SRAM Eagle 1×12 drivetrain first ride review

Huge gear range combined with precise and smooth shifting

In four days of hard testing we never dropped our chain, or even had a miss-shift.

In four days of hard testing we never dropped our chain, or even had a miss-shift.

The first thing you notice about SRAM’s new Eagle 1×12 drivetrain is that 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 that 50-tooth cog.

Indeed, while SRAM has trumpeted a host of non-gearing related improvements between its 1×11 and 1×12 drivetrains, it’s the gearing that will always draw the most attention. With the addition of that dinner-plate sized cog, you now have a full 500% range, which on the bike feels a lot like what you get from a traditional 2x system, just with one less derailleur and shift lever.

That last jump from 42- to 50-tooth cog looks massive, but in fact it felt normal at the lever.

That last jump from 42- to 50-tooth cog looks massive, but in fact it felt normal at the lever.

That later fact was noticeably important during our first thumb-to-shifter encounter with SRAM Eagle at a recent Scott Bikes press launch in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. While we were impressed with the new Spark and Scale XC bikes, the constant presence of Scott’s dual-lever TwinLoc system on our test bike handlebars occasionally made things feel a little crowded. But when you add a 50-tooth cog to the equation, the front derailleur becomes obsolete, which forever minimizes cockpit clutter.

Get all the tech, weights, and pricing details on the new SRAM Eagle drivetrain here.

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. (Currently SRAM is offering chainrings from 30- to 38-tooth, which is what XC superstar Nino Schurter has been running since making the switch to Eagle.)

Meet reigning XC world champion Nino Schurter's Scott Spark RC 29er race bike, complete with SRAM Eagle drivetrain.

Meet reigning XC world champion Nino Schurter’s Scott Spark RC 29er race bike, complete with SRAM Eagle drivetrain.

Most of the Eagle spec’d Scott test bikes we rode during the four-day event in Switzerland had 32s up front, which for me meant easy spinning on the climbs, as I usually run a 30t on my 1×11 set-up back home. And while, I’m usually content on steep climbs, I have to admit it was nice to sit and spin at 70-80rpm once in a while, rather than grinding it out as is usually the case.

If you spend your time on a 2x set-up, the final shift from the 42 to the 50 will feel very familiar, as that 8-tooth jump is very close to the 10-tooth jump on a typical double chainring.

Durability is a big part of the new system, according to SRAM. Even in harsh conditions it's billed to last longer than its predecessor.

Durability is a big part of the new system, according to SRAM. Even in harsh conditions it’s billed to last longer than its predecessor.

As for that big jump, it may sound like a giant (and perhaps awkward) leap, but the actual feeling of the shift is essentially no different than the rest. Just like a 1×11 10-42 cassette, the Eagle tooth count for the first 11 cogs is the same (10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32-36-42). What you might notice is that the spacing between cogs is slightly narrower, and the 50-tooth cog is 2mm closer to the spokes than if you were running 1×11. But don’t fret; Eagle works just fine with standard XD driver bodies, so you wont need to do a bunch of freehub swaps.

Continue to page 2 for more of our SRAM Eagle first ride review »

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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  • joe says:

    It’s not just weight, it’s unsprung weight. And Price.
    So what was wrong with that 2x/3x setup? Old and cheap?

    • Code Blue says:

      So what was wrong with that 2x/3x setup?

      The front drl

    • Dirk Butz says:

      Yes. New and expensive is what the marketing guys want to push. Otherwise they don’t have jobs.

    • spikebike says:

      Wrong with 2x or 3x? Nothing, they work fine. However if you are buying new there’s a bunch of advantages. The front deraillure is typically by far the worst of the two. It limits frame designs, often drops the chain (unless you have a chain guide), and often balks. The shifter consumes space on handlebar, it requires another cable, and of course another deraillure. So sram is generally lighter, provides a similar range, and with the chainring designed NOT to drop a chain (2x and 3x systems are designed to drop/shift the chain) it’s pretty reliable, and quiet. Sure you can learn a mapping of 21-27 overlapping gears, track chain tension, and track how crossed the chain is. Or you can use sram’s setup which provides 11 or 12 unique gears and you only have to think about shifting up or down and leave the left side of the handlebar for a shock adjustment or dropper post.

  • Matt says:

    It actually looks rather garish. And if set-up is everything i’d hate to see how it works in the middle of winter covered in mud and other crap.

  • Cooper says:

    It’s gold! That way all your friends will really take notice that you’re riding the latest 1xBling and be jealous….pffft.

    • spikebike says:

      Heh, I have no problem with bling, as long as there’s a low profile option. Fortunately Sram has x01 and xx1 versions that are just flat black. I wish Santa Cruz used the same philosophy. I’m not a big fan of the neon highlighted giant font look at me bikes.

  • John says:

    I thought Nino rode 27.5″ – not 29″ as the photo caption says?

