We’re unashamed nerds. We’ve known there has been new kit in the pipeline for some time now, but when SRAM released all the information about their new range, we were initially left scratching our heads a little.
It’s not about being afraid of change, but we can’t blindly accept it either. So we did what any small business would do. We put the kettle on and started arguing with each other.
This is honestly at 5 past 3 the other day, just minutes after the official release.
To spare you the gory details, here’s the highlights;
1. New SRAM XPLR 10-44 cassette options
Verdict: ...great for extended road work, “mullet” set up is still more appropriate for four season British off roading.
It’s difficult to get too excited about cassettes. We don’t want to blow our own trumpet too hard but we’ve been putting extended range cassettes on our gravel bikes for literally years. Most of our 1x gravel bikes leave The Bikery with an 11-46 these days with a chainring to suit the rider. So what’s the benefit of the new XPLR 10-44?
The plan is to give you a more comfortable cadence at speeds of roughly 25kph and above. Group road riding sections and long distance riders/bikepackers may very well appreciate this. If you have ever struggled to “get on top” of a gear but found the next gear up too much of a grind you’ll know what we mean. We’re also big fans of that tiny 10t cog which is a much faster gear than the 1 tooth difference from 11t that many of us are riding currently would lead you to believe.
2. New XPLR Chainset/Cranks
Verdict: “Q Factor” (the width between the cranks and therefore between your feet) is highly personal, but the extra room for party mode on the rear has got us thinking.
Not too much to report here apart from that pesky Q Factor. SRAM are offering a “wide” option that’s usually reserved for Fat Bikes and their ridiculous* 5 inch tyres. Whilst we don’t think NorthRoad are going to be going down the Fat Bike route any time soon, it does open up frame design options. We’ve got the pencils out and we’re seeing if there might be something there.
Other than that, the new “standard” XPLR cranks, in both Force and Red flavour, are lightweight and very easy on the eye with a good range of chainrings available. Pleased with that.
*Fat bikes are only ridiculous until you've tried one, after which they're amazing.
3. XPLR Suspension Fork and XPLR Dropper Post
First, the new XPLR fork. For those of you who, whilst out on gravel machines, seek out the roughest lines and measure rides in smiles as well as miles, this one’s been a long time coming.
Less fatigue from traversing the rough stuff and SRAM promise a “rock solid” lockout, too. No wallowing or bobbing when you’re in the zone on the road. Is this the best of both worlds?
We’ve already seen a lot of comments suggesting that we’re coming worrying close to recreating 90’s hardtail mountain bikes, and we can see where that’s come from!
However, we've argued two replies to that. Firstly, 90’s mountain bikes are still some of the most fun bikes you can ride. They have an inexplicable ability to be both rubbish and remain upright regardless of how ill-equipped for the terrain they are. Secondly, bike geometry has changed, a lot! Our super light gravel frames are longer and lower, than many of those 90’s rippers, not to mention literally half the weight.
And that brings us on to the dropper post. If you were to ask me would I prefer to ride a hardtail mountain bike without a dropper or a rigid mountain bike with a dropper, I’d choose the latter and suspect many seasoned mountain bikers would agree. A dropper post increases on-bike manoeuvrability by many multiples and to be able to drop the seat out the way, even if only an inch or two, makes a huge difference to confidence on the bike. The short drop afforded by the SRAM XPLR range may also mean that bikepacking seat packs won’t foul the rear wheel which would be awesome.
What’s also really neat, that we don’t think SRAM are shouting loud enough about, is that the new dropper post, when not at it’s fully extended position, has a degree of compliance. Almost like a suspension system for your butt. There are a few pivot designs out there that offer this compliance but none that you can lock out. Again, this speaks to the long and ultra distance riders out there and is a really neat bit of tech. Genuinely quite excited to see how this feels in practice.
4. Should you buy XPLR kit for your next gravel bike?
If you’re a fast flyer on the road and want to be able to smash down the odd cobbled road or forest trail, the new drivetrain options make a lot of sense, but you probably won’t need either of the bouncy bits (Fork and seatpost!).
If you’re after the fattest tyres and the gnarliest trails, the fork will help, but we think the dropper is the jewel in the crown of the new XPLR range. For now though, stick with an Eagle AXS mullet set up to get you to the top of the places you want to blast down.
Remember, every NorthRoad bike is made to order, so if you want to mix and match components, that’s fine by us!
We are taking pre-orders for XPLR gravel builds and the components are due for delivery in the first week of January. Let us know what you’re interested in and we’ll hash out the details with you.