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Sram launches all new Red eTap AXS 12-speed

6 Feb 2019

Page 1 of 2Sram launches all new Red eTap AXS 12-speed

Verdict:

Sram has overhauled its flagship Red eTap wireless shifting groupset, delivering more gears and a complete rethink on gearing

It’s been over three years since Sram launched its original Red eTap wireless shifting, and in that time it’s proven, hands-down, its dependability.

It has silenced all its skeptics by demonstrating it’s truly capable right up to World Tour level. Building off the back of that success comes the next generation as Sram launches a completely new 12-speed flagship offering, it calls: Red eTap AXS.

More than just gaining an extra sprocket, the new groupset benefits from a host of new features, some more obvious than others, but collectively under the family name ‘AXS’ (pronounced Axis) Sram’s focus has been to completely re-evaluate gearing and component compatibility.

The result, it says, is the most adaptable and versatile groupset ever.

‘In the time since we developed the first generation eTap there has been massive developments in hardware’, says Paul Kantor, Sram’s road category manager.

 ‘Things like more advanced chips for faster communications, more advanced motors for quicker shifts, things have really moved on. What we’re rolling out now is a completely different product.’

‘Bikes have changed a great deal too’, Kantor continues, ‘We have bigger tyres and disc brakes and the market has moved towards producing bikes that are generally more capable. We really wanted to address our components and make gearing more capable too.’

A starter for 10

To achieve this Sram has completely overhauled its available gear options. With what it calls X-Range gearing the key message is a broader range with improved progression across the board. And it all starts with one tiny component.

‘With a 10t start on the cassette we can improve on both ends of the gearing’, says Sram’s road product manager, JP McCarthy. ‘The extra gear then comes into play to allow really nice steps through the cassette. Our 10-28t cassette has seven consecutive one-tooth jumps. It leads to really good progression. Even the 10-33t cassette still has five one-tooth jumps.

'It’s a massive improvement on the current solutions. We can also reduce chainring sizes across the board, effectively moving more of the range from the front to the rear which ultimately improves the user experience with more usable gears and the likelihood of having to make fewer front shifts.’

What Sram has arrived at is a kind of less-is-more approach. There are three completely new double-chainring options, now CNC machined as a single piece: 50/37, 48/35, 46/33 and three completely new cassettes: 10-26t, 10-28t and 10-33t.

(For a full rundown on all the variants click through to page 2)

Yes, that does mean a 50t is now the largest chainring option, but before anyone has a palpitation the math speaks for itself. As McCarthy said, the key is the 10t. A 50-10t is a bigger gear than 53-11t, so rest assured there’s nothing lost at the top end, and if its good enough for the Katusha-Alpecin and Trek Segafredo pro riders then it’s probably good enough for us.

Sram’s message is clear, no matter the type of rider you are the new Red eTap AXS offers a broader range of gears than what is currently available. And there’s more. It’s no longer just double chainsets Sram is focused on. Red eTap AXS can now be ‘officially’ used as a 1x groupset, and there are a host of new single chainring options available too (again full variants listed below) opening up the potential for eTap AXS to be road, gravel, time trial or triathlon focused.

Chain reaction

But more than just the ratios on offer Sram has also targeted the efficiency of the drivetrain as a whole.

‘16 tooth jumps are currently normal between chainrings, but we’ve kept all our available options to a 13 tooth differential. That’s nearly 20% less, and that makes a big difference to the quality and speed of the front shift. It also requires less compensation at the rear [after making a front shift]. That is a real advantage’, says McCarthy.

A barely visible change is the addition of what Sram terms Orbit Chain Management on the rear derailleur, a hydraulic damper that acts to increase tension on the chain at all times and reduce chain bounce on rough terrain.

Crucially though, unlike a friction clutch, Sram’s system is only activated by a quick movement, and so places no additional resistance on the rear derailleur’s spring when under slow or light movement which maintains easier shifting and rear wheel removal.

‘It was important the damper only added the drag when it’s needed so as not to add extra drag to the shift, as otherwise the motor will be fighting it all the time and that would drain the battery faster, but it is a key element in the solution for 1x set-up so it was something we worked really hard on’, says Kantor.

And so we come to the chain. The 12-speed chain, with its flat top, is visually striking but the look, Sram assures, was merely a bonus.

‘It’s bizarrely simple’, Kantor explains. ‘The cassette fits in the same space that was previously available, so the chain had to get narrower but in a way that would not compromise strength. Simply then we’ve just added material back into the links, to achieve the desired strength and actually, it’s stronger than the 11-speed chain.’

Sram also claims another benefit of the new chain design is it runs quieter, as there is more clearance top and bottom between the links of this chain and the adjacent cogs.

‘Basically, the chain is lighter, smoother and stronger. It was one of the most expensive parts of the whole development, but of that, we are really proud’, Kantor concludes.

