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Review: SRAM XPLR Gravel Group, from Fork to Wheels to Drivetrain

sram xplr gravel bike group review with Rockshox Rudy and Zipp Moto wheels
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If we’re being honest, SRAM’s foray into gravel bike drivetrains has been a bit confusing. Starting with a hydraulic “clutch” on all of their eTap AXS road bike derailleurs, introducing “Force Wide” to accommodate gravel’s larger tires, and an assortment of derailleurs that almost required a diagram to find compatible cassettes, it was enough to make you look away.

Then, finally, they introduced a complete XPLR group that includes Zipp wheels and a Rockshox Rudy fork. If the product has XPLR on it, it works together. Which, when it comes to drivetrains, only really refers to the rear derailleur and 10-44 cassette. It’s only compatible with 1x drivetrains, but you can use any crankset and 12-speed 1x chainring.

So, while everything can still be mixed and matched, running an Eagle 12-speed mountain bike derailleur and cassette, paddle or drop bar shifters, etc., the XPLR “group” optimizes cage length and gear ratios and gear steps for the vast majority of gravel situations.

And now that I type that out, perhaps it doesn’t really simplify it, but it follows in SRAM’s apparent logic of “let’s optimize each component for a specific, relatively narrow gear range so that it performs as crisply as possible.” And with that in mind, here’s my review…

SRAM XPLR drivetrain review

sram xplr gravel bike group review and closeup drivetrain details

The SRAM XPLR groups offer two cassettes, the top-level 1271 with alloy backing plate shown here, and a 1251 with fully pinned construction. Both are 10-44 and use their XDR freehub body.

The range really is the sweet spot for gravel. From flat to rolling hills, it offers the right spread, with the ability to easily swap their direct-mount chainrings from 38 up to 46 teeth to accommodate the course du jour. If you’re routinely riding big mountains and need more range, just go for the Eagle AXS setup with a 10-50 instead.

For comparison, the Shimano GRX groups (for now) are designed to work with 11-speed road and mountain bike cassettes, with the latter using MTB derailleurs rather than the GRX derailleur, same as SRAM does. The Campagnolo Ekar 13-speed group has 9-36, 9-42, and 10-44, which all add an additional cog for smoother gear steps at the small end of the cassette, but the same gear range on the largest cassette.

So, even though SRAM XPLR has a single cassette, the reality is you can mix and match across parts for almost every brand, or for Campy, choose from a variety of cassettes and chainrings to get it where you need it. Apples to apples, just maybe Pink Lady to Red Delicious to Honeycrisp.

Oh, and the XPLR derailleurs are also compatible with SRAM’s 10-36 cassettes, too, but those aren’t branded XPLR.

Got it? Good.

sram xplr gravel bike group review and closeup drivetrain details

The beauties of the SRAM system are the additional trim levels and the derailleur’s hydraulic Orbit damper that’s not a clutch.

XPLR derailleurs are offered in Rival ($269), Force ($369) and RED ($749). Combined with the two cassette options, there’s something for most budgets.

Like the road bike derailleurs, the Orbit is a fluid damper that simply slows the cage’s movement to prevent wild chain movement over harsh terrain. Unlike a spring-loaded clutch, it’s not adding tension to the system (although, like all derailleurs, the cage is still spring loaded to maintain appropriate chain tension).

So, technically, it’s not fighting the motor (because all trim levels are AXS, no mechanical options offered), but it is ridiculously good at taming chain slap.

riding SRAM XPLR gravel group for review

No matter if it’s root gardens, chunky gravel, drops, or big bunny hops, the chain stays quiet and on track.

riding SRAM XPLR gravel group for review

The group is also really good at executing shifts under power, even when riding through rough stuff. Smooth delivery, easy shifts, and reliable performance are the highlights.

sram xplr gravel bike group review and closeup drivetrain details

The larger, textured shift paddles make things easy, even with full finger and winter gloves, and braking ergonomics are pretty good.

Out of the box, the levers are very far forward, so I recommend taking the time to adjust the reach for maximum safety and the best ergonomics. Once I had it dialed in, one-finger braking is enough for casual stopping, and getting two fingers into position is easy enough and provides more than enough leverage for most situations.

