FIRST RIDE REPORT
SRAM EAGLE eMTB POWERTRAIN
Words by Robert Johnston | Video by Max Rhulen
On both sides of the Atlantic, Loam Wolf reviewers were invited to ride the highly anticipated SRAM Eagle Powertrain eMTB system. Our First Ride Review will cover media events from two of the four brands that have aligned themselves with the new SRAM Powertrain eMTB motor and new Auto Shift and coast shifting features. While our time on the system is not extensive, we put it to the test with some intense laps and came away with a good idea of how it is likely to perform and who it’s likely to suit. Of course, we look forward to getting some long-term units to test the reliability and see if SRAM’s tuning with Brose have led to a more robust and durable motor than the Specialized Levo’s we often hear so much about. Keep reading for our first impressions of the system, followed by the press release with SRAM’s low-down on the details.
The Wolf’s First Impression
Initial impressions aboard the SRAM / Brose unit are promising. With countless hours riding drive units from competitors, and especially the largely similar Brose drive unit found in Specialized eBikes, it feels to have the same characteristics as that Specialized unit but with some vague and misty claims of durability improvements made by SRAM. The Brose drive unit has consistently ranked highly in our testing thanks to its grunty low-cadence torque and natural feeling response. Similar to the Specialized Brose unit, the tone of the SRAM drive unit is lower than most on the market, but it’s not stealthily silent – you know when it’s working hard for you.
To simplify the experience further, and likely because it was easier to make it work with their AXS pod, riders will have the choice between two power modes. Range and Rally will help riders focus on maximizing range or having a more powerful, high-speed ride. At first it seemed a bit of an issue however we then reflected back on our hours riding and found that if we’re not in Boost/Turbo then we’re likely in a more eco-friendly mode, not toggling around between three or more settings. We agree that only having two modes is likely to split opinions, but it’s worth noting that riders can tune each mode in their app, so they can find better middle-grounds for their mileage and ride preference. For Robert, he prefers the ability to choose between a larger range of modes on-the-fly to obtain the power and range balance that he desires more acutely, but Max is satisfied and believes that two modes is enough. SRAM’s approach here is suitably inkeeping with the simplicity of the rest of their Eagle Powertrain eMTB system. Using the AXS app, it’s likely riders will be able to find a setting for Range that keeps them happy for the vast majority of the time, with Rally reserved for…well, Rallying. Time and some head-to-head testing will tell exactly how the SRAM Eagle Powertrain drive unit performs, but for now we’re confident in saying it’s a well performing option.
Chances are we’ve all been riding long enough to feel competent in changing our gears manually, to keep eBike motors and our bodies in their ideal cadence range. It rarely feels like a chore to press a shifter to tailor the gear ratio to the trail. However, SRAM’s push to bring Auto Shift technology to their new Eagle Powertrain eMTB system has us thinking that before too long, we may see shifting gear manually as a task reserved exclusively for bikes with lower-tier components. Crazy isn’t it? Our first rides have left us impressed generally by the ability of the Eagle Powertrain system to tailor the gear range effectively to the trail, especially with the Coast Shift tech going about its business to change gear without us needing to pedal. It’s an awesome feeling to trust the drivetrain (sorry, “Transmission”…) to be in the correct gear when you begin pedaling, and for the most part SRAM’s new system manages to do exactly that. However, it’s not perfect.
The majority of trails around the world are fairly predictable and consistent, with the gradient and your resulting speed changing gradually. And for this majority of the time, Eagle Powertrain blends your drivetrain into the background and leaves you only focusing on braking and pedaling as you attack the trail ahead, negating the need to touch the AXS pods apart from to change saddle height. However, extreme situations like when we shoot photos and videos for our reviews; session small portions of trail over-and-over; or just some of the more interesting trails where the terrain is constantly undulating, quickly expose the inability of SRAM’s Auto Shift tech to read the trail ahead like the rider can. By no means is Eagle Powertrain’s reaction time slow, but when you go from a fast descent to a steep pitch of climb, you’re left with a lot of gears to change, and so SRAM’s tech being reactive instead of predicting the terrain ahead leaves you crunching your way in either direction of the cassette to get back to the cadence you desire, with the motor often bogging down at ultra-low cadence or your legs spinning like crazy.
The weaknesses of the SRAM Eagle Powertrain’s reactive approach can be overcome by overriding the Auto Shift using the shifter Pod, giving the system a helping hand for extreme situations. It’s not a problem with the SRAM system as such, as you can still make it up and down the trail without ever touching the shifter, but for gear shifting to become truly autonomous something is likely going to have to change to account for the unpredictable nature of some e-Mountain Biking. SRAM’s Eagle Transmission can feel slow for shifting over a large number of cassette cogs, but crucially hasn’t skipped a beat when it comes to the accuracy of these shifts, regardless of the power being applied to the chain by your legs and motor. This makes the downfalls of the new Eagle Powertrain eMTB system much easier to stomach, and unless you’re looking for the ultimate speed on the most dynamic and unpredictable trails without touching the shifter, it’s safe to say SRAM has done a great job. For us, as it stands, we’ll likely set Auto Shift to “off”, making use of the excellent Coast Shift tech and a little bit of our brain power to ensure we’re always in the right gear, or at least treat the system as if it is off and actively help the gear changes regularly.
Overall, the new SRAM Eagle Ecosystem is a very interesting experience and is symbolic of the evolution of bicycle technology. Whether we like it or not, the future is here and mountain bikes are not isolated from the electronification of life. While more rigid single speeders may be rolling over in their proverbial graves, we’ll be open-minded enough to put these gears and components through the paces for some long-term reviews coming soon.