A while back, Shimano and Fox teamed up to create the 15mm TA standard for suspension forks. (EDIT: More to that point of history, check out this article over on NSMB from 2010.) Up till then, Rock Shox had pioneered the 20mm thru axle, but these forks were really biased towards the freeride or DH segments. Shimano and Fox teamed up because there was a need for a fork that was both light and stiff, but not necessarily as stiff as a DH fork and certainly not as light as a XC racing rig. I like to call this a “Mountain Bike”. Remember those?
So before all this 15mm TA business happened, I was still riding 26″ mountain bikes, and I was running a Rock Shox Revelation. 1.125″ steerer and a 9mm quick release hub. Out of curiosity, I found a lightly used Pike with a 20mm TA. Luck would have it my wheel set was sporting a set of DT Swiss / Hugi hub set and the front hub could be converted to 20mm TA with the swap of the end cap kit. That first ride kind of changed everything – not just from a performance stand point regarding the fork, but from a stiffness and control in tech stand point. The front end just stuck to the line I aimed it at… This changed everything.
After our move to NH a few years later, I found myself curious about the big wheels. 29″ wheels that is. New to the area, I also did not have any clue where any of the single track was. 29″ wheels made perfect sense: Build up a bike that could carry some speed and those big 29″ wheels could handle dirt road and trail duties without sucking the life force out of me as 26″ wheels tend to do on long spans of road. I found a Surly Karate Monkey frame/fork, built it up as a single speed and began exploring. Rigid is of course fun, but suspension is even more fun. So once again, I found myself with a Rock Shox fork beneath me but it was a QR version (I don’t think Thru Axles had totally come into vogue “just” yet? They were present, but the hook hadn’t been set, yet.). Right around this time I also found myself looking over Ted Wojcik’s shoulder every friday and we built a frame together as I had drawn it. A great learning experience and a bond of friendship was forged too. But I recall the hubbub that abounded when Shimano and Fox introduced their 15mm TA. Yet another standard was created when there already existed one. A trend in the cycling industry that seems to be rehashed over and over again! But, all this new technology getting thrown around aside, some things stick while others fall away. The ones that stick typically are the ones that make sense in the long run and have a clear performance advantage.
Fast forward and I’ve built out the shop and have begun building bikes under the name 44 Bikes. Experimenting with different tube sets, tube diameters in combination with 44mm head tubes and tapered forks/15mm TA’s, it became crystal clear just how much of a performance advantage these new suspension forks had over the old ones I had ridden for years. Brake induced fork flutter was pretty much gone, that washy feeling under hard braking in corners was pretty much gone, when I pointed the bike at a line of tech, the bike responded with a lot of confidence and control… Etc. Etc. And etc. I was sold. Quick releases on a suspension fork were out. Thru Axles were “THE HOT SET UP”. Check it out. A little weight penalty yes, but that old quick release just is dwarfed by a Fox 15mm TA:
Manliness aside, the connection that a thru axle brings to the table is a solid one. Which brings me to the subject at hand, and the recent uproar of “talk” regarding thru axles and road bikes. What I want to speak about is more on the mountain side of things primarily and draw parallels that show how the performance of certain set ups can be improved. Way up there at the top is technically my 7th mountain bike prototype. It sports a QR 135mm rear. I love this bike. But with the advent of 12x142mm TA’s for the rear, and having ridden one on my single speed due to the ease of swapping the dropout inserts made by Paragon Machine Works, it has become clear (once again) just how much of a performance advantage a 12x142mm TA in the rear can offer. Power through the pedal to the rear end is incredible. On a steel hardtail, I “thought” this would translate to a really stiff rear end. Quite the opposite once out on the trail. The stiffness actually translates to power transfer (according to my opinion) and on longer rides the resiliency that steel is known for is still there all day long. But the thru axle further triangulates the rear end and kind of ties the two dropouts together in a way that creates this solid, power transfer system. Here’s one of the business sides of the old QR 135 setup:
