Mtbr Best of 2016 Awards: Innovation of the Year

SRAM puts final fork in front derailleur with 1x12 Eagle drivetrain

Mtbr Best of Award

Mtbr Best of 2016 Awards

With SRAM Eagle's whopping 500% gear range, there really is no longer any need for a front derailleur.

With SRAM Eagle’s whopping 500% gear range, there really is no longer any need for a front derailleur.

Winner: SRAM Eagle 1×12 Drivetrain

Yes, there are still plenty of holdouts who will argue otherwise, but as far as we are concerned the front derailleur is dead. And for that we thank 2016’s Mtbr Innovation of the Year, SRAM’s 1×12 Eagle drivetrain. With a whopping 500% gear range, it equals most 2x set-ups, but without a second derailleur or its precious-cockpit-space-eating shift lever. Instead it’s simply one click for harder, one for easier, with room left over for a dropper post lever.

With it’s 10t small cog and giant 50t large, Eagle has also made it easier to have the best of both worlds. That pie plate-size 50t ensures an easy-spinning climbing gear, while the 10t lessens the chance of getting spun out on fire road descents. SRAM has also refined the front chainring thick-thin tooth profile, taking technology that started on its 1×11 groups and making it incrementally quieter and smoother.

It looks like a pie plate, but the 10-50t Eagle cassette means you can have the best of both gearing worlds.

It looks like a pie plate, but the 10-50t Eagle cassette means you can have the best of both gearing worlds.

Jump on a bike spec’d with SRAM Eagle and it doesn’t feel much (if at all) different from the popular 1×11 systems most of us are already used to. Assuming proper rear derailleur adjustment, shifting is rapid and precise, each push of the shift lever quickly followed by movement of the chain and a reassuring “thunk” that action has occurred. Honestly, in a blind “taste” test you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference… until you jump into the 50t cog.

The best way to understand the gearing benefit of Eagle depends on past experience. If you’ve spent time on a 1×11 set-up with say a 32-tooth chainring paired to the 10-42 cassette, then making the switch will net you a higher high and lower low if you opt to jump up two chairing teeth to a 34. Or if you’re happy with your current climbing gear, you can jump up four teeth to a 36, which will maintain your current uphill gear, but add some top-end for your next enduro sprint.

Bottom line, unless you simply hate change, there is no longer reason to have a front derailleur on your bike.

By bringing Di2 to the XT level, Shimano has made it easier for mountain bikers to give electronic shifting a whirl.

By bringing Di2 to the XT level, Shimano has made it easier for mountain bikers to give electronic shifting a whirl.

Runner Up: Shimano XT Di2 Electronic Shifting Drivetrain

The industry (and riders themselves) are still figuring out how electronic shifting fits into the mountain bike experience. But by bringing its technology-driven Di2 system to the lower-priced XT level, component giant Shimano has made it easier for everyone to take the proverbial plunge. Immediate benefits include the ability to customize paddle function and set shift speeds. And if you really don’t want to give up that front derailleur, the precision and reliability of a Di2 set-up is definitely the way to go.

Maxxis' plus-sized Minion tire has helped lessen the penalties of going wider, while maintaining the benefits.

Maxxis’ plus-sized Minion tire has helped lessen the penalties of going wider, while maintaining the benefits.

Honorable Mention: Maxxis Minion Plus Sized Tire

The initial knocks against plus-sized tires were that they were either too heavy or too flimsy to actually deliver on the promise of truly enhancing our riding experience. But then Maxxis came along with a 2.8” version of its wildly popular Minion and all that changed. We still don’t believe that plus set-ups are for everyone. But for anyone looking to experiment with the potential of a wider tire set-up, including these tires in your game plan will greatly increase the chances of success. Maxxis produced these 2.8’s with big knobs perfect for full suspension bikes, providing plenty of traction enhancing tire volume, but not at the expense of casing strength, durability, and stability. The slightly smaller width also means they’ll fit into most 29er frames.

This post is part of the Mtbr Best of 2016 awards series. You can see all this year’s announced winners here.

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • Tony says:

    When Sram drops the price to match the Shimano M8000, I’ll consider it. $60.00 for a chain!!!, I don’t think so.

  • Craig says:

    Really? Innovative? I think you’d better re-read the definition of the word.

  • yakkoTDI says:

    It would be innovative if they had a gear range I could actually use. I will stick with 2×10 until a 10-30 cassette is for sale at a price I can afford.

  • 7c0 says:

    There’s a little catch with running larger chainrings (say 36T) though – anti-squat characteristics of your suspension may drastically worsen. This was one of the primary reasons to push for smaller chainrings in the first place. So when we get 56T lows on the inevitable 1×13 setup, I’m curious what frame manufacturers will have to say about running 40T chainrings in the front. For me, the whole derailleur gear concept is simply worn out and all those “innovations” do little to remedy the real problems like durability (I’ve broken a tooth on a X01 cassette, and they *must* be thinner on 12 speed), long-term reliability (thin chains, brittle parts) and weather resistance. Add suspension kinematics and it’s clear that any attempt in one direction (e.g. greater range) simply worsens all others.

  • Eldon says:

    Wow, start with an exceptionally closed minded statement. That’s not what I’d expect from MTBR.
    I agree, Eagle is *Not* innovative. It’s just fat.

    They first said 1x with a 42 was perfect, then obviously realized it wasn’t so they made a dinner plate sized cassette and an obnoxious RD to go with it. Just a band-aid that’s still not right.

