Battle Royal, Part IV: SRAM Red

Had it not been for the entry of SRAM into the world of road component groups there would likely never have been a reason for me to do this series of posts. It’s their presence that makes this question interesting. How SRAM even came to offer a road group makes this conversation all the more interesting. After all, if you were a cyclist in the late 1980s and ran across the early Gripshift units you can be forgiven for having concluded that SRAM would never make anything you’d willingly purchase. The shifters were wonky and bulky, and had to be positioned in a relatively inconvenient position. Even with a Shimano drivetrain the shifters required some fiddling.

Somehow, SRAM survived this first questionable product. They made acquisitions. Among their many acquisitions (which included Rock Shox and Truvativ among others) they picked up Sachs. You may recall that back in the 1990s Sachs licensed Campagnolo’s Ergo control lever design and put out an 8-speed group of their own.

Had SRAM been run by some MBA with a background in accounting and no history in cycling, I can guarantee you that SRAM’s first component group would simply have re-badged the old Sachs designs after the company’s lawyers negotiated an ad-infinitum agreement with Campagnolo for its existing lever design. But that wasn’t the case. SRAM, like a great many bike companies, has the good fortune to be run by a bunch of minds at their best when discussing bicycles. Even though the Sachs name no longer appears in SRAM’s family of brands, the acquisition was it’s first genius stroke. It gave the small company a portfolio of existing designs and the opportunity to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Schweinfurt, Germany. It was all the leg up they needed.

SRAM deserves some credit for spec’ing ceramic bearings to remove drag from the drivetrain.

When word began to circulate that SRAM would come out with its first full road group, we all wondered just how it would shift. Early reports were that they hadn’t licensed a design from either Shimano or Campagnolo, which meant they had a genius team of patent attorneys, less for what they filed than what they avoided. They’d danced through a minefield and arrived at the other side, feet intact. Certainly there was going to be ample time  for Shimano to disassemble a shifter and file a suit, but by the time you’ve gone into full-scale production on an integrated control lever you’ve vetted the design pretty carefully.

This is the orginal DoubleTap prototype.

Let me back up a second. It used to be that the rear derailleur was the lead guitar of any component group. Why? It was the crux move, the soufflé a l’orange that makes the meal. If your soufflé falls, the meal is a miss. The rear derailleur was the engineering triumph of a group. Designed well the slant parallelogram would require the same amount of lever throw as well as an equal amount of overshift to execute a shift from one cog to the next. Done poorly, your shift from the 13t cog to the 15 was different than your shift from the 21t cog to the 23. With the rear derailleur very well understood at this point, the challenge has shifted to the integrated control lever. Witness Vision Components. While I love the work of the folks at FSA, the fact that their one full component group is triathlon-based and uses bar cons is all the evidence we need to prove the argument. Until you have introduced an integrated control lever claiming you produce a road group is a bit like saying you can see Russia from Alaska. It’s a stretch.

This shows the two pawls and single ratchet that constitute the heart of the DoubleTap system.

Even if you’ve tried a SRAM road group and didn’t like the company’s work, they deserve a measure of respect just because of the challenge the company had to meet to deliver a fresh shifting system to market. And that tag line, “Will you make the leap?” It wasn’t just some cutesy line. At the heart of that question is actual technology. Double-Tap shifting relies on an innovative (pronounced patent pending) ratchet system that causes one pawl to float over the other depending on how far the lever is depressed.

 

A look inside the finished lever.

Best Features: My first, favorite feature of Red, indeed of any SRAM road group, is the engineering that goes into their components. In any engineering problem  you always begin with your givens, that is, your lines in the sand. Ride any SRAM group and brake response remains incredibly consistent, more consistent than Campagnolo, which is far more consistent than Shimano. Switch Shimano groups and you might as well relearn cycling. God forbid you should mix Dura-Ace levers with Ultegra brakes. The differing mechanical advantages of the two levers result in vastly sub-par brake performance. Red brake performance is like Force brake performance is like Rival is like Apex. While this is a bit off the track of an evaluation of Red as a group, give this another line or two. The point here is that SRAM established what they believed brake performance should be. It’s a firm line in the sand. No matter who you are, no matter what you spend, you deserve a certain level of brake performance, and it’s not inferior to what the pros get. Contrast that with Shimano. Ultegra is grabbier than Dura-Ace. How come? Better yet, why has brake performance for Sora and Tiagra always been so inferior to Dura-Ace? Do people on a budget have a reduced need to stop?

