First impressions: e*thirteen XCX Plus 11-speed & TRS Plus Gen 2 12-speed cassettes

The e*thirteen XCX Plus 9–39 11-speed cassette has been on my gravel bike for over a month now and I’ve ridden over 250 km with it so far. It replaced a Shimano XT CS-M8000 11–40 cassette that I’ve ridden for over a year and countless of kilometres. These are my first impressions of the cassette.

e\*thirteen XCX Plus 9-39 cassette and a Shimano RD-RX800 rear derailleur on a titanium bike

  • Shifting is crisper but a bit more fiddly to set up. I don’t know if it’s the higher number of shift gates or the tooth profile but it took me a while to get shifting right on the bike stand. The cassette would react more quickly to less than optimal indexing. Once tuned properly, I found that it shifts quicker, even under load, and the shift action feels more positive.
  • It’s louder. Not to the point where it annoys me but it took a bit of getting used to. I assume the lightweight construction with the large hollow space amplifies chain noise and shifting sounds.
  • The cassette feels solid and it has yet to show any signs of wear.
  • Chain wrap on the 9-tooth cog doesn’t seem to be an issue. I had read this in a couple of places and was worried that going with such a small cog for the highest gear could cause chain skipping but I’ve not had a problem. Mind you, I’m using a Ultegra RD-RX800 rear derailleur and a Shimano 105 11-speed chain (didn’t want to put on a fresh Ultegra chain, just yet) and I’ve properly adjusted the B-screw tension. Even going full-bore on a flat section, putting as much power as I can into it, hasn’t caused any problems (more on that further down).
  • With the chain on the smallest cog and depending on the chainring used up front (32-tooth and 36-tooth for my bicycles), the chain will be very close to the rear end of the chain stay. Depending on the bike, this may not fit at all. On my Litespeed T5G, I’ve noticed some chain slap going down fast and bumpy descents in the 9-tooth cog, even with a clutch rear derailleur. This is something I’ve never experienced with the 11-tooth cog on the XT cassette and it may be a deal breaker for some.
  • Lastly, and this is not something I’d ever see myself write: it’s noticeably lighter than the cassette it replaced. Sure, ~ 100 g might not sound like much to a less experienced cyclist such as myself but the back wheel seems just a bit more nimble, riding across bumpy gravel tracks.

All in all I’m happy with the cassette so far. It’s done exactly what I had hoped it would when converting my bike from a 2× 11 to a 1×11 system. With a 32-tooth chainring up front, the 9–39 spread in the back gives me an ample gear range, an easy 0.82 gear ratio in the lowest gear, a reasonably fast 3.55 gear ratio in the highest gear, and fairly tight and even gear spacing, particularly in the higher gears.

In fact, I’ve been so happy with this piece of kit that I bought an e*thirteen cassette for my city/commuter/road bike that has, up until recently, sported a full SRAM NX Eagle group with a 11–50 cassette and a 32-tooth chainring. I replaced the NX Eagle cassette with the 2nd generation TRS Plus 12-speed 9–46 cassette and the front chainring with a 36-tooth (soon 38-tooth).

Based on my initial experiences with the 9–39 on my gravel bike, what drew me to the 9–46 12-speed was a) the lower weight, b) the greater range of 511% on the e*thirteen compared to 455% on the NX Eagle, while at the same time offering c) a much tighter and, in my eyes, more sensible gear spacing in the higher gears. The first six gears on the TRS Plus cassette are 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 where on the NX Eagle the jumps are 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 22. My first road ride with the new cassette was a 45 km trip mostly on the road up a local mountain and then down again and I very quickly appreciated the choices made by e*thirteen.
Finally, chain wrap on the 9-tooth cog is perfectly fine with a SRAM Eagle rear derailleur and a GX Eagle chain. I tried a couple of times to produce any kind of skipping, riding at 80 rpm, on a slight incline, pushing 42 km/h (yes, I was very much winded after) and I experienced no issues whatsoever.

I’m looking forward to many more kilometres with these cassettes and I’ll write a long term review at a later point.

Alex Hoffmann @mangochutney