What mountain bike drivetrain is right for you?

March 10, 2023

What mountain bike drivetrain is right for you?

Mountain biking is a sport that has been growing in popularity for years. With the recent increase in popularity, there has been an influx of new mountain bikers who are looking to purchase their first mountain bike. One of the most common questions these new mountain bikers have is "What drivetrain is right for me?" Here, we'll be discussing the multitude of drivetrains we offer and by the end you can make an informed decision on your next purchase.

The different types of mountain bike drivetrains

When it comes to choosing a drivetrain for your mountain bike, Shimano and SRAM are often considered the two main contenders. Shimano is well-known for its accuracy and reliability while SRAM has become famous amongst mountain bikers for its unique design components and lightweight characteristics. Shimano tends to be better suited for those who prefer smooth performance on their mountain bike, while SRAM's specialized materials offer greater durability in more challenging terrain. Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to selecting the right drivetrain for your mountain bike; your choice should ultimately come down to personal preference, riding style, and budget.

How to choose the right model for you

If you're shopping around for a new model, the NX Eagle, GX Eagle and X01/XX1 Eagle, from SRAM, are all great options to consider. NX Eagle offers a top-shelf shifting and reliability for a bargain-basement price, GX Eagle is an exceptional balance of performance and value, bringing technology trickled down from the X01 and XX1 lineup, and X01 Eagle gives an excellent ride for those after a high end experience, moving to a 1 piece machined cassette, and tighter tolerances throughout the components, leading to a world class drivetrain. If you want something from the Shimano side of the fence, then you can take up a Deore, Deore XT or XTR drivetrain. All of these models have Shimano's Hyperglide technology to aid in shifting, and most of the differences among these models in the range are reductions in weight, along with very distinct benefits that will help you make the best choice for your individual needs.

As well as models, these drivetrains are limited by compatibility with your wheels and bottom bracket. Now I'm sure if you've been riding for a while, you've met the guy that hasn't stepped foot on a bike with SRAM components, and another person who wouldn't dare ride a bike with any hint of a Shimano logo. As well as the last guy who has the setup I've dubbed as "SRAMano" with a deore cassette, eagle derailleur and shifter, with some XTR crankset. What I'm getting at is there are some rules when picking out your next groupo.

When starting from scratch: your freehub body will determine your cassette, and your bottom bracket will determine your crankset. Then, shifter and derailleur must be matched. Whats that mean?


SRAM NX Eagle Boost MTB Groupset - Black Black 175mm

SRAM SX and NX Eagle use Shimano's old HG freehub body, meaning you can upgrade from a 2x or 3x system to SX/NX without any worry, it was designed on those platforms so you don't break the bank with a new wheelset. SRAM GX, X01, and XX1 Eagle all use SRAM's XD driver freehub body, and Shimano's lineup all use their Microspline freehub body.


SRAM X01 Eagle Boost 12 Spd Crankset - Lunar-Oxy Red Lunar - Oxy Red 170mm - 32t

Cranksets are their own can of worms with a billion bottom bracket standards that create their own oxymoron. More often than not, SRAM will use their DUB bottom bracket. Shimano, on the other hand, will design their cranksets to fit in various bottom brackets, usually BB93, but there are others out there.

Shifters and Derailleurs

Deore XT Shifter and Derailleur

If a shifter is from a brand and says the same number of speeds as the derailleur. That's it. Luckily for us riders, Shimano and SRAM 12 speed parts are interchangeable with others in the lineup. So you can have an SX cassette, X01 derailleur, NX cranks, with a GX shifter, and it will all work reasonably well. Ideally you match the components, but sometimes riders like to save a few bucks by going with cheaper components where they can (myself included).

Lastly, Maintenance

As you walk out of the bike shop with your fancy XTR drivetrain, ready to tackle your next big adventure, that drivetrain is going to wish it were left in the box if you don't take care of it right. Your wallet would tend to agree as well, because life expectancy of your spinning bits is all dependent on how well you clean and care for it.


Muc-Off X3 Chain Cleaning Kit Clear


Pick up some proper chain lube for your area. Wet lube for places like the PNW, or Canada, and dry lubes for places like Arizona, Utah, or Southern California. I recommend Muc-Off's C3 Ceramic lubes, but I've seen a lot of success with Rock N' Roll's lineup. Now that you put on the lube, you'll need to take it off with degreaser. My personal preference is Muc-Off's Drivetrain Cleaners, but any de-greasing solvent will do fine. Properly lubing and cleaning your bike's drivetrain is key for longevity and superior shifting.

In Conclusion

I hope this blog has served you well in picking out the next piece of kit to put on your 2 wheeled stoke machine. Getting to the nitty gritty of bike parts can be a mountain of a task (pun intended) and, if you need any guidance, the guys at Cambria Bike are more than happy to talk for hours and hours about what parts to put on in order for you to have an awesome time on the trails.

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