SRAM’s New Group: Apex

Twelve years ago the Sea Otter Classic was a collection of bike races with some industry friendliness thrown in. It is an unusual event in that it embraces nearly every discipline of bike racing going. Back then, people hung out to watch the racing and during the road events, Laguna Seca’s famed corkscrew would host dozens of spectators. Mountain bike teams would set up their rigs in the infield and a handful of companies would set up small expo booths.

There’s road racing, cross-country, downhill, dual slalom and more. Throw in a 24-hour event, an alley cat and some track racing and all that would be missing would be the West Coast’s first spring ‘cross race. Yes, Virginia, there is a pump track if air time is more important to you than speed.

Today, the Sea Otter boasts an enormous expo, larger than Mammoth Mountain’s was back in the late ‘90s. Every company that has a serious presence in racing has a rig there to support their race programs and generally provide limited support to their customers. Bike shops sell everything from tires and tubes to helmets and cassettes. Frame builders show off their latest creations.

There’s stuff for kids to do, right down to races of their own. And they can meet the Sea Otter mascot.

Periodically, attendees will see a cordoned-off area with a bunch of (mostly male) journalists taking notes and pictures with impossibly small cameras. The fact is, Sea Otter has becoming the go-to locale for product introductions that weren’t ready for the prime time of Interbike. Truly, unveiling a product at Sea Otter can be advantageous to a company. How many story lines can you really hope for the press to cover at Interbike? For those companies constantly on the move, Sea Otter gives you a way to space out product intros so that a company can get press on a more year-round basis.

SRAM took the opportunity to announce another road group, Apex. So what’s the big deal? Gearing. With Apex, SRAM has slain the triple. Apex does a good deal more, though.

With a possible low gear of 34×32, Apex can get any cyclist up any hill. It carries a suggested retail price of $749, which is impressive given that Apex enjoys a 10-speed cassette and can be used to build up a 16-lb. bike. Theoretically, it will appear on bikes as inexpensive as $1500.

Some years ago I wrote that Shimano’s 9-speed Ultegra group was the best value in road groups ever produced. It was available in both double and triple versions, could easily build a 17-lb. bike and could be purchased at retail for $600. All in all, a fantastic value. I stood by that analysis until Friday. Last Friday.

Apex has the ability to make road cycling friendly to a great many people. I’ve seen plenty of new roadies ride around in a 39×23 and ask me what to do if they encounter a hill. Those days are—once and for all—over.

Apex comes in four

cassette sizes: 11-23, 11-26, 11-28 and 11-32. Walk into any shop in America and you can talk to a salesman who has sold mountain bikes just because the customer was overweight and was concerned about having gears low enough to get up a hill near home. Apex solves that issue—even for San Francisco. SRAM refers to the new system as WiFLi—Wider, Faster and Lighter.

Two different rear derailleurs were designed for Apex. The 11-23 and 11-26 cassettes work with a traditional short-cage derailleur while the 11-28 and 11-32 work with a longer cage version. Price and gearing are the only details that make Apex noteworthy. Everything else about the group is just very … SRAM. By that I mean the levers feel like every other SRAM lever I’ve ever used.

One of my issues with Shimano’s more affordable groups has been the degradation of shifting performance and lever feedback as price drops. In the Sora and Tiagra groups it’s been bad enough that I always steer people away from bikes equipped with those groups. By contrast, the Apex levers feature very firm spring response. There’s no mistaking when or how far you’ve shifted.

I refuse to discuss Campy’s “affordable” groups in this post. I haven’t seen anything less expensive than Chorus on the road in years. For reasons I can’t explain, I’m suddenly reminded of the scene in American Beauty—“It’s all I smoke … It’s $1000 an ounce.”

Similarly, the brakes feel like every other set of SRAM brakes I’ve used. In short, they stop. The constantly shifting sand underlying Shimano brake performance can be a colossal frustration. And since when did a less expensive bike have a reduced need to stop? Does it really make sense than Dura-Ace, Shimano’s most expensive group, would have the greatest stopping power? I’m thinking new riders want to be convinced they’ll stop in plenty of time. After all, a good deal of getting a new rider into roadiedom is reassuring them that they will have sufficient control over their bike.