    They now brag 500% range as if that was good. Walmart bikes have 650%. (44-22 & 11-36)

    I drank the Kool-aid too, but have not learned to like it – it’s a pain to ride to the ride. It’s a cash cow for SRAM to suck money from cyclists pockets. I now have cassettes with only the small 3 cogs worn out. It caught on because of marketing, and because riders (and many shops) don’t known how to setup or use a FD. (I hope that first statement isn’t an admission that you don’t know properly either.) Education would be a far better innovation than this repeat of the grade school “mine is bigger than yours” mentality.

    Some like the Eagle, and that’s fine. Please don’t honor Sram’s failure to make a good shifting front. It’ is no reason to drink their Kool-aid.

  • Joe says:

    “Bottom line, unless you simply hate change, there is no longer reason to have a front derailleur on your bike.”

    Well, except for the extremely high cost of the 1×12 system. I am sure they will go down in a few years, but right now they are just a bit cost prohibitive.

    • Erik says:

      I used the One Up Shark 50T and it works great. $125 added onto my M8000. A great alternative but hey let’s face it, so many of us just like buying stuff for our bikes otherwise these products would not sell and therefore not be created. i.e. let’s look into the mirror and see how easily marketing grabs us by the short hairs. 😉

  • Charles says:

    Precious handlebar space. Ha! And tiny homes are cool too

  • Mike says:

    I can ride from home to most of our trail heads. I’m still running a 9 speed triple on all my mountain bikes.All 26″. We have long extended steep climbs that require a 22 34 or 22 36 combination. I find being able to shift the front from 32 to 22 is quicker than trying to do it all with the rear derailleur. When making it easier to climb with the front deraileur the chain drops to the smaller chain ring but if you are making it easier to climb with the rear. You are making the chain switch to a lager cassette ring. Gravity says its easier to go smaller than larger. This has been my experience.
    I just purchased a new drive train I will install when I wear out this one. I paid $99 Canadian for a race face turbine 44/32/24 chain-ring set and $30 us for a 11/36 cassette. The chain is a KMC SL 9 speed for $40 US. That works out to around $200 Canadian for a very workable replacement.
    All my mountain bikes have SRAM X9 and XO rear derailleurs and shifters, but the front derailleurs are all Shimano XT and XTR.
    I have to say to people you don’t have to put up with poor shifting on a front derailleur.

  • Turner says:

    I use triples on my road, cross, and 29’r. I can’t imagine any circumstance which would sway me to buy a bike with a single chainring. On my 9 speed cross bike I run a 13/23 cassette. 13,14,15,16,17,18,19,21, and 23. What is innovative about going from one tooth jumps to three teeth or more with each shift. Nothing, absolutely nothing.

  • Dave says:

    People who “still” use front derailleurs are “holdouts”? Nice. Outside of aggressive gravity riding (which is not what the vast majority of mountain bikers actually do, regardless of magazine hype), having multiple chainrings is a better solution in the vast majority of riding situations. Smaller gear jumps, wider range, more flexibility in usage etc. 1x seems like a direct result of SRAM needing to differentiate while being unable to produce a good front derailleur.

  • JF says:

    Having ridden a bike with a triple chainring until a few months ago, and then demo’ed the sram 1 X11 with the e-13 46T cog and the eagle setup, I agree that the eagle is a killer component. It shifts great. Little chain slap/noise. Great range. Simple. All you diehard mtbr’s recommend you try it,(before you pan it).

  • Alan Osborn says:

    I see the whole industry as a money dump. I have issues with the idea that there are bicycles that cost more than some motorized vehicles. Where does it end? It ends when people quit falling for the hype and quit being materialistic, realizing that this stuff shouldn’t cost this damn much. Especially carbon fiber ‘bic’ bikes. It is well known that after a few years, if you ride hard, carbon fiber bikes become ‘deflated’ slinkys. Aluminum has a lifespan and eventually cracks. Buy steel and save money and have a bike you can upgrade for the rest of your life if taken care of. Quit buying it, they’ll quit selling it. It’s all relative, but the industry responds to what buyers ask for through purchasing it.

  • Young Gun says:

    The giant heavy expensive pie plate-sized cassette is the innovation of the year? Maybe because you are old and you suck perhaps.

  • Joe says:

    While I think 1×12 Eagle is fixing a problem that doesn’t exist I think it is funny to read some of these comments. People riding a triple on a bike that is 10 years old aren’t the target market for new products. I have never had a front derailleur not drop a chain to the inside or outside at some point during a race in CX and MTB.
    The ability to run a single front chain ring, with a clutch derailleur was fantastic for CX and MTB racing in my opinion. I have not once dropped a chain, scratched my chain stay, or been screwed over by a bad front shift since 2011 because of 1×11 XX1 and 1×11 on my CX1.

    Now the comments about needing additional high gearing because people are spinning out is really funny to me. With a 30T up front and a 10T in the rear on a 29er 2.25 tire at 100 cadence you’re going 26mph. 120 cadence you’re going 30mph. Sure you’ll spin out on a pavement section that has a significant % downhill but who the hell cares on a MTB. I’m not the best racer out there so there is a ton of people running 32T and now you’re at an even faster speed on the downhills that you can pedal. Folks that don’t have very good fitness can run even smaller than 30T if you need to and not give anything up. I race all over Colorado and the only place I can think of that more range is needed than the current 10x42T is Leadville because of the downhills that you can pedal for long distances but you also need low gearing for the significant climbs.

    Oh well, to each their own, but telling folks that they should ride steel bikes with triple front chain sets, rigid seat posts, and toe cages doesn’t give you much credibility.

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