As a final part to ensuring shifting can be as efficient as possible, thanks to the updated electrical hardware, users now have the option to select a fully sequential function. When activated the user will not have to think beyond selecting an easier or harder gear.

‘As you work your way through the gears [the system] will automatically instigate a shift of the chainrings to put you in a better gear if appropriate. All you need to do is toggle your shifts up and down the cassette. The rest if done for you’, says Kantor.

There’s also a ‘compensation mode’ option in which the rear mech will automatically make a compensatory rear derailleur shift (user can define this as either 1 or 2 sprockets) to offset the more sizable shift at the chainrings. Essentially both are technologies that Shimano has already had for some time in its current crop of Dura-Ace Di2 components, but regardless will still be a welcome addition to the new Sram eTap AXS for many.

At the heart of controlling all this new functionality is a new App, to launch alongside the product. The App allows users to choose and personalise a lot of the functionality of the groupset, for instance choosing the number of multi shifts the rear mech will make when pressing and holding the shift button.

The App also allows users to switch the button functions. ‘This was purely done to satisfy the request we’ve had from consumers, so we’ve added it. It’s now up to you how you use your shifters’, says Kantor. The app has some other neat features too such as allowing riders to see battery status, get maintenance reminders, and quickly and easily update the firmware.

Power to the people

As Sram owns Quarq, it comes as little surprise that power meters have a place in the new groupset. With the new single-piece chainrings, Sram has been able to incorporate its DZero power meters in an extremely neat and very light manner adding only around 30g and weighing similar to that of the first generation eTap without a power meter.

‘I think at the end of the market, where Red eTap sits, there is certainly a desire for power, and also to have it as integrated as possible on premium bikes’, says Kantor. ‘We stripped away the mounting systems by incorporating it directly into the chainring.’

Because of the direct mounting, power can be included on all the new chainring options, either at time of purchase or added as an upgrade at a later date with the minimum of fuss.

It’s entirely likely Sram will come under fire for incorporating the power meter into the rings – essentially always forcing users to replace the entire unit, should the rings wear out. Putting that point to McCarthy, he suggests, ‘Because the chainrings are precision CNC machined they will last 50% longer than the previous products.

The chain too is now more durable than any other chain we’ve made, plus the App offers prompts for chain wear, to encourage people to keep on top of chain replacement at the appropriate time. We might get taken to task on this, but on the flipside people love the look of the way this new power meter is integrated, and it only ads 30g’, he says. 

Added to that, and by way of subsidising some of the cost of replacement parts, Sram has also launched a new initiative it calls the ‘ Red eTap AXS power meter support program', whereby users can contact Sram directly to return worn chainring assemblies for recycling and for which Sram will then supply a replacement at half price.'
The only new requirement for fitting the new eTap AXS groupset is the need to use an XDR driver body for the cassette.

‘It’s what allows us to get the 10t sprocket on, so it does require that the rear wheel hub has this compatible technology, but we are working with all the major hub suppliers, and most have solutions ready to go. Currently, I think Shimano is the only hub manufacturer that isn’t offering it’, says Kantor.

‘We accept that might be seen by some as a limitation that these parts can’t just be bolted on to existing products, but we see its benefits over the previous generation are so substantial that it is totally worth it.’

Some less grand, but still relevant tweaks to the groupset are things like the new hood covers. The hood shape remains the same as the previous version, but they get a more tactile, textured rubber cover, for additional comfort and grip. The shift paddles too have been given a grippy surface finish, which should assist shifting in wet (or muddy) conditions.

Interestingly despite disc brakes rapidly becoming the norm, Sram is still making a rim brake version of the new groupset. Kantor suggesting, at time of writing, there was still a surprising demand from the aftermarket for these products.

This new eTap will set you back a pretty penny, £3,794 for hydraulic disc to be exact, but that's to be expected with something so cutting edge that has committed a redesign to pratically the entire groupset.

For the weight weenies, it appears the new grouspet will also be marginally lighter, despite the additional sprocket. The savings, Sram suggests, mostly are attributed to the new crank.

There is also the chance that we could expect to see Sram employ its eTap AXS technology on cheaper groupsets as a result of these developments and while trickle-down technology is expected, details are relatively sparce from Sram however it did state 'A Force eTap AXS groupset is in development. They did not share details of the specification or availability timeline – but they hinted that an information update would be coming in April.' 

As a final point to note, A key point of the AXS family is that all its components are cross-compatible with each other. That means that the AXS mountain bike components will also work with the road kit and vice versa. It might make for some interesting combination, especially in the emerging gravel market.

One product in particular – the AXS RockShox dropper seat post seems like a likely candidate to be included on gravel bike set-ups where the actuation can be assigned (via the App) to any shift button, or auxiliary blip button, of the user’s choice.

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Page 1 of 2Sram launches all new Red eTap AXS 12-speed