Ever since the introduction of Shimano’s Di2 system in 2009 – yes, 2009! – the mountain bike world has been expecting the arrival of an electronic shifting system from SRAM.
Just nine years’ later and… bang! It’s here. Well, not quite.
Over the past few days, pictures taken during March’s UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in South Africa have got bike tech-addicted tongues wagging.
The images, taken by sports snapper Michal Červený (above) appear to show an electronic SRAM derailleur on Swiss racer Nino Schurter’s bike. A closer look at footage from the event, meanwhile, provides a clear view of the system in action.
And a short film posted by Nino on Instagram gives another tantalising look at the derailleur, while carefully obscuring the shifter system.
The striking derailleur seems to bear closer similarity to SRAM’s popular Red eTap road bike system than its MTB equivalent, Eagle.
Unlike Shinamo’s XTR Di2, however, the MTB system appears in the photos to be completely wireless, removing much of that unwanted clutter from around the frame.
So, with the first major test completed (Nino Schurter came second to New Zealander Samuel Gaze in a buttock-clenching race to the finish) how long do we have to wait for the tech to hit the market?
Well, SRAM remain extraordinarily cloak and dagger on the matter, removing close-up images of the system, and obscuring pics of the derailleur and shifters as much as possible.
That would suggest the prototype is very much still in the works, and while they have proof of concept (second in the MTB World Cup isn’t bad…) it’s difficult to predict how long the final preparations for launch will take.
But there is evidence that the system is nearing its final stages as patent drawings of the concept emerged in recent days, dating back to early September 2017.
They show a slightly different model than what was on show in South Africa, but nevertheless demonstrate SRAM are close to releasing this system on a suspecting public.
With the online debate on the subject reaching fever-pitch, The Hub is making its predictions about how the final system will work, based on what we’ve seen so far…
The quick release battery used in its Red eTap system is certain to return, despite speculation it would need modification for the bumps and bruises of the trail. We imagine it’ll be secured with more rigour than the road system to handle the occasional rock smash.
With real estate on modern mountain bike handlebars already at a premium, with controls for post droppers and suspension lockouts taking up space, we imagine SRAM’s twist or gripshifters will make a return. While Schurter was using a lever-style system (see in the bottom right of the image taken from his helmet cam below), the early patent drawings certainly seem to suggest gripshifting is part of the plan too.
Cross compatibility for XC
With the 1X system greatly reducing the complexity involved in producing an electronic shifting system, we expect there will be cross compatibility with the SRAM Red shifters, which will be music to the ears of XC riders using SRAM’s road system.
More to see at Sea Otter
April’s Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California, will see SRAM give the system another outing. Also keep an eye out for Shimano’s rumoured unveiling of its first 1X12 featuring a 51-tooth sprocket.
The Hub’s crystal ball is extremely cloudy when it comes to the likely release date for the system. However, should Sea Otter go well for the US firm, we’d expect to see SRAM scramble to get it ready for market this side of Christmas.
The new system will be closely compatible with the existing 1X12 Eagle drive train, allowing you to upgrade without forking out for a completely new gruppo.
This one, we’ve no idea about, but we’re willing to have a few goes in the name of fun. Here goes – Eagle eTap, EagleTap, MTapB, or our personal favourite… Eagle XTap.
The only thing left to do is to find some room at your charging ports for the batteries, where you’re already charging your Garmin, Air Pods, GPS watch, phone, heart-rate monitor…
What are your predictions for SRAM’s electronic MTB shifting system? Do you think it’ll make a big difference? Let us know in the comment section below