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!