I still prefer getting in the drops on fast, aggressive, and steep descents, and having the levers in easy reach (see above recommendation) is key here, too. Fortunately, SRAM’s drop bar levers have plenty of adjustment range.

riding SRAM XPLR gravel group for review

Overall, XPLR is a reliable, well-performing group with a cornucopia of options to fit any style of bike or riding.

Rockshox Rudy XPLR & Reverb AXS review

rockshox rudy xplr gravel bike suspension fork review and closeup details

With almost every suspension brand offering a gravel fork now, the Rockshox Rudy XPLR (particularly in the gloss black) has the sleekest looks. It looks slim and petite by comparison, with curves and lines at the dropouts and arch that help it disappear on the bike. This is a good thing.

My testing thus far has been on the 30mm travel version, which helps highlight the Zipp wheels (keep reading), but in all honestly, just get the 40mm travel version. Unless you absolutely need to keep the lowest possible front end, there’s no reason not to have a bit more travel.

rockshox rudy xplr gravel bike suspension fork review and closeup details

Clearance for 700x50mm tires provides all the room anyone would need before just using a mountain bike. Tool-free cable management looks clean and means no stress over losing a part or stripping out a tiny screw.

rockshox rudy xplr gravel bike suspension fork review and closeup details

Controls are simple, just turn the knob to adjust the Race Day damper’s compression damping from open to closed. Full range rebound adjustment is on the bottom with a removable knob.

rockshox rudy xplr gravel bike suspension fork review and closeup details

Fender mounts behind the arch work with a custom Rockshox fender, but there are also hidden mounts underneath the dropout for attaching a full coverage fender from other brands.

rockshox rudy xplr gravel bike suspension fork review and closeup details

Flat mount brakes come from their road bikes, no XPLR specific brakesets are offered. The Rudy places the calipers in position for 160mm rotors with no adapters; they’re compatible with 180mm rotors with an adapter.

riding the rockshox rudy suspension fork on rough trails

Riding the Rudy felt controlled, and its 30mm travel worked well with the Zipp Moto wheel’s ability to mold to the terrain (keep reading). The best word I could think of is “supportive” while still opening up the bike (and me) to more aggressive terrain.

I ride this drop-in a lot on all my gravel bikes, but the control provided with this setup let me go faster with more confidence. Instead of picking carefully around each root, I could just roll through them, focusing more on the exit.

With such a small amount of travel, I didn’t miss any extra compression damping controls and just left it open all the time. There’s minimal movement under spirited standing efforts because, well, there’s minimal travel, and Rockshox’s latest damper designs and air springs do a great job of providing mid-stroke support. And it all feels like “mid stroke” on such a short travel fork.

Rebound adjustments are adequate, and a nice feature. The air spring can be tuned with volume spacers, which is definitely worth fiddling with even here.

What about the Reverb AXS XPLR?

The Reverb AXS is probably the best thing to happen to dropper posts…for mountain bikes. The effortless activation is the best use for wireless, and it’s probably tripled my dropper usage.

For gravel, I like the idea of it better than the execution, for two reasons. First, it’s more cumbersome than it seems to press both left and right shift paddles simultaneously, which is how the XPLR model is actuated. It requires just enough fingers-off-the-brakes to make it feel uncomfortable at best and unsafe at worst.

I found myself having to either anticipate usage well in advance, or slow excessively before using it while on a descent. Traditional, mechanical dropper levers placed mid-bend on the handlebar feel more intuitive and comfortable for me in this use case, and that they can be used one-handed is even better. I feel like SRAM can solve this, and I hope they do, because the function of the Reverb itself is fantastic.

Second, though, the “suspension” feature is hard to use. It requires the post to be dropped into its travel, even as little as 1mm, in order to offer some cushioning. Seems brilliant, but getting it to drop just a couple millimeters such that it doesn’t alter your seated position too much is all but impossible during normal riding. Again, I feel like this is something SRAM can find a better solution for, hopefully with a firmware update, but as is, the feature is just really hard to use successfully.

ZIPP 101 XPLR gravel wheels review

zipp moto xplr gravel bike wheels review

The Zipp 101 XPLR gravel wheels are a narrower version of their 3 Zero MOTO mountain bike wheels, which are amazing. They have the same ground-taming benefit, and the same weight detriment, making them a wheelset that’s devastatingly effective…with a fairly narrow use case.