I really like that what you get with Apex is the same braking experience as Red; it’s just heavier.

There’s an angular elegance to SRAM’s brakes, not to mention a good reason why they all look similar.

SRAM shifters also benefit from two unique-to-SRAM design concepts. The shifters employ a technology called Exact Actuation. That means that there is no multiplier on cable travel. In broad strokes it means that if you move the shifter enough to move the cable 1mm, the derailleur moves 1mm as well. It makes drivetrain setup quick and easy and results in a less finicky drivetrain overall. And while I know plenty of riders who will swear there is nothing ever finicky about Shimano drivetrains, I’ve experienced it first-hand.

The next  unique-to-SRAM design concept that I like is its ZeroLoss shifting. That we tolerate shift levers that can move a centimeter or more without accomplishing a shift boggles my mind. ZeroLoss means that if the shift lever is moving then the cable is moving, and if the cable is moving, then the derailleur is moving—you’re shifting. The kicker here is that it’s really not a particularly innovative concept. We would never, ever tolerate play in our brake levers. Extra throw? Sure, but you pull on the brake lever and that brake is moving. So why do we put up with lever movement that does less to move a shifter cable than turning the pedals? SRAM shouldn’t be occupying this territory alone, but they are, so they deserve some credit. Compare: A SRAM upshift requires less than 1cm of lever movement to execute; a downshift requires 2.5cm of lever movement to execute. Bear in mind, that’s a completed shift. A Campagnolo rear downshift lever moves 2cm before you engage the cable. The buttons move 1cm. A Shimano rear downshift lever moves 1.5cm, the rear upshift lever moves 2.5cm.

Practically speaking, what this means is that you’ve executed an upshift with any of SRAM’s levers by the time you’ve even begun a downshift with a competing system. You’ve executed a downshift with SRAM before you can execute an upshift with Shimano. There’s no adequate defense for that design flaw, weirder still that neither Shimano nor Campagnolo has addressed it so far.

I get a lot of questions about whether DoubleTap levers are confusing to operate. My answer has always been no. The reason why has to do with the play in Shimano and Campagnolo shift levers. The upshift with SRAM requires so little lever movement that a downshift never feels unnatural. You can execute a downshift with SRAM in less throw than you can complete any shift with Shimano. Only upshifts with Campagnolo come close to matching the efficiency of SRAM shifters.

Generally speaking, I don’t consider DoubleTap a selling point; it’s just not a liability. However, the fact that you can tuck the shift lever beneath your index finger and execute an upshift with far greater ease than you can with Shimano and to a more foolproof degree than you can with Campagnolo does make it a terrific system for someone with a long sprint.

You want to know what I just love? How the brake lever throw can be adjusted with just a 3mm Allen and by peeling back the lever hoods. That it doesn’t require the removal of the lever face plate nor result in that slack-jawed appearance you get with Dura-Ace demonstrates just how forward-thinking SRAM’s engineers are.

My other favorite feature of SRAM component groups (because it’s true of them all) is the PowerLock chain connector. It’s easy to connect and surprisingly easy to take apart, making chain cleaning something you can do with a minimum of fuss.

The high and low set screws are easy to get to and clearly marked. Why can’t everyone do that?

Worst Features: That aforementioned PowerLock chain connector? It’s strictly single-serve. Not wild about that. Maybe I’d feel different if I had a dozen of them tucked in a spare parts bin, but I don’t.

For a company that seems to take input from almost any source, I’m stunned and disappointed that SRAM only offers four cassettes for Red. Four. Hell, they offer six different chainring combinations for the Red crankset—12 if you count the two different spindles. Worse, all of the cassettes begin with an 11t cog. They do offer a greater array of choices at the Force level, but it seems to me that very few Red users will ever need an 11. I really hate that I can’t get a Red cassette that begins with a 12. Hate hate hate.

