The groupset was built 12 gears apart, but the derailleur operates in 12 or 13 speed configurations via a limit screw adjustment. However, you have to use Rotor’s proprietary hub to get these 13 gears. Rotor sells the drivetrain as a gear lever, derailleur, cassette, along with their cranks and a hub. The 13-speed hub is backwards compatible with 11- and 1
• hydraulic system
• Adjustable lever feel
• 10-52 tooth cassette
• Weight: 435 grams (front derailleur / gear lever / tube), 331 grams (cassette)
• MSRP: Base group with cranks and hubs: $ 1,800, shifter: $ 999, 13s cassette: $ 415, 13s rear hub: $ 344
A 12-speed hydraulic group with shifter, derailleur, chain, cranks, chainring, and 12-speed cassette costs $ 1,400. The 13-speed groupset with front and rear hubs is $ 1,800 and Rotor’s 13-speed groupset with 2INpower cranks is $ 2,600. It is also possible to buy items individually if, for example, you don’t need new cranks for your fancy 13-speed drive.
Why hydraulic? According to Rotor, they chose this type of closed system because of its supposed consistency and longevity … as long as it doesn’t cause a leak. Since no heat is generated in a layer, the ventilation interval can therefore be practically unlimited. It also removes concerns about contamination, friction and cable stretch. Additionally, the patent landscape was a little less cluttered, allowing Rotor more creative freedom to figure out what they think is the best way to make a shifter and derailleur.
The rotor’s hydraulic shift lever has a removable second paddle so the rider can have a second position to shift gears while riding the bar with a different hand position. In practice it can be cumbersome for some riders, especially riders who are used to the Shimano two-lever system. Hence, there is an option to remove it. My test kit came with the lever removed, but the second paddle is still included in the group in case you want it.
The shifter is much simpler than a mechanical shifter. It’s just a lever with a pin that pushes an actuator to drive fluid to the derailleur, which does all of the shifting and indexing tasks. The Rotor team claims that moving the indexing to the front derailleur itself reduces the mass and complexity of the lever and its replacement cost in the event you damage it in an accident. The lever itself works with MatchMaker brackets and, like many MatchMaker components, has two mounting holes, one more inside than the other. Apart from that, there is a vent hole on the lever, as well as a brake to bleed the system, while the other hole is on the derailleur. The paddle for the lever is wide and smooth.
Briefly press the lever to put the derailleur into a harder gear. A longer pressure, on the other hand, shifts the derailleur into an easier gear. If you’ve ever ridden road bikes with a SRAM drivetrain, the action and feel are pretty similar to the DoubleTap system they use. Check out the video below to see the Rotor Shifter in action.
It couldn’t be easier, the lever pushes the actuator, which pushes the liquid through the line.
Front Derailleur & Cassette
The derailleur for the system is the same for the 12- and 13-speed groupsets of the rotor. The indexing takes place in the derailleur, a closed system to protect things from the elements. Here, too, the entire adjustment is made for the system. There is a button on the outside of the derailleur with which it can “get to the origin” and let the chain fall onto the small gear for easy wheel change. There is also an adjustment of the upper and lower limit. When the indexing is in the derailleur and a rider breaks a line on the trail, the derailleur can be manually shifted into a desired gear. It stays there, hydraulic line or not.
The large knurled setting on the front derailleur is designed so that the limit value can be set by hand. For the B-tension there is a graduated B-limiting screw, which should correspond to different cassette sizes, since the derailleur can also work with a road / gravel gear lever and therefore with a much smaller cassette if desired. The barrel adjuster into which the cable is inserted controls the feeling of the lever giving more or less feedback from the indexing, which allows for a tighter or smoother click when operated.
The cassette is made of steel and aluminum to keep the weight down and ensure the durability of the smaller gears. The cassette is available in a variety of tooth options with 12 and 13 gears, with the 10-52 tooth option offering the greatest range. The 13-speed cassette uses Rotor’s 13-speed hub and will not fit on a standard 12-speed HG freewheel.