One thing about this set up is when it’s in combination with disc brakes. If the QR isn’t tight enough, under heavy braking, the wheel can become slightly ajar or come out of alignment in the dropouts. So you gotta keep that QR tight (not gorilla tight) but tight none the less. On a TA, you can get them tight, but just tight enough by setting the adjustment of where the threads engage (Shimano’s set up). The thru axle still has a cam of sorts on the end so you still draw the two dropouts towards each other. But since the axle goes all the way through and is encapsulated by the dropouts, even if the TA is slightly loose, there is just no way that wheel is coming ajar. You’d have to physically unthread and pull the axle halfway out for that to happen. So there’s that factor to think about. Here’s the business end of a TA on my latest prototype which replaced the one above:
I know I’ve heard some talk about repeatability of alignment between wheel sets with wheel swapping and quickness of swapping wheels. Those two things I kind of view as marketing hype. For one, each hub manufacturer adhere’s to their own set of guidelines for tolerances. A “plus or minus” of a given measurement. I’ve had two identical hubs from the same company that both would require a subtle adjustment at the disc brake caliper – just a simple realignment of the caliper. They still worked, but the rotors rubbed on one wheel while it did not on the other. The whole quickness of wheel swapping I see like this: With a TA, you must unthread the thru axle, then pull it all the way out, set it down somewhere for safe keeping, or hold on to it in one hand (and make sure no dirt gets on the thread if you do set it down), then drop the wheel out. On a quick release wheel, you flip the QR, loosen the nut a few turns and pull the wheel out. Hence the terminology: “Quick Release”. So you could argue there is an extra step with a TA that requires you to remove the thru axle while a quick release remains in place. This is splitting hairs though, I know that. But both can be done quickly and painlessly by a skilled mechanic or an experienced rider. The clear advantages are in the performance attributes spoken about above when it comes to power transfer and reliability of alignment under heavy braking long term when in combination with a disc brake set up. And for your viewing pleasure, here’s what both a QR 135mm looks like next to a 12x142mm TA:
When translating this over to the road and especially dirt roads with loaded bike packing set ups, and your bike is sporting disc brakes, there are clear advantages. Traditional caliper or canti-lever brakes and thru axles? Not sure there is a real, quantitative need there? And it’s more to do with where the applied braking forces are in relation to the wheel honestly – on a traditional Canti-lever or caliper brake, the brakes are being applied from both sides of the wheel – on a disc brake set up, which is asymmetric, you’re applying brake forces only on one side and it’s more likely to “pull” the wheel towards the disc brake side and hence the need for something a little more stout at the connection point: The axle. (There’s physics there, of which I vaguely recall from college and high school… Something to do with axis of rotation and applied force with relation to the axis of rotation – I’m no scientist apparently, but I think we all get the basic take away.) From a builder perspective, there is little room for error when building a thru axle compatible fork or frame. But from a user stand point, I can see where a more solid connection through a triangulated rear end of a bicycle which is loaded down with a bike packing set up will allow for more power through to your pedal stroke creating more efficiencies with less power loss. Each pedal stroke over 100, 200 or 1000 miles plus adds up. And if you are going the distance, each pedal stroke matters with forward motion. Or have a quick release loosen up on you or not be tight enough with a loaded touring set up with disc brakes? CX Racing set ups with disc brakes with greater power transfer? These are clear performance advantages. Small ones, but like any system, it’s the sum of it’s parts. All these little things add up. Shave some weight here, add some stiffness there. Again: it all begins to add up.
Are thru axles here to stay? Yes, they are. The bigger question however is where do the belong? Just like the whole DH segment vs the Trail segment where the question becomes “Just how stiff does stiff have to be?” you need to ask yourself just how much performance do you need and if you are running disc brakes or cantilever brakes, how solid of a connection do you need. Either set up be it disc or cantilever can be handled with by a quick release. They’re light, they’re simple and they’re not broken. But if you want just a touch more performance and want the self assurance of a more solid connection, the a thru axle may be the right set up choice for you. Personally, I think it all comes down to your set up, what kind of terrain you’re riding and how you’re riding. This starts to paint a picture of your needs and requirements for your build. These are the questions I ask myself with each client: What are you riding? How are you riding? What do you need? Those same questions you should ask of yourself when choosing your set up and deciding if disc brakes make sense and with disc brakes do thru axles make sense.
