SRAM, Zipp, and RockShox Want To Talk To You About Gravel
Gravel bikes and gravel riding is the intersection of a lot of different points in cycling. Pulling in roadies looking for safer riding spots or more technical riding, as well as mountain bikers looking for something new, or perhaps challenging in a totally different sense. The gravel community is also unique in that it overlaps longtime riders and racers with those just getting into cycling for the first time. Gravel riding has a lot of definitions depending on who is doing it and where they are riding.
With these intersections of riding backgrounds, conditions, and abilities comes a host of different rider needs. This provides an opportunity for brands to rethink some preconceptions about “what is a gravel bike?”. Perhaps no other brand in the bicycle components market is set-up to address these questions than SRAM, whose product portfolio—of SRAM drivetrain and brakes, RockShox suspension, and Zipp wheels—stretches across the all possible usage landscapes of gravel riding.
SRAM’s AXS drivetrains have seen incredible popularity amongst gravel riders and racers over the last few seasons. Many gravel riders opted to pair dropbar AXS Red, Force, and Rival series shifters with Eagle AXS mountain bike rear derailleurs and 10-52 tooth cassettes. This provided the simplicity of 1x drivetrains, as well as an immense gear range. However, riders looking for tighter gearing options had limited options, as the next smallest cassette option ended up being a 10-36 tooth range. This left many riders simply choosing to go with a 2x drivetrain rather than give up their lowest gears and using a 1x setup.
Addressing this gap between the 10-36T road cassettes and 10-52T mountain cassettes is the main goal of SRAM’s new XPLR drivetrain. (In case you are wondering, it is pronounced “explore”, not “explorer” or “X-P-L-R.”)
The standout drivetrain component of the XPLR collection is a new dedicated 1x specific rear derailleur which is only compatible with the all new 10-44T XPLR cassette, or the existing 10-36T cassettes. The new XPLR rear derailleurs will not work with Eagle cassettes or with 10-33T and 10-28T road cassettes. The new derailleur will be available in RED (293g), Force (308g), or Rival (327g) levels. Priced at R13 500*, R9 300, and R4 900 respectively.
The all-new XPLR 10-44T cassettes come in two varieties, XG-1271 (373g) and XG-1251 (412g), both using identical cog sizes throughout their 440% range. The new cassettes will only work with SRAMs Flattop chains; continuing the unfortunate reality of SRAM having two 12-speed systems that are incompatible with each other. The new cassettes are priced at R3 990 for XG-1271 and R2 850 for XG-1251.
In case you are wondering, it is pronounced “explore”, not “explorer” or “X-P-L-R.”
Completing the system are new direct mount 1x chainrings that mount with the existing 8-bolt spider interface. The crank arms themselves are unchanged from current RED, Force, and Rival eTap AXS cranks. SRAM claims a 35g weight saving over the current 1x spider system. There is also a new wide spindle variant of the Force crankset to accommodate frames with the larger tire clearance. Direct mount chainrings will be available in sizes ranging from 38 tooth through 46 tooth.
The new chainrings will not be compatible with power meter versions of RED or Force cranks. As Rival uses a spindle-based power meter (integrated into the cranksets non-drive-side arm) you will be able to have power on a Rival crank using the new direct mount chainrings.
RockShox Joins the Gravel Party!
RockShox Rudy Suspension Fork
The Rudy Ultimate XPLR can be set up for 30mm or 40mm of travel and uses a Charge Race Day damper which has been tuned for gravel use. Tire clearance on the fork is 700x50C. The fork also has both full and short fender mounts, for those planning on riding through foul weather conditions.
The steerer tube is 1-⅛” to 1.5” tapered and carries a claimed weight of 1226g. Currently, the only aftermarket variant of the fork will be with a 425mm axle-to-crown length and 45mm offset. Right now, there aren’t a ton of suspension-corrected gravel bikes (Lauf True Grit is one) on the market, so you’ll have to do some geometry math to figure out compatibility, get a custom frame built around the fork measurements, or wait it out some for the influx of new gravel frames with adjusted geometry.
Pricing for the new Rudy fork is R15 000.
RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR Dropper Seatpost
Next up is something which we think should get a lot of buzz beyond the gravel riding community. The new Reverb AXS XPLR dropper will likely see popularity across riding disciplines, with drop bar dropper posts are becoming more of a ‘thing’ over the past couple seasons. Since the new Reverb is 27.2mm diameter, that alone will give it broad compatibility on a lot of gravel and road frames.
Actuation on the dropper is activated by your choice of RED, Force, or Rival AXS 1x or 2x drop bar levers, remote blip boxes, or the RockShox AXS remote lever. This should clear up some real estate on the bars for some folks, and avoid awkward lever compatibility found with some existing dropbar oriented dropper posts.
While short travel dropper posts are not exactly new, the Reverb XPLR dropper adds compliance to its list of features. The Reverb XPLR will remain fully rigid at full extension, but lowering it any amount will enable what SRAM dubs ActiveRide suspension—essentially combining a dropper post with a suspension post. As the new Reverb is an air-sprung dropper, it will be possible to tune how much squish the ActiveRide has by adjusting air pressure inside the post. Drop for the post is set at 50mm and 75mm, and it will be available in 350mm and 400mm lengths.
All of this for the cool sum of R11 500 (plus the grams you’ll be adding to your bike).
Zipp 101 XPLR Wheels
The final piece of the XPLR puzzle comes from Zipp, a brand almost entirely known for deep aero carbon wheels. The new Zipp 101 XPLR wheelset takes the same approach as Zipp’s Moto trail wheelset, which uses a single wall carbon rim construction with engineered localised flex. Essentially, the rim is designed to flex at the spoke and stay parallel to the ground during sharp cornering, similar to a human ankle. Zipp has cleverly dubbed this feature “Ankle Compliance.” Additionally, Zipp claims, this allows the rim to reduce vibration through the bike to help reduce rider fatigue while also increasing traction and decreasing the chance of pinch flats.
The new wheels are available in either 650b (1590g) or 700c (1665g). Like many new carbon wheels hitting the market over the past year, the new Zipp 101 carbon rims are hookless and have an internal width of 27mm. They use twenty-eight Sapim-CX-Sprint J-bend spokes, in a three-cross pattern, paired with Zipp’s ZR1 hubs (66 points of engagement on the rear).
The main concept behind these wheels is that reducing rolling resistance and rider fatigue can yield more speed over the long distance of some gravel events. This is an approach Zipp calls Total System Efficiency, a concept which they have employed on some latest road wheels—such as the 404 Firecrest. While less aero than the previous generation Zipp wheels, they gain efficiency by being overall faster. Riders looking to test this concept for themselves will need to shell out R35 000.
Initial availability on certain drivetrain, suspension, and wheel items will be August 2021 (yes, now), but on the tip of Africa, there probably won’t be a lot heading our way, with wider availability for most parts in September and October. With long lead times still happening across the bike industry, our best advice is if you see something you like, buy it now because these is no guarantee that you will find it again in the near future.
*all the above pricing is provisional, and very much exchange-rate dependant once the stock actually lands in SA. But it shouldn’t be too far out.