In my book, less is always more. I’m glad SRAM agrees with me. Well, I’m not just glad, I’m downright stoked that SRAM agrees with me because the XX1 drivetrain is the silver bullet I didn’t even know I was searching for.

SRAM XX1 Groupset Features:

  • 1×11 drivetrain eliminates the front derailleur
  • Dinner plate-sized 42T rear cog
  • Easily-changed front chainring without crank removal (28-30-32-34-36-38)
  • X-Sync tooth profile for drop-free performance without a chainguide
  • Choose Grip Shift or trigger shifting
  • Available for GXP or BB30 bottom brackets
  • MSRP: $1449 (depending on configuration)
SRAM XX1 aboard the Ellsworth Evolve Carbon

SRAM XX1 aboard the Ellsworth Evolve Carbon

XX1 and Done

The combination of an Ellsworth Evolve Carbon frameset, Fox TALAS 120 fork, Roval Control SL carbon wheels and SRAM XX1 drivetrain was enough to make me a little more than just excited.  This killer combination proved to deliver miles of high-quality fun this summer. At the core of it all, of course, was SRAM’s new XX1 11-speed drivetrain. It wasn’t enough that SRAM crushed the competition with XX 2×10 a few years back, now they have landed a knockout punch with the perfect new drivetrain for a wide variety of applications.

Some riders may think the 1×11 may be too niche — only applicable to the fittest of XC or enduro riders. While the standard 32T front chainring has been perfect for my trails and riding style, one of the beauties of the XX1 crankset is the ability to swap front chainrings, when needed or permanently ; all without removing the cranks. With the proper gear ratios, XX1 can truly serve a wide variety of riders and fitness levels.

While bikes have been sporting 1×10 drivetrains for some time, current 10-speed cassettes lack both the upper and lower gears that XX1 provides. They also have trouble keeping chains from falling off (hence all the chainguides, etc.). To combat chain drop, the X-sync tooth pattern on the chainring features narrow/wide alternating teeth . This pattern ensures that chains remain in place without a chainguide — even on the roughest of terrain. So far, so good as I’ve had zero issues with dropped chains.

SRAM XX1 X-Sync Teeth

SRAM XX1 X-Sync narrow/wide Teeth

Ninja-like Shifting

What’s the most sublime about XX1 is the nearly-silent shifting. The rear derailleur seems to read my mind as shifts happen in a nanosecond. Throughout hundreds of miles of testing, shifting performance has remained at a high level. SRAM drivetrains have historically bested the competition when it comes to shifting speed and crispness, but the XX1 takes that to another level with instant response and quiet shifts — nearly every time. Only on occasion would I notice anything (usually a slight jump) and only when going from the dinner plate 42T down to the 36T cog.

With a 32T chainring up front, I never felt like I needed a lower gear. Like any drivetrain, the efficiency comes when you maintain a higher cadence than the gear’s natural pace. When spinning uphill at speed, I would find myself consistently sitting in the 36T cog while holding the 42T in reserve — just in case. This has been true on the 24 lb. Ellsworth Evolve Carbon and the 29 lb. Niner RIP 9 (with X01 — same gear ratios).

These days, cockpits are becoming stuffed full with levers and gadgets. It’s nice to lighten that load and reduce clutter by not having a front derailleur and shifter. What’s even cooler is that 1×11 will change the way frame manufacturers make their framesets — especially 29ers. Frames can beefen up and shorten chainstays and pack in more suspension since they won’t have to be designed around front derailleurs.

The major downside of going 1×11 is the need for a hub sporting an XD Driver. Not all hubs are compatible, but most of the common ones should be convertible. Check with your local bike shop to see if yours can be converted. The folks at Timpanogos Cyclery here in Utah were quickly able to swap the DT Swiss internals of my Roval wheels to an XD Driver.

Also of note is to be sure that you get the right Q-Factor crankset. The only one that fits on the Ellsworth is the wider, 168mm Q-Factor. Check with your frame manufacturer to find out which width is right for your frame. I learned the hard way that a 156mm won’t fit on the Evolve and had to swap it out.

SRAM XX1 Derailleur, Shifter & Cranks

The full SRAM XX1 kit is missing a couple of items.

Perfectly Integrated, Well-Designed

Like all SRAM shifters, the trigger shifter I used is Matchmaker-compatible for a single clamp mount for both Avid X0 Trail levers and the XX1 trigger shifter. Before opting for the trigger shifter, a friend of mine suggested I go with the Grip Shift option. I thought about it, but opted for the trigger instead. His reasoning was that it was easier to dump gears with the throttle-style shifter. That said, I never felt unable to move the chain up-and-down the cassette when needed. Sudden, steep sections were easily managed with a couple of thumb pushes and higher gears were easy to reach, one click-at-a-time.

The rear derailleur features a Roller Bearing Clutch that keeps the chain taut under even the roughest of conditions. While I wouldn’t completely abandon chainstay protectors, you can guarantee that chain slap is reduced by 90-95%. Descending in near silence is so awesome. And, when it comes time to change tires or clean the cassette, the Cage Lock button makes things easy — keeping the chain out of the way.

To keep the beautiful XX1 cranks free from trail damage, I opted to put on a set of RaceFace Crank Boots. These simple covers kept the crankset free from chips and scratches that inevitably happen during normal riding.

After many happy miles aboard the Ellsworth Evolve Carbon I also had a chance to ride XX1 aboard the 2014 Scott Spark 700 SL 27.5 trailbike. Both bikes were awesome matches to the 1×11. I’m also in the middle of testing the step-down X01 on a Niner RIP 9 — again, a fantastic match.

The Good

  • Near-silent shifts
  • Simplicity finally reveals all the useless gears we’ve carried around
  • Clutter reduction therapy for ever-cluttered cockpits
  • Chain drops are a thing of the past
  • Easily-changed front chainring for races or trail conditions
  • Chain slap is virtually eliminated
  • Allows frame designers to design stronger, more capable frames
  • Love Cage Lock for easy wheel changes

The Bad

  • Pulleys seemed to attract more gunk than usual (more a reflection of my choice in lube, maybe)
  • Another in a long line of seemingly-endless new “standards”
  • An already-expensive cassette just got even more expensive
  • Some rear hubs are not compatible with the XD Driver
  • Make sure you know the proper crankset Q-Factor for your frame

The Bottom Line

Did I miss my front deraileur? Nope. Did I wish for a wider range of gears? Nope. SRAM XX1 is simply the new standard for drivetrains — I’ll have a hard time going back to anything else.

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About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

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