SRAM GX vs. Shimano XT
Two workhorse drivetrains go shift to shift, gram for gram
When it comes to building a new bike, riders have limited options when it comes to component selection. There are a myriad of small component companies out there, but the reality is, you’re likely going to end up with the best overall build kit if you go with one of the big component companies for the bulk of your parts. That leaves you with two choices: the red company or the blue company. Of course, we’re talking about going with either Shimano or SRAM. Both of these companies make excellent components for every rider—from the cross-country weight weenie to the gravity junkie—and we’d be hard-pressed to recommend going with components made by anyone else.
So then the question becomes, which of these two-component giants makes the “best” overall build kit? It’s a question we see all too often here at Mountain Bike Action. Depending on which editor you speak with, you will likely hear very different answers on which drivetrain reigns supreme, and that’s the way it should be. Drivetrain preference comes down to much more than a “this is best” response. Things like ergonomics, reliability, weight, feel and aesthetics all play a role in deciding which component group is the right choice for any given rider. Rather than thinking of this as a typical shootout, we sought to explain the difference in all these categories between the two systems to let you, the rider, decide which suits your style best. We sought out two very comparably priced drivetrains for this article and built them with our Intense Carbine 29er workhorse to show the differences between the two. The winner of this comparison is in your hands. Hope you enjoy.
Weight: 273 grams
Hits: Awesome stability
Misses: It’s easy to forget to hit the clutch switch back to “on” after a wheel change.
Weight: 724 grams
Hits: Razor-sharp shifting and several chainring size options.
Misses: The finish rubs off easily, making your new crank look ancient after only a few rides.
Weight: 132 grams
Hits: This thing works so fast and smooth, it makes us rethink the whole single-ring chainring notion.
Misses: It’s not a single ring, so it still adds complexity with an extra shifter and cable. That said though, it’s a fault we’re willing to overlook.
Weight: 265 grams (pair)
Hits: Fast engagement and release coupled with textured paddles make these super easy to use.
Misses: Not quite as light as the SRAM ones, and no option for a Grip-Shift version.
Hits: Awesome lever feel, tons of rotor options and heat dissipation that would make most down-hill brakes jealous.
Misses: Our first few sets of these brakes had tolerance issues that resulted in fading, although we’ve been assured that these issues have been solved.
Hits: Shimano hubs are the most durable we know of, and the rims are plenty lightweight and stiff to make you feel faster.
Misses: Not as flashy as carbon wheels, although that could be considered a good thing for some.
Hits: Awesome and reliable engagement, bearings that will last for seasons on end, and clean good looks.
Weight: 2079 grams
Hits: Awesome 29er fork that delivers tons of performance in a less-expensive package than the also-awesome Pike, which is the standard by which any all-mountain fork should be measured.
Misses: Less-sophisticated damper adjustments than other RockShox forks, although the stock settings worked quite well for us.
Weight: 290 grams
Hits: Quick and precise shifts coupled with an easy-to-adjust derailleur that seems more durable and less finicky than the Shimano.
Misses: The cable routing is slightly hard to use. We frayed several cables in the process of setting this mechanism up.
Weight: 325 grams
Hits: Awesome shifting performance, wide gearing range and impressively low weight.
Misses: You must use an XD (SRAM- specific) freehub body. Thankfully, these are becoming more and more available than ever before.
Weight: 725 grams
Hits: Quick shifts, plenty of chainring options and easy conversion to a single-ring drivetrain should the rider choose that option.
Misses: Our double-ring setup lacks the security of SRAM’s prized X-Sync (aka Narrow Wide) chain retention technology. Thankfully, you gain that back if you go to the single-ring option.
Weight: 135 grams
Hits: Easy-to-use cable routing that comes in from the top and works with nearly all bikes.
Misses: Shifting is not as crisp as the Shimano Side-Swing derailleur, and is more difficult to adjust to prevent rubbing.
Weight: 243 grams
Hits: Awesome ergonomics, quick and precise shifts, and a Grip Shift option for those who don’t prefer trigger-style shifters.
Misses: Trigger-release lever can accidentally release two gears while shifting on rough terrain, although this is easily remedied with a correction shift.
Weight: 381 grams
Hits: Debonair technology feels like a coil shock at the weight of an air spring.
Misses: Not available as original equipment on many bikes and can be an expensive upgrade.
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