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SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupset review

18 Oct 2021
Verdict:

An exercise in scaling back, SRAM's new Rival eTap AXS raises the bar for mid-tier groupsets

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1,516 as tested
For 
Affordable wireless • Smooth shifting
Against 
Heavy • Still expensive

SRAM has for some time been widely seen as the most daring of the big three groupset manufacturers. In 2015 the brand made its flagship Red groupset not just electronic, but wireless. Within a few years SRAM had added an extra sprocket to the cassette, making it 12-speed, and brought the wireless technology down a tier to its Force level components.

In doing so SRAM created its AXS family concept, whereby all components are cross-compatible, not just between tiers, but riding disciplines too. Rival eTap AXS is the extension of that, bringing that interchangeable 12-speed, wireless tech and power measurement down to a third tier and its most accessible price point yet.

SRAM has done this mainly by changing the materials the groupset is made from and reducing some of the more specialist functionality. For example the Quarq power meter measures left-side output only, and aluminium is used where carbon fibre might be at Force and Red level. This is most evident in areas such as the crankset, which uses a solid-forged aluminium construction instead of carbon fibre or even hollow-forged aluminium.

This means the groupset as a whole is heavy. Dependent on drivetrain choice, Rival AXS will contribute around 3kg to your bike’s weight. Handily, though, with only subtle weight increases at the levers, most of that mass increase is situated low down on the bike so I couldn’t say any of the extra heft is really that noticeable while riding.

SRAM Rival eTap AXS performance

Smartly, SRAM has carried over all the electronic gubbins from its Force and Red groupsets, which means Rival AXS shifts with top-tier accuracy, the shift buttons remain tactile and intuitive and the derailleur batteries have the same reasonable runtimes. They don’t keep going as long as Shimano’s Di2 and Campagnolo’s EPS systems, but last long enough to mean recharging them is not a regular occurrence.

Easing that process is the AXS app, which grants the user access to reams of data. Battery level is clearly detailed (which makes a nice change from having to decipher coded LED flashes), estimated component wear can be checked, firmware can be updated and shift patterns customised.

It’s not a feature I’d say fundamentally changed my interaction with Rival AXS, but it is a well-considered bonus that can only stand to enhance the user experience.

On the braking side, the calipers are different in material to SRAM’s higher tier groupsets, but use all the same core functionality to mean they are powerful, nicely modulated and silent in use.

Like the power meter, the Rival levers leave out some of the more specialist features found in SRAM’s products higher up the ladder. There are no expansion ports for satellite shift controls or the ability to fine-tune the lever reach-adjust, for example.

I’d argue this has actually worked in Rival’s favour – most riders don’t take full advantage of features like these, and by omitting them SRAM has been able to adjust the ergonomics of the levers. They are now smaller, and consequently I found the shifters hit a sweet spot, being just a bit larger than Shimano’s levers and better looking than SRAM’s typical shape.

Like other AXS groupsets, the new Rival uses a clutched derailleur to prevent chainslap, but where the top tiers use SRAM’s sophisticated Orbit fluid damper, Rival uses a more cost- effective mechanically sprung clutch. Not that it was noticeable, as performance was on a par with the more expensive designs.

Nor did the Quarq power meter seem to be detrimentally affected by the scaling back. The data it provided was consistent with other power meters I’ve used and was another sign that SRAM has been smart about where it has trimmed back to save money.

That said, despite being the most affordable wireless groupset, Rival AXS isn’t exactly cheap, and it can’t compete with similarly priced offerings from Shimano and Campagnolo on weight. Yet its excellent functionality will almost certainly make it a popular choice in the mid-market, where weight saving is less of a priority.

It’s another bold move from the American company, and I’d say SRAM has pulled it off.

SRAM Rival eTap AXS spec as tested

  • Crankset: Rival AXS w/Quarq power meter, 46/33t
  • Shifters: Rival eTap AXS HRD Rear derailleur Rival eTap AXS Brakes Rival AXS
  • Rotors: Paceline, 160mm
  • Chain: Rival
  • Cassette: Rival XG-1250, 10-30t 

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