First Impressions: SRAM Force 1 & Rival 1 Components (Part-II)

When SRAM released their CX1 components in 2014, the purpose-built group delighted gearing-nerds (including yours truly) who had previously cobbled together road and MTB parts to come up with road-worthy 1x drivetrains. The Chicago-based company followed up with the 1x™ Wonder (11-36) cassette, and in April of 2015, SRAM announced the Force 1 and Rival 1 component groups which offered even more gearing options.

Over the past nine months, I’ve logged nearly 2,000 miles on SRAM’s 1x (pronounced one-by) road components. Starting with the CX1 group in late 2014, I added the aforementioned 1x Wonder cassette to the mix, and then in May of 2015, I upgraded to the new Force 1 components. During this period, I tested four different X-SYNC™ chainrings (38t, 40t, 42t, 44t), three different cassettes (11-32t, 11-36t, 10-40t), and two X-Horizon™ rear derailleurs (medium- and long-cage). Braking duties were handled by Force hydraulic discs. Wheelsets tested included Rolf Prima’s VCX Disc and Zipp’s new 30 Course tubeless hoops.

Why would someone want only one chainring? According to SRAM, 1x road drivetrains are quieter, more secure, and offer a the rider a more simplified user experience. Getting rid of the front derailleur and second chainring also leaves more room for fat(ter) tires and fenders. An added benefit is that 1x drivetrains are easier to clean and maintain.

If you’ve spent any time riding a geared bike on dirt or gravel roads, you’re probably familiar with the sound of the bike’s chain slapping against the chainstay. It’s certainly annoying–and what’s worse–it can be the last sound you hear before the chain jams between the tire and chainstay. After riding thousands of offroad miles on bikes with 2x drivetrains I didn’t realize just how noisy they were until I started testing the SRAM 1x drivetrain. My Force 1-equipped Salsa Vaya was eerily quiet on the local trails. With chainslap all but eliminated, the only noise came from the bike’s tires crunching on loose dirt and gravel.

With conventional 2x drivetrains, the front derailleur does double-duty as a chain retention device. Even then, many riders rely on some type of chain catcher/keeper to prevent the chain from jumping off the small chainring. Having seen my share of dropped chains over the years, I was somewhat skeptical that SRAM’s X-SYNC chainring would be able to keep the chain securely in place. It turns out that my fears were completely unfounded. After logging nearly 2,000 miles on SRAM 1x, I’ve never a dropped a chain. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, either. I’ve bunnyhopped curbs, hit expansion joints at 30+ mph, and launched the bike off dirt kickers. Not once has the chain fallen off.

For most riders, shifting gears is a pretty simple process. Sure, things have become easier with the advent of integrated brake/shift levers, but the basic concept remains the same. One lever moves the rear derailleur, and the other lever controls the front derailleur. Rocket science it is not. Could removing one of the shift levers really change the user experience? It’s very subtle, but the answer is yes. The next gear–whether it’s higher or lower–is always just one shift away. You no longer have to worry about whether you should be in the large or small chainring because it’s simply not an option. If you do find yourself suddenly needing a much easier gear, you can shift up to three cogs in one sweep with the Rival 1 and Force 1 levers.

Will 1x drivetrains make 2x (and 3x) setups obsolete? The answer is, it depends. If your riding style or terrain demands a wide gearing range and small gaps between the gears, a 1x drivetrain may not be the best choice. While SRAM’s XG-1180 cassette offers eleven gears with a 420% spread, the gaps between gears are greater compared to a drivetrain with 50/34t chainrings and an 11-32t cassette. For commuting and non-technical off-road use, I found the combination of a 42t chainring and 10-42t cassette to be more than adequate (and quite enjoyable). That said, my 2x-equipped bike was usually a better choice for fast, hilly club rides where the smaller gaps between gears enabled finer adjustments to cadence (and speed).

Whether you’re converting an existing bike to 1x or building one up from scratch, be aware that SRAM’s XG cassettes (the ones with 10t cogs) require XD-compatible rear hubs or drivers. Most hub manufacturers offer XD drivers, but some wheels will require re-dishing after swapping freehubs. Also note that a standard 114-link chain may not be long enough for certain gearing combinations or frames with long chainstays. When testing an 11-32t cassette, 40t chainring, and medium-cage derailleur, a standard-length chain was all that was needed. Moving up to a 10-42t cassette, 42t chainring, and long-cage derailleur, however, necessitated adding a few extra lengths to the PC-1170 chain.

With the Interbike trade show right around the corner it will be interesting to see how many 2016 bikes are spec’d with SRAM’s Rival 1 and Force 1 components. Some manufacturers–including Marin–have announced models with 1x drivetrains, but will more follow? Stay tuned for GRAVELBIKE’s coverage of Interbike and reviews of more 1x-equipped bikes.