There are more svelte levers on the market, but the Red lever’s contours are smooth. 

The shape of the SRAM lever body isn’t terrific. It’s not the end of the world as some users have complained, but the shifter body is a bit wide and a touch tall. I’ve not had a problem with the meek bump at the end of the lever, but I often hear riders complain that they fear their hands will run off the end of the lever. Just what event might cause that worries me more than the lever does, though.

The other aspect of the Red group that doesn’t pass muster is the titanium-caged front derailleur. I still like it better than Campagnolo’s carbon fiber outer plate front unit, but that’s a bit like saying you prefer malaria to meningitis.

If there’s one point of general agreement regarding Red, it’s that the front derailleur offers mushy shifting due to the titanium cage.

Assembly and Maintenance: The first time I assembled a SRAM group from scratch I was amazed at how easy it was to do. That first group was mostly Red with an Apex rear derailleur and cassette so I could run some really low gearing in the Alps, so technically, it wasn’t a full Red group, but my sense of working on other SRAM components is that a Red rear derailleur and cassette wouldn’t have altered the assembly in any appreciable way.

The one knock I have against maintenance is that if you need to replace a derailleur cable you absolutely must use a brand new cable with a soldered end. Better if you use a new Gore cable, of course. And it helps to put a slight bend in the cable about an inch from the end.

Once together it won’t need anything other than chain lube for at least 1000 miles. The only reason I know about the challenge of replacing a cable is because I moved the group between bikes. I’ve put 2000 miles on a chain and not found any appreciable chain wear.

Group Weight: 4.37 lbs. (1980g)

Best Internet Pricing: $1499

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45 comments

  1. melbin_rider

    the suspense is killing me … which way will go. you profess a strong appreciation for specific elements of each, but my gut says you’ll choose DA, err i mean red … wait, no super record. haha starting to see the problem now. good luck!

  2. SpeedyChix

    Great trio of entries!
    Having run the other brands over the years, moved to SRAM and am very happy with how it works. Agreed replacing shift cables has a learning curve and their coated der. cables aren’t the best. No issues with the shifter body here as I’ve got small hands. Combine that with the easy reach adjustment and it makes for a great setup.

  3. SteveP

    And I thought I was the only one who doesn’t know what to do with an 11T cog…

    Sure, Red is a pro group, but a 12T (or even 13T) cassette would be nice for those ordinary mortals who like nice parts and actually pay for this stuff. Still SRAM gets my vote – really nice group.

  4. Souleur

    spot on Padraig!

    in fact, I would really really recommend the Gore-Ride on cable systems w/the SRAM goods. I have run initially without them and then put them on, found it was like night and day

    so for those out there changing, really think about running the Gore system

    In terms of the bad, the 4 cassettes, I personally haven’t really had a huge issue with it. Seems the advantage being that if your going to run up Cols, changing the front rings to be more advanageous, and given Red cassette prices, it may be less expensive too? I haven’t plotted the gear inches and all, but will and ponder that. Of course this comes from one who runs only 23-11 or 23-12.

    thanks!

  5. scott

    Watch bar mounted camera video of CXer with SRAM and it sounds like machine-gun fire with the shifter, no messing around… sweet that.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks for the great comments everyone. I’m amazed it took as long to get this post up as it did. Things are busy behind the scenes at the RKP World HQ (my desk). I plan to have the wrap-up live by the end of the week. It’s been fun having the opportunity to revisit these groups and really think about their strengths and weaknesses.

      One note on the SRAM installment: I really didn’t mention the crank. There’s a good reason for that—I haven’t spent many miles on one. Every bike with Red I’ve ever been sent for review substituted a different crank and a Force-level cassette for the standard Red items. *Do not like.*

  6. Craig

    Just built a new bike with full SRAM Force group. Build was very simple, initial adjustments simple, and learning to use shifters was simple. I will not go back to Shimano.

