Special Report: SUNRACE Driven MX-Group: First Impressions: by c_g

A short while ago I had introduced you to the new “S” in shifting and drivetrain technology –SUNRACE (www.sunrace.com, not to be mistaken with Suntour :)).

Soon after Eurobike 2011 we received a sample of their first attempt at a performance MTB drive train that is called the DRIVEN series. The series is divided into a top end MZ group and a slightly less blingy MX. Differences are the use of Carbon (e.g. rear derailleur cage and crank arm reinforcing outer) and titanium (crank spindle), ceramic bottom bracket bearings and some gold highlights for the MZ, which translates into an effective weight saving of less than 100 g and about triple the price, which is why we went for what we feel is the better value MX group for most of the parts.

Manufacturer suggested retail prices of the MX group are moderate at € 175.- for the crankset (incl. BB), € 70.- for the rear derailleur, € 41.- for the cassettes (11-32 or 11-34) and € 34 for the chain, which is what I believe to be most interesting for consumers (street prices may vary :)). For the tech information, weights and first pics see in my intro post here. The groups also include some quick release hubs (that we didn’t request) but is lacking a shifter set – which for now are coming from the lower spec’ed M90 group (more on them further down).

PRELUDE: Before I get into my first post on ride impressions, let me get the following out of the way: Being 9-spd, with a 2:1 shifting ratio and BSA-only bottom bracket, the Driven group is somewhat outdated out of the box already. With these specs it limits its compatibility and turns the system more into a aftermarket upgrade or replacement option for existing 9-spd drive trains, not necessarily a future proof investment for your new bike. But hey – it is for its performance and feel that I (being open to nostalgia in bike parts ;)) mounted this group. Who knows what SUNRACE may be up to as their products evolve.

10_SUNRACE cranks

Let´s start with the propulsion: The MX alloy triple crank set and external bottom bracket (BSA only) are nicely manufactured pieces with pretty decent specs. At 740 g for the cranks (incl. spindle) and 120g for the bottom bracket, these are both light and pretty stiff. Mounting is done by one single alloy bolt that forces the non drive side arm onto the spindle and locks it there. I welcomed the 22T granny big time but hardly ever ran the 44T large ring (which I may take off for better ground clearance).

12_SUNRACE cranks

11_SUNRACE cranksThe forged arms are hollowed out on the inner side and run on the high Q-factor side of things – plenty of room to the chain stays on my bike. Shifting under load is as good as with any other system major player´s system even when dirty and gritty, the pins and machined ramps work like intended. The 7075 alloy rings are holding up good, with some wear showing after more than 100 mile on them.

13_SUNRACE cassetteThe MX 11-34 cassette also has a nice shifting action to it and being built of three sets of alloy carriers, with two steel cogs mounted to them, are pretty easy on the cassette body – no easy to loose and hard to mount spacers anywhere – I like that. Being a 29″er rider, I´d like to see a 36T large cog but having a 22 granny actually puts me in an even lower ratio as the nowadays common 24/36 lowest gear by Shimano. The titanium nitrite surface gets polished on the wear areas but otherwise seems to hold up fine.

15_SUNRACE rear derailleur

The MX Long cage rear derailleur is one of the most commented on parts of the group by its cool industrial look (with very little branding) of black powder coating and machined over alloy pieces. Several riders commented how they liked the multiple sharp edges and corners of the piece over the sleeker looking competitors. In my opinion it copies the older XTR group (I think it was in 2007 or 2008) to some part and does that in good style :). All mechanical parts are sealed well and with no play so far, despite lots of bad weather riding. If it were not for the 2:1 ratio – it would be ranking really high with me. The rear facing cable entry also seems outdated by modern standards, as it requires a hugely curving cable housing – remember how this was the standard until recently?14_SUNRACE rear derailleur

Last but not least there is the blingy gold colored MZ 9-spd chain (hollow pins and machined plates) from the MZ group (I coudn´t resist :), and it looks really nice with the FOX Kashima fork up front), which is doing its job without any peculiarities – smooth, reliable and nice too look at.

17_SUNRACE shifter_

Up until this point, the DRIVEN group has never let me down. So far, that is because the M90 trigger shifters (remember, there currently are no DRIVEN shifters existing) really put me off. I don´t know if I should hold the cheap plastic looks and finish against them (hmmm … I think I will), but what really got me going was the awkward ergonomics and fit. The upper paddle releases for down shifting, the lower paddle does the up-shifting, just like most other trigger shifters, too … only that the down-shift paddle is located in FRONT of the other (it is like the old STI shifters many years ago), throwing me off every time I come off “modern” shifters.

16_SUNRACE shifter

Secondly the upper lever is so close to the bar that it is impossible to combine with twin bolt brake levers (like all FORMULAs, HAYES and most HOPEs MAGURAs and AVIDs). Though luck but these shifter pods will not stay on my bike for very long, making place for something else. I dearly hope that SUNRACE will take a different route when designing a DRIVEN set of shifters.

FIRST IMPRESSION SUMMARY: Given that the SUNRACE Driven MX series is somewhat outdated by technological standards, it has been a solid performer on my OS BLACKBUCK for a good number of rides. So far none of the functionality has been affected by sloppy weather and only minor servicing (translating into the occasional hosing down and chain lubing).

If you are looking to replace (or upgrade) an existing 9-spd drive train and don´t want to go with the BIG S manufacturers, take a look at the SUNRACE offering. They are not exceptional at anything but good in about everything. I for my part will keep on riding the set, only replacing the shifters (I may get to run my beloved SUNTOUR thumbies again :)).

I will report back when I have collected more miles on the set or when something unusual comes up.

Until then ….