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SRAM, Zipp, and Rockshox unite to launch XPLR gravel component family

10 Aug 2021
Verdict:

Landslide of products including groupset components, wheels, and a suspension fork will help you build tomorrow's gravel bikes today

With the launch of its radical XPLR range, Sram poses the question, ‘What is gravel'? Is it a category? A style? A way of life? Well Sram reckons it's all three. To which we would add that it's also a superb sub-base on which to lay a patio. And apparently that's cool too, because Sram is equally insistent that there's no wrong way to gravel.

Now helping you take to the gravel in whatever fashion you deem most fitting, the enormous Sram corporation has teamed up with suspension specialists Rockshox and wheelmakers Zipp, and pooling their skills they've simultaneously released a range of products that aims to make your every gravel ride as 'groadacious' as possible.

With gravel-specific wireless groupsets from its established Red, Force, and Rival lines, suspension forks and dropper posts from Rockshox, plus wheels, tyres and handlebars from Zipp, it's a pretty comprehensive drop of gravel-going goodness.

Let's take a look at some of the standout products:

Sram XPLR: Gravel-specific Red, Force, and Rival AXS groupsets

Increasing the mix-and-match technology from across its road and mountain bike ranges, Sram now offers gravel-specific components at each of its Red, Force, and Rival AXS levels. Allowing gravel riders to benefit from an incredibly wide range of gears, its latest XPLR 10-44t cassettes offer a massive 440% range with surprisingly smooth gear progression.

Available at Red, Force, and Rival levels, Sram's matching XPLR series rear derailleurs use the same wireless shifting technology but are specially made to work with the brand's larger 10-44t XPLR and 10-36t cassettes. They're based on oversized X-Sync pulleys for increased durability and efficiency. Also featuring a clutch function for improved chain retention, their arrival means each wireless groupset can now be built in a unique gravel-friendly guise.

Working with the firm’s existing shifters, their wireless connectivity means that if you already own a relevant groupset, all you'll need to upgrade is throw on a new rear derailleur, cassette, and chain.

However, for a more perfect single-ring setup, Sram has also released an extended range of direct mount 1x cranksets. Again covering its Red, Force, and Rival levels, these not only save a valuable amount of weight but provide a new wide stance option for maximum tyre clearance.

Rockshox Rudy Ultimate XPLR Suspension Fork

The Rockshox Rudy is a suspension fork tailored to the gravel market. Bringing the brand to a new audience, the Rudy fork aims to smooth your progress over rougher sections without an excessive weight penalty or loss of efficiency. If you ride a mountain bike, the idea of suspension will be old hat.

However, if you've only ever ridden above a rigid fork, the effect will be a revelation. Basically, with suspension, you're far less likely to get sore arms, bumped off route, or find your tyres sliding out from under you. Allowing the fork to compress under impact, all suspension comes with a slight penalty in terms of weight and out-of-the-saddle pedalling efficiency.

However, as suspension technology has improved and gravel riding styles have got more aggressive, each is increasingly finding itself a better match for the other.

Using Rockshox' lightest ever Charger Race Day damper and proven SoloAir spring technology to provide the Rudy's travel, both these will be recognisable to mountain bike racers.

Less familiar will be the slimmed-down package in which they arrive. Tuned specifically for gravel riding, they combine to provide either 30 or 40mm of travel in a fork able to accept 700c tyres up to 50mm wide. Swallowing these oversized treads with plenty of room left for additional mud, the fork also benefits from mounting points for RockShox' range of semi-integrated fenders.

Rockshox Reverb XPLR Dropper Seatpost

Another import from the mountain bike segment, dropper posts have been growing in popularity among the gnarlier sections of the gravel going cohort. Essentially a remotely adjustable seatpost, a dropper post allows you to raise or lower the height of your seat with the push of a lever.

Letting riders increase standover when the terrain gets choppier, the RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR is one of the first models specifically aimed at the gravel market. It tailors itself to this use in several ways.

For a start, it comes in the commonly used 27.2mm size. Understanding that gravel riders don't need nearly as much movement as most mountain bikers, its travel is also limited to a comparatively short 50 or 75mm. This in turn has allowed Rockshox to keep the post’s overall weight as low as possible. Again relying on an air spring, the post can be wirelessly activated via Sram's dedicated AXS controller.

Cleverly, besides offering height adjustment, when used at anything other than its full extension, the post also provides a few millimetres of built-in compliance to ensure comfort and control over rough terrain.

Zipp 101 XPLR wheelset

The last of the three brands simultaneously releasing gravel-specific products is wheel expert Zipp. Its first purpose-built gravel wheelset, the 101 XPLR, is designed for tyres between 40 to 55mm wide and aims to increase compliance via its shallow carbon rims. Weighing 1,665g in a 700c size or 1,590g for the 650b version, both wheelsets are based around a hookless rim with a 27mm internal profile.

However, most radical of all is the way the 101 wheels aim to smooth your transit via something Zipp calls 'ankle compliance'. Built into the rim, this feature allows the rim to twist locally around the spoke nipple. This small amount of movement aims to absorb vibrations before they make their way onwards to the bike and the rider. Reducing rider fatigue, Zipp claims this technology will also offer more control, greater traction, and reduced susceptibility to pinch flats.

Manufactured in Zipp's Indianapolis facility, the rims also feature a low profile and unique single-wall rim construction. Finally, they are laced to the firm's ZR1 hubs, which offer 66 points of engagement, making them unlike anything else currently on the market.

Zipp G4040 XPLR tyres

Of course, with your jazzy new wheels, you'll be needing some equally flash new tyres. And you'll probably be wanting them with gum-coloured sidewalls. Zipp's G4040 XPLR tyre follows the same design brief as the 101 XPLR wheels. This means they're hookless-compatible while also being happy to work with more conventional tubeless rims or inner-tube based setups.

Made to survive the hacking and slashing inflicted by the loosest gravel paths or most overgrown forest trails, the G4040’s bead-to-bead puncture protection strip nevertheless aims to remain flexible enough not to exclude them from competitive use. Currently available in a single 700 x 40c size, their tread pattern features three distinct sectors. Aiming to provide the versatility prized by gravel riders, its almost continuous centre should mean that despite chunky side knobs, they’ll still be quick in a straight line.

Service Course SL-70 XPLR handlebar

The last piece in the XPLR range, Zipp's Service Course SL-70 XPLR handlebar possesses the shallow drop and wide flare that's become de rigueur among gravel riders. Also featuring an ergonomic top section, this sweeps backwards slightly towards the rider to provide even more comfort for their wrists. Made from aluminium, they're available in sizes from 40 to 46cm.

Pricing and availability

Sram XPLR drivetrain pricing:

Rear Derailleur: Red XPLR, £610
Force XPLR, £290
Rival XPLR, £236

Cassette: XPLR XG-1271 10-44t, £200
XPLR XG-1251 10-44t, £145

Crankset with direct mount chainring: Red 1 Direct Mount, £610
Force 1 Direct Mount, £290
Rival 1 Wide, £236

Rockshox XPLR pricing:

Rudy Ultimate Race Day Fork, £779
Reverb AXS XPLR Seatpost, £500

Zipp XPLR pricing:

101 XPLR Carbon Wheelset, £1,646
G40 XPLR 700 x 40c Tyre, £64
Service Course SL 70 XPLR Handlebar £109

Price: 
From £64 to £1,646