As a side note, I chose not to run a front derailleur with the system, as the increase in gear range allowed me to run a 1×10 setup with chainguide. (See my review of the 1×10 setup.) Hence, no front shifter, front derailleur, or front chainrings are being evaluated here.
The first thing I noticed when installing the system was that the new 10-speed X9 derailleur was closer in build quality, spring tension, and materials to the X0 9-speed stuff, than to the X9 9-speed (both of which I’d run in the past). A few things I’ve learned:
· Installing a new cable in the shifter is more akin to the Shimano stuff than the SRAM stuff of old. This means you don’t need to take any covers off or remove the shifter from the bar to install a new cable, which is a very welcome upgrade.
· One thing I’ve learned since going to 10-speed: in a pinch, a 9-speed rear deraileur can be used. It won’t work great, but it will suffice.
· 9-speed chain rings work fine, too, although I can’t speak to the shifting performance, since I was running a single ring setup the whole time.
If you are not a racer sweating over every gram, the X9 stuff is as good as you’ll ever need to buy. The shifts are quick, crisp, and precise. The only time I noticed a degradation in shifting performance was when my cable / housing would get worn, frayed, or generally gunked up, but this is the case no matter what your drivetrain is.
Compared to my higher-end X0 or X9-level 9-speed drivetrains, I noticed no degradation in performance by dropping “down” to the X9 10 speed. The amount of thumb effort it took to work through the gears was so incredibly light, I found myself just doing it for fun, like a six year old kid infatuated with a button in a car. I just couldn’t stop pressing those paddles! Good stuff.
As a side note, keep in mind that I am comparing a 3×9 conventional setup to a 1×10 setup with guide. The guide certainly has a bit to do with the shifting performance and overall crispness (especially in rough downhill bits). Not to take anything away from the X9’s performance, but it certainly has had some “assist” from a good chain retention device.
This system has been on my bike now for over a year. I don’t know exactly how many miles I’ve put on it, but it has taken a beating everywhere from Grand Junction, to Jackson, to plenty of rides on the Front Range of Denver. It’s been in the desert, in the mud, and in a ton of “normal” trail conditions. All and all, it’s held up great.
Mile-for-mile it shifts better than my 9-speed setup did, and the performance did not degrade as the system wore (to a point, anyway). I don’t believe that I’m replacing my chain more or going through cassettes faster than normal, as I’ve gone through a few chains and one cassette in about 2000 miles of riding. I’m guessing those parts do wear slightly faster, but I haven’t noticed.
Now for the bad: I have gone through two X9 derailleurs and two chains very prematurely, and I’m not exactly sure why. I ended up ripping two derailleurs off without hitting anything. Both times, my suspension was somewhere near bottom on a landing, but the usual causes were not the culprit: my chain was neither too long nor too short, and I was not in my 36 tooth (upper most) cog. All I can think is that the chain somehow deflected, and got caught up in the spokes in such a way that the entire system failed.
Either way, I was not impressed, nor happy about buying two extra chains, derailleurs, and derailleur hangers this season.
Who the SRAM X-9 10 Speed is for:
The X9 stuff is built for those guys and girls who simply ride, and aren’t going to stress over a few extra grams. The stuff works, holds up well, is priced right, and looks great. Moreover, the addition of the 36-tooth cog may be just the ticket to converting to a single ring setup, or at minimum, going to a 2×10 setup. If you race, maybe the X0 or XX stuff is the call, but as I’m writing this, I’m specing my XC race rig for 2012, and guess what? It’s going to have a X9 10-speed on it.