Riding the XC focused SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS™ wireless electronic drivetrain

When SRAM launched its wireless electronic drivetrain earlier this year there was an audible gasp from the mountain bike world.

The XX1 AXS system is a lightweight 12-speed wireless electronic drivetrain with titanium hardware, a carbon cage and is aimed at the XC / Marathon racer. Whilst officially launched earlier this year, the system had in fact been in development for six years.

Testing the SRAM Eagle XX1 AXS wireless electronic drivetrain for Bike Network in Cape Town South AFrica with Myles Kelsey and Gary Perkin.
The second clutch system which reduces the chance of ripping a derailleur off during a rock strike makes AXS a more robust and durable drivetrain.
IMAGE: Gary Perkin


The underbar shifter, or controller, has a thumb-operated main paddle with two touchpoints. Clicking (touching) the top of the main paddle shifts the chain in one direction and clicking the bottom of the paddle shifts it in the other. A separate sprint paddle on the front of the controller is operated by the knuckle of your index finger which is essentially for out of the saddle, mid-sprint downshifting. The sprint paddle does operate upshifts too. There is no wiring, cables or cable housing at all with this fly by wire device. I found the feel of the shifter different at first, but very ergonomic and after two rides had it completely dialed in.

An AXS App enables a customized setup to tune each paddle to suit your preference. The touchpoints can be assigned to shift either inboard or outboard. Additionally, the App enables a single gear shift or multiple gear shift setups – the choice is yours. The controller (shifter) is powered by a small CR2032 battery which has about a two-year life. A pairing button underneath the controller pairs with the controller to the derailleur.


The derailleur is fully adjustable with the usual B screw, and the upper or lower limit screws but also is programmed (intelligent) to recognize the gear spacing. The cage of the AXS derailleur is a little shorter than on regular Eagle derailleurs and there is slightly more chain ‘wrap-around’ on the cassette. A pairing button syncs the derailleur to the controller. The brain of the AXS system is located inside the derailleur and the unit is powered by a rechargeable battery that mounts to the back of the derailleur.

SRAM has also tucked the derailleur in a little closer to the bike and away from the trail. They have added an ‘overload clutch’ to the AXS derailleur which in the event of an impact, like a rock strike, allows the derailleur to absorb the impact and move inwards and away from the object which reduces the chance of snapping and breaking the whole mech and ending your race. The original Type 3 pulley-cage clutch, that we all love, is still part of the AXS derailleur. In terms of compatibility, the AXS derailleur works with all the existing SRAM Eagle chains, chainrings and cassettes.


The battery has a 20 hour life, charges in an hour and is completely waterproof. If the battery does die on a ride the derailleur will stay in the last gear used. The battery weighs 24grams and the entire system is around 15grams lighter than regular Eagle XX1.


At first, the controller does feel a little different from the traditional shifters which we have all gotten used to. It does not take long at all to adjust and feel at home with the AXS shifter and no pilot’s licences or the like are required to operate the system. Changing gears is more a click on the paddle than a shift of a lever and the process is smooth, precise and instant. The majority of the shifting is done via the main paddle but with more time on the bike, I did start to use the sprint paddle more and more. The chain glides between gears at the touch of the paddle – the effort or input involved from the rider is minimal. The inboard shift is almost completely inaudible and the outboard shift does have the usual cluck sound. A very faint sound of the electric motor can be heard when shifting gears in the workshop but on the mountain, it’s not audible. The clutch system also silences things out on the trail and with over 15 hours of riding, on some pretty rough trails, there were no dropped chains at all. As I expected with a top of the range system like AXS, the shifting under power is very crispy, efficient and without any perceived strain on the system.


The second clutch system which reduces the chance of ripping a derailleur off during a rock strike is a big upgrade incentive. It’s a more robust and durable system. Fewer cables improve the aesthetics of the bike for sure. The ride is also potentially a lot quieter with less cable rattle echoing through the frame. Using the AXS app the customization on offer is not a nice touch, it’s an actual tangible benefit improving comfort and shifting experience on the trails. Yes, it’s electronic but the system installation, setup and maintenance is actually pretty fuss-free.

Under racing conditions and especially when fatigue sets in every ounce of energy counts, as does absolute accuracy. For XC and marathon racers who are on the limit, the simple speed, efficiency and ease of operation of the AXS shifting is a performance advantage. The consistent accuracy from the ‘intelligent’ derailleur, reduces the chance of catastrophic drivetrain failure from a shifting error. The system also has a motion sensor that switches itself off when the bike is not in use. System integration is happening in the bike world, there is no denying that. Some may fear it and that’s fine. I love it.

Testing the SRAM Eagle XX1 AXS wireless electronic drivetrain for Bike Network in Cape Town South AFrica with Myles Kelsey and Gary Perkin.
A significant benefit of wireless electronic shifting is the clean cockpit layout.

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| ACTION IMAGES: Gary Perkin | PRICING: Contact your nearest SRAM dealer |

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