Basic Guide: Introduction to SRAM Road Groupsets
SRAM probably has one of the most interesting stories in the world of cycling. Started in Chicago by two brothers and their friends, they got their start making mountain bike parts with their innovative Grip Shift technology (you can read more about SRAM’s story here). It wasn’t really until the mid-2000’s that SRAM was able to enter the road components market—but when they did, they accomplished what many thought was impossible by managing to go head to head to Shimano and Campagnolo.
SRAM’s road groups are notable for three major advancements. The first is 1:1 shifting—which means that for every centimeter you move the lever, the derailleur will move the same amount. 1:1 also gives SRAM rear derailleurs the ability to downshift up to four cogs at a time by simply throwing the lever further. Secondly is ZeroLoss shifting, which is a shifter design means that the second you push the lever, the cable is engaged—so you’re not stuck waiting for the shift to come. This results in more accurate shifting without the lever play found in Shimano or Campagnolo parts. Third is YAW technology, found in some of SRAM’s top-end road groups. YAW is a fundamental re-design of front derailleur mechanics that has vastly improved the function and reliability of front-end shifting. With a re-thinking of the mechanical advantage of the pivot point and a redesigned parallelogram, YAW can produce mechanical front shifting that approaches the power and precision of electronic systems.
Since the introduction of the first SRAM road group, dubbed “Force”, in 2006, the product line has expanded to include three other groups. Almost all of the groups (with two exceptions) are completely interchangeable in their parts, with the only differences being weight and materials used.
eTap is SRAM's entry into the world of electronic shifting, and is a truly revolutionary product. eTap has the distinction of being the world's first wireless groupset. To develop the product SRAM created their own wireless protocol called AIREA that is completely secure and ultra-fast. The shifting is also revolutionary, using an F1-inspired paddle shifting pattern, so the right shifter moves the chain to a harder gear, the left shifter to an easier gear, and pushing both paddles at (roughly) the same time shifts the front chainring. Due to the lack of wires, eTap is incredibly simple to install and set up, and is compatible with almost any bike frame-- and gives a nice clean look to boot.
Red is SRAM’s highest level group, and comes in Red 22 11-speed and Red 10-speed varieties. Red 10-speed is cross-compatible with all other SRAM 10-speed road groups. There is also a Red 22 Hydro group that replaces the mechanically actuated brake levers and brakes with a hydraulic lever and hyraulic rim or disc brakes. Red is notable for its feathery weight, which is claimed to be the lightest on the market. The group makes liberal use of ceramic, carbon fiber and titanium to keep the weight low, and deliver the ultimate in performance for those who demand the best on every ride. Click here to learn more about SRAM 11-speed.
SRAM Force is similar in many ways to SRAM Red, and indeed the two are often considered to be more like twins than big and little brother. Force comes in Force 22 11-speed and Force 10-speed packages. Force 22 is entirely cross-compatible with Red 22, while Force 10-speed is cross compatible with all other SRAM 10-speed groups. Force delivers pro-level performance, but gains a few grams on the float-away light Red group. Almost all of the components are made of carbon fiber, but the bearings and hardware are all alloy or steel, instead of ceramic and titanium. But if you’re looking for one of the best values in high-end performance, it’s tough to beat SRAM Force. Click here to learn more about SRAM 11-speed.
SRAM Rival incorporates a staggering amount of high-end technology and features into a more value oriented group. Rival is available in btoh 11-speed 10-speed, and is cross compatible with all other SRAM 11/10-speed groups. The derailleurs and brakes that are mechanically the same as the Force and Red—but are alloy instead of carbon fiber for increased durability and to keep the cost down. For all but the most elite riders, Rival offers race-ready performance at a price that won’t have you saving all your pennies.
SRAM Apex is the workhorse group of SRAM’s line up, and you’ll find it on everything from road bikes to cross racers to touring rigs. Apex is mechanically identical to Rival, Force and Red (and is cross compatible with all of them), but its full alloy construction makes it a more durable option for bikes where practicality is a concern. Apex packs some features that are not normally found at this pricepoint, such as “under-the-tape” cable routing, the ability to downshift up to four cogs at a time, and powerful, responsive brakes that match the braking power of their top-tier models. For the everyday cyclist or beginning racer, it’s tough to beat the reliability, features and value found in SRAM Apex.
WiFli is a proprietary SRAM technology that is available as a rear derailleur upgrade for Red, Force, Rival and Apex. WiFli replaces the standard short cage rear derailleur with a medium cage model that gives you the ability to use a cassette with a 32 tooth big cog (a standard short cage road rear derailleur has a max cog size capacity of 28 teeth). A WiFli rear derailleur and cassette, when paired with a compact crankset, gives the rider a wider range of gears than a triple crankset would when paired with a standard road cassette (not to mention with fewer mechanical headaches and less weight). WiFli is ideal for touring bikes, commuters, or riders who live in hilly or mountainous areas. As an indicator of the advantage of this system, in the last few years pro riders like Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan have both used WiFli derailleurs in mountain stages of the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.