The cranks come in three versions: 53/39, 50/36 and what is likely to be the most popular, the 50/34. And because we’re talking SRAM, they are available in lengths from 165mm to 180mm.

So after sitting through the dog and pony show, I headed back to the booth the next day for a test ride of the group. We’d do a 1.5-hr. loop culminating in the climb back into Laguna Seca. For those who have never visited the race track, the access road is a roughly 1-mile climb that reaches grades of 16 percent. Armed with a 34×32 low gear, we were assured we could remain seated for the whole of the climb.

Our guide for the ride was Michael Zellman (above), the PR manager for road products at SRAM. One of the features of Apex is its compatibility with other SRAM groups. To prove the point, Michael substituted the rear derailleur on his Red group for Apex and replaced his Red cassette with an Apex 11-32 cassette (probably added a longer chain, too). Boom. Mountain climbing machine.

Of course, the big question regarding the cassette is the spacing. Little known secret: You are most apt to notice a problem with spacing when you’re at or above threshold. If the jump is too big, you’re heart rate will go up just out of sheer frustration. I tend to notice this when I’m upshifting to find a bit more meat and my concern was that jump from 32 to 28. It wasn’t a problem. The biggest jumps come elsewhere in the cassette.

While I’d like to have a chance to get 1000 or so miles on the group, what I can say for now is this: In a pinch, you could easily do a fast group ride with the 11-32 cassette. It’s true that a triple would offer smaller jumps between gears; however, most triples will replicate roughly six gears and weigh an extra 10-15 percent more than the Apex solution. And Apex gives you more low-end and more high-end gearing than the average triple would.

This is, in all likelihood, the best value in road groups we’ll see for years to come.

Cutting the chase: the image above, which I snapped on the way back into Laguna Seca and right about where you’re certain that a 16-percent grade can only be attributed to engineering compromised by methamphetamine is, I believe, the lasting image that SRAM would like to convey. On the right, the past. On the left, the present.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review.

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  1. sophrosune

    Very funny about the Campagnolo. Probably it is in large part true, which makes it funny. But before I started using Chorus last year, I rode for years on Centaur and before that a Mirage gruppo from 1996. A friend of mine just got a high-end Italian frame and rather pragmatically, I thought, equipped it with the new Athena group. So, if you’re feeling charitable, I would be interested to hear what you have to say about the Campagnolo groups below Chorus. There are those of us who like to ride the Italian stuff but are on a budget. BTW: Always enjoy your reviews. I always learn something.

  2. Champs

    I suppose I share the frustration about hit-or-miss oddities with Shimano groups in general when I commute on a mix of Tiagra, last-gen 105, Ultegra 6500, and 6600.

    What I can’t say is that I have a problem going up walls in 30×23, even with a 30 pound load. That 34×32 gear sounds like another concession to the fifteen inch head tube crowd.

  3. grolby

    Gear duplication was a big deal back in the days of six-speed cog clusters. With modern systems, it extends the usefulness of each range of gearing that you select with the front sprocket. I can get up to a 79-inch gear (39×13) on the 39-tooth small ring of my double. That’s actually not a waste at all, but very useful on the kind of stair-step climbs that level out or even descend slightly partway up. Not needing to shift on and off the big ring every time is a relief.

    Apex looks great, but I simply don’t buy gear duplication as a weakness of the triple. It’s one of its great strengths. As is the tighter spacing between the gears. Isn’t that kind of the point of a triple?

    It looks to me that SRAM is out to kill the triple for the same reason that so many crank manufacturers killed cranks shorter than 170mm: cutting production costs. I understand that, and truth be told, killing the triple infuriates me a lot less than the death of 165mm cranks did (for a LOT of people, 170 is simply too long). But come on, a little honesty about that would be nice, instead of the story-telling about how awful triples are.

    1. Author

      Sophrosune: I’d love to say something both nice and true about Campy’s groups below Chorus, but I don’t have any experience with them at all, at least not in recent iterations. My observations about what’s out there has some geographic bias to it. Where I live, the riders tend on the affluent side. I don’t see a lot of Ultegra. And I only ever see 105 and the less expensive stuff if I do a disease ride.

