The People’s Liberation Drivetrain

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In the struggle to break topographic barriers, the proletariat have had the deck stacked against them. The People have been tantalized by opulent 12-speed drivetrains, but left priced-out of all but unfashionably low cog-counts. But, the answer to the long-standing connundrum of price vs. performance comes not from one team or another, but rather from a mixed, cooperative force – Shimano, Sram, and Race Face brought together into a victorious union: The People’s Liberation Drivetrain.

A tech opinion by Skyler Des Roches

The world has been hijacked by marketing. Even while the experience of pedaling a bike on a backcountry trail remains a pure distillation of bliss, our little cycling world has been hijacked by marketing all the same. The hijackers are corporations that co-opt the lifestyles of living, breathing, flip-phone toting dirtbags through carefully curated social media content. They’ve dressed our heroes in novelty socks and matching designer “kits”. They’re going for the hard sell on luxury goods.

But the decadence one sees in the cycling fashion bloggosphere is not of the People. No, comrades, it’s a distraction from what we should be doing – which is eating our vegetables and riding our damn bikes – and the latest and greatest cycling tech might as well not exist for most cyclists or would-be-cyclists.

We the 99% cannot wield these dinner-plate cassettes that cost more than my last car. Look, but do not touch. Twelve-speed drivetrains and electronic shifting are mere temptations of Late Capitalism, conspicuous wealth-flaunting novelty at the climax of a neoliberal dystopia.

Alas, I have not been immune to the lure of luxury bike parts. I have sampled the caviar. My tastes are expensive, while my pockets remain shallow. Yet there is hope! We have found an answer by mixing and matching “value” products to successfully find affordable excellence. While the oligarchs stand at the consoles of their weaponized drones and orbital warheads, the People still have the AK-47. Cheap, functional, and hard to break. (Or maybe the white Toyota Hilux is a better analogy – under-powered, over-achieving, packed with AK-wielding freedom fighters. Whichever…it’s all the same.)

This, the AK-47 of the 1×11 drivetrain world, we dub “The People’s Liberation Drivetrain”

People's Liberation Drivetrain, AK47

I came to this mix of drivetrain parts because of SRAM’s GX-level XG-1150 10-42 tooth cassette. In short, I wanted what seemed impossible: full-steel construction, durability, a wide range, a low price, and a relatively low weight. And, in this incredible world we live in, it actually exists!

So, the basis of the PLD comes from an acknowledgment of the brilliance of SRAM’s XD driver and the resulting 10-42 cassette, without submitting fully to SRAM’s premium pricing in the mid-upper tiers. While straight SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrains also perform well, I have some vague bias toward the rebuildability, and durability of Shimano transmissions. So, the PLD is, at the core, a mixing of Shimano derailleur/shifter with a SRAM cassette. For better or for worse, Shimano mid-range drivetrain components can be had pretty cheaply from online vendors, which has driven down the price everywhere.

People's Liberation Drivetrain, AK47

Derailleur

Shimano XT M8000 or SLX M7000 – The reason I’ve gone with the higher-end XT option is because they were the same price when I bought it. But, the differences between XT and SLX derailleurs are tiny. Namely, both inner and outer plates on the derailleur cage are made of aluminum on XT, while one side is steel on SLX. Similarly, SLX uses a steel piece on the inside of the parallelogram while XT sticks with aluminum. The difference is a paltry 50g weight penalty with no tangible performance difference. A true PLD will chose whichever is cheaper.

While a SRAM GX is comparable in price to these, and works rather well, if you want a Shimano XT shifter (which I certainly do), you’ve got to have the derailleur to match. Moreover, the clutch tension on Shimano’s “Shadow Plus” derailleurs is adjustable, while that is not the case on any SRAM product. The “clutch” introduces friction into the movement of the derailleur cage in order to dampen chain slap and avoid chucking the chain on single-ring set-ups. Over time, this clutch will wear. On a Shimano derailleur, you can just tighten it up and even rebuild it, while on a SRAM rear derailleur, this means no more clutch action.

People's Liberation Drivetrain, AK47

Shifter

There are actual differences between XT and SLX shifters: The XT m8000 shifter has a sturdy, metallic construction compared to SLX’s plasticky build and less-defined shifting feel. XT can also do double upshifts to quickly gear up at the start of a descent. To me, the extra $15 is worth it for that XT feel. Besides, the shifter is what actually counts in shifting performance. Remember, the objective of this game is affordable excellence, not simply the lowest price.

