When it comes to gravel groupsets, you can go 1x for maximum low-range gearing or 2x to mimic a traditional road setup. But, what if you could find a Goldilocks setup that provides the tight gearing of a 2x setup, but still enough low-range for those steep pitches? SRAM has just the thing with their Rival, Force and Red XPLR groupsets. Switching from a Rival/GX mullet to Rival XPLR was easy and does make good on SRAM’s promises, so let’s dive in.
SRAM Rival XPLR eTap AXS Groupset Features:
- 1x only with gearing for gravel or road
- Integrates with the full AXS ecosystem
- Rival eTap AXS shifters offer wireless paddle shifting
- Built for flat-top chains only
- Wide crankset built for 38-46T chainrings (40T tested)
- Nickel-plated steel XG-1251 cassette (10-11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32-38-44)
- XPLR rear derailleur is compatible with XPLR cassettes only
- Weight: ~2860 grams (complete groupset)
- MSRP: ~$1450 (with power meter)
Mullet or XPLR for gravel?
Last year, I tested the Ventum GS1 with a SRAM Rival/GX AXS mullet drivetrain. The wide-range gearing was astounding and worked great for even the steepest of terrain. But, mullet drivetrains are heavy and cassette spacing can leave something to be desired for keeping the right cadence on long climbs or group rides. So, after installing the mullet kit on the Open WIDE over the winter, I subsequently swapped out the GX derailleur, cassette and chain to test that same bike with a full Rival XPLR eTap AXS groupset. In short, both options are great — it just depends on what kind of terrain you ride.
Making the swap from GX to Rival XPLR was pretty straightforward. All it took was about an hour to change derailleurs, set up the new chain and pair everything up using the SRAM AXS app. I love how simple SRAM has made configuring AXS components. Keep in mind that the XPLR rear derailleur is only compatible with XPLR cassettes (so don’t try to mix-and-match).
Set up with a 40T chainring, I can comfortably pedal in the saddle on 10-13% inclines while in the 40/38 combo. Should the pitch steepen, XPLR has a bailout gear, or I could drop down to 32 to stand up and climb. If you go for a 38T chainring, you’ll have even more capable climbing gears. On descents in the 40/10 combo, you’ll top out right about 31 mph, which is just fine for all things gravel and road descents, since I’m not aiming for a Tour de France podium finish.
As it turned out, my local gravel routes are right in the wheelhouse of this XPLR setup — with most climbs topping out in the lower double-digit grades. Because of that that, I’m stoked with the tight spacing and the ability to get the right cadence and speed. On occasion, I did miss the 38/50 gearing of the mullet kit, but there isn’t anything, within reason, that I can’t power through. I only recall a couple of instances when I lost momentum during a tricky section where I know I would have continued on the ultra-low mullet setup.
Below is a profile of one of my typical gravel routes. On the selected spot during this pitchy 5-12% climb, I can sit and spin in the 40/38 combo while keeping the 44t cog at the ready (just in case).
One-two paddle shifting
As a wireless system, cable routing is eliminated and there’s only a single battery to worry about. With 1x, each shift remains reliable and smooth and there’s no need to sort out a front derailleur. On top of that, the Rival eTap AXS hoods are smaller than Force and Red, which feels great and works better with smaller hands (plus, reach adjustments allow even shorter reach). To hit the Rival’s price point, the hoods lack expansion ports, but that’s not a huge deal. Wireless Blips can be added if you so choose.
Brake feel is excellent, with good modulation and overall power. It does fall short of the smooth feel of Campagnolo Ekar, which remains my benchmark. It’s easy to brake with a single finger or multiple fingers when extra power is needed. Shifting or braking from the hoods or drops is comfortable and easy and the shift lever feels great in-hand. Plus, when it comes to shifting with full-finger gloves, nothing beats the large eTap paddles.
Something that has been problematic is pad clearance. After changing the brake pads (after about 600 miles) and resetting the calipers, it was tricky to get a rub-free setup. After about 50 miles, clearance improved, but I do hope that SRAM figures out how to gain greater pad clearance, like the latest Shimano calipers. If you’re interested in training with power, it’s an easy upgrade to get reliable, single-sided Quarq power measurement. I’ve found the Rival AXS Quarq Power Meter to be an accurate way to gauge performance and optimize efforts.
Again, compared with a mullet setup, you’ll drop a half-pound of weight due to the simpler derailleur and smaller cassette. If weight savings is tops on your list, going XPLR will get you there. Just be judicious with the chainring size you choose.
- Sweet spot of low weight and performance
- Love the tighter gearing
- Drops half a pound over the Rival/GX mullet kit
- Hoods offer excellent feel
- Intuitive shifting
- Easy setup
- SRAM AXS app is reliable and easy-to-use
- Economical power options
- No issues with chain retention — even on the roughest terrain
- Steepest climbs require high fitness levels
Can’t add Blips– Wireless Blips are certainly compatible
- I’d love more brake pad clearance
The Bottom Line: SRAM Rival XPLR eTap AXS Groupset
Hitting the sweet spot of gravel gearing, SRAM’s Rival XPLR kit is affordable while providing enough range to cover most gravel terrain. The AXS ecosystem is easy to live with and going 1x further reduces complexity. Shifting is reliable and smooth and available gear ratios deliver plenty of gearing for all the gravel terrain I ride.
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SRAM's Rival XPLR AXS groupset is an affordable path into ideal gravel gearing and performance. I appreciate the smaller jumps while still offering a sizable gear range. If rolling gravel is your jam, Rival XPLR is a great way to go.
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