The news that Shimano has finally embraced 1x gearing wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it does raise valid questions about what took the brand so long. It also leads to inevitable comparisons with SRAM’s latest and greatest AXS components.
SRAM can justifiably claim credit for stoking the fires of 1x. Back in 2012 when many mountain bikers were still riding triples, the brand went all-in and launched XX1, the first dedicated 1x groupset.
SRAM has refreshed its road offering again this year with its Red and Force eTap AXS, and while Shimano has continued to produce some stunning groupsets, including the likes of Dura-Ace R9100, Ultegra R8000 and 105 R7000, the Japanese brand has largely focused on ever-improving shifting and braking performance rather than up-ending its approach to gearing.
Shimano GRX vs. SRAM AXS
In some ways, GRX is a huge leap forward, but it remains to be seen if it’s enough to sway gravel and adventure riders who might be tempted away from their existing SRAM groupsets, or by the shiny newness of SRAM eTap AXS .
Where SRAM has steamed ahead with 1×12 gearing, GRX components don’t go beyond 11-speed. Riders hoping for a 12-speed drop-bar-friendly setup using the Micro Spline freehub, introduced with Shimano XTR M9100, will be disappointed and, officially, there’s no 1x option for the more affordable 10-speed components.
The comparison with SRAM isn’t totally straightforward. AXS offers an extra cog compared to GRX, and the lowest gear ratio currently on offer for 1x ‘road’ setups is a 36/33t, which isn’t as low as the 40/42t that’s achievable with Shimano.
However, AXS components are all interchangeable with one another, so once they’re available separately, you’ll be able to match an Eagle AXS rear derailleur to road shifters and run that monstrous 10-50t mountain bike cassette.
You also have the option of running mountain bike cranks to get a smaller ring up front, or there are various 11-speed possibilities (Force 1 etc.). So, while SRAM doesn’t have a dedicated gravel groupset, the options are there.
Nevertheless, GRX will make a lot of Shimano fans very happy because it brings proper gravel-friendly gearing at a range of groupset levels and includes clutch-equipped rear-derailleurs, where previously Ultegra RX was the sole option.
Do riders really want 1x on their road and gravel bikes?
Attitudes to 1x have certainly evolved. It’s an easy sell for mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes, where chain retention is of paramount importance and closely spaced gears are deemed less critical.
For mixed riding, where you might spend prolonged periods on tarmac, there’s still a case to be made for having two chainrings because it lets you run tighter cassette ratios with smaller jumps between gears without sacrificing range.
Is Shimano GRX too late?
If you’ve just bought a gravel bike, then yes, GRX is too late. This doesn’t change the fact that it’s hugely welcome news. As long as component makers don’t completely abandon their existing product lines — and Shimano never does — more choice has to be a good thing.
GRX offers some intriguing features for gravel riders, such as those in-line hydraulic brakes, and it makes useful gearing more attainable. If you’re shopping for a 2020 bike you’ll have a greater range of options than before and I can’t find any reason to complain about that.
The future — Shimano GRX 12-speed? Dura-Ace R9200?
Shimano has yet to launch a 12-speed groupset for drop-bar bikes, but with a new Dura-Ace groupset more than likely to appear next year — Shimano is pretty consistent with its product life-cycles — that could easily change.
If Dura-Ace R9200 (or whatever Shimano calls it) has 12-cogs then it seems inevitable that GRX 12-speed components will ultimately appear too, although we might have to wait for the next generation of Ultegra, as Dura-Ace has historically been kept as the road-racing groupset, with few concessions to other riding niches.
Whatever happens, it’s a good time to be a bike components geek, long may that continue. Will your next bike be wearing Shimano GRX? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.