  7. Matthew Zullo

    I am happy with whatever group is on my bike as long as it works. All three companies make great products and all with pluses and minuses. I have two road bikes one with Dura-ace 7800 and one with Ultegra SL and the reason I went with Ultegra on the second bike was so I could inter-change wheels if necessary and so that the shifting style where the same. I don’t think you can really pick a winner. It would be like trying to choose your favorite child. Thanks for the reviews.

  8. Robot

    I like SRAM. I ride it. I started SRAMing (a new word I just made up) a year or so ago, mainly because I didn’t like having only two choices previously. I figured I’d invest in SRAM in order to improve our options down the road. The components have mostly lived up to my expectations.

    The only knock I have on their stuff is the hoods themselves don’t hold the levers well enough. After a time they distend and let go, so you end up having to remount them fairly regularly.

    That’s from a sample of one, mind you.

  9. Wayne

    SRAM Bad points:

    First priority of a group is shifting. SRAM shifts only one gear at a time.

    The shape of the hood. There are only three contact points on the bike and we touch them constantly. Personal preference but like saddles an important one.

  10. steve

    By chance, I’ve ended up with bikes with Centaur, DA7800 and Force. Centaur ’06 on the road bike, DA7800 on one CX bike and Force on the main CX bike. Overall I prefer Campy’s shifting smoothness, but like the Force double-tap lever throw. I slightly prefer Force’s ergonomics, and never had any problem with my hands slipping over the hoods, even on bumpy CX courses. DA seems to be the middle ground between campy on one end and SRAM on the other. I may be a bit biased though since I spend more time on the Campy and SRAM bikes than I do on the DA bike.

    One negative for me was when campy upgraded to 11speed. With multiple wheelsets, I would have to purchase multiple 11s cassettes if I want to upgrade to say chorus 11s. In addition I often use a 10s Shimano/Sram cassette (gasp!) with my campy drivetrain without problem. Since there’s no current 11s shimano-splined cassettes, these wheels would be relegated to storage.

  11. WV Cycling

    What about being able to pull the shifting paddle closer to the bar if desired? When on long solo rides, I often flick the shifter paddles to a tune of a song that is stuck in my head. There’s also the benefit of close-to-the-bar sprint shifting up or down in the drops with the paddles just nanometers away from the bartape!

    I still want more farking trim on my front derailleur. One trim option on both the big ring and small ring. I don’t know why people haven’t cried about this more. I’m rocking ’09 Rival (bought in ’08) with the trim on the big ring, but I’d still like to have the little trim… or a better stamped pattern pressed into the front derailleur body to assist with shifting.

    I hear stories of people in the 70′s tweaking Campy FD’s to shift better by bending the body of it, or pressing detentes in the front or back of the cage. – Anyone here ever do that?

  12. Rob

    SRAM Red is a good group. My only big problem with the system is that to get the rear wheel off, one has to physically move the rear der, even with the chain in the 11-cog. With Shimano, one only has to open the quick release and lift the saddle and the wheel falls out of the rear triangle without der. interference. Wheel changes are quicker with Shimano. I’ve never tried Campy, so can’t compare.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Rob: What you’re talking about is a frame design issue, not a rear derailleur issue. I’ve never had to do that with a single Red-equipped bike I’ve ridden. Now, I’m not entirely enthused to have to pull the derailleur back to get the wheel into the dropouts, but I’ve never, ever had to remove the rear derailleur. What causes a problem like that comes primarily from chainstay length, but the shape of the dropouts and the derailleur hanger can influence it as well.

  13. Chris

    @Wayne -

    SRAM will downshift up to three cogs at once if you push the lever far enough. You are correct that upshifts are one at a time, but so is Shimano. AFAIK Campagnolo is the only one with multiple upshift capability. However, I’m not sure if that’s such a big deal since the super-short lever throw on SRAM allows a rapid fire style of shifting that’s usually more than sufficient. Unless you ride somewhere (like NH or VT backroads) with extremely quick transitions from ascent to descent.

  14. MCH

    Great review. Based on this, I may actually consider a different brand when it comes time for another group.