      Champs: That’s quite the Frankenbike you have. I’m sure you could teach us a thing or two about compatibility issues. Oh the stories your wrenches could tell!

      Grolby: Personally, I always liked triples. I like to spend a lot of time in the mountains and when I’d do long multi-day tours I found I didn’t need that third ring the first or second days, but by the fourth day there was enough accumulated fatigue in my legs that the triple was absolutely necessary. Also, I preferred a 42 inner ring to the 39 because it made the jump from the 53 smoother both in gearing and shifting performance. As it happens, you get more gear overlap with a 42 than you do with a 39, which is part of why Shimano spec’d their triples with a 39.

      Regarding production costs, I’ve not heard a single manufacturer list that as any sort of issue and I think they’ve been pretty honest about the issues they face, and let’s give SRAM credit for producing cranks in a 165mm length, including the one for this group. In fact, on the supply side, the number one complaint I’m told (by the manufacturers of course) is that shop mechanics hate them because getting them to shift flawlessly is difficult. Personally, I think it may be an indication that the mechanic is either uninformed or impatient, but that’s a rather broad brush for this bucket.

      The weight argument was kind of silly for a lot of years, but now the combination of ever-decreasing-in-weight carbon compacts, BB30 spindles, stiffer crank arms and ceramic bearings do provide multiple performance edges over the best triples currently available.

      My personal like for triples has always been in the minority; you simply don’t see people riding in the Alps with a 53/42/30 triple mated to a 12-25 cassette. There’s also been a cost issue for many people. For those who don’t live someplace where they can put a triple to use on a year-round basis, Campy was the only group that made adding a triple for a vacation a relatively simple, if expensive proposition. And frankly, most riders who needed one on a daily basis have been purchasing more entry-level bikes equipped with triples that often didn’t shift all that well even when correctly adjusted. Further, some of those more entry-level riders had some difficulty operating them; they were often a little overwhelmed by all the gears.

      So storytelling? The story is that love for triples is as rare as bipartisan cooperation. There are riders such as you, Grolby, who get the value of a triple. You and I are in the minority. Apex is an answer that many more people will understand intuitively and shop mechanics will happily adjust into perfect operation. I’m reminded of the episode of Top Gear where they went on and on about how innovative Lancia was, but the cars’ reliability was so dismal that all the innovation in the world couldn’t save them from being a laughingstock. Grolby, you’re good-looking Richard to my rude Jeremy. Matty, you’re much too smart and generous to be compared to James. Thanks everyone.

  4. matty

    I’m pretty intrigued and excited by Apex. It does sound like a performance group for the nonracer. But I’ll agree with Grolby’s point that there may be some storytelling about how awful triples are. If somebody is crawling up a slope in a 34×32, I don’t think the extra 10% of drivetrain weight is an issue.

  5. MattyVT

    The only mid-range Campy stuff I’ve seen on the road has been on older Bianchis, otherwise anything else is Record or occasionally Chorus.

    We did some tinkering at the local shop over the winter and setup a disc brake equipped ‘cross rig with Force levers, a XX rear derailleur and a compact crank. It all worked beautifully, but it was a ridiculously expensive solution and the only one available at the time. We were bored and owner had the parts on hand, but if we were attempting that same project now we’d have a real solution for a fraction of the cost.

  6. Souleur

    Wow…SRAM really continues to impress me (minus their wheel market). I agree as well, gear duplication is one reason I have never used a triple ring and thought it questionable in concept. You can duplicate in gear inches, the same gear perhaps a couple of times if not perhaps three times, not to mention there really isn’t a front derailleur out there that is well designed for a triple range, they are moody as a dorm full of freshman girls in finals week. The intelligent design of spreading that out over a broader range, w/the 34t will really help capture some of the riders that need the ‘triple’ range.