Disclosure: SRAM provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

Second Look: SOMA C-Line Tires

When we reviewed the New Albion Cycles Privateer frameset last summer, the bike’s SOMA C-Line 700×38 tires really stood out–and not just because of the terracotta-colored tread. The tires’ mild tread and supple casings made it easy to transition between paved and unpaved surfaces. To help test the new Zipp 30 Course wheelset, we decided to give the C-Line tires a dedicated second look. gravel grinder SOMA C-Line Panaracer Pasela Compass Barlow Pass Zipp 30 Course

Manufactured in Japan by Panaracer, SOMA’s C-Line tires ($59.99/ea MSRP) share the same tread pattern as the company’s New Xpress line of tires. Unlike the New Xpress, however, the C-Line lacks the former’s Hypertex casing. Why not go with the more cut/puncture-resistant Hypertex casing? Easy–superior ride quality. Adding extra material to the casing makes it stiffer, which in-turn makes the tires less supple.

Mounted on 25 mm wide Zipp rims, our sample tires measured 37.8 mm when inflated to the maximum pressure of 90 psi. Both tires came in under the claimed 400 gram weight, tipping the scales at 387 grams and 395 grams. And although we fitted the tires with inner tubes for our testing, we were able to seat the tires (sans-tubes) on tubeless-compatible wheels from HED, Rolf Prima, and Zipp (although some combinations did require a compressor or COcartridge).

Despite being rated to 90 psi, we rarely inflated the C-Lines over 65 psi. On paved roads, our testers found that 50 psi front and 60 psi rear worked best for unloaded riding. When it came to dirt and gravel, dropping the pressure by 7-10 psi improved traction and comfort without inviting pinch-flats. Our test period took place during unusually wet weather in Colorado, and the black tread offered plenty of traction on damp roads. The classic tan sidewalls received numerous compliments, but we’d like to see SOMA offer a version with black sidewalls, too.

How do C-Lines compare to Panaracer’s popular Pasela family of tires? You know that expression about having your cake and eating it, too? If you want Paselas with folding beads, they’re only available on models with puncture-resistant casings. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, many riders prefer the livelier ride of the more supple casings found on the SOMA tires (and wire-bead Paselas). Knowing that we’d get asked to compare the C-Lines to Compass’ similarly sized Barlow Pass tires, we spent plenty of time switching between the two. The verdict? For pavement, we preferred the Barlow’s minimal tread, but on dirt and gravel, the C-Lines offered a bit more traction and control.

Disclosure: SOMA Fabrications provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

Second Look: Hutchinson Sector 28 Tubeless Tires

After analyzing three years of visitor stats for the GRAVELBIKE site, it’s pretty clear that people like reading about tires. This year alone, five of the top-ten articles have been tire reviews. One of the more popular pieces is last summer’s review of Hutchinson’s Sector 28 tires. With the increased interest in road tubeless setups, we decided to give the Sector 28s a second look.

When we first tested the Hutchinson Sector 28 tires, we paired them sans-tubes with Pacenti SL23 rims. That combination produced an extremely smooth ride, but the tires’ tight fit made us dread a roadside tube swap if the sealant failed to fix a puncture. So for this go-around, we opted to test the Sector 28 tires with and without inner tubes on rims of various widths.

Sector 28 front (tube)

Sector 28s installed with inner tubes on HED Ardennes Plus LT wheels.

Installed with inner tubes on both narrow and wide wheelsets, we were pleasantly surprised at just how lively the Sector 28 tires felt. Fitted with 80g Mavic tubes, the Hutchinson tires retained most, if not all of their supple tubeless feel. Despite a minor weight penalty, acceleration was on par with lighter tires of similar size such as the 700×28 Panaracer Gravelking (using identical rims and tubes). Interestingly enough, we ended up running the same pressure (70-75 front, 80-85 rear) with inner tubes and in tubeless mode.

For our tubeless testing, we used HED’s Ardennes Plus LT wheels and Caffelatex sealant. Mounting the Sector 28 tires was effortless with the 25mm-wide HED rims, and the beads seated at 50-60psi using a standard floor pump. As we stated in our original review, the Hutchinson tires can be run at lower pressures (in tubeless mode) without negatively affecting performance. This was even more apparent with the wider HED wheels, as the rims’ extra width gave the tire a more pronounced u-shaped profile.

Sector 28 (tubeless)

The Hutchinson tires set up tubeless using Caffelatex sealant.

Tire manufacturers may be slow to embrace tubeless technology for road use, but Hutchinson’s Sector 28 is a real bright spot in today’s market. The French company has succeeded in delivering the advantages of tubeless tires (puncture resistance, safety) without sacrificing the performance of lightweight clinchers. Riders looking to explore dirt and gravel roads without the worry of pinch-flats would be well served by the Sector 28 tires.

Disclosure: Caffelatex, HED, Hutchinson, and Mavic provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.