    WV Cycling – the shop I worked at in the late 70s / early 80s sold a lot of Campy SR equipped bikes. It was standard procedure for us to manipulate the FD cages to improve shifting. Hell, as I recall it was required! The Campy groups of the day were battlefield strong and spare parts were plentiful if needed, but even then the shifting IMHO didn’t compare with the contemporary DA or ST Superbe groups.

  15. Wayne

    Quick shifting to higher gears is nice just before standing – jump up two or three cogs. Also it is routine on our tandem when topping short sharp hills here in Texas.

    I actually run all three groups at the same time on the same bike. The best thing about SRAM is that their 10 speed RD works well with the best cassettes made, Shimano, and the best shifter ever made, Campy 10 Record. No adapter or funny cable routing needed. Thank you SRAM.

  16. Steve

    Nicely written article. Ha, I was correct when I said it looked like old Sachs/Mavic stuff. I still say the quality is not as good as DA and Campy, but for the price a better buy than Ultegra. The finish looks cheap and the bolts look sourced from Home Depot + external to get smucked in a crash. The upshifts are like Shimano and the downshifts are like Campy & the Force brakes are spongy. They don’t come close to 7800/7900 brakes. I never liked the crank. Looks cheap and old design. The FD sucks. The double tap is a great idea and the adjustment is great like you said, but the lever shape sucks. The levers are the jewel of the group. The Cassette was a super cool idea, but had the achilles heel. The 1090R chain is really good and works awesome with 7800, although the link wears fast. Overall, I agree a good first attempt. Looking forward to see the new Red and the new 11 DA. At the moment, if you have the cash Di2.

  17. cyclehard57

    I do not own SRAM components, but many of my friends do. They all complain about the drive train being noisy. I’m surprised to see that this has not been mentioned.

  18. Philippe

    How about the double-tap punishment?? You’re laboring up a climb, you push the lever to grab the next highest cog and a little bit of hope but BOOM… double-tap drops you one cog…you did not realize you were already on your largest cog.

    I switched to Red after a lifetime on Campagnolo. I like Red, but Campy did not make it so painfully obvious that i don’t belong on some tough climbs.

  19. Paul

    As someone who doesn’t have the spare cash to run these top level groups that Padraig is reviewing, I like SRAM because it is great value for money. As far as I can tell, the only difference between RED and the lower SRAM groups is weight, which is not a huge concern for me. I have Rival on my main road bike and I am switching to Apex on my backup. I like the shape of the SRAM hoods and the double-tap system, so it’s all good for me.

  20. Even Steven

    I owned a SRAM RED grouppo in 2010, hated it. 25 years of Campy use might make me a little biased, but if my Campy Athena performs better than RED that says volumes. No wonder Jonathan Vaughters wouldn’t let his team ride the crap. Maybe in the coming years when SRAM refines the group a bit I might revisit because I do like double tap shifting, especially for CX, it’s just everything else about it that I don’t like. When you’re done modding out a RED grouppo to work properly you basically have a RED/FORCE/Ultegra set up. How ridiculous is that?

  21. armybikerider

    I’m a Sram user and after using other makers products, most recently Campagnolo….I’ll stick with Sram.

    Gotta love diversity…of opinions and of product choice.

  22. Noah G

    I am enjoying this series. I have used Campy and Shimano extensively and for years. I sometimes get tempted to try SRAM but the build quality just looks terrible. I don’t agree about the author’s point regarding pre-shift paddle pull. On both Campy and Shimano systems I like having some play before the shift. I don’t want an immediate response, I like to be able to start to “lean” into the shift a bit. Although described as a feature, for me SRAM’s 1×1 is a downside.

  23. Chris

    @Philippe

    “How about the double-tap punishment?? You’re laboring up a climb, you push the lever to grab the next highest cog and a little bit of hope but BOOM… double-tap drops you one cog…you did not realize you were already on your largest cog.”

    I’ve heard people talk about this, but I’ve been riding 1st generation SRAM Force for about four years now, and I’ve never had this happen. It looks and feels like there’s something in the mechanism that “cancels” the shift if you’re already in the largest cog. I’ve yet to have an unintended upshift in nearly 10,000 miles.