The derailleur is compatible with most other 12-speed cassettes and is the same as the derailleur used in Rotor’s road system. This makes the shifter and derailleur damn compatible as a system when it comes down to it.
How does it compare?
When looking at other high-end drives, Rotor wins the battle for the number of gears at 13. The gear profile is also slightly different from the wide range systems from Shimano and SRAM that some riders might enjoy. If we break things down in dollars, the rotor drive, which consists of the shifter, derailleur, and cassette, costs $ 1,414 when purchased à la carte and weighs 766 g. Lighter than SRAM’s XX1 Eagle, Eagle AXS and Shimano XTR groupsets when you consider the weight of a shift cable. It’s the highest price per gram at $ 1.85 per gram, almost a dollar more than Shimano’s XTR which is $ 0.94 per gram. This additional gear is expensive, but at $ 108.77 per gear, it’s still less than the $ 112.42 that SRAM’s AXS electronic group is aiming for.
Installation of the hydraulic drive train was surprisingly easy. Despite initial concerns, cutting the line and bleeding the system was a simple process that was no different from bleeding a hydraulic brake. Set up the limits, B-tension, and lever feel and you are on your way. Overall, after a one-time run, I was able to set up the system almost as quickly as installing a cable-fed front derailleur and bleeding a brake if I had to do it again.
While the installation was straightforward, the instructions included weren’t very helpful. Rotor had to be called to understand how everything works the way it should. The process is simple, but the manual was missing. The instructional videos on the Rotor website are more focused on the road network. That was confusing and not confidence-building. While the instructions were being transferred to the mountain drive, I needed some confirmation.
The adjustment cylinder at the end of the derailleur is used to change the feel of the lever. Turning it will make the gear stick tighter and more indexed, while dialing will make the action much easier. While bleeding the system, the dial should remain centered as instructed.
The limit screws were easy to adjust. The knurled dial, which Rotor said is “tool-free,” wasn’t always easy to move, however, and it required setting it up with a T-30, a tool not very common on most multi-tool tools.
The system takes getting used to, but became more intuitive during the test period. Only when the barrel adjuster on the derailleur was fully set to the most fixed setting at which the click of the switch is most common could I consistently and successfully move as I wanted. Even so, I occasionally missed a shift here and there. The ergonomics of the lever feels nice, but it takes a lot of throwing to push the lever in. The shift lever works similarly to the double-tap racing bike shift system from SRAM, in which a small click / short shift drops a gear and a larger click / long shift goes up again.
Even with the shifter as tight as possible, the feel is kind of vague and takes a very long throw. This resulted in some rough shifts at times when I wasn’t pushing far enough. The inability to shift more than one gear at a time, coupled with the long throw of the switch, makes for quite a thumb workout. Miss a shift and sometimes the chain would want to jump, usually down a long series of aisles, but it would quickly find its way back to where it should go with another push. The only time this was a problem was on slower, more technical terrain where this simpler gear for cleaning a line on an ascent was vital.
The derailleur, which in addition to normal derailleur operation, houses all the shifting mechanisms, worked exactly as it should during the entire test period. The tension on the cage sometimes felt a bit low, especially on uneven terrain, as there was more noise and more chain slaps than I’m used to with standard S products. Apart from that, everything held together for many kilometers on the trail and in the bike park, often in the wet. Even with frequent cleanings and tubing, no additional maintenance or a little tuning was required at a time when I would normally replace a gear cable.
The 10-52 tooth spread, which has now been supplemented by the new cassettes from SRAM, offered a lot of range for steep climbs and fast descents. The jumps between the gears are smaller than with a 12-speed cassette. It never felt like I was over or under challenged – it was easy to find a comfortable place with the gearbox.
+ Low maintenance
+ 13 gears, small gear jumps
– – Shift is vague
– – Proprietary hub required for 13-speed cassette
– – Still not quite as fluid as high-end SRAM or Shimano