  • People's Liberation Drivetrain, AK47
  • People's Liberation Drivetrain, AK47

Cassette

SRAM’s GX-level XG-1150 10-42t cassette is the most expensive part of the PLD, running at $130MSRP. The beauty of this cassette is two-fold: for one, thanks to the XD-mount, it provides the same gear range as Shimano’s ever-affordable 11-46 cassette, but does so at under 400g. Moreover, all cogs on the XG-1150 are made of steel, while I’ve found Shimano’s largest aluminum cogs (the 37 or 46 tooth cogs) to wear out in less than a season. Finally, the gear steps feel much more even on the SRAM option, whereas Shimano’s jump from the 37t cog to the 46 feels very big.

So, for a few dollars more than Shimano’s cassette, I’ve found SRAM’s “Full Pin” all-steel cassette to last much, much longer. For that price to quality ratio, this cassette wins. Plus it’s black. And if a decade of socialization-by-social media has taught me anything, it is vanity.

  • People's Liberation Drivetrain, AK47
  • People's Liberation Drivetrain, AK47

Crankset

One’s gearing in a 1×11 drivetrain depends as much on the crankset as on the cassette. While the range of SRAM’s 10-42 is basically the same as Shimano’s 11-46, they require different chainrings to achieve all the same ratios. For loaded bikepacking, I’ve found that the smallest rings that can fit on 4-bolt cranksets (usually 30 tooth) can still sometimes feel geared too high. The solution has been an advent of direct-mount cranksets, that have no chainring bolts at all. These are often expensive, with one exception: Race Face Aeffect cranks with their Cinch chainring interface.

Race Face Turbines have been some of the most coveted aluminum cranks since their inception in 1984, and the latest interation, with their 30mm spindle and Cinch direct-mount chainrings are beautiful as ever. Meanwhile, Race Face’s Aeffect cranksets have been one of those low-key performers commonly specced on complete bikes, but not garnering much attention.

The difference between Turbines and Aeffect cranks? Turbines use a 30mm aluminum spindle and proprietary bottom bracket, while Aeffects employ a standard 24mm steel spindle – the same used on Shimano cranks for the last ten years – at a weight penalty of merely 20g compared to Turbines. As a result, Aeffect cranks mate perfectly with the ubiquitous and famously reliable XT bottom bracket – which can commonly be found for under $20. Yet, due to its Cinch chainring interface, this crank can be used with chainrings from 24 to 42 teeth. I’ve found a 28T ring to provide all the range I need for mixed-terrain bikepacking.

Earlier this year, Race Face teased a new steel direct-mount Cinch chainring that will retail for only $19. I’ve not touched one yet, but if my other experiences with steel chainrings hold true, it is sure to last years without showing any wear.

But, be warned, the Aeffect cranks do not come with a self-extracting bolt – the puller bolt cap is a ~$7 add-on, which you’d be well-advised to purchase if you want to avoid the faff of an old-school crank-puller.

People's Liberation Drivetrain, AK47

Chain

In my experience, chains are one of those rare components where price is roughly correlated to longevity. No, it’s no hard-and-fast rule, but the higher-end choice from any particular manufacturer will tend to outlive the cheaper choice. If you ride a lot, the nicer (usually) nickel-plated choice will cost more up front, but work out the same or a bit better over the life cycle of the chain.

Cost and Conclusion

  • Race Face Aeffect Crankset (w/30T ring): $150
  • SRAM XG-1150 Cassette: $130
  • Shimano M7000 Derailleur: $70
  • Shimano M8000 Shifter: $65
  • Shimano XT Chain: $33
  • Shimano XT BB: $26
  • Total: $474*

*One can often acquire these components for a significant percentage below MSRP in the real world, at your LBS. For whatever reason, Canadians can usually expect to pay more than MSRP. In such a case, it is possible to order all pieces from the US for about $365USD.

In conclusion, after several months riding this exercise in value maximization, I can say that it has worked as hoped. Basically, I don’t think about it and it just works. I do oil my chain every few rides. My size XL steel 27.5+ hard tail tips the scale at around 29lbs, all while rolling on a sub-$500 drivetrain – which freed up a lot budget for real performance-enhancing components such as a high-end fork. To get the latest and greatest, you could easily spend $1000 more, and it might cut, at most, 1lb off your bike, all while likely being less durable.