I was asked online what I thought were the biggest differences between XTR and XX1 recently. I answered the question but thought I could expand on that short answer here in greater detail. Honestly, XTR and XX1 are just THAT good. It’s really, really tough to pick one over the other. It boils down to some fine points and preferences for how some of these groups work which are actually the deciding factors between one over the other. I’ve had sufficient time on both Sram’s XX1 on my fat bike in some pretty harsh conditions as well as it’s equivalent on the road side with Force CX1. And I’ve had sufficient time on Shimano’s XTR M9000 group to be able to pick it apart. One thing to note: I will only be speaking of the rear derailleur, shifter, chain and cassettes. I use a mix of components in the drivetrain, and these are both set up as 1x set ups of course using a Wolftooth drop stop chainring and Race Face Turbine Cinch crank. SO those are common elements. Up above is my personal 1×11 mountain bike set up with Shimano XTR. Let’s start with the first element which sets the stage: The cassette.
Shimano’s cassette is composed of a series of cassette carriers and cogs. They are a mix of Titanium and Aluminum, with aluminum carriers and a carbon composite. What is unique about Shimano’s solution is it fits on a traditional 10 speed cassette driver so it’s backwards compatible. That last cog is kind of dished out on the backside of the carrier. Here’s that all spread out:
Sram’s XX1 cassette however uses their XD driver set up. The cassette is a 1 piece machined part with a massive 42t aluminum cog that basically gets pulled/dished as it’s tightened onto the XD driver. It’s a work of art:
Here’s the big differences I’ve seen. The XTR cassette was a nightmare first ride out. It creaked. It cracked. It raised all kinds of hell. I did some research and turns out this was an early problem with one of their road cassettes that shared the same carbon composite carrier set up. A call to Shimano Tech support and a little research online set me straight: Grease the hell out of any and all of those carbon composite carrier contact points. Once done, the noise and racket subsided. Flip over to the XX1 and it was quiet out of the gate. No problems.
EDIT: One thing about cassette like Shimano’s (and Sram’s 10speed stuff) where the cogs are either in groups or are single cogs: These can dig into softer alloy cassette body’s. Getting the cassettes off often finds you prying them off, filing down the dents/high spots. Sram’s XD system, since it actually screws on much like old cassettes from way back, and hooks up at the very end with a small aggressive spline eliminates the chance for any marring of the cassette body. The only way you can mess this up is in the install I would suppose. This system also eliminates the cassette lock ring too that ties the whole cassette to the cassette driver body. This is something to consider if you’re say bike packing and you’re hauling a lot of load where you’ll be putting a lot of muscle on that cassette. Sram’s system is pretty solid in this regard and can be mixed/matched between road backpacking 1x setups and mountain 1x setups. I’m actually considering taking my own personal Huntsman, swapping over to the XD driver and running one of their 42t cassettes on my 1×11 Force CX1 set up. That extra spin on my terrain would be, as my Dad’s buddy Marshal would say: “THE HOT SET UP”.
So that small nit pick aside, the XTR’s cassette tooth transitions I found to be more natural and smoother. Especially when jumping from the 35t to their largest 40t cog. Compare that jump to the XX1’s 36t to 42t dinner plate cog jump? Sram’s transition can be clunky sometimes, especially on slightly loaded shifts when you are starting to climb or if you downshift as you pick up speed – it can be a really hard SLAM down from that 42t. I also noted that their was no real difference in “feel” between the 40 or 42t. Sure I “know” that I have more spin with the 42, but it didn’t feel like I was actually getting that much more over the 40t of XTR. Would be really interesting to see what would happen if the XX1 cassette was the same max of 40t. The overall spread of both however feels good and with my recent switch from a 32t to a 30t chainring for trail, I will say I am now using the full breadth of the cassette in both cases. I actually hover more in the middle of the cassettes now too – and when up on the bigger cogs for more spin, approaching the 40 or 42t is very, very akin to a true granny gear. I like that! Less wear on the drivetrain as a whole.