Like the MTB wheels, they use a single-wall design with “ankle flex”, essentially letting them twist along the spoke bed’s plane to adapt to the ground underneath. The effect isn’t as dramatic as the MTB wheels because they aren’t as wide (so, less leverage from the ground), but it’s there.

Combined with the fork, there was a certain something about riding this bike that was hard to put a finger on, but it was just uncannily able to track the ground. Roots? Rocks? Crunchy corners? No problem. Traction, even with the fairly low-profile Zipp tires, was next level. It gave the bike a new personality that made the same old trails and roads more interesting, and let me push a bit harder.

The caveat is, they’re heavier than any other high-end gravel wheel, so I’d only pull these out for the right races. Think Grinduro, where it’s almost more mountain bike race than gravel. Gnarly terrain is where they shine, and where they’re worth the extra grams.

Final thoughts?

Any one of these parts, save (and I’m pained to say this) for the Reverb AXS XPLR, are great on their own. Put them all together (especially the Rudy and 101 Motos) and the sum is greater than the parts. The versatility of their drivetrain parts to be mixed and matched is greater than either of their competitors’ collections, even if they do sometimes take a little extra research to sort out.

I’ve been riding all of these on and off (I have a lot of bikes) for a bit over a year, in wet, dry, cold, and hot conditions and they’ve held up admirably. Generally I’ve had no undue durability issues with any of the SRAM stuff I’ve tested and suspect these will continue to ride strong for years to come.

SRAM.com

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Exodux
10 days ago

The only issue that I have with Sram Xplor is their cassette/ derailleur options. Why not have a Eagle 10-50 or 10-52 cassette option? I know some are making “mullet” setups to achieve this, but this should be an option.
Also…maybe offer a Rudy with 50-60mm travel..

fitness
fitness
9 days ago
Reply to  Exodux

there is a derailleur out there for the eagle cassettes, it’s called the eagle derailleur

Exodux
9 days ago
Reply to  fitness

Really??? If you read my post, I mentioned that. Did you not understand the “mullet” comment?
I was just wondering why they don’t make it part of the Xplor group.

Dan
Dan
9 days ago
Reply to  Exodux

Because SRAM just wants you to use the “mullet” setup and run the mountain cassette and der. They have groupo offerings with the mullet setup. Rival with GX and Force with XO1

fitness
fitness
9 days ago
Reply to  Exodux

Guess you could get some explor stickers made for your eagle rd to stay happy

Sevo
Sevo
8 days ago
Reply to  Exodux

Your posts asks why not make it work with an Eagle casssette. And the reply was a very sensible “use an eagle derailleur”. And thats SRAMs take as well. Not sure why the aggression? Because it won’t say xplr on your der?

Exodux
8 days ago
Reply to  Sevo

Not sure where I was aggressive. Rather it seemed that the other posters where the aggressors, but whatever.
As I’ll mention for probably the 5th time, I realize that an Eagle derailleur works, and I’m sure Sram is okay with that being that they made the road, gravel and mtb AXS groups compatible(shifters/ derailleurs)
I was just saying that some people(not me included) like to have a matching group, that’s all. After all this bickering, it still seems odd that they don’t have more cassette options on Xplor and Eagle, which who would have a problem with that?

Mitch Erwen
Mitch Erwen
6 days ago
Reply to  Exodux

The branding crossover is pointless; just get Eagle.

#tulsacyclist
#tulsacyclist
8 days ago
Reply to  Exodux

Too much chain and slack in the system if you have a large enough cassette for fast gravel. I wish they had topped out at 42t

Brian
Brian
9 days ago

Mushy Reverbs are now being sold as suspension posts…. Lol.

Exodux
8 days ago

I did’nt post because I’m worried about having “Xplor” on my Eagle derailleur, actually I know it can be done and is being done to achieve more range. I was just wondering why they don’t offer it in the group, More choices,,,we all want more choices right?
I build most of my bikes part by part and yes, most of my bikes do have mixed parts.

