So last week I laid my hands on a SRAM 2012 Red group. To use a more colloquial phrasing, you might say that my stock has risen enough with the folks in Chicago that they were willing to provide me with a group for review. It suggests they have some regard for my work. Which is pretty cool, considering we’re this tiny, independent blog thingy.
My plan, at least initially, was to install the Red group on a bike and then right it until I was supremely overtrained, or somewhere thereabouts, and then write a post about my experience with it. I’m writing this post because of my experience with working on the new group. Why? Well, my previous experience as a mechanic is enough that this group really impressed me.
What you see above is a shot of the installation instructions. Ordinarily, what passes for installation instructions, on the rare occasions that they are created, is a tepid improvement over the boilerplate that you get in bicycle owners’ manuals. I’ve yet to see an owner’s manual that was anything but a CYA (cover your ass) document cooked up by a bunch of lawyers for the purpose of shielding a manufacturer from a lawsuit stemming from any sort of crash on a bike, including those where shoddy assembly may be an issue.
These installation and adjustment instructions are another matter. They begin by indicating which parts will be installed and where they go on the bike (not like that is big news though, huh?). Next, a legend indicates each of the tools that will be required from start to finish, and in exact detail. Those of you who have worked as wrenches will recall boxed bikes that often included a list of tools on the top of the box. That menu would include a screwdriver (sometimes two), pliers, a crescent wrench and often (though inexplicably) a hammer.
With the exception of the 10mm Allen key required to tighten the cranks, the 2012 Red is built around three different Allen keys—and no flippin’ Torx wrenches. A 5mm Allen is used to fix the component to the bike, i.e. brake and derailleur fixing bolts and control lever clamps. A 4mm Allen is used for gross adjustment, i.e. cable fixing bolts and brake shoe adjustment. Finally, a 2.5mm Allen is used for fine adjustment, i.e. derailleur set screws, brake centering adjustment and chain catcher position. That sort of consistency speeds a mechanic’s work.
The directions take nothing for granted. They show cable routing, torque values and color code different operations. While Shimano has at times had some good installation instructions, these were the most boiled-down and direct of any I can recall reading. The one criticism I do have is that I found that there is an overlap of steps between the installation of the front and rear derailleurs. Because of how the derailleurs are adjusted and when the chain is supposed to be installed, it’s not possible to do all of either the front or rear derailleur before moving on to the other. The steps need to be coordinated between the two (they are currently separate instruction sheets included with each component) so as to complete all the steps prior to chain installation before moving on to those that depend on the chain being present.
It’s a picky point, but these directions are so good that the one flaw sticks out. When I used to work as a mechanic, I had a system for assembling bikes. I started with bearings then moved on to bar/stem and saddle, then brakes, before going to the derailleurs, in broad strokes. SRAM’s team of technical writers seems close to being able to creating a manual for assembling an entire bicycle from the frame out; such a manual would have the ability to clarify what absolutely must be done first before moving on to other procedures, which could get interrupted by going back to finish something else the mechanic (me) left out. Assembling a bike is a good deal more difficult today than it was in the 1990s, despite the fact that frame prep with a Campy tool kit is almost never required. And given what many shops and studios charge for labor, and how busy those wrenches are, anything that can make labor more efficient is good.
I should add that a portion of my training is as a technical writer and I have worked as one in a variety of capacities, including writing instruction manuals. My eye may be a bit more critical than most. To be fair, Shimano’s more recent efforts aren’t bad (and they’ve improved over the years), but they are nowhere near this good.
With 2012 Red, SRAM moved to a locking, threaded BB washer to accommodate more different bottom brackets. It makes sense because bottom bracket standards are proliferating like rabbits during spring. I can report this was one of the easiest bottom bracket/crank installations of my life, if not the absolute easiest. And it has been utterly creak-free so far.
The shot above is a top-down view of the front derailleur and that grey line is an alignment guide for the front derailleur. Set that line in plane with the big chainring and the yaw technology of the new derailleur eliminates the need for trim.
So the line on the cage establishes the angle of the derailleur while this slightly polished guide line on the cage’s inner plate helps guide the height for the front derailleur. It really eliminates guesswork and multiple adjustments. Once angle and height are established, you move on to the set screws. Then, all that’s left is cable tension, and to their credit, SRAM includes an in-line barrel adjuster so that you can set cable tension in case the frame doesn’t include them; this has been an issue for me with both Shimano and Campagnolo.
SRAM indicated that their engineers had altered the lever body shape so that it would work at more different angles and bar shapes. I did try playing around a bit with different lever positions relative to the bar and it seemed like users would have plenty of options. If anything, it made it more difficult for me to find my preferred angle because so many seemed to work. Something they haven’t talked about are these little pads that cushion the hands from the bar. They sit just where the heel of your hand would normally be positioned against the bend of the bar. You have to work a bit more to get them positioned correctly before taping down the cable housing (it took a couple of tries for me), but their addition has been well worth it.
The redesigned hoods offer enough flexibility in the midsection that it’s easier to flip those hoods up than a starlet’s skirt, making it a snap to fit the 5mm Allen driver in to tighten the levers in place. This aspect of their levers and hoods is something that Campagnolo and Shimano would both do well to study.
Perhaps the least-changed component from the whole group—installation-wise, that is—are the brakes. My biggest note on the brakes was that the front brake was included with three different length fixing nuts for the fork. No Campy group I’ve ever had did that, though I can’t say with Shimano; it’s been a long time since I assembled a Shimano group from boxes as opposed to with a bike. It’s not uncommon to receive a few extra odds and ends when you pull the parts from display boxes.
Brake-shoe hardware is frequently a source of frustration. Trying to hold the pad in place well enough to get the hardware tight, but without the brake-shoe holder twisting can be difficult with some brakes. With the new Red it was a snap. And once I had the pads positioned, all I needed to center the brakes was a 13mm cone wrench. Just like old times.
Last but not least is the component whose photo led off this post, the rear derailleur. I’ve little to report here, except that the new design makes it easier to pull a wheel into the dropouts. Also, by giving the mechanic a choice of tools for the high and low set screws is nice. I love the fact that you can use a 2.5mm Allen wrench so that when you give the pedals a turn and the bike shakes some in the stand it’s less likely that the wrench will pop out of the screw it’s in.
My overwhelming sense with this group is that the engineers who were charged with developing this new group really listened to the feedback the company had received, not just from pro riders and race mechanics but also from workaday wrenches. This stuff was easy to install and even easier to adjust, and ultimately that gave me plenty of time to pull parts from the box and note how they seemed incomplete, like the parts weren’t all there, if only because it’s all so damn light.