This leads us up town to the shifters. What is interesting aesthetically about the XTR shifter is that it is relatively boxy in appearance when compared to the rest of the group which is very sculpted. That’s of course due to the mechanism inside I’m sure, but I found that interesting from an I.D. perspective. Here’s the XTR shifter tucked behind the XTR M9000 Trail lever (of which, according to my opinion, there is NO comparison…):
Now on the other hand, Sram’s XX1 shifter is very sculpted in appearance and actually has quite a bit more room for adjustment in terms of placement in the same plane as the lever. And yes, those are mechanical Avid Ultimate Speed Dial levers… they don’t make them anymore, and it’s a damn shame.:
The big difference is feel and how the two shifters work. XTR actually started out a bit on the tight/clunky side for lack of better terminology. As the rides wore on, it seemed to wear in as well. The action got smoother and the throw felt more buttery. I really like that I can push or pull the lever for a downshift. And if you push but continue to push, you can dump 2 or even 3 shifts at a time. Kind of cool when you need to stomp on the gas. Sram’s feel has a nice SNAP by comparison. I have always liked that POP-POP-POP feel of the push push with my thumb on Sram’s lever. You can advance up the cassette with a big old push and get from high to low quickly (you can do that with XTR’s as well). If you take note, both shifters large thumb lever is just about in line with the end of the grip (I think you can see that!). I like that set up as it is literally just a thumbs movement away with my hand biased out towards the end of the grip (I have large palms and longish fingers). The biggest difference here is the feel of the two shifters. Shimano has a clicking feel vs Sram’s POP. And with a rapid movement, you can really POP through gears on Sram’s XX1 shifter. Both share a similar mounting set up – and both can use or be adapted to Shimano’s i-Spec to clean up the bars a bit more. I’ve done this with both at one point, but I do not like where it puts the shifter actually. I like the shifter only a few millimeters away from the lever so I have the shifter rotated pretty close to the brake lever. The i-Spec set up and the adapter for Sram to Shimano kind of kicks it too far back for my liking.
Which brings us to the chain. Not much here you may think? Well, there’s this little thing called a master link… Sram uses one. Shimano uses a break off master pin. What I like about Sram’s master link, or power link I believe they call it, is that you CAN BREAK THE CHAIN. And then reassemble it! Shimano use of a pin, is great. But once it’s in there, it’s in there and try getting that apart without marring one of those links. I can use a set of chain pliers with Sram. I can’t with Shimano. When setting up these 1x drivetrains, some times you actually don’t want to break the chain to the recommended length. You want to leave 2 or 4 extra links JUST to make sure you dial in the right chain length. I’ve had a few occasions where I took one pair too many off a Shimano chain even when that was the correct length they prescribed. It depends. Having the ability to break the chain long term for maintenance makes sense and that is why I use Sram’s power links with Shimano chains! And by the way, one such Shimano chain didn’t come with a pin… So I was sitting in my Bike Dojo with a pile of cuss words, a finished bike with no master pin to finish the job. A quick call to Shimano fixed that, but that stupid little pin put me behind on a build. So it goes – but I never use those pins anymore unless the client specifically requests for me to use it. reference the pics above to check out the chains – which both require a direction when you read the literature. Shimano recently put this all online, while Sram includes it all. If there is one nitpick i’d have on this, it would be the chain for shimano: Put a small decal or graphic on the package that clearly states how much chain overlap to spec. I don’t always remember so I always have to go up to the computer to triple check.
