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SRAM Red eTap AXS 12-speed hydraulic road disc groupset: In-depth review

31 Jul 2019
Verdict:

SRAM Red eTap AXS is more refined than its predecessor and an improved user experience in almost every way.

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
•Smoother shifting •Smoother overall ride feel • Lightweight • Great looks

Can it really be three years since SRAM unveiled eTap and introduced wireless shifting to the world? In the time since then, it has proved the dependability of the system, meaning that for its latest version – Red eTap AXS – it has been able to focus on refinement and improving the rider experience.

The headline-grabbing change is the addition of a 12th sprocket. More sprockets means smaller jumps between gears, and the fact that all the new cassettes now start from a 10t sprocket means it has wider ranges than its rivals (Campagnolo’s 12-speed cassettes, for example, all start from an 11t sprocket).

However, the extra sprocket is really only a small part of the developmental leap.

Buttery shifting

If I had to sum up in a single word how eTap AXS has improved it would be to say it is smoother. Smoother shifts and smoother overall ride feel. I believe at the heart of that are the new chain, the one-piece construction of the chainrings and the Orbit hydraulic damper in the rear mech.

That damper provides more consistent chain tension, which significantly lessens chain bounce over bumpy ground (and as an aside quietens things down too).

Front shifting feels improved, especially under load, and as the front mech is ostensibly unchanged, it is therefore likely to be because the chainrings are stiffer when CNC-machined as a single entity.

Additionally, the variance between ring sizes has been narrowed to a maximum 13-teeth differential, meaning it’s easier for the chain to move between rings.

Ultimately, however, the new chain is the driving force and what brings the drivetrain components together. Aside from looking utterly cool with its flat top (I’ll fight to the death anyone who disagrees), it’s fundamental to how smooth Red eTap AXS feels in use.

And not only when it’s fresh out of the box. I’ve ridden it for well over 1,000km in all kinds of conditions, and washed and re-lubed it countless times, and the smoothness remains.

Despite working within tighter confines – SRAM has managed to squeeze 12 sprockets into the same space as the previous 11-speed cassette (so there’s no need for a new rear wheel, although it will need to be converted to an XD Freehub) – the shifting at the rear somehow feels less fussy, and gear changes are crisp, precise and quiet.

That’s obviously a good thing, but given the eye-watering £3,794 cost of the hydraulic disc set-up (including power meter) I’ve predominantly been testing, if it had delivered anything less than continuous silent perfection I’d be somewhat miffed.

But I’ve also spent a good amount of time using the lower-tier Force eTap AXS groupset, and that too is impressively precise and smooth running

SRAM claims new motors and chips have marginally quickened the shift speed, although
I couldn’t say I noticed, and it’s not something I had a problem with anyway.

Others may disagree, given that some people have suggested the first generation eTap felt a little tardy compared to its electronic competitors, but that is nit-picking.

SRAM Red eTap Axs is available to buy here.

Some of the more minor, subtle upgrades also deserve mention. I prefer the softer rubber hoods, which feel more tactile and comfortable, and the textured shift paddle is a nice touch too.

I also like where SRAM is going with the AXS app. It’s easy to use and allows the rider to set up the shifting precisely as they wish, check battery status, update firmware, and so on.

All told, SRAM has made the most of every opportunity to deliver an even more accomplished
product, and I also feel it has done a great job on the aesthetics.

Red eTap AXS looks every bit the modern successor to SRAM’s flagship offering, and very much befitting of the premium bikes the manufacturer is targeting.

Price: 
£3,794

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