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Sram Rival eTap AXS: bringing wireless electronic shifting to the masses

16 Apr 2021
Verdict:

Sram has stolen a march on competitors by being the first to market with a lower-priced, third tier offering of its proven wireless eTap AXS

Sram launched eTap wireless shifting in August 2015 initially only at the Red (flagship) level, which was still 11-speed at that time. It was three and a half years later, in February 2019, when the eTap AXS 12-speed update came along, again initially at the Red level but then only a few months after that, in April 2019, Force eTap AXS followed.

Two years further down the road and Sram launching Rival eTap AXS is a big deal. No longer is wireless electronic shifting the preserve of superbikes and pros, as Sram has beaten its competitors to the line with its trickle-down to get this technology into the hands of a lot more riders, as crucially the lower tier pricing means we could see this technology on bikes from as little as £2,500.

Say it right

OK, a little bit of housekeeping before we start….

The AXS part of the product name does not stand for anything, it is not an acronym and it's simply pronounced ‘Access’ – not ‘Axis’. That is, in essence, a nod towards the accessibility to the other products within this component family.

That’s important to know from the start, as it means Sram Rival eTap AXS components are fully compatible with Sram’s existing Force and Red level kit, plus many of the mountain bike components too, which makes it hugely versatile.

First impressions count for a lot and Sram has done a great job of not sacrificing the premium look and feel of the products despite the lower pricing. From the levers to the chainset, there’s nothing about his groupset that smacks of it having been done on a budget.

 

Shift levers

At first glance the shift/brake levers look the same as their pricier brethren, but the profile is ever so slightly tweaked. It’s marginally smaller in circumference to allow a bit more finger wrap and aid braking for those with smaller hands, plus the front ‘bump’ is marginally reduced in size too.

There are a couple of absent features - there’s no ‘pad contact point adjustment’ and neither are there any blip ports to add-in other shifting buttons in different locations but this isn’t likely to be a deal-breaker for the target audience that Rival is aimed at.

As we’d expect the main differences are down to the use of different materials to reduce cost, for instance the lever blade is alloy for Rival, not carbon as it is on Force and Red.

And that’s a trend we’ll see throughout the Rival components, using alloy instead of carbon, and also steel instead of alloy – but that’s completely understandable and really only affects weight, and we’ll come back to that shortly.

Some appreciably good features about the shift lever are that Sram has retained the textured finishes on both the rubber hood cover and the shift lever paddle. Plus there is the still independent reach adjust to help personalise the fit.

 

Brakes

Rival eTap AXS is hydraulic disc only, in line with the current market trends, using a near-identical calliper to the higher level components, so we would expect performance to be consistent with the higher tiers too.

One small change is the Rival caliper doesn’t have Sram’s click-fit Bleeding Edge bleed port but again that’s not likely to be a deal-breaker as many customers will not be bleeding their own brakes in any case.

The disc rotor is Sram’s Paceline rotor, an all-steel construction to keep the price down, but still a great looking rotor.

 

Chainset

The chainset is always the centrepiece of any groupset and I think Sram has done a great job here. The cranks are alloy, as we would expect at this lower tier pricing, but they do still have a really classy look and feel.

There are several chainset variants: three double (or 2x) options offering 48/35, 46/33, 43/30 ring combinations, all keeping to Sram’s tried and tested maximum 13-tooth difference, for optimal shifting.

There’s a 1x offering too, which is slightly different in appearance as it uses a stylish direct-fitment chainring. It is available in sizes 38, 40, 42, 44 and 46t.

Double chainsets come in both standard and wide axle spacing, the latter developed specifically to provide greater tyre clearance behind the front mech, something that is often a touch point on gravel bikes.

 

Front derailleur

There’s very little to say specifically about the front derailleur. Just like the higher tier products it utilises Sram’s Yaw shifting pattern which eliminates the need for ‘trim’, and again there are a few cheaper materials used in its construction.

There are Standard and Wide fitments available, in line with the chainset offerings.

