SRAM 1X Case Study: Reinventing the Bicycle Drivetrain for a Lighter, Simpler, Better Performing Mountain Bike


Founded in 1987 by three engineers, SRAM became known in the cycling world for Grip Shift road bike shifters, the first ergonomic, indexing shift levers that easily allowed a rider to change gears without removing their hands from the handlebars. Easy-to-use and ultra-simple (they were made of just three parts where a typical shifter from Shimano was composed of nearly 30 pieces), Grip Shift established SRAM as a company that could innovate unique solutions to complex engineering design problems. Acquiring 100 year-old German manufacturer Sachs in 1990s allowed SRAM to broaden its immediate offerings to chains, derailleurs and ultra-complex internal hubs. It also gave SRAM the ability to develop and iterate new drivetrain products at a level that was not previously possible.

The Problem

Multi-gear bicycle drivetrains have been around for over 125 years and, while there have been a steady stream of incremental improvements, there hadn’t been major steps forward in decades. With gearing systems becoming more complicated as riders searched for more gears to tackle varied terrain, a simpler solution was needed.

SRAM’s acquisition of Sachs and their massive development center in Schweinfurt, Germany, set the stage for drivetrain innovation, with Sachs’ history of making simple and intuitive drivetrains for urban consumers. In fact, Sachs had some existing products that would prove instrumental in the development of a mountain bike drivetrain with just one ring. In 2010, working out of the old Sachs factory in Schweinfurt, Germany, a team of engineers led by American Chris Hilton began to develop the 1X system, inspired by modifications made by top professional cross-country racers.

SRAM-XX1-team2.jpgChris Hilton, External Drivetrain Product Manager

SRAM-XX1-mountedDetail1.jpgAn integral part of the 1x system, the 11-speed X-DOME™ 10-42 tooth cassette delivers an incredibly wide gear range while maintaining even, optimized steps

The Inspiration

SRAM’s two-chainring system (2X10) was becoming wildly popular by 2010, replacing the established three-ring set up. Most component companies were offering a 10-speed rear cassette instead of a 9-speed which allowed a comparable gear range to the three-ring set up. However, elite cross-country professionals, always in search of the lightest solution possible, took things further by using only one ring in front. SRAM quickly took notice and set out to design a mountain bike component system like nothing the market had seen before. By assessing the needs of the athlete and building the new system from the ground up, the German engineering team wanted to design a dedicated 1X system that made vast improvements to what existed at the time.

SRAM-XX1-teamCOMP.jpgSRAM-XX1-teamCOMP2.jpgClockwise from top left: Frank Schmidt, Design engineering manager; Markus Klier, Test engineering manager; Andreas Benz, engineering team leader for rear derailleurs; Robert Boehm, senior design engineer for rear derailleurs; Thorsten Hamisch, senior industrial design engineer; Henrik Braedt, advanced development engineer, who realizes prototype ideas and designs before they become actual projects



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