SRAM Eagle Longterm Test

May 16th, 2017

By Andrew Dodd in Features,Tech

SRAM Eagle 12 Speed – 11 months down the line…

I got my hands on the SRAM 12 speed transmission last June, and spent a day riding it with SRAM’s Alex Rafferty around the Forest of Dean (check that feature out right here)

SRAM Eagle

I’ve been running SRAM Eagle on my Mondraker Dune Carbon RR, and have found it blends in perfectly.

Since then it’s been transferred on to another bike, and has been ridden pretty much every other day since then.

Although conditions were mostly dry to start with, the winter was long enough to really put some wear in to it – here’s how the ultra wide range 1x drive train has been getting on…

Initial impressions

Aside from the fact my eyes were drawn to the abnormally large 50tooth sprocket, the Eagle transmission looks good. I thought the look of the massive sprocket would grow on me like 11speed did, but I have to admit – I still find it looks a bit out of place. But at the end of the day it’s all about how it feels on the trail.

And really the SRAM Eagle transmission has worked flawlessly since I first installed it.

SRAM Eagle

Even though I love the double-downshift feature on Shimano’s XTR shifter, the Eagle shifter has the fastest and punchiest shifting out there. I love it.

Upshifts are as clean and punchy as any well set up SRAM drive train, and they have the defined click that I’ve come to love over the years. But the downshift is what has really impressed me.

It feels faster than any other SRAM drive train, and much snappier too – even under power.

SRAM Eagle

It’s the down shift that is really impressive – even under pressure it clunks in to place accurately, every time.

On some SRAM 11speed 1X set ups, I’ve suffered that minute delay you get shifting from the biggest 42tooth sprocket down to the 36. Admittedly I’ve only suffered it in extreme conditions – be that so dry the chain squeaks, or so muddy it sounds like you’re pedalling with sand paper in between sprockets.

But with the monster 50tooth on Eagle, and the revised mech design – it’s not happened once. The downshift is incredibly punchy and fast.

Probably as fast as using a Shimano XTR shifter with the double down shift feature, though having longer cable pull the Eagle set up is not as prone to cable stretch or contamination.

Does it work in the mud?

SRAM Eagle

Yeah, this sounded as bad as it looks – but it kept on shifting when others were crunching their way through the ride.

When 8 speed came out in the 90’s, I heard a lot of riders speculating about gears not working in the mud. But it never really bothered me – certainly no more than 7 speed.

Now there does come a point when nothing will work – but in most conditions that you can still stay upright in, Eagle 12speed carries on just fine.

And given how close together the sprockets look – I’ve suffered no horrendous grinding, bar uplift days at places like Bike Park Wales, which can develop nasty grinding paste mid-winter.

SRAM Eagle

My bike spent a lot of winter looking like this – the biggest issue I’ve had was wearing out brake pads. Shifting has not been a problem.

Do you really need that Massive 50tooth?

SRAM Eagle

The fact that the Eagle cassette dwarfs most disc rotors might be odd to look at, but it sure does work well.

The same riders that used to grumble about 8 speed back in the 90’s are the first to remind you how they’ve been running single chainrings since ’99 and have no need for anything above a 38t x 10speed set up. They’re also the first to say that you’re better off walking if you need a gear that low.

Well, I quite like my knees. And I like the challenge of riding a bike up unfeasibly steep terrain.

One particular local climb is an utter pig. When it’s wet – forget it. And when it’s bone dry it’s almost as slippy. Running Eagle has allowed me to climb it in varied conditions, whilst still giving me enough gear range to not affect the rest of the ride. That’s nearly a good enough reason for that 50t alone – on a complete personal basis.

And I also like the get me home capabilities. I can think of several times in the last few years where it would have made the difference between returning to base utterly broken, or being able to crawl back with enough left to lift a pint and hold a conversation.

I guess the answer varies depending on where you ride and how strong you are. For the most part, 11 speed is enough for me – but I have grown to really appreciate the extra gear.

Overall Performance

Quite honestly, from day one the SRAM Eagle transmission has worked flawlessly.

The mech has been bashed, bent and re-shaped; the chain and cassette subject to months of shitty conditions and there has been enough ham-fisted shifting to make any high end transmission wince – but it’s honestly been brilliant.

SRAM Eagle

The jockey wheels feel pretty ‘indexed’ now, but I wouldn’t hold it against them. They take a lot of abuse.

On close inspection the rear mech does have a slight wobble now (from post crash damage re-shaping, no doubt), but it still shifts perfectly. The jockey wheel bearings are pretty shot, but they’ve had a long paper round and couldn’t really be expected to withstand months of jet-washing; road salt; sand; mud and grit.

SRAM Eagle

Although the finish looks worn, this cassette has plenty of use left in it. The durability seems better than regular 11 speed – good job considering the cost.

The chain shows minimal signs of wear. Although visually the cassette’s finish is looking a little tired, there’s no visible damage to the sprockets.

Everything looks as defined and well shaped as day one – again shifting is punchy and crisp. And as for the fact it’s massive, I’ve not noticed any difference to rear suspension performance. This might be more noticeable on some suspension designs, but the 100gram weigh deficit over 11 speed  has not even been a factor for me.

Although scuffed thanks to the loss of the protective crank boots, the cranks are sound. There may be other cranks out there that feel a bit stiffer, but that’s not a concern for me. I weigh about 200lbs/90kg and haven’t really noticed them the entire time they have been there.

SRAM Eagle is damned good. It’s certainly the cleanest shifting groupset from SRAM to date, and manages to work excellently in all conditions. When it trickles down to cheaper price points, it will no doubt win a lot of fans.

Here’s a reminder of the costing of SRAM Eagle XO1:

  1. XO1 Eagle carbon crank with X-Sync 2 chain ring $390 | €426 | £328
  2. XO1 Eagle rear derailleur, Type 3 Roller Bearing Clutch $220 | €240 | £185
  3. XO1 Eagle trigger shifter $127 | €145 | £112
  4. XO1 Eagle XG-1295 12-50 Cassette. 355grams, 10-50, $360 | €392 | £302
  5. XO1 Eagle chain, $60-85 | €66-92 | £50-71
  6. Complete groupset price – $1,193 | €1,306 | £1,005

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