First impressions and first ride review of the Two-E kit
Box two-E shifter
£45 / 137g
Box two-E derailleur
£105 / 291g
Box two-E chain
£25 / 277g
Box two-E cassette
£105 / 626g
Quick catch up for anyone new to mountain biking in the last decade. You could easily be mistaken for assuming there are only two MTB drivetrain and gearing component manufacturers to choose between. It hasn’t always been this way and if you look hard enough there are alternative drivetrain component manufacturers out there but there’s no disputing Shimano and SRAM have had the market share for a good few years pretty much unrivalled. So when a new complete drivetrain option from relatively new kid on the block Box components arrived on my doorstep I was genuinely excited at the prospect of trying out an alternative.
may be a new name to you but founded in 2011 by Toby Henderson they’re not exactly a brand new company. If you ever followed BMX or Downhill racing in the 90s you’ll no doubt recognise Toby’s name or perhaps his former company THE Industries. Toby is a man who’s roots are very firmly planted in off-road bicycle racing and his eye for detail and understanding of what is required in bicycle componentry, parts and accessories has shown throughout his career.
What we have here from Box is a new drivetrain marketed as “E bike specific” a term I’ll freely admit more than triggers my cynical side but don’t worry I’m going to be entirely subjective throughout this review with my thoughts and findings.
On to the componentry
What Box have on offer here is a wide range 1×9 gear set up. Pairing their 11-50T cassette with a 34T chainring gives a 454.5% gear range. But what does this percentage number actually mean and why is it important? No longer are we using gear inches (The traditional and far more useful measurement used for decades by road riders) to bore our friends senseless explaining our gearing to our friends in the café or god forbid during the ride (you know who you are) now the bike industry has seen fit to throw percentage figures at us to refer to the gear range of our cassettes.
To work out this new nerdy stat they’ve simply devised a basic calculation involving dividing your the largest sprocket by the smallest and then multiplying this by a hundred. So in this case (50÷11 = 4.545 x 100 = 454.5%).
Using the same formula the Shimano SLX 11-42 cassette I removed to fit the Box cassette equates to 381.8% so 72.7% less. Sounds a lot doesn’t it? But in reality there is just 3.8 gear inches difference between the two which is not a whole lot (I won’t go too deeply into this but gear inches is basically a measurement of distance travelled by the tyre per full 360deg revolution of the crank) in laymans terms those 3.8 gear inches would equate to roughly around the difference in effort required to turn a 29″ wheel compared with a 26″ wheel.
Too geeky? TL:DR? Yeah. Percentage range is an absolute bobbins measurement.
Currently the highest end wide range mtb cassettes from the likes of Shimano, SRAM, Hope and E13 have their respective marketing guys willy waving figures of around the 500% mark to tempt you to release the moths from your wallet in search of greater range. Do most E bikers really need that sort of range though? Probably not is the honest answer.
Much like anything beauty is in the eye of the beholder so Box’s slightly industrial looking mech is either going to be a look you like or don’t. It is a little chunky in comparison to it’s competitors but to me still an aesthetically pleasing enough design.
As with any decent level modern mtb derailleur you’ll find these days the Box Two is a sprung slant-parallelogram (look it up) design. Included in the cage pivot is a user serviceable clutch system Box have given the catchy name “Tri-Pack Limited Slip Clutch™” this as with all derailleur clutch systems is there to add tension to tame the chain slap resulting from running such a long chain and help with chain retention over rough terrain. Box’s clutch system design does result an a mech that protrudes slightly further outwards and into the firing line of trailside objects than the competition from Shimano and Sram. Box have also chosen not to include any sort of clutch switch or tab design for ease of wheel removal. In use removing/fitting the rear wheel is fine without the inclusion of either.
Jockey wheels are simple but nicely cut out for mud shedding/aesthetics plastic 11T guide and 13T pulley jobs fitted with bushings rather than being overly complicated and fitted with bearings which are more susceptible to corrosion/seizing. No odd tooth profiles or offset going on either so should be easily and cheaply replaced. Cable routing is clean with no extra pulleys or strange friction inducing routing channels.
Limit and B-tension adjustment screws are all easily accessible allen head screws. (far nicer to use than crosshead screws IMO). It’s an easy mech to work on and every moving part/pivot is held together with allen bolts meaning it should be entirely re-buildable by any decently proficient home mechanic. Whether or not spares will be available is yet to be seen.
One feature I’m not so sure about is the “Pivot-Tech™” Impact resistant, spring-loaded cable stay. basically a pivot for the outer cable stop arm that allows it to swing out of harms way in an impact. Said to “keep cable, housing & you out of harm’s way”. I’m honestly not sure of the benefit of this at all as in most impacts it’s the derailleur cage or the parallelogram knuckle that take the brunt of the force and once it’s hit a few spokes and spun itself into a bendy straw from the 80s who really cares if the cable stop’s been protected? It’s also another pivot to wear/flex right at the point where cable tension is acting. The mech isn’t the stiffest straight out the box so it will be interesting to see how it holds up to pivot wear over a Scottish winter
Construction is said to be a mix of 6061-T6 Aluminium, Carbon fibre/Nylon Composite with Aluminium/Cromo hardware. All this sounds fair enough but I’m not so sure what is Nylon and what is carbon fibre as to my eye I did not identify any part as carbon. A few of the specs listed on the Box website do not add up either ie. “Durable 3D Forged Linkages” I’m not sure how you manage to “forge” any part from Nylon or carbon fibre. And Precision Sealed Bearing pulleys are listed which as previously mentioned I was pleasantly surprised not to find when inspecting it’s construction. Maybe their website info is simply out of date.