    Another nice feature, which is consistent w/Rival also as my buddies actually race on, is w/SRAM you don’t seem to have a trickle down effect, in other words, as your wallet trickles down so does the performance of the grouppo. Many of my buddies race on Rival because they are not afraid of laying it down, if they do, its not a $300 replacement derailleur, or carbon goodies trashed.

    SRAM is really doing themselves right.

    Great review Padraig. Thanks

  7. MJR

    I think Apex is going to do well. Both for the reasons mentioned by Padraig, and also as a fine groupset for any SRAM lover’s second (or 3rd or 4th) bike. My CAAD9 is equipped with Rival, while my CX/commuter is singlespeed. However, at some point I’ll probably go back to gears, and being able to go 10-speed (with SRAM ergonomics), cheaply, on a bike I generally beat the crap out of, would be a nice thing indeed. Assuming that the 11-28 cassette will play nicely with the short cage Apex R/D, you could have the ability to swap wheels back and forth between your road bike and your commuter/CX with ease.

    Or, for the single ring ‘crossers, an 11-32 would be just the ticket for the demands of a full racing season on various courses. Now if only SRAM’s new brake lever had a quick release, like Campy/Tektro…

  8. JohnB

    I suspect that SRAM went in this direction partly in order to avoid having to make a triple version of the DOUBLEtap front shifter.

    On the other hand, while I made great use of triples back in the 6x and 7x days, it always seemed like it was only a matter of time before chainsuck reared its ugly head, at the worst possible time of course. I do a number of hill-climb races every year and currently use a SRAM drivetrain. The options presented by this group will make it easier to switch gearing for special events.

    That said, I really don’t understand why these cassettes start with an 11T sprocket. After climbing anything that requires a 32T in back, I’m going to be freewheeling down the far side! I would much rather have a 13T small sprocket and smaller gaps in the mid-range.

    Also, a “real-world” brake (i.e. 57mm reach with a useful quick-release like the Tektro R538) would be a sensible component in a group like Apex. Do we really need another (give or take) identical 49mm reach brake? Call it the Paris-Roubaix brake and let the PR people have at it…

  9. wvcycling

    My only comment is that no matter who you are, if you need the 32 tooth, there is no reason to start the cassette at an eleven tooth. A 34×12 would be 6.1m per pedal stroke, versus 34×11’s 6.7m per pedal stroke; a 9% difference.

    When we talk about 50×11 or 50×12 it becomes an 8% difference at 9.8m / 9.0m, respectively.

    I would be happier to start with a 12t in order to get some tighter jumps in the higher gears, what about you?

  10. todd k

    Interesting directions that Gruppos from the big 3 are going. Campy is going to 11. Shimano going digital. SRAM continues to chip away at innovating the 10.

    One other benefit from the APEX gruppo is that some folks find triples a bit unwieldy. My wife is a good example. She finds shifting (when to do it, how to do it, what ring should I be in, how do I know I am really in the best gear) baffling. She finds triples a bit overwhelming. She just wants simplicity and reliability. The beauty of what SRAM is doing with APEX is that they are retaining what most people require which is the range of gears. It does come at some expense to the nuanced ranges that a triple provides, but I am not sure that folks such as my wife are benefiting much from that availability anyways. I think for folks doing weekend club rides for general fitness who are just out there for the ride will also see benefit to this set up.

    Padraig: Any word on when they anticipate APEX flowing into the market?

    1. Author

      JohnB: Certainly it was convenient for SRAM not to have to make changes to the double tap lever, but as I mentioned and Todd K points out, some folks are just plain overwhelmed by that many gears. My wife has the D/A triple and I had to do a fair amount of riding with her to help her make sense of when to use which chainring.

      You and WVCycling bring up an important point regarding the decision to spec the cassettes with an 11t cog vs. a 12t. My view is this: It’s mostly, though not entirely, a sales point. When I rode the Mulholland challenge recently, my Campy 11 cassette was a 12-27. There were a couple of points when I wound out the gear, but Malibu’s descents are so twisty you don’t really pick up that much speed. However, folks in the Rockies, Cascades and all manner of New England mountains can hit some pretty high speeds and I can see some of them wanting some meat for the trip down. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, the more gravity-challenged the rider, the more likely he seems to be to want to pedal on the way down.