 

Cassette

The cassette is also a standout piece of this new groupset. The fact that it’s 12-speed is already a boon for this lower pricing tier, offering consumers maximum versatility, but also Sram has brought a completely new ratio into the the Rival product line.

10-30t is the new cassette size, hitting that sweet spot between the currently available 10-28t and 10-33t. A 10-36t option is also available for the widest range of gearing.

As we already know, Sram has throughout its product offering done a very good job of providing well-considered gear ratios, mostly single-tooth jumps at the smaller sprocket sizes where those close ratio gear changes matter most.

You may notice too the shiny new Nickel chrome surface finish, which Sram says offers excellent corrosion-resistance and durability.

Chain

The Rival level chain still utilises Sram’s unique Flat top design, adding strength, and Sram says makes it quieter running in the narrower spacing of the 12-speed setup. Aside from anything else, though, it looks cool.

 

Rear derailleur

Always a focal point of any groupset, Sram has manufactured a single rear derailleur to cover all the available shifting options for both 1x and 2x setups, and up to the maximum 10-36t cassette size.

That keeps things nice and simple. The main technical change is a move to a more simple sprung clutch mechanism for the chain management as opposed to the more costly Orbit fluid damper used in the Force and Red level rear derailleurs.

While we’re talking rear mechs, as an interesting aside, Sram also recently launched a third-tier GX Eagle AXS mountain bike groupset, and the rear mech and cassette from that product group would be the perfect partner for the so-called ‘mullet setup’ with Rival, to utilise the massive gear range offered by the 10-50t and 10-52t cassettes.

Note though that the Mullet setup requires the use of the Eagle chain, as the Rival flat top chain is not compatible.

Also worthy of note is the fact the batteries are the same, as used in the higher-end products: lightweight, easy to detach, quick to charge. Their performance has a proven track record from the past 6 years.

Now onto some really cool stuff…..

 

Power meter

Yes, Sram is bringing an integrated power meter to Rival eTap AXS too.

Whereas in the past you might have assumed power meters were the preserve of pros and super-serious athletes, Sram says it has seen a big uptick in power meter usage recently, something it puts down to the increase in indoor trainer use during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With so many people using platforms such as Zwift, there is a greater understanding of power, what it means, and how to use it to train effectively, and now these users want power for their outdoor rides too.

While many brands may not choose to spec the Power meter as standard, the good news is Sram is offering a really affordable way to add power as an upgrade at the Rival level, just a few hundred quid extra (£230 to be precise) will get you the necessary left hand crank with integrated, spindle-based power measurement, made by Quarq.

The power meter is practically invisible, a small green LED on the left hand crank cap really the only indication of its presence. It weighs just 40g.

It’s fully waterproof with Bluetooth low energy and Ant+ connectivity ensuring it’s compatible with almost every computer head unit and training platform out there.

Another neat touch is that it runs on a standard AAA (lithium) battery, cheap and easy for users to fit and replace themselves, although you shouldn’t need to do that often as Sram says it’s good for over 400 hours of use, which could be as much as two years for an average rider.

AXS mobile app

One additional product in the Sram eTap AXS family that is not on the bike itself is the AXS smartphone app.

A free-of-charge app, it allows a user to quickly connect to the components, for checking diagnostics, applying firmware updates, viewing battery levels and so on, plus it allows personalisation of setup – such as altering the functions that the shift buttons perform.

 

You can also set the number of sprockets for multi-shift changes (press and hold the shift button) plus choose from two automated gearing options: Compensating, which automatically adjusts the rear derailleur by 1 or 2 sprockets to make front shifts more seamless, and Sequential, which provides fully automatic shifting, where the user simply needs to select a harder or easier gear and the brains of the system with make the shifts required according to the next highest or lowest gear ratio.

Simplifying gearing in this way is a potentially huge benefit to having electronic shifting at a more affordable price point, arguably getting it into the hands of more riders, many of whom would stand to gain a lot from their riding experience if the shift system was precise and reliable, as eTap AXs has proven itself beyond doubt to be, but also all the thinking and guesswork out of always using the most efficient gear.

