As you probably know, SRAM divides their products into different groups that cater to a specific price points, riding styles and disciplines, and performance levels, making the shopping process full of tough decisions. Check out our guide to SRAM’s Road product hierarchy, and their major differences to make your drivetrain selection a bit easier to navigate.
SRAM, known for their innovation in mountain bike components, exploded onto the scene with their first Road drivetrains in 2006. With their release of SRAM Force and Rival, it ended the dichotomy of Shimano and Campagnolo dominating the road component market, and offered a bevy of new benefits to riders as a result. With the 2008 release of the SRAM RED groupset, SRAM created the lightest mechanical road drivetrain on the market, which has since been ridden to dozens of ProTour wins. When you choose a SRAM-equipped bike, you are choosing quality manufacturing and bleeding-edge design. Not only do SRAM’s drivetrains consistently offer a great price-to-performance ratio, but they also offer options that simply aren’t available anywhere else.
SRAM’s claim to fame is their commitment to technical performance, lightness and durability, tied together as a uniquely-ergonomic and intuitive shifting method known as DoubleTap. DoubleTap uses only a single lever paddle for both upshifts and downshifts. A short single click on the shifter releases the cable, shifting into a harder gear, and a further swing “clicks” again and executes a downshift into up to 3 easier gears. This takes some getting used to initially, but it is very intuitive and allows very fast shifts.
This buyer’s guide introduces you to SRAM’s Road product line. SRAM divides their products into different groupsets that cater to the specific price points. Generally, as you go up in price, the components will get lighter in weight, and will also improve in precision and longevity. When set up properly, all these groupsets will function more than well enough for anyone, however, higher-end components be more durable and have a smoother, more precise feel due to the higher-precision mechanisms, and of course will build into a lighter bike.
SRAM Apex Groupset
SRAM Apex is a solid all-around groupset for entry-level to enthusiast-level riders who want SRAM’s great performance without breaking the bank. Apex gets you into the SRAM game without costing an arm and a leg. Built using trickle-down technology from SRAM’s higher-end groups, it has the same comfortable hood shape, crispy 10-speed DoubleTap shifting, stiff crankset and great braking performance. Also, Apex has some unique features such as WiFli, a wide-range variant for super low gearing to get you up tough hills with ease. Apex is a perfect choice for the rider who wants a groupset that functions well with minimal maintenance, and can take a beating.
SRAM Rival 22 Groupset
The jump to Rival gives riders a lot of bang for their buck, including flexibility in terms of choosing the proper gearing for their riding style, while offering a lot of the same precise feel and shifting of Force and Red. Additionally, Rival benefits from massively improved front shifting due to YAW technology for trimless front shifting with 22 usable gears, and stiffer, precision machined chainrings. The primary difference between Rival and Force is that Rival uses no carbon fiber in its construction, substituting durable aluminum instead. It also uses steel for certain components where Force would use aluminum alloy, for example. The result is a higher weight, but arguably harder-wearing groupset that will take a licking and keep on ticking.
SRAM Force 22 Groupset
SRAM’s Force road groupset offers the ultimate price-to-performance ratio. The jump to Force gives you the closest feel to Red, and gains many of the weight-saving benefits without Red’s extravagant cost.
For many riders, the advantage of the improved shifting and braking feel, as well asthe considerable weight savings, are worth the jump in price from a Rival-equipped bike to a Force-equipped bike. The improvement in performance from Rival to Force is much larger than the improvement from Force to RED, making Force the serious privateer racer’s componentry of choice. Force uses some carbon fiber parts for the levers and the rear derailleur cage, but forgoes the titanium and carbon fiber small parts found on RED for high-precision alloy parts. This saves weight where it matters most, maximizing performance and maintaining durability, while keeping cost down. For most performance-oriented riders, SRAM Force is the clear choice and is even used by many professional teams.