      I think you can make a strong argument for both a 12-28 and a 12-32, but some riders will want that 11.

      Todd K: It will begin appearing on bikes May/June and should be available as a group by August, if not before.

      Someone asked about pairing the 11-28 with the short cage rear derailleur. I’m told that won’t work, but it really doesn’t seem to be an issue to me; the medium cage derailleur worked very, very well.

  11. todd k

    JohnB: I was thinking the exact same thing when I first read about APEX. One area I think SRAM is limiting their potential for this gruppo is the inability to run larger diameter tires using their brakesets. While I like Tektro brakes fine for that application, I am one of those folks who like to keep my gruppo to a single manufacturer. (Most of this is a silly aesthetic hang up I have, but some is that I generally find gruppos work more cohesive in this manner…. LARGE generalization I know.) I was hoping they would buck that trend and give us a 57mm brake as they don’t provide an option to do so.

    True, at the moment a lot of the industry doesn’t produce off the shelf quality bikes that can accomodate longer reach brakes… but that is a whole other story and general complaint.

  12. Souleur

    I have had the same experience as toddk. A lady rider was a bit confused w/all the gears, never knowing which one to be in, so the Apex grouppo is a great option for them.

    I agree that anyone who is going to be in a 28t, more less 32t, probably should stick to a 12-13t on the long end and just spin it, that 11t is a hefty jump.

    Although this weekend, I raced a crit that had a 15% climb for 1k, and after blowing my legs on it time after time after time, I relished the thought for more than that 39×23.

    1. Author

      BTW: On the subject of long-reach calipers, while we may think the logic behind them is undeniable, the fact that Tektro makes them helps to cut what little market there is for them pretty substantially. SRAM has never taken the all-or-nothing route to group purchasing that Shimano did for many moons. As a product manager, you can buy one rear derailleur or the whole group—they won’t penalize you, which makes it easy to add a Tektro brake, should you feel the need. Tektro stuff is inexpensive both for OE and aftermarket and the average bike line won’t feature even one bike that requires long-reach calipers, just to give you some idea how much call there is for them. Should there be more bikes spec’d to be fender-friendly? Absolutely, but as long as long-reach calipers suffer from less braking power than their short-reach cousins, they will be spec’d on fewer bikes. After all, “powerful brakes” is a much better sell line to most consumers than “fender compatible.”

  13. William M. deRosset

    Dear Padraig,

    I know this wasn’t part of your review, but the recent trend to putting 12T and and especially 11T cogs on everyone’s cassettes really is silly for most of us, even with a compact drive chainset.

    The SRAM 10-sp 11-32 gear ratios are:


    The 14-24 range is where I, anyway, do pretty much all my riding here on the Front Range of Colorado (with a 48-32 double on the brevet machine or a 52-36 on my “racing” bike).

    In that 14-24 range on the 11-32, we’ve got five gears– with a 14% jump, a 13% jump, a 16% jump and another 14% jump. Those are big gaps. Even 5s half-step setups were designed around smaller jumps than that. What’s the point of all those cogs if they’re not where you use them?

    Someone who needs/wants a 28 gear-inch low probably would do better with a 13T top end. Then we get 13-14-15-16-18-20-23-26-29-32 on a 10s cassette.

    Those aren’t quite time trial gears (gotta go to a 13-25/26 for those–a 13-19 straight block with climbing gears (21-23-26) as lagniappe; Shimano and Campagnolo 10s both offer a 13-26 or a 13-25), but close enough for non-racing use.

    Why aren’t Shimano and SRAM (and Campy 11s) filling in the gaps rather than giving us high gears only a sprinter with a lead-out train can actually spin and the same usable gear spacings we got on a 5s freewheel? This is marketing overcoming good sense.

    Thanks for the review.

    Best Regards,


    William M. deRosset

  14. grolby

    Thanks for that lengthy reply, Padraig. Those are some good points. I still can’t believe that not spending the money to develop and produce a triple shifter and crank is not a relief for SRAM, but if not enough people will buy them to make a reasonable return on the expense of stocking (and the possible opportunity cost of turning over production that could be spent on other parts to an unpopular product), well, I can’t really blame them.