  • Jerry says:

    Cooper, it also comes in all black.

  • bikerider says:

    You’ve strangely not made much of a big deal over the fact that “a few of our fellow scribes did have some chain-skip shifting issues during test rides”.
    This isn’t something to just gloss over. And being told that set up is everything as an excuse. Doesn’t make me want to spend the price of 3 old school group sets.

  • Cracker69 says:

    Spectacular! it has the same range as a 2×9 setup. My 2×9 setup cost me the price of removing the big ring for a bash guard – so ~$30 and it does not skip or make any mistakes. I never understood why the front derailleur ever got such a bad rap, they work and double as a chain guide.
    This is an industry that just wants to make new stuff that is neither backward or forward compatible, cough up some silly hype about infinitesimal improvements and jack up the price three fold. The only problem is that they know their audience well in that many cyclists equate the word hedonist with enthusiast.

    • EuanH says:

      Cracker69, whilst I completely agree this industry is fuelling hedonistic buyers and all-the-gear-no-idea gear monkeys, after about 25+ years of riding many, many MTBs, I have to disagree about the “infinitesimal” improvements. Losing the front mech will produce one of the seriously impactful changes for frame designs, now and in the future. This lack of need for the front mech, with massive usable range comparable to 2x setups, will allow frame designers to really be innovative, namely initially getting supershort chainstays for 29rs, unlocking the potential of big wheelers. This all doesn’t include the significant weight saving gained by losing a shifter, extra ring, front mech etc, not to mention de-cluttering the bars enabling dropper posts to run under the left side of the bars…. As for the costs, again, agree, prices are steep, but innovation costs money because of R&D, advertising, etc etc.
      Completely agree some things are marketing spiel, and just to make money and sustain the industry, but 1x systems are in my humble opinion a great improvement, and I’m enjoying the *much* better frame designs and fun on the trails as a result.

      • whoah says:

        I still ride 2×9 and there are definitely times I wish for rear shifting only… but I also do pretty much all the work on my bike and rear derailleur usually has the most gremlins and I’d imagine 9 speed cassette has more wiggle room for bent hangers and such :).

        Personally, I think citing ‘significant’ weight savings when loosing the front is overly dramatic (especially if you note having a dropper) – your derailleur and chain ring are at the bottom-center, your cable’s weight is well distributed and your shifter – well who cares – unless you are a professional in a serious competition, chances are the BBQ you had on the weekend will make a much greater impact than 300 grams you’ve shaved off by taking off components.

        Regardless, it’s cool to see how the whole 1×12 deal will play out, for now though, if someone were to offer me the new, untested system at its current price to replace system I have with the same range… I’d keep the money and stick with extra shifting – I didn’t get into mountain biking because I was lazy 😀

  • zipp says:

    I like the idea of a single ring setup, but I don’t like the giant gaps between gears. For now I’m sticking to a double ring and a 11-28 setup.

  • Cracker69 says:

    Hey EuanH, Thanks for the reply. Firstly, I’m glad your enjoying your biking experience courtesy of the changes to the form of the bike. I agree to some extent. The two innovations I see as having made a real and apparent difference to my riding is the 29er and tubeless tires. The rest of it, well I can’t see much value in it, but I don’t want to pretend that my experience is universal – there are just a myriad of variables, almost enough to defy the value of testimonials. I do know that there is no correlation between cost, function and durability above the mid-range. I cannot discern a difference between X7 and XO or 105 and Dura Ace – they all work brilliantly. What bothers me is that biking is much more than buying, it has a purity that can be diluted by the acquisition of stuff. I am always impressed when really capable riders turn up on bare bones bikes that eschew all the hyperbole and just ride, possibly accepting the limitations of the machine as part of the experience – even adapting to it. I’ve come full circle, my bikes are getting simpler and I tend to enjoy all the flavors, uncoupled from any marketing angle.

  • hubcap says:

    And the cassettes cost how much? As a clydesdale that has to replace cassettes every 1000 miles or so, I’ll say no thank you. bad chain line in high and low gears, chain wrapped around tiny gears = inefficient, looks silly…pass. Like my 2x, love my 3x, shimano xt front shifts without a hitch under any circumstance.

  • Heffe says:

    I want to see an 11-36 12 speed back end on a 2X road group from SRAM. Get a big spread and reasonably small gaps between gears, yeah.

  • Dirk Butz says:

    No thanks. The only possible real benefits are to full suspension bikes for a single front ring so the suspension can be keyed to that one chain ring size. On a cross country hard tail a 2 X or 3 X setup is better and far less expensive.