We live in an age of drivetrain greatness – excellent performance can be had at a relatively affordable price-point from a variety of brands. By picking and choosing pieces, mixing and matching brands, I think I’ve settled on a particularly robust, serviceable, and adaptable 1×11 drivetrain, all at price to performance ratio that, just a few years ago, no one would have believed could happen.

  • Solid write up – I’ve definitely noticed the larger cogs on my Shimano 11-46 wearing out much faster than anticipated … this looks like a great option!

  • WhatsMyName

    Hilarious, informative, useful. Great article! Long live the (pedal) revolution!

  • Brian Kennelly

    I’ll have to check out that GX cassette. Currently running a RaceFace turbine 24/38 with an XT shadow with Shimano’s 11×42 cassette. Works great but I’m going through chains often in this dry season. I suspect I’ll need new cogs by next season for sure.

  • Pedro Blasco

    I was quite disappointed with the Aeffect chainring quality as it worn out really quick. I have never replaced chainrings or cassettes in many years and thousands of kilometers, I always replace the chain after 3500-4000km, but I had to replace the Aeffect chainring after less than 2000km.
    On the good side, really easy to find and replace bearings.
    There are also O rings compatible for this crankset for the O ring users.

  • Brady Sorenson

    Good stuff! You might include the cost of a new freehub if folks are converting from a Shimano freehub also, someone’s existing hub may not be Sram XD compatible at all.

    Adding the freehub cost might make it a better option to stick with the Shimano M8000 as you could have a whole new second cassette with cash to spare (you could almost buy 3 XT cassettes if you factor the freehub cost) for the cost of the XG1150. Although the weight and gearing benefits of the Sram might be enough to sway a weight weenie. I’m sure you have already thought of all this :P

  • Check out the Wolftooth CAMO system with stainless rings… they have a Cinch version as well: http://www.bikepacking.com/gear/wolf-tooth-camo-review/

  • sudhanshua
  • Mark Raugust

    Finding compatible wheels with a SRAM XD Driver has been a huge pain. I use my bike with 1x Rival for varied purposes so I need to change tires regularly and why I haven’t gone tubeless is because I can’t find a second set of wheels for less than $500 with a compatible hub. I’ll spend several hundred dollars more either buying or building a set of wheels with a compatible hub than I would just buying a set of wheels off the shelf with non-XD compatible hubs. It’s really annoying. BTW if anyone can recommend a set of rugged (I weigh 220lbs plus the bike, plus camping gear) 29er wheels with XD Driver compatible free hubs I’d love some recommendations. They wouldn’t even have to be tubeless compatible since the wheels I already have are, just bomb-proof. Thanks

  • Cyril Isonzo

    My ultime combo on my bikepacking:
    XG-1150 10-42t cassette,
    Sram force CX1 derailleur
    and Rotor 3D+ XC2 110 with Rotor QCX1 38T oval

  • Scott Black

    Shouldn’t it be 94 regarding the Turbines?

  • Nice bike.

  • Mark

    Nicely done! I went through a similar exercise not long ago. It was for a 29+ bike, so I wanted even lower gearing. I went with the same XT shifter and SLX rear derailleur, but went different routes for the other parts. All my wheels still have old school freehubs and I didn’t want to start changing over to XD. I looked at the Shimano 11-46 cassettes, but dislike the 37t to 46t jump, too big! So I went with an SLX 11-42t cassette and a Wolftooth 46T add on cog. Ends up about the same price as the SRAM cassette and I don’t have to buy a new XD freehub. I can also replace the 46T cog if it wears out before the rest of the cassette. Probably won’t last as long as the all steel SRAM though. For cranks I went with aluminum SRAM direct mount, there are a bunch of models that can be had for pretty cheap. SRAM also makes steel direct mount chainrings which sell for under $20! Unfortunately the smallest is 28T, which is what I’m using. Sometimes I wish for lower, but probably better to walk going that slow anyway! SRAM BBs are cheap as well, no idea how the durability compares to a Shimano XT though.

