Two years ago, SRAM caused quite a stir when the Chicago-based company announced their dedicated 1x Force and Rival drivetrains. While some traditionalists scoffed at the idea of a single chainring for road use, SRAM’s 1x setups quickly gained acceptance in the gravel and adventure bike spaces. But between the two groups’ top-of-the-food-chain positioning and XD hub/driver requirements, some riders were priced out of the 1x experience. Thanks to trickle-down and crossover tech, SRAM brings road 1x to the masses with their affordable Apex 1 group.
Like its pricier siblings, Apex 1 is available with drop- or flat-bar shifters. The drop-bar levers are offered in mechanical or hydraulic versions, and both feature the company’s DoubleTap® shifting technology. Rounding out the 1×11 group are the Apex 1 rear derailleur, PG-1130 cassette, PC-1110 chain, and Apex 1 crankset. Because I would be using MTB-style handlebars on my test bike, I opted for the 11-speed Apex 1 flat-bar shifter. And due to my specific gearing requirements and frame’s measurements, I chose SRAM’s GX-1400 X-SYNC™ (MTB) crankset for my testing.
|Apex 1 shifter||123||$28|
|Apex 1 rear derailleur||312||$76|
170 mm, 32t
|GXP Team bottom bracket||113||$38|
28t, direct mount
|X-SYNC™ 2 Eagle™ chainring
30t, direct mount
|X-SYNC™ 2 Eagle™ chainring
38t, direct mount
Apex 1 Shifter
While unassuming in appearance, the $28 Apex 1 flat-bar shifter shares the same internals as the S-700 triggers spec’d with SRAM’s Rival 1 and Force 1 groups. The Apex shifter has a what I would describe as a middle-of-the-road action: not too stiff, and not too soft. There’s enough tactile feedback to know you’ve made the shift, but it isn’t so heavy that your thumb gets tired. Upshifts (to harder gears) are limited to one cog per-click, but you can downshift (to easier gears) up to five cogs with a single swipe of the lever.
Apex 1 Rear Derailleur
Having logged thousands of miles on SRAM’s Force 1 and Rival 1 rear derailleurs, I was curious if the base-level Apex mech could match the performance of its costlier predecessors. Sharing much of the Force and Rival’s technology (X-Horizon™, Roller Bearing Clutch™, Cage Lock™), SRAM keeps the Apex’s price down by spec’ing a steel cage (instead of alloy) and simplified pulleys and hardware. Do those cost-saving measures affect the Apex 1’s performance? Absolutely not. The rigid Jones 29er sees plenty of steep, rocky trails, and I haven’t experienced a single dropped chain or missed shift with the Apex 1 setup. During my test period, shift quality and speed has been consistently smooth across the entire range of the 11-42 cassette.
I’m a strong proponent of using inexpensive chains and replacing them before they can cause wear to the rest of the drivetrain’s components. With some brands, however, low-end chains don’t shift as well as the more costly models. I was honestly expecting some compromises with the $14 PC-1110 chain, but its outstanding performance belies the low price (and it’s compatible with all SRAM 1x drivetrains).
When SRAM launched the Force and Rival 1x drivetrains, the groups’ XG (10-42) cassettes were instrumental in delivering the necessary range for the single-chainring setups. Because XG cassettes require 11-speed, XD-compatible hubs, some riders were unable to retrofit the 10-42 cassettes to their bikes. SRAM’s PG-1130 cassette may not have a 10t high gear, but it’s compatible with standard 10- and 11-speed freehubs. I tested the PG-1130 cassette with a stock Shimano XT 10-speed freehub (135 mm spacing) and didn’t experience any compatibility issues whatsoever. No creaking, no wobbles, and zero chain derailment when backpedaling. At 524 grams (actual weight), the 1130 is no featherweight, but the cassette’s exceptionally smooth shifting is worth the minor weight penalty.
To determine how SRAM’s Apex 1 components would fare in harsh off-road conditions, I chose Jeff Jones’ diamond frame bicycle as my test rig. Unfortunately, the combination of the bike’s rear tire clearance, wide chainstays, and my unique gearing requirements prevented me from testing the Apex 1 group’s (S350-1) crankset. So instead, SRAM supplied one of company’s GX-1400 MTB cranksets and an assortment of standard and direct-mount (DM) chainrings. This produced a slightly wider q-factor compared to the Apex/S350 cranks, but resulted in a perfect 49 mm chainline when paired with 6 mm offset chainrings. Thanks to the 1400’s removable spider, I was able to run DM chainrings ranging from 28t to 38t. Unlike SRAM’s Force and Rival single-ring cranks, the Apex 1/S350 and GX-1400 models aren’t available in lengths shorter than 170 mm.
My GX-1400 crankset came equipped with a 32t X-SYNC chainring/spider configuration. The 1400’s spider is compatible with chainrings down to 30t, but I opted for a 28t DM ring for high-country singletrack riding. Most of my testing, however, was spent riding the 38t X-SYNC™ 2 Eagle™ chainring. Like SRAM’s X-SYNC chainrings, Eagle rings utilize a narrow/wide tooth profile, but also feature a longer, positive-rake tooth shape. That shape is designed to increase chain retention and overall pedaling efficiency, while decreasing friction, noise and wear. None of the chainrings that I tested exhibited ghost shifting when pedaling backwards, which was a welcome change compared to the Jones’ previous 2×10 setup.
Apex 1 may be SRAM’s base-level 1x road group, but there’s nothing basic about the components’ performance. Although slightly heavier than their pricier Rival and Force counterparts, the bargain-priced Apex group delivers where it matters most: on the road and trail. Setting up the Apex drivetrain was a breeze. It took me longer to gather my tools and supplies than it did to install and adjust the Apex 1 components. Between the group’s silent operation, smooth shifting, outstanding chain retention, and numerous configuration options, it’s hard to imagine needing to spend more for a 1×11 setup.
A Note About Compatibility
With SRAM’s 10-speed drivetrains, MTB and road shifters operate on the same cable pull–Exact Actuation–so an MTB shifter will work with a road derailleur (and vice versa). On the 11-speed setups, a road derailleur needs to be paired with a road shifter, and an MTB shifter must connect to an MTB derailleur. Wear items such as cassettes, chains, and chainrings are cross-compatible.
Disclosure: SRAM provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.