  • Cristóbal says:

    I like the chain, I wish they made a 11 speed version. The rear der and the cassette just looks too ugly and big, make me feel the same that my old 3x crankset with a 44t chainring. I don’t doubt that is great to have all that gears but aesthetically it’s just too much. People make such a big deal about front derailleurs, but Shimano side-swing looks good to me, it’s in a better position to catch less dirt, they are a lot smaller than before and Shimano add some plastic things to make less noise. I was about to buy a 2x drivetrain but I can’t have the size of the chainrings that I want without buying a new crankset, so I just brought a 1×11 drivetrain. I already have a bike with 1×10 drivetrain, and it’s cool not to have a front shifter and all that, but at some point it’s just not worth it.

  • topher says:

    Still love my 1×10
    less is more
    embrace the limitations and go ride!

  • Tazul says:

    In that price tag, it makes it easier to seriously consider a gearbox bike, like the Taniwha…

  • BlackBean says:

    Wow. Amazing negative responses to a great improvement (1×12) on a wonderful recent innovation (1x). Nobody is forcing anyone to go 1x or 1×12.

    Front derailleurs SUCK. But I have no problem with those who use them or prefer to use them or with the bike industry still selling it.

    Also, as the cogs on a cassette get bigger, every time you add a larger one, you have to increase the number of teeth more to get the same ratio change as with smaller cogs. This is no different than before. From 10th to 9th gear there is maybe only a 1 tooth change. From 4th gear (24 tooth cog) it jumps 4 teeth. As the lower gears get bigger, you need to add more teeth to make a difference.

    • BlackBean says:

      And. The prices will come down. When 1×11 came out the group set cost well over $2k. Now you can get a group set for under $500, and you can do without the cranks. I converted my 2×9 setup to a 1×10 with a 11t-40t cassette for only $185. Not expensive at all and well worth losing the finicky front derailleur.

      • Ken says:

        Spot on – the $1400 for the eagle drive train will drop significantly in a year. Well done for you to upgrade for under $200!

  • Ken says:

    I use only one gear up front and all my 9 gears in back. I think that is pretty typical, so why not develop shifters drive trains for mtn bikes that don’t need a front shifter/ gears? I don’t ride road races and have no need for a big gear up front (other than to protect my other gears. Those are all vestiges of road bikes and who wants to ride on roads w/ insane drivers? And, after having ridden an eagle, I can say its amazing. Very smooth shifting and a 50 tooth granny that you can climb stairs with.

  • Lumberjake says:

    Funny, the biggest argument fore this system in the comments is more about frame design than he actual function of gearing, that and decluttering.
    These are fair points but for those who really never found handlebar clutter to be an issue or are not buying a bike that takes advantage of the design freedom then the pros definately dwindle rapidly when looking at purely gearing and shifting and cost.
    I am real old school witha 3x. My attitude is what the hell, if I am going to have a front mech and shifter may as well go all in.
    I am not against this,I just think that it depends on who you are and what you ride.
    I am not rich and have a sort of one bike thing going on. Personally, I think there are a lot of folks like me. I bought a hardtail because I grew up when everything was ridden with one. Ti 29er from an online seller for a great price. I live in town but cannot afford a car so I must ride to the trails, another pro for a HT. I also have a BOB trailer for camping, ditto.
    As you may have figured out my mountain bike does much more than strictly trail ride and a 3x XTR is perfect, for me. I like it. I simply pick a ring that suites my terrain then its mostly cogs. If I need to switch chainrings on trail its very fast with my Wickwerks, near instant, and always consistant. XTR front shifts are seriously impressive. Plus, like the man earlier mentioned, the front mech acts like a chain guide. I very rarely experiance drops but then,admittedly, I am not doing really crazy stuff either.
    I guess my view of all of this is that its more about the market itself and what these companies have to do to both make money and still be “improving” even if that really isn’t needed for the majority of riders, which is fine but at the same time a bit lame in that the sport is becoming more and more out of touch for most people cost wise.
    The sad reality is today, the vast majority of bikes featured and tech products getting the attention are so far out of reach for most people let alone younger guys starting out, its just kind of out of touch. I remember getting a modest inheritance from my Grandfather, $2000, in 1994. AT that time I was ogling over several sweet hardtails and one FS(Proflex 958?). There was a KHS Montano Pro, Kona Kula with new Eston Varilite tubing and a Norco TNT. I could finally own what I drooled over! I bought into the new hype of Easton and chose the Kula(it was a great bike,loved it but today would choose the Norco with Tange steel but…)
    My point is today there is no way any young man is going to be able to afford any bike featured in a magazine. A hi end bike today can reach $10000 with most decent FS being $3500.
    Lol, I guess I am being a retro grouch but I cannot deny that while I admit tdays bikes are so much more capable, there is a reason I got the bike I have now and that is that one time a mountain bike was simply a mountain bike which you rode EVERYTHING on. You made it work. You had fun and challeneged yourself and friends on things that today involve numerous specialty type bikes. You never had to plan or decide which bike to bring. You brought your bike,period. You would do upgrades and customize little bits but it was simple yet a very versatile and fun bike and, to me, this is the true nature of mountain biking. To grab your bike and figure it out along the adventure.

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