  • Skyler’s out riding on the CT; I’ll let him know…

  • Scott Black

    Lucker bugger! :)

  • Janek Kosior

    Guys what do you think about GX Eagle 1×12 CRANKSET and 10-50 casette for bikepacking? – I can get it really cheap but Im not sure if it’s worth it. Also, can I use 9/10/11 sp hub for this cassette as long as it has XD Driver ? Such as this DT 350 which I have on the other bike ? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/63ff1e9a83fe5a41c0555aa1af05375f43627f66cabfd14a6dd3f99665b9100d.jpg

  • Chris

    Pretty cool drivetrain. It’s worth it to just piece together a 1x drivetrain for much cheaper IMO

  • Ole Blokhus

    You can indeed adjust the clutch on Sram derailleurs. Just pry off the small round plastic cover on the knuckle, and use a 8mm Allen or Torx 50 (I think) and adjust away.

  • Zspokes

    I build wheels for lots of people on a budget with the excellent Bitex 6 pawl hubs, couple them with a quality but inexpensive spoke like the DT champion and the best rim to suit your needs and you get a nice, rugged and relatively inexpensive setup.

  • Nice article!

    Just a comment – the shimano 11 speed cassettes alu cogs wear pretty darn fast. I have had mixed luck with the SRAM “x dome” cassettes, I had the steel “dome” part come off on me while biking to Nome last year, having it separate from the body twice, and the last time I couldn’t get it back together – not happy fun time. So thumbs up on the recommendation for the pinned all steel sram cassettes.

    SRAM also makes a lower end all pined steel cassette that works with “normal” freehub bodies, I have not used it but it might be a good (but heavier) option. https://www.sram.com/sram/mountain/products/pg-1130-cassette#sm.0000c9xacvencd5buqo2bxpf8yq5g

  • Pedro Blasco

    Thanks for the information :-)
    I will certainly check that option as they also have oval rings… Even if initially seems expensive, if chain rings last as usual will end up being cheaper… My chainring was sharp as a ninja star :-D

  • Nate

    Great article, thanks for sharing your experience!

    For those of us already “trapped” by wheels without XD drivers, have you had any experience with the Sunrace MX8 11-46 cassette? It looks to be a cheaper option, slightly heavier than the GX, and slightly less gear range, but would it compare to Shimano/SRAM 11spd cassettes in terms of durability?

  • We are testing the GX Eagle now. So far so good. More later. Not sure the particulars of your your hub; but if it’s an XD driver and you are using a SRAM 11spd DT, it should be a direct swap.

  • No experience with that one yet. But Cass tried the 10sod here and seemed impressed: http://www.bikepacking.com/gear/budget-1×10/

  • Paul Rowland

    I will be using this set up on the Baja Divide next January mated to Spank rims. So far it feels (100 miles since build) it feels great

  • multisportscott

    What about the cost of an XD driver?
    This is a genuine question, what’s wrong with a 2x (I’m actually still rocking a 3×9, don’t laugh, it actually works) set up for bikepacking? What are the real world advantages of 1 x set ups? Thanks in advance, Scott in NZ

  • I’m sure Skyler will weigh in once he’s back, but IMO, there’s nothing wrong with 2x really. 1x is simply cleaner, which I prefer. In addition, the range possible with 1x has gotten good enough to make the front derailleur kind of a useless appendage; more wires to deal with and handlebar space. That said, I ran a 2×10 on my Krampus for years and it was great for bikepacking. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it…

  • Shimano sells an 11speed 11-46T cassette for a good price, which is compatible with both SRAM and Shimano derailleurs. The 10speed SunRace 11-42 is a good product for less than $100, and comes stock on a lot of bicycles for an inexpensive 1x drivetrain.

  • James Kirwan

    3×9 rocks! I have a 44×11 for blasting down descents, a 22×37 for spinning up the really steep stuff, and something for everything in between. Not to mention 9spd chains are tough as hell. I’m not going to compromise all that for a few grams less, for more cost just because the marketing man says it’s cool!

  • Sam Stewart

    sunrace also makes an 11-46/11-50 10 speed cassette if you reaaaaaaally wanna party

  • mikeetheviking

    “Sunrace cassettes… yes, I have experience with them… They are great!

    This article is very interesting to me…. because I was spec’ing out this exact drivetrain over the last few months mixing shimano and sram…. I agree with the philosophies laid out here…

    excited about the new affordable stainless RF chainrings too!