Nuno Pinto
Nuno Pinto
8 days ago

Did anyone tried a 10-50 CASSETE with a XPLR derailleur ? And a non-flat chain….

nooner
nooner
8 days ago

1x is DONE. Unless you live in Kansas or Chicago 1x is a total failure marketing gimick. Sure Product Managers can shave $$ huge on front mechs, and front shifters off their BOMs and save huge margins all while convincing the rubes 1x is the latest greatest thing. If you live in Florida 1x is good. If you live in Colorado, California, or anywhere with vert, 1x is a hard pass if you want to ride at your full potential and typically climb 2-5K vert per ride.

Bitts
Bitts
8 days ago
Reply to  nooner

Californian here. Many folks ride 1x drivetrains on gravel bikes out here. Lots of folks myself included run 10-42 cassettes and a 38-44t chainring. It works great, it’s simpler, and cheaper than a 2x. Different strokes for different folks I guess. Maybe the fact that MTBs alot of the time has something to do with it. Curious where you ride and if you come from a road background.

will
will
7 days ago
Reply to  Bitts

what im really curious about is durability. on mtb eagle x01 and xx1 last forever, takes a beating and still about 10x longer than my older 2x red22 road setup for example.

i’m not sure if XPLR components are as durable as eagle component and this makes me want to go with: eagle derailleur, cassette, chain, chainring, and xplr shifters

Chris
Chris
8 days ago
Reply to  nooner

You must not live in Colorado. I live in Colorado and find that a 1x 11 speed is perfect for here. I use the e*thirteen mtb cassette which has plenty of gearing for the climbs, reasonable range for pedaling on all but the fastest downs. Once you get over 35+ around here, you really aren’t pedaling anyway and just let gravity do it’s thing. Most of the riding here is slightly rolling hills on the plains or is straight up or straight down. 2x really only helps when you need to find that incrementally perfect gear for the perfect cadence on a 2+ mile grade that doesn’t change much. That is usually more of a concern in flatter to rolling areas. Not here. I’m constantly changing gears here so finding that perfect cadence isn’t really an option anyway.

nooner
nooner
8 days ago
Reply to  nooner

OK, Scratch Florida off my list above i guess… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlyJl29ndzk

Mitch Erwen
Mitch Erwen
6 days ago
Reply to  nooner

Your argument rotates around not having enough range… even tho an Eagle cassette and rear mech can be used to get more range. Why?

nooner
nooner
6 days ago
Reply to  Mitch Erwen

One reason why is because this article is not about eagle, it’s about the XPLR group with a 10-44 cassette. If you are riding 1x with a 42 x 10 top gear you will get SMOKED by someone with a 2x drivetrain with 47 x 10 gearing. I rode 1x for years and am happy to move on. I would still consider 1x for a flat muddy Cx race. Let’s look back on this conversation in 5 years time and you may be surprised at the trending shift back to 2x for racers and competitive cyclists.

jimb2
jimb2
2 days ago
Reply to  nooner

42? Running an eagle cassette you can run a 46t or 48t easily and have plenty of range for racing purposes.

Sevo
Sevo
8 days ago

You don’t need a mtb der to make GRX work with mtb cassettes. Many bikes are actually spec’d with SLX or XT cassettes and GRX ders. 🙂

Arin
Arin
8 days ago

The issues you talk about with the Reverb all come down to getting used to it. Once you spend enough time on the post you won’t think about anything you have an issue with. It would be nice to have a one handed actuation, but do you struggle shifting the front derailleur when you use AXS 2x? I would think more people would be complaining about that if it was that hard.

r m
r m
8 days ago
Reply to  Arin

I have the same issue with the AXS dropper to be honest.

So long as you’ve got line of sight, and drop before you start rocketing downhill, it’s all good. But in california our downhills are steep, and rocky, and navigating the dual paddles to lower the saddle while descending is very awkward.

SRAM could fix this easily – make a blip that sends a continuous signal.

Sean O'B
Sean O'B
6 days ago
Reply to  r m

It looks like SRAM are working on a firmware update for the existing Wireless Blips to allow this:

https://support.sram.com/hc/en-us/articles/6225013965211-Can-I-use-SRAM-eTap-AXS-Wireless-Blips-with-my-Reverb-AXS-seatpost-

Sevo
Sevo
7 days ago

The XPLR wheels are fantastic. Put a set on my Evil Chamois Hagar and it just made an already amazing bike that much more fun. Subtle suspension and hugs the off camber stuff.

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