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Sram launches Force eTap AXS 12-speed

3 Apr 2019
Verdict:

Sram now offers its latest wireless eTap AXS 12-speed shifting at the Force level.

Price: 
£2,274

It seems like only a matter of a few weeks ago we were bringing you news of Sram launching its all-new flagship Red eTap AXS 12-speed wireless shifting groupset.

Sram had, at that time, alluded to the possibility that a Force level version of eTap AXS might also be the pipeline, and now here it is.

And the good news, by the time you read this it will already be available to buy.

The key message is it’s bringing its very latest, cutting edge, eTap AXS wireless, 12-speed shifting technology down to a considerably more attainable price point.

At the premium Red level, the cost for this eTap AXS kit is indeed pretty steep, at £3,349 for a 2x hydraulic disc brake set-up, but Force knocks over a grand off that price, coming in (for equivalent 2x HRD) at £2,274.

Early speculation about the probable release of a Force eTap groupset had been that Sram may just rebrand its existing 11 speed Red eTap platform, but that is definitely not the case.

It looks as though Sram has given the Force level kit the exact same degree of ground-up redevelopment it gave to the flagship offering.

And from our first impressions, crucially Sram has achieved a price £1075 less for the Force eTap AXS whilst retaining almost all of the key features of the flagship groupset – especially the 12 speed X-Range gearing (beginning at a 10t cassette sprocket) 1x chainring options and the Orbit damper in the rear derailleur, plus cross compatibility with all AXS family of components and the App.

Also worth noting is that Sram Force eTap AXS has arrived at a list price roughly equivalent to Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 hydraulic disc groupset, which is RRP £1,999 - which doesn’t include disc rotors. Add in the cost of those and the two groupsets are very closely matched on price.

I believe Sram had to make that so. It’s the obvious comparison consumers are going to make to competitor products.

However, Sram will inevitably end up the slightly pricier option as Shimano components are so often sold a good deal under the RRP. Sram has historically not had the same discounted approach to selling in the aftermarket.

The details

Here’s a look in detail at what Force eTap AXS has to offer, compared to its pricier brethren.

Let’s start with the number crunching. The Force eTap AXS gives up only 300g in overall groupset weight to the Red level kit. That’s impressive given the cost difference.

The stated weight for the Force eTap AXS (2x HRD set-up) is 2,812g - versus the 2,518g claimed for Red.

Most of the additional weight is the result of cheaper production processes for the chainset and cassette, and the use of steel instead of aluminium for things like the front mech cages and the lack of fancy titanium or ceramic hardware.

Force eTap AXS still has a full carbon crank, it’s just not a hollow construction (as per the Red level), and the chainrings are separate, as is more traditionally the case, compared to the Red chainrings being machined from a single piece of aluminium billet to save weight.

As such the chainset is around 120-170g heavier, depending on ring choices and whether you include a power meter (more on that later).

The Force cassette uses pinned construction, which adds around 50g over the Red level cassette, which uniquely uses a very costly manufacturing process to machine it from a single piece of steel.

As an aside, though, the black coating on the new Force level cassette looks really classy, at least in its new and box-fresh state.

The front and rear mechs are around 10 and 20g heavier respectively, simply a consequence of the front mech plates being steel, as opposed to aluminium, and both components using steel bolts. The rear mech also has standard bearings in the jockey wheels, not ceramic.

The chain – which retains the flat top that was a big talking point at the release of Red eTap AXS – is 16g heavier as it does not use the hollow pins of the Red level chain.

The shifters/brake levers account for a further 15g of the weight difference, again down to using steel fixtures and bolts in place of titanium.

All-told then the differences are fairly minimal, and importantly are mostly cosmetic, such that none would appear to affect the overall user experience, something which Sram stated was a high-priority for the development of this second tier groupset.

Spec Choices

Practically all the same gearing choices that Sram launched with the Red eTap AXS groupset remain available at the Force level.

The only omission is the lack of the 50-37t chain ring pairing. This, Sram says, is a decision taken on the basis that the expected market for the Force level groupset is not the devout racers, who would be the ones most likely to require the largest gear ratios.

Just to recap, that means: 48/35t and 46/33t will be the two 2x chainset options and; 10-26t, 10-28t and 10-33t the three cassette ranges.

There will also be 1 x chainring options (36-46t) for the gravel/cyclocross market and a specific aero 1x chainring (48t) to pair with the TT/Triathlon shifting options.

And as a reminder the 10t start point for the cassette means although the chainring sizes are reduced, Sram has done its homework and the available gearing equates to a larger ratio at the top end and lower ratio at the bottom end, compared to the most popular ranges currently offered in the market (compact and mid-compact).

As with the Red level components, a single rear derailleur and front derailleur work across all the available gearing options, keeping things as simple as possible.

And also as per the Red eTap AXS, Sram also continues to offer a rim brake option for those not yet convinced or converted to discs.

One other, less significant, functional change is there is only 1 port for adding the Blips (auxiliary shift buttons) on the Force shift levers but ultimately this is unlikely to be of any concern, as we can’t see a reason why you’d ever need more.

Sram continues to offer the option to add its dedicated crank-spider-mounted Quarq D-Zero power meter either as part of the original purchase or as an easy to add an upgrade at any point.

Just as with the Red level, it adds very little weight and is barely visible.

To summarise then, the high-gloss, polished finish of the Red level eTap AXS components might have been replaced by a duller, matt grey aesthetic, but even that seems to be well received from those who have so far glimpsed it in the Cyclist office.

Far more important than looks, though, is that Sram’s Force eTpa AXS groupset looks to be every bit as well considered as the Red eTap AXS, especially in terms of functionality, and the fact it continues to offer expansive gear ranges that improve upon what is currently available in the market from its competitors.

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