CYCLING WEEKLY10 OUT OF 10
SRAM has had to do things differently compared to rivals Shimano and Campagnolo, both of whom went either electric or 12-speed on the road before the American outfit did.
However, SRAM was the first to go wireless and following the design of its first electric groupset four years ago, it cemented its reputation as one of the most advanced drivetrain companies on the market, creating its own protocols and systems to rival all. It’s all change for its latest version of eTap too, which again looks to have changed the way we think about the groupset.
More than 12
SRAM says the modern-day rider has changed: we’re very different form cyclists of old and bring with us need demands. According to SRAM, the modern rider is looking for a smooth, quiet and reliable drivetrain that can be personalised for each user’s individual requirements.
So what SRAM is giving us is more than just an extra socket.
Everything is new here and there is no backwards compatibility with the old Red eTap groupset, apart from with the brakes of course, which have a new look, and with the battery where the new technology is good enough not to drastically reduce the old battery’s life.
The new drivetrain takes on a novel approach to gearing where everything is literally geared around the new 10-tooth sprocket. Reducing the size of the chain rings and moving the range to the back means that working upwards from that 10-tooth sprocket, you get the range and smaller incremental jumps too.
It works – and well! I had the 50/37 chainset with a 10-28 cassette, which is the largest double-ring set-up SRAM offers at the moment. I ideally I would have gone for 48/35 for riding around the Hampshire lanes. A shocking thought, I know. Don’t tell my ride-mates!
But there’s nothing to be ashamed of: the basic idea is that SRAM wants you stay in the big ring for longer, especially over rolling terrain. The smaller outer ring at the front does allow you to do this and ultimately eliminates the big change at the front, meaning you are more efficient overall.
Should you have any doubts for the gearing is too low for you, fear not: a 50x10 is bigger than a 53x11. And the other end is smaller than a standard gear ratio, so you really do get the best of both worlds – an increased range and smaller steps between gears at the back.
Better than before
So yes, the groupset is better than its predecessor but maybe not in the way you’d expect. Another aspect SRAM focused on was to make the new eTap AXS groupset quieter than anything before it. SRAM did this by narrowing the chain, not in order to fit a 12th sprocket in, as the spacing between the cogs is the same as 11-speed, but instead to help keep the drivetrain smoother and quieter running. The new Flattop chain, flat at the top to strengthen the narrower width, runs almost soundlessly. The effect is amazing. It isn’t until you don’t hear the drivetrain noise you realise how loud it actually is. The Canyon Aeroad I was testing this groupset with had deep-section DT Swiss wheels that make a very cool, but very loud whirling noise – classic deep-section carbons – but that was the only noise I could hear.
Gear changes are slick and precise and I really like the tactile nature of the buttons. They feel clunky and assured, giving an audible click so there’s absolutely no doubt you’ve pressed it to change gear. It feels like a nice action at the rear too, a marked improvement on the previous Red gear change, I would say.
The only downside to the disc groupset is the hood size. This is not just us – plenty of the comments on the launch video and story question the dimensions of the hoods. SRAM has a lot of technical challenges to content with here – wireless tech, a battery in both hoods, fluid reservoir to name but a few- so it is understandable that they can’t go as small as Shimano hood.
They are comfortable and allow for some nice aero tuck positions while still holding the hoods. Our gripe, then, really just comes down to aesthetics.
As stated above, the disc brakes have only had an aesthetic update. SRAM says here the performance is good enough, which I agree with, although SRAM brakes have a very bad habit of being insanely loud once the weather outside turns damp.
SRAM has upped its game once again and improved on its previous Red groupset. I really like the idea behind the gearing and I feel it works for the majority of the market and not just the pros. Not only that – the quietness of the drivetrain is noticeable and SRAM delivers on its promises – although you do have to pay for it!