Sram, RockShox, and Zipp combine forces on the XPLR gravel range
Mountain bike tech for your gravel bike as conglomerate simultaneously releases new electronic wide-ratio single-ring groupsets, suspension fork, wireless dropper post, and flexible wheels.
If you like to imagine yourself a member of the gravel riding avant-garde, you’ll likely be rabidly excited by the Sram Corporation’s latest delivery of products. Pooling the resources of groupset maker Sram, suspension specialists RockShox, and wheel makers Zipp, this trio of firms have combined to migrate a host of technology already standard on mountain bikes while simultaneously tailoring it to the needs of gravel going riders.
Sram goes wide and wireless
Filling in the last remaining gaps in its gearing range, Sram has launched both a super-wide 10-44t cassette plus a bunch of wireless derailleurs capable of navigating its enormous range. Covering its high-end 12-speed Force, Rival, and Red (handily, being wireless) both these components can be bolted straight on and work with the existing shifter. Just swap the chain, sync the units, and ride off.
Offering the sort of enormous range formerly reserved for mountain bikes, the system allows you to grovel up a technical trail or barrel down a wide-open fire road, all without the risk of running out of gears at either end.
Stealing a march on Shimano, Sram’s single-ring offerings now provide both a greater overall range and smaller jumps between gears on account of their additional sprocket. Backed by a new range of matching single-chainring cranksets featuring narrow-wide teeth for improved chain retention, they look likely to take a massive bite out of the adventure-focused end of the gearing market.
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RockShox Rudy suspension fork and Reverb dropper post
Not to be outdone, stablemate RockShox has launched its first gravel-specific suspension fork. A market already catered to by a few of its rivals, its entry into the segment nevertheless pretty much puts the rubber stamp on gravel suspension being a ‘thing’.
As gravel bikes have pushed into terrain formerly the preserve of mountain bikes, they’ve faced the option of either running outrageously wide tyres or adding some form of suspension. RockShox’s new Rudy fork will still let you run tyres up to 50c wide; however, more importantly, it’ll also provide up to 40mm of air-sprung suspension travel. Saving you from being shaken to pieces improving traction, on the flip-side, you’ll add a bit of weight and have another component that requires occasional but expensive servicing. If you’re worried about a slight drop in out-of-the-saddle pedalling efficiency, you’re both right and probably not the target market.
Similarly likely to bamboozle and delight in equal measure is RockShox’ other launch. Also controllable via an ASX remote, its wireless Reverb ASX XPLR dropper post will fit 27.2mm seat tubes and provides either 50 or 75mm of saddle height adjustment. Allowing you to tuck the saddle out of the way when the going gets hairy or return it to full height for maximum efficiency, it’s a product likely to divide opinion (again). Whether you want to sign up for £500 of seatpost along with the additional servicing and weight will be up to you. However, unless you only ever ride the most sedate of routes, if our experience riding mountain bikes is anything to go by, once installed, you’re unlikely to find yourself neglecting to use it.
Zipp’s flexible wheels and saucy tan wall tyres
The last of the trio contributing to the XPLR range, wheel maker Zipp chips in a unique wheelset with flexible ankles. Formed of a single wall rather than a more conventional box profile, the carbon rims on its 101 XPLR wheelset are designed to gently twist horizontally relative to the spokes. In doing so, they promise to absorb shocks from the surface beneath the tyres long before they reach the rider.
Also claiming to cut down pinch punctures, Zipp calls this Moto Technology. Available in 700c or 650b formats, the wheel’s wide rim bed is designed especially for large tubeless tyres and lower pressures. Whether or not you choose to team them with other components like RockShox new fork, they aim to provide a ride that’s drastically more compliant than that offered by existing wheelsets.
To go with these new rims, you’ll probably also want some equally fancy tyres. Currently only available in a 700x40c size, Zipp’s G40 XPLR tyre features comprehensive bead-to-bead puncture protection. Ensuring your sidewalls are as safe from being slashed as the tread is from being penetrated, they’re only available with a tan sidewall, which at least saves you from having to worry about whether that’s still cool or already slightly passé.
Last in the line, a set of aluminium handlebars with an equally gravel-specific form. Available in sizes from 40 to 46cm, they feature the broad flare beloved of off-road cyclists along with an ergonomic upper section that sweeps backwards slightly towards the rider. Aiming to plant the rider in a comfy spot, whether resting on the drops or gripping the tops, they’re also designed to work well with handlebar rolls – if that sort of thing is your bag.