This brings us to the rear derailleurs and the hanger. Sram’s rear derailleur in many ways kicks a lot of but. It uses the standard configuration hanger if you have a Paragon Machine Works hooded dropout – those hangers are $5-6. Their 12×142 are more costly at about $15/hanger. Shimano’s direct mount system hangers are also in the $15 range for these dropouts – both a thing of beauty thanks to PMW, but they are costly. The 12×142 version has a lot of beef to it if you note. So there’s that to consider. Here’s the Direct Mount system in both variations (B-Link intact and 12×142 Direct Mount):
Here is Sram’s XX1 (or actually I believe this is technically a X1 – they did not have an XX1 in stock when I put this together, and winter was on my heels! The biggest difference between the XX1 and X1 rear derailleur is the color but also the carbon carrier arm):
Let’s talk first about the Direct Mount system and Sram’s equivalent, their Cage Lock. So Shimano allows you to remove the “B-Link” in the rear derailleur to basically put the derailleur’s upper most pulley out of the way when dropping the rear wheel out for removal. (You first should push the orange tension lever in the off position.) You then grab the rear derailleur body as you normally would to move it out of the way and drop the rear wheel. Well… after using both, I have to say to Shimano: Close but no cigar. In Sram’s case, you grab the rear mech’s cage, rotate it all the way forward and push in on the lock button. Holding that in place slowly ease the rear mech’s cage so it engages on the lock button. Now drop the rear wheel as you normally would. Hands down, according to my opinion, this system is amazing. It completely takes the tension off the system and you’re free to move the rear derailleur out of the way with ease and you’re not fighting any amount of tension in the pulley arm. It’s really quite genius. And it’s that good, it’s almost a deal breaker if I were to choose XX1 over XTR. Shimano’s tension adjustment is interesting because you can add or subtract / fine tune the amount of tension on the chain via a small adjustment on the spring. Sram’s Type 2 system is just ON all the time to reduce chainslap. I did note though that in the off position for Shimano, Wolftooth’s drop stop chainrings keep the chain ON the chain really well – so if you ever do forget to flip the switch? Wolftooth has you covered!
Cable routing wise, I kind of like Sram’s a bit better as it’s tucked into a slightly more “straight” line. Sram also wraps the cable around a pulley that is all tucked up in the derailleur in a way where Shimano has that “wing” off the back end. Small difference, but I kind of like how Sram’s is set up a bit more. Both are easy to work with, but have those small little nuances about each for cable routing and adjustments to consider.
Set up wise? They both require slightly different tension/adjustment nuances. Both set up relatively easily – I don’t really see this as a determining factor. Some may say they just prefer to work with one over the other, but I’m not that biased. I like to wrench bikes and know that each group just requires different approaches and skills/knowledge. Out of the box both are gorgeous pieces of hardware. If anything I’d argue to both to see if they can reduce the packaging associated with both. I know they are premium product so they want the packaging to reflect that, but… do they really NEED all that packaging and treatments? Most likely not. And maybe that could bring the price down some – I’ve worked in the graphic design business, and done my share of packaging and know what goes into making/printing that stuff. It’s not cheap.
It’s really a tough decision what to go with if you’re considering XTR vs XX1 as both have their merits. The biggest differences in summary are as follows:
– XTR’s Cassette uses a 40t max cog, has a smooth transition between the 35 to 40t and is a traditional cassette that is backwards compatible with current 10 speed cassette carriers/hubs.
– XX1’s Cassette uses a 42t max cog, has a rather clunky feel at times with the transition between the 36 to 42t and uses their XD driver to overcome the added cog to make it 11 speed.
– XTR’s Cassette needed some maintenance right out of the gate and needs to be maintained every so often where XX1 went on and was left alone.
– XTR’s shifter has a smooth “click” feel with a two way throw on one of the levers vs Sram’s XX1 lever is a push-push with a nice audible POP through the gears.
– Shimano and Sram shifters have a noticeable difference in how they feel and work – this is a big one, so you just need to use them both to make a decision regarding which you prefer.
– Shimano uses a master pin for their chain’s where Sram uses a master link. Shimano’s chain can be broken, but Sram’s goes together and comes apart really easily.
– XTR/Shimano’s Direct Mount “sort of works”. That’s my opinion.
– XX1/Sram’s Cage Lock WORKS. That’s my opinion.
– Shimano/XTR’s use’s their Clutch which is adjustable and has an on/off position for chain retention and a stiffer return spring.
– Sram/XX1 uses their Type 2 technology which is always in the ON position to increase chain retention and deliver a stiffer return spring.