    Maybe I’ve got some kind of weird early version that does this, or maybe I’ve got it set up wrong, but it works quite well. Do any other SRAM users have this problem?

  24. comptonius

    Thanks for the extensive review Padraig! I’ve loved reading this and can’t wait to see the final installment! I made the leap from Ultegra 2 years ago and really like the SRAM Force on my road bike and Rival on my CX bike.

    In response to @Philippe: If you are in the largest cog and try to shift then realize your mistake all you need to do is hold the lever in the upshift position for a second or so and it will cancel the shift.

    In response to Steve: I agree that in the stock state the braking with Force is subpar. I switched to the Yokozuna cables and housing and the difference is night and day, better than my old Ultegra. Definitely worth the upgrade!

  25. The_D

    I went from Shimano to SRAM last year, and am really happy with my Red group. The weak point, it’s true, is front shifting due to flex in the cage. But the bulletproof rear shifting (which, at least around here is 95% of one’s shifting) more than makes up for it. I love the sound and precision of the shifts – reminds me of how the SMG trans feels on my car.

    I have this theory that some jury-rigged combo of a Di2 FD and Red RD would yield the highest on the feel/function matrix. (Added benefit: would annoy freds and luddites equally).

    Re: lever shape – I am lucky that my shop knew to do it right – the key is for the hood bodies to be canted in slightly; once that’s done, you feel like you have at least two very distinct “on the hoods” perches, on in the base of your fingers makes most contact, and one in which the heel of your palm makes most contact;this makes it seamless going from “in-the-draft”/climbing position to a bent-elbows, flat back, in the wind position. Also, as P noted, you can’t beat Red for upshifting the RD from the drops in an attack.

  26. Craig

    Having worked in bike shops for the past 20 years, I have seen a lot of components come and go. I have never been able to shake the feeling of supreme disapointment when it comes to Sram’s road groups. Padraig’s favorite feature of SRAM is their engineering, I see it as their fatal flaw. I have never seen a group set where nearly every piece is hampered by sub par performance or outright failure. Specifically:
    Shifters: Besides a poorly fitting, loose hood design and a cheap overall feel with little support for the hand, the shifters BREAK! A lot! We have warrantied over a dozen this year alone.
    Brakes: When you remove a pair of brand new Red brakes from the box they feel stickier then brakes I’ve had on bikes for 10 years. The axles need to be loosened for them to feel just average. Also I don’t understand why there isn’t spring tension adjustment across all of the groups.
    Front derailleur: The shifting performance here is so poor that SRAM should be ashamed. The derailluer is particularly sensitive to it’s angle relative to the chainrings. If you call SRAM and beg they will send you a shim to make it better. Ironically, spending more for Red actually gets you worse shifting performance as well as a titanium cage that BREAKS all the time! We have warrantied DOZENS of them. It’s no wonder that pro sponsored riders have to use the steel one.
    Rear derailleur: Removing rear wheels is more of a hassle than it should be. On some bikes with thin dropouts the derailleur collapses on itself before the high limit screw hits it’s stop. More importantly the derailleur spring BREAKS! Before SRAM road I saw this happen maybe twice in 20 years. Last year I had 3 broken SRAM ones.
    Crankset: The chainrings are very prone to chainsuck when shifting to the small ring especially when new. The rings seem to be exceptionally soft and develop plenty of burrs that need to be filed off. The teeth are very thin and have a tendency to bend. The shifting ramps are not as effective as Campagnolo or Shimano.
    Chain: The shifting performance is average at best and more importantly they BREAK. A LOT! I have replaced countless broken SRAM chains. One of the best performance upgrades you can do for a SRAM bike is to put a 7900 chain on it.
    Cogset

