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Gear Review: SRAM X.0 Drivetrain

By Rob Manning

Trigger shifters and Rear derailleur

Carbon and machined aluminum make for tough and stylish parts.

Recent innovation in the mountain bike community has led bike companies to try building their components out of new materials. SRAM has been leading the way for the past several years with their X.0 line. Using polished aluminum and carbon fibre was practically unheard of in the mountain biking community at the time. After a few very small changes over the past couple model years, the X.0 line is still the envy of many a cyclist.

First impressions:
X.0 Shifters

When the shipping envelope containing these parts landed on my doorstep, a surge of thrilled anticipation ran through me like electricity. Tearing into the envelope and pulling out the contents immediately gave me an impression that I was dealing with something special. SRAM makes the proud owner feel special by boxing all their X.0 parts in translucent clear plastic boxes emblazoned with the SRAM logo and filled with carved foam. Nestled inside the foam padding is the object of every riderís desire Ė carbon and aluminum shifting nirvana. You can create your own personal car nirvana by customizing your seat covers, car shifter knobs, carpets and adding accessories to make it your ideal driving experience.

Removing the shifters from their foam cradle and inspecting them revealed more about their character than you would think. Turning them over in my hands, the first thing I noticed is their feathery 225 gram (claimed) weight. Despite the light weight, they appeared quite robust. The main feature that drew my eyes were the carbon fibre covers that adorn the top part of the shifter body, held in place by a machined aluminum star shaped screw. The next thing that I noticed was the massive machined aluminum downshift lever, complete with adjustable positioning. The second thumb lever (upshift lever on the rear) is made of tough composite plastic. It looks and feels a little cheap, but effective nonetheless. The bar clamp on these beauties is machined aluminum as well, and is laser etched with the SRAM logo. Also included, and even pre-installed, are a pair of SRAMís excellent Teflon coated shifter cables, making life very good indeed.

Playing with the shifting with the pods in my hands was interesting to say the least. Iíve long been a fan of SRAMís thumb-thumb shifting and have been using their X.9 pods for quite a while. The X.0 downshift has a much more mechanical feel about its throw than the X.9, while the upshift is very similar, if not a bit less responsive. Bear in mind that I had not yet tested these on the bike.

Tough as nails: The carbon rear derailleur is burly and sexy.

X.0 Rear Derailleur
While the shifters are responsible for a majority of the shifting feel, itís important to pair your shifters with a reasonably good rear derailleur. To that end, I paired the X.0 triggers with an X.0 carbon mid cage rear derailleur. Just like the shifters, it came in a similarly emblazoned plastic box lined with foam, and is an impressive piece indeed.

The X.0 is an excellent unit, sporting a forged knuckle and pivots and a tough carbon cage. The jockey wheels ride on sealed cartridge bearings (which are nearly twice the diameter of the bearings on Shimanoís XTR) and spin easily and freely. The spring tension of the X.0 is also utterly massive: it would likely snap your finger off if you lingered too long in the cage.

With the mid cage model installed, the amount of chain slack that can be taken up by the derailleur is compromised slightly. Putting the bike into the big ring and big cog is impossible, and putting it into the small ring and small cog would also be a problem, but these ratios are available from the middle chainring anyway (thereís no need to try to cross chain the drivetrain). The only possible ramification of the inability to use the big ring/big cog combo would be catastrophic failure if you accidentally shift there in the middle of a ride.

The performance of the X.0 has been flawless throughout the testing period and well beyond. The only gripe I have about the SRAM X.x series design is this: there is no barrel adjuster on the actual derailleur. You have to make all tension adjustments to the derailleur at the shifter barrel, or by removing the bolt and adjusting the cable fixing point. The advantage of the SRAM design is that the cable loop that Shimano requires is eliminated from the mix. No more snagging your cable on errant sticks and branches and dragging them into the trail, or worse, your rear wheel.

