After a long hiatus and much clamoring from eager fans, SRAM have reintroduced a revamped Grip Shift twist shifter platform to fill out their 10-speed X0 and XX mountain bike groupsets. The intuitively familiar operation and the general appearance have been faithfully carried over from the previous iteration but it's a different story inside.
The old Grip Shift's rotating mechanism was little more than two concentric tubes spinning about each other on a bed of grease. It wasn't well sealed, required occasional lubrication for optimum performance, and while generally precise, the old detent mechanism was apparently deemed insufficient for this more modern iteration.
The new version rotates on three sets of ball bearings per shifter that, according to SRAM, will remain slop-free for the life of the unit and require no regular servicing (which is a good thing, since it apparently can't be disassembled in the field). The old metal-on-plastic indexing setup has also been replaced with a more robust metal-on-metal setup, and the front shifter is now an exclusively two- or three-speed arrangement with no trim positions.
Additional features include a newly separated inboard clamp mechanism that SRAM claim secures the shifter without affecting the internal alignment and a novel outboard grip interface called Jaws that interlocks the two sections together for a stable and integrated feel. There's also the option of running standard grips for those who prefer that route.
As expected, Grip Shift is lighter than its trigger shifter counterparts – by up to 48g according to SRAM's calculations for the X0 version, depending on the specific configuration. Claimed weight for both the X0 and XX shifters is 207g per pair, with the stock Jaws grips adding another 80g. Both shifters are functionally identical internally with the only differences being aluminum covers for the X0 and carbon covers for the XX, and the latter including Gore Ride-On sealed cables as standard equipment.
The new X0 Grip Shift units weigh the same as the XX version but they're significantly cheaper
Test rides on the demanding trail network in Santa Cruz, California yielded a familiar feel that Grip Shift fans haven't been able to enjoy with the newer 10-speed groups. Rotation is impressively smooth and fluid, and there's virtually zero play in the shift mechanism itself or the rotating body.
There's also oodles of feedback – both tactile and audible – and enough resistance in the system such that mis-shifts were never an issue. In fact, we actually found Grip Shift to be notably better than XX triggers when upshifting on rough terrain. The combination of bumpy ground and the spring-loaded cable release mechanism of XX triggers would occasionally have us shifting more gears than we wanted but there was no such danger when using Grip Shift.
One major advantage of Grip Shift over triggers is multiple gear changes. The twist motion is faster and easier, and the only limiting factor is the range of motion in your wrist. If you do it just right, you can even shift the chain across the entire cassette range – an unrealistic scenario but it's nice to know the option is there regardless.
It's worth noting, too, that the Jaws stationary grip system is as rock-solid as claimed. With the interlocking connection inboard and the conventional locking collar outboard, there's no unwanted motion anywhere in the system. All in all, the overall operation seems so secure that we wouldn't hesitate to use Grip Shift on enduro or trail bikes and indeed, SRAM claim that all-mountain sensation Ross Schnell will be among the racers using it for 2012.
The serrated end of the Grip Shift base interlocks with a similar shape on the stationary grip for a rock-solid interface
Unfortunately, though, we're not entirely sold on the dimensions of those stationary grips. The distance from the inner edge of the rotating grip to the edge of the clamp seems greater than it was on the previous generation, forcing the brakes a few millimeters further inboard than some might prefer. Even one-finger braking can be a challenge if your hands are positioned out on the end of the stationary grips.
Shortening the stationary grips would move the brake levers closer to where we'd prefer. SRAM are aware of the issue and told BikeRadar that it's being investigated. We'll see if there are any changes once we have production units in hand.
The only other drawback is more of a financial one, as the newly sophisticated design has brought with it a substantially higher cost. Grip Shift X0 will cost US$225/€206 (including VAT; UK pricing was unavailable at time of writing) – more than double the price of the previous version – and the XX version is priced at a whopping $295/€270 per complete set. Production versions are expected in shops around mid-April.