SRAM Red 22 Groupset
This is it – the jewel in SRAM’s crown. SRAM RED is the professional’s choice, built simply to win. It’s been torture-tested on the battlefield by the pro peloton and has won the Tour de France along with other incredibly demanding races, many times over. Unquestionably, this is the pinnacle of SRAM’s road groups and is the lightest mechanical group in the world, at 1741 grams for the BB30 version (just over 3.8 lbs).
Why is RED so phenomenal? It’s imbued with all of SRAM’s latest engineering and design advances. RED uses the highest precision manufacturing with no expense spared, resulting in lightning-quick, effortless shifting, powerful braking and the best ergonomics at the lowest weight possible. RED gets all the bells and whistles, from titanium hardware to extensive carbon details and ceramic bearing options for maximum weight savings.
To many SRAM fanatics, RED is the only road group worth owning, and for good reason – it feels amazing to ride, is incredibly good-looking, and extremely lightweight. Think of it as jewelry for your bike – jewelry that works really well. However, the best performance comes at a price. Obviously, you will pay significantly more for a RED-equipped bike. But, if you want the very best and lightest, RED is the clear winner.
SRAM Red eTap Groupset
SRAM shocked the world when they released their first electronic drivetrain – with zero wires. SRAM’s RED eTap wireless drivetrain is a huge leap forward in technological innovation, offering perfect shifts at the press of a button. Press the left lever to perform a rear downshift, press the right lever to performs a rear upshift, or press both levers simultaneously to execute a front shift. Nothing can touch its utter simplicity.
Boasting a revolutionary, stupid-easy setup with no wires to worry about, each derailleur carries its own small rechargeable battery, which charges in about 45 minutes and lasts a claimed 1000km depending on riding conditions. The whole system is weather-sealed for the harshest elements and has been torture tested under the pro peloton for several years, making it a tempting choice for riders looking for a low-maintenance component set.
Road 1x Drivetrains
Front derailleurs aren’t for everyone. Imagine being able to tackle an entire ride without worrying about front shifting, or being able to tackle steep grades whilst not even having a front derailleur, or even a front shifter. Imagine whisper-quiet function, zero chain slap and minimal maintenance.
SRAM Apex 1 Groupset
This is the dream realized by SRAM’S Road 1x Drivetrains. With SRAM Force 1, Rival 1 and Apex 1, riders now have the option of ditching front derailleurs altogether for the simple mechanics of a 1×11 (pronounced “one-by-eleven”) drivetrain. A completely redesigned 1x-specific X-HORIZON derailleur incorporates a clutch to prevent chain droppage, and allows the use of an 10-42T rear cassette, with an astounding 420% gear range. Shifting is effortless and precise with no “ghost shifting”. There are no overlapping or redundant gears, simplifying gear choice and mechanical setup. The only sacrifice is in the overall number of gears, but SRAM notes that the best application of this drivetrain is for riders who value mechanical simplicity and overall range over close gear spacing. Depending on your selection of parts, you will save weight over a traditional double-chainring setup as well.
SRAM Rival 1 Groupset
Following the trend of performance, weight and cost, SRAM’s 1x drivetrains begin at Apex budget friendly option and move on up to the performance oriented Force groupset. As you move up the tiers the groupsets will gain precision and feel, and decrease in weight. Currently, there is not a 1x version of the Red group so Force will be the top choice.
SRAM Force 1 Groupset
SRAM Hydraulic Disc Brakes
There is no comparison to the feel, control and consistent power of a hydraulic disc brake. SRAM has you covered with hydraulic options for every level of their road drivetrains. Hydraulic brakes require special hydraulic shifters and a disc-specific frame and fork, and are available in both flat-mount and post-mount variations. As of the time of this writing, there is no hydraulic setup available for eTap yet but it is most likely on the way.
When you choose SRAM Road components, you choose quality products with a rich history of innovation. Whether you’re looking for your first bike, or building the dream rig of a lifetime, SRAM will offer years of consistent consistently excellent performance and is trusted the world over to deliver great times on the bike. Open the Road!