In case you missed it, last month, the internet was flooded with posts, videos, and articles about SRAM’s new Eagle AXS Transmission. Everyone (including me) praised the shifting and durability and called it a great leap forward for MTB drivetrains.
Personally, I do think the hype is real. SRAM Transmissions are REALLY good. For the last month, I’ve had a SRAM X0 Transmission sitting in my TPC shopping cart. But I still haven’t clicked that checkout button. Now, after sitting on the fence for weeks, I don’t think I’m ready to pull the trigger. Here’s why.
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My Drivetrain Just Keeps On Going
My brand new frame with an "old" drivetrain.
While waiting for SRAM Transmissions to arrive at TPC, I installed my beat-up SRAM X01 Eagle mechanical drivetrain onto my new MTB frame, just to get it rolling. My plan was to run it until I could get a new SRAM Transmission, then swap it out. But pretty soon, I started having doubts about my plan.
Let me back up and be totally clear. I DO want Transmission. I am a fan of electronic drivetrains. I ride SRAM AXS on my road and gravel bike, and I don’t plan on ever going back to mechanical drivetrains on my drop-bar bikes.
But right now, I find myself hesitating to retire my trusty old X01 Eagle mechanical drivetrain. This is partially due to me being cheap. But the main reason is that it feels like a waste to kick my old X01 group to the curb when it has such a long and impressive streak going.
My X01 Eagle group through the years.
I originally bought my X01 Eagle group in 2017, and it has since moved with me from frame to frame. (It’s part of my frugal secret to getting a “new bike” every season. I sell my old frame and move as many parts as possible to my new frame.) Here’s the list of all the bike frames my X01 Eagle group has been installed on:
- 2017 Santa Cruz Hightower CC
- 2018 Santa Cruz Hightower LT CC
- 2019 REEB Sqweeb V2
- 2020 REEB Sqweeb V3
- 2020 Canyon Neuron CF
- 2021 Specialized Epic Evo
- 2022 Forbidden Druid (currently installed)
That is A LOT of bikes for one drivetrain. It’s had a long and tough life, and it looks pretty ragged and worn. But it has never let me down. Is it really time for it to be laid to rest? I’m not so sure.
The Old Guy’s Still Got It
Shall I compare thee to a mechanical derailleur?
My orange tabby cat is almost 18 years old. He has lost most of his teeth, and is constantly grumpy. But recently, I watched him sprint up the stairs, leap off a bookshelf, and annihilate a moth in midair. “Wow!” I thought. “The old guy’s still got it.”
Who knows how much longer we have together, but seeing him move so spryly made me happy. I'm hopeful that I’ll have a few more years with him.
The face of a man content with his drivetrain.
This might sound silly, but I felt something similar when I put my beat-up X01 Eagle derailleur on my new frame and shifted up and down the cassette. It still seemed as crisp and fast as when I installed it on my first Hightower, all the way back in 2017. My desire to buy a new SRAM Transmission faded as I was filled with feelings of nostalgia. The old guy's still got it.
Over 6+ years of ownership, my X01 Eagle drivetrain has been an extremely reliable partner. I’ve only dealt with two notable problems:
- A b-tension screw that likes to back out (fixed with a dab of blue Loctite)
- A seized aluminum crank bolt (fixed with a long breaker bar and pure rage — replaced with a steel bolt with lots of anti-seize)
Otherwise, the rear derailleur has hit the ground more than a few times, but it's still straight and springy. The pulley bearings feel like they’re full of grit, but they still spin freely. The XG-1295 cassette looks very silver (it started out black), but the teeth haven't all turned into shark's teeth. It isn’t perfect, but it works. I’m used to its quirks. I know how to tune it perfectly. I can definitely keep it going for many more seasons.
Since Transmission is a complete system that requires buying and swapping out the full group — shifter, cranks, chainring, chain, derailleur, and cassette — I think it makes much more sense to put off upgrading until a major component like my cassette or derailleur fails or gets worn beyond repair.
If SRAM Transmission didn’t exist, I’d probably just replace the pulleys (get fancy with CeramicSpeed maybe?) and cassette to put off upgrading indefinitely.
My New Goal: Wear Things Out
My X01 drivetrain has taken a beating. But it's still chugging along. (Maybe I should ride harder?)
So do I want SRAM Transmission? Yes, I want it BAD. When I rode it for the first time, I was blown away by how smooth it felt. The combination of the direct mount rear derailleur and the cassette mapping makes shifts feel invisible, even under full load. It’s a clear step above anything else.
But do I NEED SRAM Transmission? No, obviously not. No one needs it. But we get these things because they’re nice to have and we like them.
Personally, I've decided to wait because I've realized that I have a bad habit of discarding things before they’re fully worn out. Obviously, I go through a lot of bike frames. But that's not so bad since those get sold to other riders. Gear like tires and apparel are where I'm the worst. I have bins full of semi-worn but now unused tires and kits. What a waste.
The future of drivetrains looks bright. But it can wait.
I’d feel much better about myself (and my impact on the planet) if I actually got full use out of all of my current gear. I'm trying to do this with my tires and kits, but I want to apply it my drivetrains too.
Instead of ditching my current, still-functioning X01 group, I want to run it into the ground and extract every bit of value from it that I can. In general, I want to get better at buying quality goods that last, and actually using up the things I buy. When my X01 Eagle group is truly good and dead, SRAM transmission will still be there.
Ultimately, I’m not totally sure why I’m writing this. Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself not to spend money. After all, I have a kid, a mortgage, and a million other things to worry about. Or maybe the moral of my story is that upgrading your bike and gear can be fun — A LOT of fun — but it’s never required.