  • Tsh

    I know nothing about parts and compatibility, will this setup work with a Surly Ogre? Thanks.

  • Mark

    Now that Sram has come out with the Eagle GX 1×12 with a 10-50 cassette doesn’t that make more sense. The entire drivetrain retails for only $495 and provides a superior range to 10-42 or 11-46 cassettes. Might even be able to get it cheaper online?

  • I’ll chime in. Skyler actually started this article just before Eagle GX was released… we even discussed shelving it since that kind that kind of sent a blow to the resistance, so to speak. But, this DT is still relevant from a durability standpoint, and since Eagle GX came out, prices for 11sp components (these included) are likely to go down. To your point, it is also worth noting that the XG-1275 Eagle GX Cassette is also steel and fully pinned. We are testing it now, so hopefully I’ll have more to say about it in the coming months…

  • Andrew Christopher Evans

    I was also in the same boat, and purchased the MX8. It’s been fine for about 500 or so miles so far. Works with my M7000 SLX rear derailleur just fine. Versus the Shimano cassettes running 11-46, it’s cheaper than the XT and has better cog spacing, in my opinion.

  • jorge

    your shifter is an M8000 (11 speed). How does that do with a 10 speed cassette, and a single chain ring?
    thanks.

  • Stefano T. Fabrizi

    Correct !!

  • Roman Bear

    Interesting, I always preferred Shimano XT cassettes because they are cheap, Duraace chains because they are durable, and Sram X9-ish rear derailleurs because of Gripshifts.
    For those who don’t have an XD driver check Sunrace CSMX8 11-50 cassette. It is mostly steel on aluminium spider and looks damn sexy with red accents.

  • Guy Bouchard

    Yeah! I just built myself the Poor’s man Eagle with the Sunrace CSMX8 11-50 cassette and 34 teeth chainring on XT rear derailler. It works perfectly for my bikepacking need on 27.5 X 2.8 tires. Not cheap but not bad AND non-XD rear hub. I am alright with XD but if you don’t have it, you now have an alternative.

  • Guy Bouchard

    AS a bike mechanics, as i can see for Eagle 12 speeds, it is very touchy to keep working perfectly, a lot more than 11 speeds. Everything need to be perfect. I don’t want it myself.

  • Guy Bouchard

    I would stay away from Eagle for bikepacking. In the shop, i have seen a few one and they are touchy to keep working perfectly. Derailler hanger NEED to be perfect, B-tension screw need to be perfect, cable-hoosing need to be perfect. For racing, yeah but bikepacking, i want something more reliable

  • Cyril Isonzo
  • I’ve been using a SunRace 10speed 11-40 cassette on my commuter. The selling point is that it’s dirt cheap. But, the shifting does not compare to the PLD. I won’t pretend that it’s just a question of the cassette, of course – it could be the crappy Zee shifter I’ve paired it with -but from my experience, the wide-range SunRace cassette’s appeal begins and ends with price.

  • You can’t mix a 10 speed cassette with an 11 speed drivetrain. This drivetrain is all 11speed.

  • jorge

    Thx much, Skyler.

  • Abraham Schmidt

    Any idea where to get the puller bolt cap for the crankset? Thanks

  • Stuart Rosemurgy

    I think the cleanability of a non-XD style cassette (the ability to disassemble the cassette cog by cog) outweighs the performance of the XD cassettes for me. Other than that, super spot on. Also, Sram’s NX direct mount chainrings are somewhere in the ballpark of $20, if you’re looking to go as cheap as possible. They’re steel, and they’re definitely heavy and look cheaper, but they’ll get the job done if you’re running low on cash towards the end of a build.

  • I believe the Race Face part number you’re looking for, for the self-extracting cap, is F30018.

  • I just replaced an XT 11-34 (10-speed) cassette with a Sunrace 11-42. It’s half the price, same amount of steel and aluminum (and sweet, red anodizing) but has the lower gears. It’s mounted on a DT Swiss 240s hub where I recently switched out the destroyed aluminum freehub with a steel freehub and 54t engagement.

    If/when I kill that setup, then maybe I’ll consider 11 or 12-speed …

  • I have the 10-speed Sunrace and it’s sweet.

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