Box Two-E 9 Speed Twin Shifter
What Box themselves say about their shifter “With improved ergonomics and thumb & index finger controls, Box Two™ Twin Lever Shifters provide smooth and accurate transitions from gear to gear. One gear per shift improves e-bike drivetrain durability”. Now. What do I think?
The shifter is made from a mix of Aluminium and nylon composite with Steel hardware and feels nice and solid when mounted, quite robust and a little chunky but I’m not so sure about the improved ergonomics, they’re certainly not an improvement over my SRAM or Shimano shifter ergonomics and actually feel quite crude in use in comparison. The action of both levers isn’t a light action you’d probably be expecting if coming from 11 or 12 speed offerings from the two biggest manufacturers.
The Twin shift I assume comes from the two way action of the smaller upshift lever allowing you to use either a push from your thumb or pull from forefinger to shift to a smaller sprocket (higher gear). In concept this is a good feature as all riders will have a preference as to whether they prefer a thumb or finger shift. In operation I found even with my average sized un-gloved index finger I couldn’t comfortably shift at all.
There was minimal room between my Guide brake lever and the front face of the shift lever. This may well be different for other levers or riders who run their levers further out but it just wasn’t going to happen for me. Luckily I prefer thumb for both shifts so not a deal breaker for me but worth considering. The shifter comes with a quality stainless steel shift cable but no outer. Weight of the shifter and cable was 137g (no weight listed on the Box website)
All Box Two™ shifters include a stainless steel shift cable.
Box Two-E Cassette
The 9 speed cassette is very clearly a rebranded Shimano HG pattern Sunrace cassette, right down to the packaging configuration. This is actually no bad thing and plenty savy riders have been saving pennies by running wide ratio Sunrace cassettes with their Shimano and SRAM drivetrains with no real issues at all.
Available in either 11-42 or 11-50 we will be reviewing the latter with it’s 11-13-15-18-22-28-34-42-50t sprockets. Constructed from steel sprockets with the largest 4 pinned and mounted to a 7075-T6 Aluminium carrier while the 5 smaller sprockets are separate items spaced out by plastic spacers. Weight is said to be 650 grams including lock-ring. I weighed it at 626g but that still makes it an absolute boat anchor in the world of high end cassettes.
Here we have a 144 link 9 speed heat treated, nickel plated, solid plate and solid pin construction steel chain. It comes with a quick link for ease of fitting and removal. The additional links are a nice touch as the combination of chain growth many longer travel suspension systems have, longer Ebike chainstays and a 50T sprocket will mean many 116 link standard chains are going to be too short to work. My bike, 160mm travel with relatively short stays 455mm needed 118 links.
Box list the chain as weighing 255g but I can only assume this was a typo or they weighed it at a useless length of 104 links to make its weight sound competitive as the full 144 link chain weighed 350g on my scales.
Components were fitted to a 170/160mm Shimano Steps E8000 powered Enduro style E bike with a 36T narrow wide chainring. Fitting was a fairly straight forwards affair and much like fitting any other cassette, chain, mech and shifter with chain length as expected with the usual caveats of removing the air/coil from the rear shock and taking chain growth into account.
All the adjusters were intuitive to use and easy to reach during set-up and indexing. Cable ends seated nicely in the shifter and mech. Due to the nature of a very wide range cassette and a suspended rear end B-tension is critical so many may find Initial indexing and set-up slightly finicky. No instructions or guide to jockey wheel to sprocket gap were included so it was a guestimate and little trial and error to get to optimum shifting performance.
First ride was a cold but uncharacteristically dry for late December fairly standard 12 miles of climbing, jumping and descending on both official and unofficial trails at Glentress and everything ran smoothly throughout.
None of the climbs are steep enough for me to require as low a gear as 36×36 on a non assisted bike and as I was riding with a mate on a non-assisted bike I left the motor off for every climb. This might sound weird but it allowed me to use the full range of gearing for the purpose of the test and it made climbing the 48lb bike pleasant while remaining seated for a great deal of it.
Due to the winch and plummet nature of a lot of Glentress, being restricted to a single downshift per thumb shift wasn’t as restrictive as it may have been on more undulating routes but even here by the end of the ride I was finding it a niggle that I couldn’t shift through multiple gears as I usually would with one thumb push.
Box are not alone in marketing this feature as improving E bike drivetrain durability. It really doesn’t. Not shifting under load like a noob is all that’s required and quite frankly as an experienced rider I feel a little patronised being told I need this in order to not crunch gears. Great for complete beginners maybe but not even comparable to actually learning how to ride and change gears properly in improving the life of a drivetrain.