  27. Craig

    Cogset: Many first generation red cassettes were machined incorrectly and were effectively worn out when brand new. Even when properly adjusted the feel of the chain going over the cogs is very rough and unacceptably noisy.
    My overall impression is that SRAM rushed product to market and is testing it on the public. It feels and performs very cheap and fails at a much higher rate than it’s rivals. Yes, SRAM will replace all of your broken parts generally without hassle but the fact that they would release them to begin with speaks volumes about their ethics. SRAM is the only bike company that consistently makes my job harder.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Craig: Thanks for joining the conversation. I’ve not seen most of the problems you cite, nor have I heard other mechanics make the complaints you lodge. I’m not saying you haven’t had those experiences or seen those problems, but I’m curious why I haven’t heard more about them. As a for instance, you’re the first person I’ve run across to complain about the lever hoods. On the other hand it does seem like if you go down the levers are goners. Just happened to a teammate this morning on our ride. I have heard a few complaints about chain suck, but only with new chainrings.

      It’s always great to get the perspective of a mechanic working on this stuff daily. Thanks.

  28. ken c

    I have been riding SRAM for about 4 years now, rode D/A for about 20 years before that. The levers are the highlight for me, love the ergo and double tap. I didn’t even try the red fd, just use the force, it works well. I have to admit that when I first got it I thought that the shifting was sub par, I replaced the chain w/ a 7800 DA chain, and swapped the cluster for a DA 7800. Now it’s perfect. That said DA clusters are not w/o they’re issues. Namely they gouge the free hub so badly it renders them useless. I haven’t used the SRAM dome but I bet that will solve that issue.

    Recently I borrowed a bike w/ DA 7900, I hated it. Shifting was ok, but hated the lever travel, the brakes sucked. Finish on the RD, Crank, and FD is better than SRAM but performance wise I’ve been converted. I’m sure it has a lot to do with what you get used to. I hope that SRAM has solved the chain/cluster issues.

  29. Chad

    Have to agree w/ Craig on what he wrote above. We warranty 10X the amount of SRAM Road parts over Campagnolo or Shimano.

    It’s pretty noisy in most gears, the front derailleur shifting is mediocre at best and it breaks.

    That being said, I think SRAM has done great things and made huge improvements over the years and we’ll see what the new group is like.

    Remember, in the end it’s the legs, not the parts so get what appeals to you, don’t worry about what your friends/other riders say, they are not riding your bike.

    I have a few (too many) bikes with all the groups represented and in the end if someone came up and said I had to narrow it down to one it would be easy. Campagnolo, but that’s just me…

    Cheers!

  30. Jesus from Cancun

    Great review and comments. I still have one question:
    Why in this world does SRAM use titanium for its FD cage? All their sponsored Pro riders get a steel cage, the reasons are widely known.
    So, why sell it to the public with titanium? Why use a metal that costs a lot more and performs a lot worse in this application?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Jesus: When you see a pro’s bike with a steel-caged front derailleur, what you’re seeing is a Force front derailleur, not some non-ti Red derailleur. While some minor changes have been made to Red since it was first introduced, redesigning a front derailleur isn’t something you’re typically going to do. I honestly think the Red front der. has taken more heat than it has coming. I think this got blown up on a few sites and I suspect there are a great many riders who if they hadn’t known the pros were switching out their front derailleurs probably would never have complained. If you don’t complain about the shifting of Red then you’re clueless, the thinking goes.

      Try to keep in mind that the folks at SRAM are no less rabid about cycling than you or I. They went with titanium because they believed it would yield a functional front derailleur that weighed less than a steel version but offered superior durability to carbon fiber. They rode this stuff before it was released. If it wasn’t up to the task, they wouldn’t have released it. As it turns out some pros shift rather vigorously and came to the conclusion that they wanted something stiffer for a more responsive shift. There’s a difference between wanting a more responsive shift and having a derailleur that simply doesn’t get the job done. Properly adjusted Red works; I’m amazed that people have tried to turn this into some sort of scandal that suggests the derailleur is completely ineffective.

  31. Craig

    I disagree about the performance of the front derailluer. I think it is a very noticeable drop in performance from the rest of the sram line and especially so when compared to Shimano or Campagnolo. SRAM does make a non-ti red front derailluer as well. It is normally available through qbp and appears identical to a force but is priced the same as red. I think the big disappointment here is that SRAM knows that they are prone to failure at the weld between the plates and they have done nothing about it. I have seen this failure from day one with SRAM and while they will replace it if you call them it is disheartening that they continue to use the design. No one is perfect and I understand that but i can’t believe that a company with their resources is doing the best they can.

