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During Crankworx we were invited out to Pemberton BC (just north of Whistler) for the SRAM product launch.  We had two things to go over during the day, the first was Hammerschmidt, the second was Elixar brakes.  Going into the summit, Hammerschmidt has had some serious buzz about it across the interweb, and we were lucky enough to be able to spend a day on it.

Hammerschmidt.

Basically it is a front gearbox.  Gone is the standard front derailleur and multi chain ring setup and instead there is 1 chain ring with internal gearing to make the second gear.  Hammerschmidt is designed around two different riding styles, freeride (Holzfeller cranks, 22/36 gearing) and All mountain (Stylo cranks, 24/38 gearing).  It mounts to the frame via ISCG tabs, but only ones that are welded to the frame, adapter plates won’t work on this one I’m afraid.

Benefits of the Hammerschmidt:

  • No front derailleur.  
  • Instant gear changing, and I mean completely instant.
  • Able to pedal backwards without the chain moving.
  • Tiny chain ring so the clearance is emense.
  • Chainline is consistent as the chain doesn’t move in the front.
Hammerschmidt back plate. You can see the ISIS side of the BB.

Within the system there is one chain ring, either a 22 or a 24 depending how it is setup and the internal overdrive gearing.  The gearing works as the equivalent of 1.6 times the chainring.  So you can run a 22/36 or a 24/38.

The shifter for the system is a customized version of an X9 or X0 (depending on the package).  It only has two settings and works in the opposite direction of a standard shifter.  So when you push the larger shifter it drops into the easier chainring.  One of the great benefits is that there is absolutely no lag.  As soon as you push the shifter it has already changed into the other gear.  The system can be shifted anyway you want, pedaling, coasting, pedaling backwards, it doesn’t matter. Mounting the Hammerschmidt is a pretty straightforward process, but does involve some specific parts.  You have to use a specific bottom bracket that has external bearings on the non-drive side and an ISIS style on the drive side.  There are two different BB styles, a lighter one for the All Mountain version and a stronger version for Freeriding.  Also the All Mountain version has a carbon bashguard while the freerider one as a poly plastic one.

As the system isn’t completely sealed, it does have a service interval when it should be taken apart and cleaned/greased.  Once a year for average riders suits the bill, while those that ride in the mucky mud a bit more might want to check it out a little more frequently. 

SRAM is touting this as a premier product and the pricing also reflects that.  It will set you back between $600-$800 dpending on the configuration.  Weight is pretty close to a standard setup but does range from between 60-160 grams heavier.  But in my mind the extra weight is well worth the benefits that the system introduces.  As this point there are over 35 manufacturers that are going to be putting the Hammerschmidt into their 2009 lineups, expect more as people start to get their hands on the system.

Hammerschmidt. All assembled.

And how did it ride? Exceptionally well.

Other than the quick learning curve for how to use the system and the backward shifting I was right on board with it. I found that I would burn up a climb and see how far you could get before I shifted and then you would be able to shift and keep going without losing a beat.  It took a bit to get use to, and to trust that you were going to be able to do it, but after a couple tries it became almost second nature.  I actually found myself only shifting the Hammerschmidt instead of the rear gears for most of the day. I found myself waiting past the point where on a conventional system I would have fallen down or broken my chain.  Here entered a slight problem with the system.  Since it is so instant I found myself not completing the shift, it would then fall back to the harder gear and I would have to do it again.  Not really a big deal, but just a new piece to learn for an old dog.

As I said before, you can pedal backwards without the chain moving, the chain can also move forwards without the cranks moving.  Think broken freewheel hub. You could actually finish the ride without having to deal with the chain constantly moving forwards.

Thoughts about the system:
I would love to have more gearing options.  I know that this is the first year for the product and I’m sure that they will end up having some changes to it as it develops once it hits the mass market. 

I wish we could run it with crank options from other companies.  It could be done via licensing, but I don’t see it happening ever.

The clearance is unbelievable.  You are basically running the equivalent of a 24 tooth ring, so you don’t get hung up on anything.

Since the the chain doesn’t change position in the front, chainline is consistent and you can actually use the full range in the rear without having any issues.  I initially thought that I was going to be begging for a third ring, but since you can use all the rear gears it becomes almost pointless, unless you are ripping down a fire road or drafting behind someone.

Hammerschmidt. Nice straight chainline.