One other slight niggle I found with the Box groupset was the increased jump between 6th and 7th gear. When sprinting out of corners while in 6th I felt I needed to change gear sooner than usual (remember I was riding extremely familiar trails). I didn’t know for sure at the time whether the sprockets were hugely different between my old 11 speed cassette and the Box 9 speed but later checked.
Right enough both cassettes shared the same smallest 3 sprockets of 11t, 13t and 15t but the next sprocket on my old cassette was a 17t while the Box uses an 18t. I wouldn’t have thought 1 tooth extra jump that far up the cassette would have made much of a noticeable difference but it did.
Surprisingly, I didn’t mind the larger jumps on the larger sprockets end of the cassette at all. I’m sure this won’t even be noticeable at all for many riders but in the interest of being thorough I’m mentioning it anyway.
My next ride out on the Box components was a far less hilly 25 mile local natural XC ride mainly ridden fast and assisted by trail and Boost modes so barely using the larger sprockets at all and with most trails not being manmade or requiring sprints out of consecutive tight corners that jump between 6th and 7th gear wasn’t really an issue. Other than personal preference niggles as reported above there were zero issues to report with functuality.
Still not content with enough to report back with about the climbing performance a huge 50t sprocket allows my next ride simply involved riding to the steepest local gradients I know and riding up and down them until the novelty wore thin. Let’s just say all were effortless and grip was more of an issue than gearing. If hunting out and climbing super steep gradients without breaking sweat is your thing you’ll probably love this gearing.
Comparison to standard componentry
The components fitted were replacing a Shimano SLX shifter, XT shadow+ mech, KMC X11E chain and SLX M7000 11-42t cassette with 1500miles use and no sign of wear/slipping so I’m only going to compare the Box components parts directly to those as I feel any other comparison to components used on another bike simply wouldn’t be fair.
SLX Shifter RRP: £36.99
Box two-E shifterRRP: £45
XT shadow+ Derailleur RRP: £74.99
Box two-E derailleur RRP: £105
KMC X11E Chain RRP: £39.99
Box two-E chain RRP: £25
SLX 11-42 cassette RRP: £74.99
Box two-E cassette RRP: £105
Total cost of previous Shimano components RRP £226.96 vs Box Components RRP £280.00
*All components using RRP for comparison rather than best online/sale prices.
As you can see fairly comparable in both price and weight other than the massively heavy box cassette (remember when comparing although it has a wider range it also has 2 less sprockets than the Shimano)
Yet to be determined but the Box group will be getting a thorough long term test throughout this winter and a shorter long term review will follow.
Box are offering a lifetime replacement warranty on this groupset so I contacted Moore and Large Box components UK distributor to confirm what their definition of “lifetime” is and what is actually covered. Their reply was Lifetime is as long as the original owner has the product but is not transferable to a second owner and the components are covered for accidental and crash damage against breakage but not bending or crushing or wear and tear.
If upheld this is an incredibly bold move and should make these components very attractive to any rider who is unlucky enough to frequently break components. Bear in mind though the way I read this your warranty won’t cover you if your badly set-up mech overshifts into the spokes, gets bent and wraps itself round the cassette also resulting in bent cassette sprockets and a mangled chain.
What does “E-bike specific” mean?
With E-bikes being a rapidly growing market we’re seeing more and more E-bike specific products announced all the time. But what does this mean? Many of these products in reality are no different to what’s already available, some are simply heavier versions and some as in the case of certain drivetrain parts are heavier cut down versions using old technology.
Weight for the sake of it really isn’t a good thing for the handling of an already heavy bike, neither for that matter are hugely draggy tyres. Remember a lot of the most fun parts of riding you’re going to be hovering right around that 15mph assistance cut off limit yoyoing between an assisted bike and a big old brute. But even in situations where gradient allows you to freewheel at optimum speed manoeuvrability can be an issue on a bike that’s too heavy.
I’m all for a cassette design optimised for E bike use but I don’t think this or SRAMs incredibly expensive EX1 cassette is it. I’m actually of the opinion what an E-bike needs is a wide enough range but with the higher gears more closely spaced than a standard mtb cassette as on ebikes we spend a higher proportion of our time in higher gears.
I also believe we’re being sold the promise of durability but if you look at the materials used they’re often no more durable than a lot of non E bike components.
Box e-bike Drivetrain Review
If you simply want to move away from the two big MTB corporations components this is a viable and affordable alternative.
If you're lacking a low enough gear ratio to tackle steep climbs and can't justify the money to splash out on one of the more expensive 50/51t cassette options. Equally if you simply prefer higher climbing cadences or want to run a larger chainring for more top end speed this nice big affordable 50t sprocket should be a welcome addition to your E bike. If you feel you can't trust yourself not to smash through multiple gears while under power the single shift shifter might be for you. Likewise if you just don't care about shifting through multiple gears on your rides. Otherwise I'd probably recommend the greater choice in mixing components and prices of standard Shimano drivetrain components. (I'm mainly ruling SRAM out of this as their XD cassette is both too pricy and a 10t sprocket is not something I think should be on a bike where top gear is used so frequently.
There's nothing genuinely bad about Box's products. I just feel the competition is slightly better.