By writing this article, I risk upsetting one of the biggest companies in the bike industry, that has not only a stronghold on the drivetrain market, but also suspension, brakes, components, apparel, and also a few other categories. Not to mention the influence they have over bike brands, which might affect me in the future. I mean after all, they got the entire bike industry to change their frames in a matter of 2 years. But honestly I am so disappointed in SRAM transmission, that it is a risk I am willing to take. Further driving this motivation is the fact that they took my favorite invention in the bike industry (SRAM AXS), and through group think and marketing jargon meetings, somehow convinced people that SRAM transmission was the future. If SRAM transmission is the future, then I think we should all take a moment of silence for the bike industry, because that future is not well thought out, full of marketing bologny, and has lost its soul. Overly dramatic? Maybe, but my displeasure with SRAM transmission is something that has consumed my thoughts while riding, every delayed shift at a time. I would also like to mention I bought this drivetrain from N+1 Bikes one of the largest Ibis, Yeti, and Pivot dealers in the nation and if you need anything bike related hit them up and tell them we sent you and they will take care of you. But don't hit up SRAM and mention me, that probably isn't going to get you far after this article.
If you didn't know, SRAM Transmission was SRAM’s latest drivetrain creation. They essentially made a move to get rid of derailleur hangers through a UDH frame standard. Bike companies quickly adapted, updating their frames to meet this new change in order to be able to run SRAM transmission. The concept is simple, the derailleur will mount directly to the frame, and you will never break a hanger again. Some other “game changing” features would be pre programed shifting positions based off of shift ramps on the cassette, that would allow the drivetrain to know when and where to shift in the pedal stroke. There is also no adjustment on the actual derailleur, afterall in the future you shouldn't have to work at all, trust the robots. Instead an app is used to program your derailleur, based on your bike's model. You input your bike and size, and the app spits out some pre configured modes to put your derailleur in, as well as how many links of the chain to cut off.
Derailleur knows best here, don't try and outsmart it or it will penalize you by not working.
The cassette has a bit different gearing ratios between gears from previous SRAM cassettes, but the 10-52 range remains. Also gone are carbon cranks, instead, XO drivetrains (oh shoot I meant transmission, sorry SRAM, 10 points deducted from my bike credit score), get an industrial looking aluminum crank, which is supposed to be better than the carbon. $1600 for an XO transmission drivetrain by the way. With Alloy cranks. But you will run alloy and be happy. On the handlebars, they have come out with a SRAM pod as the shifter, which honestly might win the award for least ergonomically comfortable shifting pod ever created, with rubber shift pieces that with a little bit of pressure, will fall off, but we'll talk about that in a little bit. Obviously this is not the most tech detailed review, so if you want the exact specs of this drivetrain, click here. There are also a ton of other reviews online that go way more in depth than I do.
But I'm not going to regurgitate SRAM talking points, I'm going to give it to you straight, I hate this drivetrain.
And I'm not a SRAM hater by any means. SRAM AXS was my favorite mtb product ever, I loved how simple it was and how much it improved the overall mtb experience. Transmission is a 180 from this and let's talk about why.
So I have been running the new transmission for about a year now, putting in lots of miles both uphill and downhill. I also ran SRAM AXS for about 2 or 3 years before this so I am experienced with electronic shifting. The first thing that is very noticeable to me is the delay in shifting. This is something I thought I would get used to, but I just can't. Because the drivetrain has pre-programmed shift points, if you want to do a quick dump while riding, or force a shift on a sudden climb, you can’t do it. Now SRAM argues this is a good thing so you don't wear out your drivetrain, but I feel like that is a decision that should be left up to me, right?
Now taking a step back here, if this was an E-Bike specific drivetrain, I could see the advantage, because the power output on those can actually be pretty catastrophic underload while shifting.
