SRAM is coming in hard this year with some sick components and most notably is offering a 2×10 ring set-up from the top of the line down to the bottom. From XX to X7 you can now build up your bike with one less chainring! For those who are still on the fence, 3×10 is also available (though not in the XX line). Not too long ago I got my hands on both the full X0 and X9 groups and today I’m going to take you through the X9 line and give you the lowdown on this great looking group.
For 2010, unlike previous years, SRAM is going with a complete component group approach (and I do mean complete). The X9 group covers everything you need to complete that finished look to your bike: matching graphics on the crank, rear derailleur, brakes, calipers and even hubs makes this group an eye-catcher. Available in three graphic color choices (red, white, and grey), you can be assured these will match up with nearly everything out there. The X9 can be used for the racer but is really meant for the experienced rider. Think of this group as your put on anything, go anywhere type gear. It’s certainly strong and reliable enough for even the most demanding riders.
Tons of Options
The X9 group is full of options which makes it super versatile for mountain biking applications. Beside the 2×10 and 3×10 options on the crank, you can also select gearing with 26-39, 28-42 (more race-oriented), or 22-33-44 teeth. Bottom bracket compatibility is not a problem either with press fit 30 and traditional threaded bottom brackets (GXP) options.
Depending on your gear choice up front you have three derailleur options. Short cage works best for those who plan on using only one ring up front and are targeting a more gravity-oriented build. The medium cage is perfect for 2×10 with either the 11-32 (race-oriented) or 12-16 (everyone else) cassette. The long cage is for those running the full 3×10 set up. With the rear derailleur you’re also getting some great tech and bling there. The carbon outer cage and alloy inner cage make this derailleur lightweight and strong. The sealed cartridge bearing in the upper pulley will ensure longer life and less maintenance.
For the front derailleur there’s a dizzying array of clamping styles available. SRAM offers both high and low clamp options as well as high and low clamp direct mounts (and don’t forget top or bottom pull!). Did I also mention the 2×10 and 3×10 derailleurs are specific as well? Compared to the X9 of a few years back, this derailleur is a big improvement with a tighter, more compact design and an intelligently placed though bolt that won’t interfere with some DW or VPP lower links.
Brand new shifting pods styled after the XX units make for a more compact, lightweight unit (232 grams in 2×10 configuration). With a sleek design and two color choices (red or white/grey) these match the other components nicely. Speaking of matching, you can also opt for the matchmaker option to save even more weight and space on your bar. I personally like the rubberized cover window that allows you to change the cable without removing the shifter and cap that the 9spd version has. Both crisp and positive up and down shifting is what you get here.
The 2×10 Revolution
SRAM has spent a ton of time and money perfecting the 2×10 and the effort has definitely paid off. The latest model chain rings are made from thicker blanks of high strength 7075 series aluminum and to add even more strength, the bolt circle has been enlarged on the outer ring, making it stiffer and preventing flex. Along with that, the new X-Glide technology improves shifting dramatically by offering 4 up-shift and 4 down-shift points and 14 of what they call “sweet spots.” Basically what you end up with is all around improved performance over previous models (see graphic below).
Avid Elixir CR Brakes
Rounding out my X9 group is the matching Avid Elixir CR brakes. The new Elixir brakes feature a carbon lever as well as contact and reach adjustments. Coming in at 375 grams (160mm rotor) these brakes work well on anything from an XC bike to a FR rig. With four G3 rotor diameter choices (203mm, 185mm, 160mm, 140mm* rear only) you can decide how much stopping power you really need. The 850mm front hose and 1600mm rear hose are long enough for any bike out there (except tandems). Further internal refinements in the Taperbore technology and internal reservoir promise more control, feedback, and power when braking compared to older style straight bore model brakes.
I opted to go with 185/160mm rotors on my new 5.5″ trail bike (the Opus Clutch). The Elixir CR brakes also feature an integrated reservoir which makes for a smaller package than the familiar Juicy line of brakes. Other technologies that have been incorporated into the the Elixir CR brakes is the contact point adjustment (allows for a short or long stroke on the lever) and the power reserve geometry (which places the pivot closer to the bar) for a more natural, ergonomic feel to the lever pull. On the caliper end of things your get DOT 5.1 fluid and top loading pads (I love that feature) which have sintered material (great for longer life) and metal backing plates.
Performance on the Trail
How did the X9 hold up and perform on the trail? The very first word that came to my mind was smoooooth – it’s hard to believe that the x9 is third from top-of-the-line at SRAM. The X9 shifts fast, much faster than what I was used to with my older 2010 X9 model derailleur and shifters. I noticed that the same solid shifting performance on the rear now extended to the front as well – I guess all that design work paid off! The rear shifting works great as well, both up-shifting and down-shifting. Having used other crank models from SRAM, the new X9 2×10 cranks are far superior. I noticed right away the increased stiffness and less ring warpage when I really got on the pedals.
The larger 12-36 cassette looks odd at first but in combination with the 26-39 that I have up front I noticed that it’s optimized for my style of riding. Down shifts are nearly instant and I didn’t find myself making as many recovery shifts to get back into cadence. Since I’m running 26″ wheels on a bike that comes in at 27lbs I found I didn’t need that ultra low 1.3m / revolution that you can get with a 3×10 setup. The 1.5m / revolution is perfect for my fitness level (a 29″er may be a bit harder to push).
At this time of year most of my riding has been in cold weather at night with my regular group of hardcore riders at my favorite spots. The DVP offers a good technical challenge with quick climbs, switchbacks, skinnies, bridges and about 12 miles of distance per lap, perfect for testing XC – AM bikes. Hitting the climbs with my Opus and dropping into the 26T front chainring, I’m happy to sit and spin with no real problems. Even when I’m on the steep climbs, the cranks stay steady and stiff without much flexing at all. I prefer the 26 tooth gearing here rather than that of a 22 tooth granny because I found I had a more control over my bike without the feeling of lifting the front wheel and losing momentum. The difference in gearing distance is a real improvement for my personal riding style.
I have to say I was surprised and equally impressed at the SRAM brake improvements as well. The new Elixirs seems to offer better control in terms of braking force modulation. To me, previous models had more of an on/off feel to them. Overall braking force has also improved – I noticed that the sintered pads and the new G3 rotors work well at bringing the bike to a fast stop. With a host of features like the tool-free contact and reach adjustment, these brakes will fit just about every hand. I found the adjustments worked well for me, however the contact point barrel was a bit hard to move. Another nice thing you will also notice is the lack of noise – braking is now a silent affair.
If you have a chance, get yourself on a bike with the SRAM X9 2×10 and feel the difference for yourself. Have fun with it and really see what good quality at a reasonable price can get you. The complete X9 group will run about $1,100 (depending on options), and about $420 less without the brakes – a great value for those looking to build up a new rig for the new year!
Thanks to the folks at SRAM for sending down the X9 group for product review.