is elaborate, which helps with the significant weight drop compared to the previous version, and is also said to improve the quality of shifting.

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On The Trail

Installing the Helix cassette is easy. You start with pushing the big cluster onto the XD freehub driver and securing it with the locking collar. You then align the smaller cluster in the right position (aided by visuals on the clusters), and twist it into place using a chainwhip until it bottoms out against the tabs. Once everything lines up properly, you secure the two clusters together with a small bolt. To remove the cassette you proceed in the reverse order, with one update compared to the previous generation of e*thirteen cassettes: you no longer need two chainwhips to remove it, because the small cluster will now accept a classic cassette tool that you use to rotate it open while you use a chainwhip to hold the large cluster in place.

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We tested the Helix cassette both with SRAM Eagle X01 and Shimano XT drivetrains. Neither required any derailleur adjustments after removing the stock cassettes. With a somewhat worn out, low-end SRAM chain, we noted that the Helix cassette was prone to dropping the chain down the cassette when back-pedaling in the biggest cogs - but this only happened with that chain. With either a SRAM Eagle chain in good condition or a Shimano XT chain in good condition we could not make the chain drop down when backpedaling no matter what we tried.

On the trail, the shifting has been improved compared to the previous generation of cassettes from e*thirteen. The Helix shifted smoothly and easily in both directions with both drivetrains, and we had no issues with chain retention through the rough stuff either. The shifting under load is not quite up to the new Shimano 12-speed standard (currently the best performing drivetrain in this scenario on the market), but it is still perfectly acceptable and pretty much on par with everything else out there. A clunk or maybe a clonk and you’re in your next gear. As for the range – this is the real party trick of the Helix. Having that small, 9t cog could enable you to run a smaller chainring than with a cassette that “only” goes to 10, which would give you insane amounts of power in the easiest gears, without giving up too much at the top end. Definitely one to consider if you live in an area with punishing climbs and long, fast descents. Note that if you are still running an 11-speed transmission, there is a 9-46 version of the Helix R that will work with either a SRAM or a Shimano shifter as well.

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What’s The Bottom Line?

We’ve always been fans of what e*thirteen is doing in the cassette space. Yes the early iterations had some issues with shifting quality and a tendency for the separate clusters to develop a bit of play between each other, but later generations have been much improved. The Helix R now manages to pull together everything e*thirteen has learned so far into a package that shifts much better with both Shimano and SRAM drivetrains, and that delivers more range than any other cassette currently on the market. The fact that it does so while weighing less AND costing less than its main competition should really put it front and center on your list when it comes times to look for a cassette upgrade. If you run an XD hub that is – there is no Micro Spline version available.

More information at: www.ethirteen.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 47 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Weight: 190-pounds (87-kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan 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.

Photos by Nils Hjord and Johan Hjord

Specifications

Product e*thirteen Helix R Cassettes
Riding Type Cross Country, Enduro / All-Mountain, Freeride / Bike Park, Trail
Material 10 steel cogs and 2 aluminum cogs (12-speed)
10 steel cogs and 1 aluminum cogs (11-speed)
Speeds 11-Speed, 12-Speed
Tooth Options 9-50 tooth 12-speed: 9,11,13,15,17,20,23,27,31,36,42,50 (tested)
9-46 tooth 11-speed: 9,11,13,15,17,20,24,28,33,39,46
Driver Type SRAM XD
Weight
  • 0 lb 12.2 oz (345 g)
  • 0 lb 11.5 oz (325 g)
Miscellaneous
  • Range: 556% (12-speed), 511% (11-speed)
  • Replaceable steel and 42/50 tooth clusters, reverse compatible with TRS+ 9-50 tooth 12-speed
  • Compatible with SRAM and Shimano 12-speed drivetrains
  • Improved shifting performance including Shimano 12-speed compatibility
  • Improved interface between steel and aluminum clusters
  • Compatible with XD and XDR freehubs only
  • Helix R 12 is 60g lighter than the TRS+ 9-50 tooth 12-speed
  • Helix R 11 is 80g lighter than the TRS+ 9-46 tooth 11-speed
  • Colors: Grey, Naranja, Bronze, and Eggplant, and Intergalactic (uses ‘PVD Film’ to double the durability compared to anodizing)
  • 5-year warranty
  • 2020 product year release
  • Price $289.95
    More Info

    www.ethirteen.com

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