 

Compatibility is built into the components themselves so it doesn’t require any extra dongles to use it. The app even has the ability to keep track of how you’re using your shifting and gearing, sending you push notifications for battery levels and available firmware updates etc.

Weights and costs

Rival is roughly 220g heavier than Force in a comparable 2x configuration, and only 100g heavier than Force in similar 1x configurations.

Complete groupset cost (which includes: shift-brake lever system and calliper, disc rotors, chainset, bottom bracket, chain, cassette, derailleur(s), battery(ies), charger) will be priced from £1,102, as follows:

£1,102 1x setup w/o power meter
£1,304 1x setup inc. power meter
£1,314 2x setup w/o power meter
£1,516 2x setup inc. power meter

If you’re interested in the individual component price and weight breakdown, then here it is:

Shift/Brake lever system (includes hydraulic calipers) 845g, £185

Chainset variants

1x chainset w/o power meter: 606g-698g (depending on ring size), £120
1x chainset inc. power meter: 740g-752g (depending on ring size), £322
2x chainset w/o power meter: 822g-861g (depending on ratio), £120
2x chainset inc. power meter: 871g-914g (depending on ratio), £322
Rear derailleur 366g, £236
Front derailleur 180g-182g (standard or wide fit), £162
Cassette: 282g-338g (depending on ratio), £112
Chain 266g, £28
Brakes 844g (price included in shift-brake lever cost)
Disc Rotors 141g ea. £100 pair

Sram Rival eTap AXS: First ride insight

First impressions count for a lot, and Sram has delivered a truly polished product with Rival eTap AXS.

From the moment I clapped eyes on it I was impressed by the quality of the finish across the board. The looks definitely bely the pricetag, but importantly my positivity straight out of the blocks was only heightened once I was able to turn the pedals in anger.

The entire groupset has a really classy feel in use too. The all-important contact point with the shift-brakes levers feels great in hand, and I’m pleased Sram hasn’t cheapened the premium feel of its rubber hood cover, and has maintained its textured finish.

The quality of the shifting is simply superb. It’s a really big deal to have this level of technology in this lower tier pricing, where I think there will be a good number of riders who potentially have less experience that will stand to benefit from its simplicity and functionality.

It really is hard to feel a discernible difference in the speed and precision and crispness of the shifting versus the higher-priced Force and even Red eTap AXS kit. Even the smoothness of the drivetrain generally feels on par, at least in these early stages of testing.

There is no indication, certainly at this early stage too that the cheaper materials and/or manufacturing processes used for things like the chain and cassette (compared to Sram’s higher tier components) have had any sizable effect on the overall experience.

If I had to make a call, I’d say perhaps the front shifting is just a fraction less snappy, but that’s more likely to be coming from the cheaper chainrings than anything else, and I really am talking fractions here. Maybe even fractions of fractions, in terms of the tangible difference.

I think it’s fair to say once you have experienced electronic shifting of any kind you’d find it hard to go back to mechanical cable-operated systems. The motorised shifting experience is just that bit more precise, faster, consistent and reliable shift after shift, in practically any conditions.

Braking performance is every bit as good as the higher priced systems too. I really couldn’t fault it.

If you have any doubts about how reliable a wireless shift might be, well, forget them. It’s that simple.

Sram has proven its eTap AXS technology beyond doubt as reliable and very user friendly. It now has several mountain bike and road groupsets benefitting from this technology, all of which have received high praise from bike testers the world over.

 

Naysayers who were quick to dismiss it, saying things like: it will get interference from phone masts, or not work in the rain, or vibrations from over rough ground will damage the motors etc etc have long since been silenced.

Adding the wireless element into lower tier pricing also means that more bikes can now benefit from the super clean aesthetics we’ve become accustomed to seeing higher up the food chain, and that can only be a good thing.

Obviously these are my initial thoughts based on just a few weeks of riding (at time of writing) so I’ll be keen to continue testing Rival eTap AXS for a while longer and will report back with a full in-depth review in due course.

Price: 
£1,102-£1,516

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