Wide-open farm roads, winding, washboard-filled fire roads and twisty single track all have can all be pedaled in one ride with the proper gear. Drivetrain manufacturers have bridged the gap between road and mountain bike gearing that will benefit the ever popular category of riding known simply as ‘gravel’. Take a look at the latest offerings from SRAM, Shimano, Campagnolo and Rotor.
Just a little over a year ago SRAM launched eTap AXS which put them back on the map for drop-bar bikes. Along with this launch was a new generation in chainring options to match their 12-speed cassettes that feature a 10 tooth cog. For many it was very confusing but it didn’t take long for the masses to realize this wasn’t fake news and the new offering was indeed a step forward for the industry.
Well SRAM is now responding to Shimano’s GRX offering with wider gearing options. This is two-fold, one is a wider range cassette with matching rear derailleur (10-36), and the other is a wider crank. The new crank is 2.5mm wider on each side for a 5mm wider q-factor. With the wider stance is a new front derailleur that is 2.5mm wider, leaving more room for tires if you choose a 2x setup. The new “wide” crank comes in a new 43/30 chainring set, targeting all-road and gravel builds but also compatible on most road bikes too.
Shimano hit the market with the first dedicated gravel drivetrain lineup under the GRX insignia. There are a few options—from 11-speed to 10-speed variants, as well as mechanical and electronic Di2 versions on 11-speed. The system closely resembles their Ultegra and 105 road parts but with slight modifications. Enlarged brake blades and wider-stance front derailleurs are the most noteworthy, as well as the addition of a gravel-specific clutch to minimize chain slap.
The world’s oldest component maker is also the newest to the gravel game. Campagnolo’s 13-speed/1x Ekar drivetrain. Ekar features three cassette options: 9-36t, 9-42t and 10-44t. Up front there are four chainring options—38, 40, 42 and 44. The cranks also have a narrow 145.5mm Q-factor. Probably our most noted feature is the new thumb-shifter design that adds a textured element, as well as a new C-shaped, dual-position trigger to Campy’s independent dual-control layout.
Rotor has two 1x options that both utilize their 13-speed derailleur and shifter. Even more wild is that the shifts are actuated by hydraulic fluid. For those going all-in on 13-speeds, you will need to also use their hub to accommodate all the cogs. If you would rather not switch hubs, the system can be bumped down to 12-speeds on the same shifter and derailleur. Rotor offers four cassette options for both that each top out with a 52t gear. A full group uses Magura hydro disc brakes. Don’t forget that Rotor also offers a vast lineup of cranks to choose from as well.