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Tech review - May 12, 2004
SRAM 9 speed PC 89R Hollow Pin chain & R9 9 speed cassette
After years of concentrating on MTB shifting mechanisms, SRAM has recently started to focus its efforts on the road market, and last year it sponsored one of the world's top teams, Team CSC. Tyler Hamilton and Jakob Piil won stages of the Tour de France riding on SRAM chains and cassettes, and these same components were put to the test by Cyclingnews' Chief Online Editor Jeff Jones in his latest review.
A potted history of SRAM
Over the past 17 years, American cycling component company SRAM has firmly established itself in a market previously dominated by two players, Shimano and Campagnolo. With offices in Chicago (USA), Amersfoort (The Netherlands) and Taichung (Taiwan), SRAM is a global operation that employs more than 1000 people.
The company started out in 1987 making gear shifting mechanisms, with its first product being the Grip Shift® DB road bike twist shifter, which was followed by the CAT-1 grip shifter for tri-bars. With high profile US racers such as Bob Mionske (fourth in the 1988 Olympic Road Race), Scott Molina (winner of the 1988 Hawaii Ironman) and Kenny Souza (1988 duathlon World Champion) all riding the shifters to good results, the company took off.
Within four years, SRAM had grown 15-fold, still concentrating on its shifting mechanisms but at the same time unveiling products for the MTB market, where it enjoyed massive success with riders like John Tomac, Anne Caroline Chausson, Bart Brentjens, Christophe Dupouey, Alison Sydor, Thomas Frischknecht, Miguel Martinez and Tinker Juarez all winning big championships.
In 1997, SRAM acquired German company Sachs, more than doubling its size and becoming the second biggest bicycle component manufacturer in the world. In 2002, it bought RockShox and took over a large chunk of the MTB suspension market. In 2003, SRAM got serious about the road market, sponsoring the Danish CSC team with cassettes and chains. CSC's Tyler Hamilton and Jakob Piil rode on SRAM to their stage wins in the Tour de France. Other road team sponsorships included 7 UP/Maxxis, Big Mat Auber 93, Relax Fuenlabrada, K2, and Jittery Joe's.
SRAM provided Cyclingnews with a PC 89R Hollow Pin 9-Speed Chain and an R9 Powerglide II 9-Speed Road Cassette (12-23) for testing purposes. These were the same models that were used by CSC in 2003. The cassette was a mere 180g, utilising SRAM's distinctive translucent orange plastic spacers.
Testing conditions varied, and those of you who are familiar with any of my previous reviews will know that bike parts have a tough time on my machine, mainly because I do not possess a home trainer. This means that as long as there isn't thick snow on the ground, I'll go to great lengths to get a ride in. After every ride in the wet, I will clean the bike, which means that for the whole month of February, my apartment in Gent smelled of degreaser.
Chains, cassettes and tyres generally cop the worst of the wear on a bicycle, and their lifespan is always fairly limited, no matter how well you look after them. That's what I tell myself anyway. For the record, I rode approximately 12,000 km on this particular chain/cassette before I retired it.
The first thing I noticed about the PC 89R Hollow Pin 9-Speed Chain was that it came in a CD-like box. Slightly wasteful packaging of course, but I had to admit that it looked cool. The second thing was that the chrome rivets holding the chain links together were indeed hollow. The third thing was the Powerlink Gold connector pin, which permits you to fasten (and unfasten) the chain by hand, providing you have it at the right length of course. For that you need a normal chain breaking tool. Having never used one of these before, I was a bit dubious. It was so easy to attach... what if it decided to unfasten itself on the bike? But once attached, the chain was under tension so that this was very unlikely to happen.
Despite the ease of taking the chain off, I only once removed it completely (late in its life) for a "kerosene bath and scrub". This certainly gets the chain clean, but it also removes most of the lube inside the rivets, which is not that easy to replace. Most of the time, I used the normal method of cleaning the chain with a rag and brush.
There was no fancy packing for the R9 Powerglide II 9-Speed Road Cassette - a standard cardboard box did the trick. I liked the orange spacers and the fact that the cassette didn't fall apart and roll all over the floor when I pulled it out of the box. In all other respects, it was a normal Shimano-compatible 9-speed cassette.
Discounting the fact that a new chain and cassette makes your bike feel "brand new", I was nevertheless impressed with the Hollow Pin/R9 combo. Despite my bike's bent (before it broke) rear dropout, sloppy six year-old rear derailleur and some very worn chainrings, shifting under load was quite good, and I experienced no chain skipping and very few other shifting problems. Although I wasn't climbing in the Pyrenees from Pau to Bayonne, I did do about 25 races over summer in Australia, and never had the occasion to blame the chain/cassette for getting beaten by those damn junior riders.
Once I got it back to Belgium and started riding in the not-particularly-clement weather there, the SRAM's days were numbered. I coaxed it through February and a fair bit of March, but eventually I had to consign it to the bike bit graveyard after approximately 12,000 km. Unfortunately, my mantelpiece mausoleum of dead bike parts is getting rather full, so the SRAM Hollow Pin and R9 met with a somewhat less dignified disposal.
The SRAM PC 89R Hollow Pin 9-Speed Chain and R9 Powerglide II 9-Speed Road Cassette performed well under all conditions, with no shifting problems encountered that could be solely attributed to the chain/cassette. Despite regular cleaning, I was slightly disappointed with the wear, hoping to get around 15,000 km out of the SRAM combo. Things that last a long time rate very highly with me.
Recommended retail price: US$55 (R9 cassette), US$45 (89R Hollow Pin