So that’s it in summary. I love both set ups. Both have some nitpicks, and yes I will say Sram’s Cage Lock is almost a deal breaker if I had to do it all over again. I am REALLY stoked on Shimano’s XTR M9000 drivetrain though. I absolutely LOVE my XTR SPD’s and the XTR M9000 brakes! Don’t get me wrong there. Comparisons in that department? HELL. NO. But honestly, I really love XX1’s set up on my fat bike and am looking forward to running it on my own Marauder later this season when a test bike returns (which has a fork, thomson dropper and X1 drivetrain that are my own…). I can say with honesty I’m not a Shimano or Sram specific guy. I have some preferences and both have their merits and negatives to consider when it comes to the drivetrain. I have two mountain bikes (my Kid Dangerous and my Marauder) both of which are set up / will be set up with Shimano XTR M9000 and Sram XX1 to speak to these differences at shows. If a potential client asks, I can point to both bikes and we can talk about the two set ups and that rider can literally SEE the differences right in front of them. Or if they are my own size, they can even take the two bikes for a spin back to back! I can’t emphasize just how serious I am about bikes. Especially when it comes to my true passion: Mountain Bikes! I like to make decisions based off of actual feedback and experience. Not just talk I’ve heard or read. But I hope up above can help anyone out there looking to make a decision on an upgrade a bit easier if you’re on the fence. I do know however, that Scotland’s bogs EAT Sram components. So if you’re a Highlander, look no further than Shimano. With that exception, whichever you choose be it XTR or XX1, you will not be sorry for a really sweet 1×11 setup!
So to follow up with the previous post, I wanted to break down the initial ride thoughts with lots of close ups. Always interesting to see how the dust settles on initial rides! This build was literally trial by fire with no time to do any pre-ride checks or take a few short rides to dial things in. So it made for a bit of fly by the seat of your pants riding. Good news is that the fit was dialed from the get go. The adjustments I made to the cockpit length were well suited for the terrain and allowed me to have periods of rest to shake out the arms and legs between tech sections, which for the Hampshire 100 sweep this year, there weren’t many. And sweeping the 100 mile course is what I did as my first real ride on this set up (The new course is a 35 mile lap – so 1 lap is 50k, 2 is 100k and a 3rd makes it 100 miles for the seasoned veterans and pro’s who want to take on the challenge). Each year for the past 3 or so years I’ve volunteered my Saturday and Sunday to help out where I can with the race with registration and such, then with sweeping the course to finish up the event. It’s nice to do this as it teaches me not only about my physical shape, but also the rigors that go into longer rides and what adjustments I need to make with the builds.
The course was tough this year. Really tough. I can’t imagine having to come back into Oak Park like all the 100k and 100 milers had to and go out for a 2nd or 3rd lap as I was spent after 1 lap on this new course. The frequency of chunk and tech were stacked up back to back in many grueling sections with little chance for rest or time to refuel/hydrate. A few weeks ago I had adjusted the air pressure in my Fox 120mm Talas fork, making it a touch stiffer. On shorter rides of 10-15 miles, that made sense. But on a longer 35 mile ride with that much tech back to back, I just was not using all the travel of the fork and was getting hammered as a result. It was stiffer on longer dirt road sections which was good, but with little time to react or make on the fly adjustments, the fork was set up too stiff. Mental note for next time!
I did adjust some air pressure in the tires as the day wore on which helped a bunch but with all that pounding from the tech back to back already was killing my arms, thighs and shoulders. The WTB Trail Boss’s were a sight for sore eyes on those gravel roads and 6th class roads. Conditions were a mix of dry powdery soil but with some muddy sections but since it was hot/humid, the air was condensing on the rocks so you’d have these odd sections of dry soil with slippery rocks. The Trail Bosses made a big difference when the going got tough but rolled fast enough not to feel like I was slowly being drug down.
The Industry 9 wheels with their instant engagement made a big difference as always in the tech sections, and the added stiffness certainly relayed itself to when I needed to hit the gas to keep up with the other two sweepers (who were basically riding at race pace but said “no we’re not”… 18-20 mph hour on flat 6th class roads and double track I noted. That’s not race pace eh?). They were also on full suspension bikes which were a clear advantage on a course of this type. Where I had to check speed, they could open it up and let it hang loose. I was a bit cautious knowing I’m all by myself for the month of August, and a trip to the emergency room wouldn’t be good. So I played it safe and just rode a good steady pace keeping things in perspective. Plus I wanted to have fun and not kill myself.