    I do in fact really appreciate SRAM producing cranks shorter than 170mm. In fact, what pushed me over the edge into being one of the early adopters of the Rival redesign was learning that they would begin manufacturing the crank for that group in a 165mm size. That was a great decision, and as a result I’m rocking Rival on my race bike and absolutely loving it. It makes me a bit greedy, though; why don’t they have a 165mm option in every line!?

    I also have to admit that the crank length issue probably does not lie entirely at the feet of the manufacturers, but also with the people deciding the parts spec for the major bicycle manufacturers. I don’t see why it’s a burden to equip a line of bikes with a greater range of appropriately-sized cranks – the 165s don’t cost any more than the 170s – but there’s probably a quantity break or other logistics issue that I don’t know about. Either way, that nickel and diming at the expense of the buyer is a shame. But enough ranting for now, I suppose!

    1. Author

      While development costs are not insignificant, the way they tell the story, I really think their bigger goal was to introduce a product that was easier for most people to use and more readily accepted by shop staff. Anyone who has spent time with shops that do a brisk business in SRAM stuff knows that the wrenches just love their stuff.

      To be completely fair while meaning no undue flattery, the readers of RKP are not really the primary target market for this group. It’s aimed at shop staff and consumers who don’t really appreciate the value of a good triple.

      And while triples do offer some great benefits, there are two other liabilities we haven’t discussed: chain line and Q-factor. I’ve known two women who had hip problems as a result of the incredibly wide Q-factor of Campy triples. The hip troubles went away when they went back to traditional crank sets.

      The end result of most good pieces of engineering is a cost effective solution that meets the needs of a broad audience. We can dream up other solutions that might better suit our needs and desires, but SRAM has come up with a very mainstream solution. I look forward to doing a fuller review.

  15. wvcycling

    @Grolby – I can’t imagine an aluminum cast mold being cheap. We’re talking the price of several Luxury-Class sedans or close to six digit figures (USD), no?

  16. Mr. Fly

    @wvcycling – I believe there isn’t a mold for each size crank. If this is like what I observed with another crank, similar sizes will share the same mold with the only difference being where the pedal eye is drilled and threaded. In other words, the effective length of the crank will vary but the absolute length of the crank will not.

  17. Henry

    Long reach center mounted side pulls are not an optimal design. Much better off with an old set of MAFACs (with modern pads) or a Paul RAcer or Racer M mounted to braze on studs. That will give you performance with medium or long reach equal to or better then any top of the line brake out there. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be the demand for fenders on high performance bikes to allow a mass produced set up like that so it’s only an option on custom or niche market frames.

  18. pacificnomadd

    Rival is the bomb. It’s inexpensive and light. I think totalcycling sells a group for $600. With the extra $$$ you can score a sweet pair of wheels and a super stiff frame. Rival is extra sweet when you only have one bike; the same bike that you train and race on. I mean what other group offers $40 chain rings ( the sram rings never wear out) and a steel cassette for $70 ? Ultimately when you compare levels within groups the only diffrence is asthetics and “crispness”. Spending more $$$$ on race entry fees wil make you faster than spending an extra grand or 2 grand!!!!??? on a group. Di2, campy super record and red are groups of vanity. The best is dropping the duche bag whos on a superfly with xx while you are on the ridgid single speed monocog.

  19. christian

    Fianlly, I won’t have to run some kind of frankenkit to do the Compact with 11-32 sounds great! So many people at this race run 12-13 bottom cogs and lose the 30-45 minutes of pedaling dowhill just to keep from freezing.

    You know its hard when Gilberto Simoni did it a number of years back and stated “I wish I had brought a triple.” Now you will just need to use some Apex with your RED.

  20. Ralphy

    So what’s the deal on the cranks? Standard (53/39) and compact (50/34), but you say the 3rd one will be 50/36. SRAM’s website says 48/34, and some online retailers are listing 48/36.

    1. Author

      I recall them talking about a version that would be suitable to ‘cross use. I may have mistakenly put in 50 when they said 48; there was some noise, what with the bike racing and expo and all. I think you can count on the 48 outer ring, but I’d expect a 36 inner ring.

