SRAM finally closes the gearing gap with new XPLR 10-44T cassettes

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SRAM finally closes the gearing gap with new XPLR 10-44T cassettes

SRAM’s growing collection of wireless 12-speed electronic groupsets has rightfully earned a healthy legion of fans in recent years. But despite the relatively generous selection of road and mountain bike cassette sizes, there’s been a lingering gap in the middle, especially if you prefer single-chainring drivetrains for gravel. That gap’s finally being filled with the introduction of SRAM’s new XPLR family of components, which will include 10-44T cassette options, matching 1x-only rear derailleurs, and updated chainrings.

Goldilocks in cassette form

SRAM will offer its new 10-44T cassette in two versions — the XPLR XG-1271 and XPLR XG-1251 — which roughly correspond with the company’s Rival and Force levels. Both share the same 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 24, 28, 32, 38, and 44T sprocket sizes, offering not only more range than Shimano’s current 11-46T cassette, but smaller jumps in between since there are 12 sprockets instead of 11. 

 

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Both cassettes are constructed with SRAM’s PinDome construction, with stamped steel sprockets joined around the periphery with a series of press-fit steel pins. To save some weight, the XG-1271 is fitted with an aluminum 44T sprocket where the XG-1251 cassette gets a steel one. At least for now, there’s no Red-level XPLR cassette with its fancier (and lighter) fully machined X-Dome construction, but it seems safe to say one will eventually follow at some point in the future.

Both XPLR cassettes use stamped steel for the smallest 11 sprockets. The XG-1271 version (shown here) uses an aluminum 44T sprocket to save some weight.

As with other SRAM 12-speed road cassettes, the new 10-44T sizes will only fit on XDR freehub bodies, and will only work with SRAM’s Flattop chains, which use larger-than-normal roller diameters.

Claimed weight for the XG-1271 cassette is 373 g; the XG-1251 is 412 g. Retail prices are US$210 / AU$316 / £200 / €225 and US$150 / AU$225 / £145 / €145, respectively (UK and EU prices include VAT).

New rear derailleurs — again

As much as those new 10-44T cassettes will undoubtedly be cause for celebration for a lot of riders, the expanded range does come with a couple of caveats: they’re only compatible with single-chainring drivetrains, and they require dedicated rear derailleurs, too.

SRAM contends the 10-44T cassette is just about perfect for gravel and all-road riders with a single chainring, anyway, and in fairness to SRAM, the total spread and reasonably small gaps in the middle should satisfy most users. In fact, it’s arguably the ratio SRAM needed out of the gate when the company first made a push for single-ring drivetrains for drop-bar bikes back in 2015. 

One of the main differences between standard and XPLR versions of the rear derailleurs is the upper knuckle, which drops the body lower and further back than standard (or even Max/Wide) versions of each rear derailleur.

The need for a dedicated rear derailleur is bound to be more contentious, however, and it hasn’t helped matters that SRAM only just recently added “Max” or “Wide” variants of the Force and Red eTap AXS rear derailleurs. This has prompted some consumers to speculate the company has been operating in a sort of slipshod fashion as market tastes change, instead of planning for these different versions from the start. After all, if the main bodies of the standard, Wide/Max, and now XPLR rear derailleurs are all identical, how awesome would it have been if you could swap the upper knuckles and pulley cages as needed instead of buying whole derailleurs?

Regardless, the new XPLR rear derailleur variants will at least officially work with existing 10-36T cassettes, though not anything smaller. And that won’t make people who already bought Max/Wide rear derailleurs (and were hoping it would work with a cassette like this) feel a lot better.

The new XPLR rear derailleurs will be offered at the Red, Force, and Rival levels. All feature upper knuckles that are even longer than the ones on the Max/Wide rear derailleurs, as well as 1x-specific derailleur cages that have offset upper pulley wheels, both of which are designed to better maintain proper chain gap across the cassette range. Pulley cage clutches are included throughout for chain security on rough terrain, too, with the Red and Force versions getting SRAM’s fancier Orbit hydraulic design, and the Rival XPLR getting a simpler friction-type unit. 

The upper pulley is offset from the cage pivot to help it maintain proper chain gap across the cassette range.

Otherwise, the main body of the derailleurs are the same as what’s used on other Red, Force, and Rival AXS rear derailleurs, and the removable batteries are the same as before. SRAM claims run times of about 1000 km / 620 miles / 60 hours before the small Li-ion pack needs to be recharged (depending on usage). And as with all SRAM AXS components, there’s a generous amount of customization available through the company’s smartphone app in case you want to tweak things like button functions.

Claimed weight for the Red XPLR rear derailleur is 293 g, and retail price is US$710 / AU$1,015 / £610 / €685. As expected, the Force XPLR rear derailleur is a bit heavier at 308 g, but it’s also substantially less expensive at US$350 / AU$527 / £290 / €325. Finally, the Rival XPLR rear derailleur comes in at 327 g, and costs US$255 / AU$384 / £236 / €265. Keep in mind that all of those figures omit the battery, which will add 24 g and US$56 / AU$80 / £50 / €55.

Updated cranks, too

SRAM hasn’t made any changes to the Red, Force, or Rival crankarms themselves to work with the new XPLR drivetrain setups, but there are new direct-mount 1x chainrings that SRAM claims will save 22-35 g, depending on fitment. The new chainrings use the company’s now-standard eight-bolt splined interface, and are offered in 38, 40, 42, 44, and 46T sizes. 

Retail price for the Red/Force direct-mount chainring is US$99 / AU$141 / £90 / €101, while the less-fancy Rival version is US$60 / AU$90 / £58 / €65. Need the whole crank? That’ll be US$690 / AU$1,1015 / £610 / €685 for Red 1, US$249 / AU$527 / £290 / €325 for Force 1, and US$130 / AU$384 / £236 / €265 for Rival 1 Wide (whose chainline is slightly further offset outboard for additional tire and chainring clearance).

Red is still the top dog in the new XPLR drivetrain range, but you’d better to willing to pay a lot extra for the weight savings.

Component colors for all of the new XPLR bits are unchanged from the other Red, Force, and Rival versions, so you can pick and choose at will without fear of something looking funny.

Speaking of mixing and matching, the rest of each respective groupset — the levers, chain, and brakes — remains unchanged, and just about all of the parts from the Red, Force, and Rival AXS can be mixed to suit preferences or budgets.

Ride report

So how well do these new bits work? I’ve only sampled the Red XPLR drivetrain components over the past few weeks, but — no surprise — it works the same as the standard Red eTap AXS stuff. In other words, shifts are precise and pretty smooth, but now with a gearing range that’s more in keeping with what most gravel and all-road riders using 1x drivetrains are looking for these days.

Chain control is excellent on rough terrain with minimal bouncing or slap, too, and seeing as how the levers and brakes are unchanged, it should also come as no surprise to hear that the ergonomics are excellent and the hydraulic disc brakes deliver ample power and control. 

Shift quality on the Red XPLR rear derailleur is just as good as on other Red versions.

In other words, SRAM’s new XPLR isn’t exactly revolutionary, but that’s perfectly OK. Nevertheless, it fulfils a long-standing request from consumers, and it’s good to see it finally come to light.

More information can be found at www.sram.com.

SRAM actually launched a whole bunch of XPLR stuff, not just new gravel drivetrains. Also make sure to check out the new suspension bits from RockShox and Zipp’s legitimately different gravel-specific carbon wheelset.

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