SRAM’s blingy Eagle gets a more blue collar treatment
Back in the heady days of 2017, SRAM freed the Eagle to considerable bemusement. A 1x12 drivetrain with a 50t cassette? Minds were blown and socks were knocked off. GX Eagle is the third-tier version with less bling, less fancy materials, but still with all those teeth.
I’ve been riding around on SRAM’s GX Eagle for a few months. It came attached to a Bombtrack Beyond Plus 2 adventure weapon. Y’know what? I like it.
THE SPEC REVIEWED
- Crankset: GX Eagle Boost 175mm
- Chainring: 32t
- Cassette: XG-1275 Eagle, 10-50T - 447g
- Rear Derailleur: GX Eagle - 290g
- Front Derailleur: HA! Nope…
- Shifter: GX Eagle trigger - 131g
- Chain: GX Eagle - 252g
- Brakeset: SRAM Level TLM (technically not part of the GX Eagle groupset)
Ultimately the 1x revolution lives and dies on its shift quality and the good news is; it’s bloody impressive. Can you change ratio chunks faster than a switching chainrings on a 2x drivetrain? Nope. Now that’s out of the way, let’s jump in.
Shifting speed is fast and accurate. Hit the very short travel lever and the rear derailleur jumps to action immediately. Being an MTB drivetrain, I shifted under load, at inopportune times, while rumbling over crappy terrain and the GX Eagle didn’t seem fussed. It clunks and pings like a piece of agricultural machinery, but it gets into gear. This ain’t svelte Campagnolo shifting that sounds like silk sliding across a marble sculpture. It’s more like dropping saucepans down the stairs.
The shifting is found lacking when you want to up-shift several cogs quickly. The lever clicks and changes are fast but you can only go through them individually. Double chainrings are still better for making large ratio shifts. Thankfully the downward sweep shift can gobble up to 4 gears with a single shove of the lever. It’s the major compromise of 1x drivetrains.
I do have a small gripe with the shifting lever layout. Both up and down levers are very close together, with the up shift lever in front of the down shift lever. It’s just not as natural or intuitive as Shimano’s index finger/thumb shifter layout. In the heat of battle, that meant occasionally hitting the wrong lever. I adjusted over time, but I still don’t feel like it’s the ideal layout.
Having the shifting pod mounted beneath the bars and attached to the brake lever causes some ergonomic struggles too. You need to compromise between having the brake lever close for easy reach, but not so close that the shifter pod interferes with your hands when holding the grips. There’s two mounting points for the shifter pod and moving it to the inboard position helped but I’d still like the brakes slightly closer and the shifter pod slightly further away.
The big news stories for the Eagle release was that insane 50t cassette at the back.
A 32x50 ratio is not carte blanche to climb vertical walls. You’ll run out of traction before you run out of ability to turn the pedals in that gear. Plus, balancing is difficult at such a low speed. I frequently used the 50t and was damn thankful for the mercy. It’s enough range to get up 20% and higher grades, at a blazing 8kph, depending on how the tyre grips the surface. On the spinny end, you can push up to 45kph at around 100 RPM with the 32x10 combo. Some might find that insufficient but I rarely wanted for extra gears at that end of the cassette.
Inevitably there are some large gaps between ratios at the climby end of the cassette. The steps go 10t, 12t, 14t, 16t, 18t, 21t, 24t, 28t, 32t, 36t, 42t, 50t. Making a jump between a 42 and 50t cogs is quite an experience, and something SRAM deserve to be lauded for. That shift is carried out with similar snappiness as every other when running through the cassette. It occasionally lags if you’re doggedly clawing your way up a steep wall.
Technically GX Eagle doesn’t have a brake assembly as part of the groupset, but the specced SRAM Level TLM brakes on the Bombtrack are a good match to the GX Eagle from a performance and price perspective.
There’s a good bundle of stopping power on offer from the Level TLM brakes - all the more appreciated on a fully rigid MTB.
Brake lever ergonomics are very nice, allowing easy reach and lots of control. The levers are short, but nicely hooked at their ends to allow for that fine index-finger braking. It gives you good control when managing your speed bombing downhill and regulating your speed.
It doesn’t feel like the most refined brake system. There is a long lever throw before pads hit disc. It does give you some margin for error if you grab and handful of brake, but I’d like it to be a little more direct. There is some slack movement in the lever mechanism as well.
They’re not quiet brakes either. There’s a big of screech at initial engagement, then a bit of grind after you’ve scrubbed off a lot of speed. I’ve come to know that as the SRAM disc brake noise. The Canyon Aeroad with Red eTap HRD I reviewed made a very similar noise progression when braking (#justSRAMthings).
GX Eagle is a quality groupset. Getting 1x12 speed to work so well in its first generation is impressive. Bravo SRAM. While there’s still lively debate on the utility or necessity of 1x12, there’s no doubting the quality of GX Eagle.
Shifting is very good; snappy, accurate, and has been very low maintenance so far. I haven’t had to make any adjustments in over 500km of predominantly trail riding. Upshift speed is limited to quick individual shifts but downwards gives you a mega 4-cog sweep. Shifting is dramatic too in a viscerally mechanical way.
It's a system with some compromises though. The shifter layout and pod placement takes some getting used to if you’re unfamiliar with SRAM. It does have the occasional lag when you're dropping watts but it punches into gear every time.
GX Eagle is easy to live with, reliable, and good value at around $800 AUD depending on your component choices. Embrace the Eagle; its reliability, quality, and simplicity is liberating.