  21. Michael

    for those of us living in hill country who commute to work every day by bike Apex looks like it will quickly become the go-to group for this application – non-watered down performance melded to exceptional value and low cost of replacement when the time comes.

    so long Sora, it was nice knowing you.

    1. Author

      Michael: You’ll be amazed by the jump in performance from Sora to Apex. It’s no contest. Sora is to Apex what a Yugo is to an Outback.

  22. MarvinK

    I’m extremely excited about Apex. I’m tempted to try it on my daughter’s Redline Conquest 24.. but SRAM does take a bit more effort to shift. Hoping it’s not too much effort for a kid.

  23. BearSquirrel

    SRAM is NOT trying to kill the triple. They are still offering triples. They are trying to make doubles much more prevalent because they believe that they are better for the relatively flat conditions that most cyclists experience.

  24. MarvinK

    There is no doubt SRAM is trying to avoid a road triple–they don’t offer ANY road triples, and they don’t want to make one. They might not be ready to kill off their mountain triples–but they’re certainly moving in the direction of making the double standard for both mtn and road.

    SRAM isn’t trying to kill their road triple–because they haven’t ever made one. They’re hoping to compete with Shimano without having to make one.

  25. Manray

    It’s been a year, hope somebody actually reads this! I had a Trek touring bike from 1984 with a triple combination nobody ever talks about anymore. It was called “half-step plus granny.” A number of posts talked about how confusing a triple could be, but this was gloriously simple.

    The cranks were 50-45-34. The 50-45 combo was the half-step part and the 34 was the granny gear. Most of the time you’d ride the 50-45 and only use the 34 granny for loaded touring up a steep hill with a headwind. The 6-speed rear cog was 13-14-17-20-24-28. Except for the 13-14 jump, the 50-45 chainring jump was just about half the percent jumps of the 14 thru 28 gears. It was a little backwards thinking of the smallest jump being on your chainrings, but once you got that idea, shifting was beautifully simple. And for the most part you ignored that 34 granny chainring.

    I noted the criticisms about multiple gear duplications on triples, but with the above setup, the only duplications came on the granny ring with the smallest 3 of the rear cogs. These were ratios you’d get with the 45 ring and the larger cogs, so you’d only need to think about going onto the granny ring when you had a real hill and you were gonna use the 24 & 28 rear cogs.

    The final beauty of this setup is that the front derailleur mechanism was perfect for these jumps. The big jump from 34 to 45 was inside, so the outside chainring was always there to catch an overshift. Once on the 45, the jump to the 50 was trivial. I only dumped the chain maybe two times in 20 years.

    I guess the death of this system is that it’s oriented more to leisure/recreational riding than racing. So it passed on ingloriously like the touring bicycle itself. If the simplicity and efficiency of this system had caught on, maybe we’d have many triple road bikes and still have 6-speed rear cogs. I wonder how fast the chain and cogs are gonna wear out on that new bike I just got, with its 10-cluster cassette…

    1. Author

      I had very similar gearing on my Specialized Expedition. It worked well, though lacked high end on big mountain descents.

      Now, imagine flawless shifting, 10 or 11 cogs in back and both more low end and more high end. That’s what you get with SRAM Apex. You’ve got the 50 and the 34—the 45 is unnecessary because you’ve got at least 10 cogs in back, making those jumps between cogs smaller.

      That sort of gearing was popular on touring bikes, but that’s not why it isn’t used anymore. Today’s drivetrains offer gearing just as broad or broader, weigh less and shift much better. There’s just no need for that extra ring.

  26. Manray

    Points well made about Apex’s wider range and lightness. I still wonder about chain and cog life with the 10 and especially 11 cog cassettes, though!

  27. MarvinK

    Bleh… the chain life argument comes up with every extra gear. 11 speed Campy last longer than Shimano 9 speed chains. Shimano’s newest directional 10 speed chains last longer than their original 10 speed models. If everyone was worried about chain life, they’d all buy Campy chains. Apparently they’re not.

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