But because SRAM transmission is not labeled as an ebike specific drivetrain, I'm going to go ahead and ask, why can't I shift when I want to shift? I don't want my drivetrain giving me permission to get into an easier gear on an analog bike. This takes the natural feeling away from the ride, and what you get is this awkward feeling while riding that no matter how many smooth shifts are a result, I could not get used too. And I will also say rough shifts are not eliminated either, there were still times where I noticed a weird timing and got a crunch feeling. At least when this happened with Transmission, I didn't need to blame myself. And if a huge climb pops out of the corner, forget about a quick dump of the gears, it's not on the schedule so you are going to have to wait your turn. So yeah performance wise shifting is one of my biggest issues with the drivetrain.
No More Derailleur Hanger
Now how about the fact that my bike is so much safer with Transmission. Afterall, the weakest spot on the bike has been eliminated, no more derailleur hangers. This is where my second biggest issue comes into play. Who told you I don't want my derailleur hanger? Actually, before transmission, I hadn't broken a derailleur hanger in years! Did I bend one every now and then? Sure, but nothing that a quick use of the park tool hanger straightener couldn't fix!
However, now that the hanger is eliminated, I have run into quite a few problems. The first one is traveling. When I fly with my bike, my favorite part about AXS used to be how simple it was. Just pop the quick link of the chain off, take the derailleur off, and you are good to go! One of the cleanest setups to fly with was AXS, and now with transmission you can't take your derailleur off, because where does your axle go? So in order for you to take the derailleur off, you need to leave the frame exposed, with no protection structurally because there is no place for the axle to go in. Now on top of that, if you were to take the derailleur off, when you get to your destination and its time to put it back on, chances are you are not going to be able to torque it to the proper 35NM (yes 35NM) torque spec it requires in order to shift properly. I mean who travels with a torque wrench (don't answer that, I don't want to know if I should be)? And is it giving you some issues shifting after re-tightening it? Chances are one of the angles is wrong (or torque) and with no outside adjustments, that perfect shift is replaced by misshifting on the trails until a computer programer is able to take a look at your bike.
Now another feature I used to love about AXS was how easy it was to swap from bike to bike. As someone who does a lot of testing, the ability to just pop AXS off of one bike and put it on another was amazing. With transmission though, no 2 bikes are the same. And instead you need to use the app to input the bike model, to find the pre configured programing of the transmission setup based on your bike. Then you can adjust a few things in the derailleur before installing it on the new bike and searching for someone strong enough to crank that bad boy down to 35NM. But hey, no more miss shifting? I guess also no more sharing drivetrains across bikes either? Seems like a pretty convenient way to sell more drivetrains.
But the tradeoff here is the derailleur is pretty bullet proof. Afterall, that was one of the biggest marketing pushes, those viral videos of people slamming the transmission derailleur with a hammer, and nothing happening to it. Well to be honest with you, nothing happened to any of the AXS derailleurs I ran the last few years either. But let's put that point aside and pretend like transmission is the most durable bike part on the market. I think one of the most frustrating moments I’ve had, is when I was already upset after all of these issues I have had with the drivetrains shifting performance and set up. I was out on a big adventure ride and a hike-a-bike came up. So I threw my bike on my shoulder, and started making the trek up, only to get to the top of the hill and realize my shifter pod was missing the rubber touch pad to shift. Analyzing it further, I realized it must have fell off on the hike-a-bike because it actually isn't even attached that strongly to the pod. They just fall right out with a little push. Why on earth would SRAM make a drivetrain, that's claim to fame is being able to be jumped on by a human and not have any issues, and then turn around and make one of the most fragile pad integration in a shifter I have ever seen? My answer? Too many marketing meetings and not enough real world testing.
So with that being said, is SRAM transmission the future? I hope not, because if it is, we are f#$%@d. But I do have to say thank you to SRAM for introducing UDH. Im not being sarcastic here either. Because now when I go back to running SRAM AXS, at least I don't have to worry about so many different derailleur hangers because now there is a universal one! That actually is the best thing that came out of this. Gone are days of searching for different hangers on a road trip, most shops should hopefully carry a UDH hanger for those of us not sophisticated enough to appreciate the marketing creation of SRAM Transmission.
Have you tried SRAM transmission? Let us know how you like it!