  32. Philip

    Why is it that when you drop the chain to the inside of the chainrings on sram you can not pull it back on the rings with the shifter? When I used shimano I could usually get the chain back on with the shifter but with sram I have never been able to shift it back on but have to do it by hand. I see they have added an integrated chainguard on the new red front der.

  33. G'rilla

    I built a new cyclocross bike last fall and decided to go with SRAM Rival.

    I regret it and am in the middle of selling the gruppo and switching to Shimano.

    Front shifting is horrible. The amount of pressure on the lever is ridiculous compared to the smooth, instant shifting on Shimano Ultegra.

    The shape of the hoods is painful on my hands on long training rides. After experiencing this, I read that Jeremy Powers’ mechanics actually file down the transition between shifter and bar in order to make it more comfortable.

    The rear shifting is the best feature on SRAM. But I don’t see that as a problem on the other gruppos, so the slight improvement isn’t a benefit for me.

    The whole experience of DoubleTap requires me to think too much. Am I pushing the lever a quarter of the way, or halfway, or all the way? Am I supposed to listen for one click (rear derailleur) or two (front derailleur)? For me, shifting on Shimano requires no thought.

    I feel like I’ve given SRAM a good try (4 months). But using it has shown me how much I like Shimano!

  34. Mike

    @Padraig. I’m curious about your response here: “Rob: What you’re talking about is a frame design issue, not a rear derailleur issue. I’ve never had to do that with a single Red-equipped bike I’ve ridden.” My question is basically, “really”?

    I have or have had a slew of Shimano-equipped RD bikes of all types, DA 7800, 7700, Ultegra 6600, 6500, a couple of 105′s and even Sora and I’ve never had problems with easy rear wheel removal. But it seems like no matter what gear I’m in on my one SRAM-equipped bike (Rival RD on my cx bike) it’s consistently a pain in the neck to get the rear wheel off. Like I’m cursing at the dumb thing. I had a 105 RD on the same bike before I switched to SRAM and I don’t remember it being an issue. Lift the seat and off she comes. Really slows up my cx wheel changes.

    Could it be RD specific, i.e. not a problem with Red, but a “problem” with Force or Rival? I’ve never tried Red.

  35. picky weenie

    You hate 11?? What do you identify as “racing”? 12 is for pencil legs or fixie addicts. Gimme 11/53 and I’ll bridge anything that’s spinning out on 12. Geez.

  36. John Vance

    Here we are 4 years on and my 2010 Red rear derailleur came apart in the middle of a ride, stranding me on the shoulder. Thankfully, when the cage came off and jammed the drivetrain, bending the crap out of the dropout and jerking the bike backwards, I had just come off the front of the group. if I had still been pulling, it would have been very ugly.

    The cage pivot has a knob on the end that seats inside the derailleur body. That knob should be round. It had worn flat on one side, allowing it to get pulled out. This is a common, known wear issue. It apparently happens a lot. My bike shop advocate relayed to me that the SRAM rep informed him that Red is race day componentry. Design decisions were made in favor of weight savings and performance at the expense of durability. That said, they’re shipping me a new rear mech despite being 2 years out of warranty.

    My next gruppo is going to be DA 9000. I’ve been riding Dura Ace since 1986 and never had something like this happen.

  37. John van Weel

    Sram red FD <1000Kms split cage and snapped off at the hanger!!! This on a 11month old bike which hadnt been ridden for 6 months due to broken neck resulting from failure of Mavic ES front wheel! Is it me or the bike!?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      John van Weel: No company out there makes fool-proof products. Anecdotally, I can say that as components (wheels, derailleurs, shifters) have lost weight and gained complexity, failure rates *seem* to have increased. I’d like to think you’ve had really awful luck, but I’m not really in a position to assert that. Here’s to hoping the next six months are better.

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