One thing I have come to really dig is using my GPS unit as a tempo based heart beat of sorts. With some experimenting, I’ve come to realize that anything over 20 miles in length, I need a good 10-15 miles to just warm up properly. And a good pace that I can hold a conversation at and not feel like I am working is around the neighborhood of 10mph. So I keep an eye on the miles initially and the average speed. That keeps me in check and allows me to warm up properly. Later in the ride I then feel like I can turn it up a few notches, but slowly. Any sudden burst and it throws that off and I can feel cramps start. So being mindful of sections where I can sit down and spin are important as that allows for some rest, to sip some water to maintain hydration and take in a few calories. I’ve also taken to the rhythm of “Eat when I’m hungry, drink when I’m thirsty”. No more schedule to remind me. I just listen to what my body is telling me. And I’ve found that being ever so slightly hungry works for my body. I eat a little bit to stop that feeling, ride a while and when it returns, eat a bit more and drink a bit more. Some times I’m tempted to really suck down some water, but that can make you feel sick initially – so it’s best to nurse the water and sip frequently. I accidentally drank some water with HEED in it at a feed station, and it immediately gave me a stomach ache. I drank more water and within 15-20 minutes things were back to normal. So the Garmin isn’t necessarily there to record the route or look at the elevation. It’s more of a tempo device I’ve come to rely on for longer rides.
The new XTR cockpit worked flawlessly. What I really like about the shifter is the dual shift mechanism and you can dump gears a handful at a time or march up the cassette to spin and let the legs loosen up. The shifter has a nice positive feel and the brakes work flawlessly to scrub speed when needed. Powerful without feeling too powerful. I run a 180mm rotor up front and a 160mm Rotor out back.
The 11-40t cassette is a thing of beauty really. And that 40t cog is just perfect for long sustained climbs when you want the feel of a true granny. It made the steepest climbs not so bad and when I need to kick back and rest, the range on the low end of the cassette were all usable. The transition of the jump from the 35t to the 40t is very smooth vs Sram’s 36-42t on their XX1 cassette in comparison. The 12x142mm axle made things stiff without being too stiff so good power transfer was at hand. I’m quite pleased with this setup this way. The dusty conditions in sections did make the low end of the cassette a bit noisier though as the day went on as the spacing is tight between the cogs and the chain is crossed over some when you’re up on the cassette with shorter chain stays.
Despite the mud in sections the WTB Trail Boss’s stayed clean and the clearances between tire/stays was ample. Nothing got lodged and somehow no dry leaves were picked up along the way (which is usually good for 1 time per ride!). I’m also pleased with how this area turned out too. Good balance of positive and negative space from a visual perspective.
When I need to get off the back of the bike and really get low over the rear wheel, there was plenty of leg clearance room thanks to those deeply formed seat stays and chain stays and the low slung nature of the frame.
The course is well supported, and not having the weight of a hydration pack makes a huge difference. I refiled my bottles 3-4 times throughout the ride and came back with them pretty much empty. That little bit of extra clearance made for accessing that second bottle much easier than the last frame (which it was really tight).
Connection point wise, these pedals made all the difference. Good platform and positive snap into place. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I couldn’t be happier with my XTR pedals!
Overall I had a great time. I was tired at times and later in the ride I was just plain tired from maintaining that pace and tackling the sheer amount of tech on the course which was back to back. I found myself really, really wanting to sit down for more than a mile and just spin. There was a section on dirt roads between 2 down hill sections that allowed for this, but then you went into a tough, long climb via a dirt road. So that small repose didn’t last long. I reached the last checkpoint with lights on and the course marshal’s wanted me back to Oak Park ASAP to report so I took the last 5 miles by pavement… which was a welcome sight even in the dark. By the time I got back to Oak Park, that little bit refreshed me and I was actually ready for more, but the kitchen was open and having reported in to the race directors… A double helping of just about all they had was in order. I also helped myself to two massive helpings of cake. I must have ate my weight in food on return.
That wraps up yet another Hampshire 100, most likely the toughest course to date I’d say and another sweep is in the books. This one was interesting since it was kind of my first ride on this new set up (I had led a pre-race ride the night before, but was pretty busy talking with racers than to take notes on the bike). So this really was a full boar head first plunge into a shakedown ride which made it interesting. From a ride perspective, the bike did what I asked it to, and reacted when I reacted. So it further emphasized that extension between rider and trail I try and accomplish with each build.
See you on the trail.