Installing the X.0 shifters was about as straightforward as can be. I removed the lock on grips and loosened the brake levers, removing them. I snipped the cable caps off the X.9 cables, unbolted them from their derailleurs and pulled the cabling out of the housing. Loosening the shifter pod bolts and sliding off the X.9 pods was the final step. Reversing the process resulted in some pretty aluminum and carbon jewelry sitting on my carbon handlebar. One thing I did notice while installing these shifters was that my Formula Oro K24 brakes didnít match up very well with the new shifter pods, forcing me to alter the placement of the pods a little bit. Not much of a problem, but a pain in the butt nonetheless.

The rear derailleur was simple to install as well. After threading the fixing bolt into the derailleur hanger I ran the derailleur through its range of movement and adjusted the high and low stops accordingly. It is necessary to shorten the housing and install a new ferrule on the end if youíre moving to SRAM from a Shimano setup. Threading the cable through the saddle on the derailleur, cinching down the fixing bolt and trimming and capping the cable completed the installation work.

Adjustable thumb shifters allow you to adjust everything to your liking.

Real World Testing
I spun the cranks while the bike was still on the stand and checked the shifting accuracy (more to ensure that I tuned it properly than to test anything) which pleasantly surprised me. I was very pleased to feel that the positive shifting that I had experienced with the pod sitting in my hand was not only retained, but enhanced. The downshifts had a decidedly ďnotchyĒ feel to it while shifting. Donít take this the wrong way; itís a very positive feeling shift. The upshift remained a bit sub par when compared to my previous X.9 pods, but I retained hope that it would loosen up during the break in period.

After removing the bike from the stand, I packed it on the back of the trusty Subaru and headed for some trails. I choose the Taconic Hereford 909 to do my testing. I rolled around the parking lot a bit to get a feel for the shifting. I stopped several times to adjust the angle of the shifters on the bars, and adjust the positioning of the large levers on the pods. Once I had them positioned to my liking, I hit the trails.

On the trails the X.0s performed flawlessly. They never missed a shift going up or going down. I did have some issues with over-shifting when going down the cassette; the downshifts on the rear pod are extremely quick and precise. It took a little while to get used to the extremely quick shifting and feel. The upshift lever on the rear also livened up quite a bit after being exercised a little bit, so it was never an issue of muscling through a shift. And speaking of muscling through things, the rear derailleur more than earned its keep: it chewed up and spit out a stick the size of my handlebars without even pausing. Thatís impressive to say the least.

Functional bike jewelry.

The price is steep for these pieces of (very) functional jewelry, but if youíre looking for the best feel on the market at the moment, they are worth every penny. The thumb-thumb style of shifting may not be your cup of tea, and that alone may keep you from considering them when the time comes to chose new pods. SRAM does almost everything right, but cable changes are a royal pain in the butt, and these pods wonít always mate up well with every kind of brake system. Another minor annoyance is that these pods donít have any sort of shift position indicator on these shifters. This could be rectified by using an XTR 9 speed STI gear indicator. Itís not critical, but if youíre really into creature comforts such as an indicator, itís a possibility. Keep in mind that youíll need a SRAM X series rear derailleur to be able to use these pods on your ride. That will limit you to a choice of three different trim levels, each with their own cage size choices.

The X.0 rear derailleur has been stout and reliable throughout its use. It's taken hits, it's taken abuse and it has shifted perfectly every time. The carbon mid cage has been tough as nails, contrary to popular opinion. The spring in the X.0 is incredibly strong and has kept the chain in place over every rough section of trail or rough landing. The mid length cage has kept the derailleur out of the sticks and kept the drivetrain protected. Even when the occasional stick has gotten wedged in the drivetrain, the X.0 has snapped it in half like Hulk Hogan tearing a shirt (oy, did he really say that? -Ed.) and never even flinched. The price is this derailleur's major downfall, and even though the cage is replaceable, it's still an expensive proposition if you should happen to snap one.

How does X.0 stack up against its competition? Well. We havenít tested any of the new XTR equipment yet, but I think itís safe to say that shifting style preference and price will dictate the equipment most people buy. If youíre willing to spend the money, the X.0 will not let you down and will make a hell of a statement on the helm and stern of your bike, but if youíre budget conscious, very similar performance can be had out of the less fancy and significantly cheaper X.9 series.

SRAM USA: www.sram.com