What's Cool In Road Cycling

SRAM RED: Long Term Report

We’ve been riding the SRAM RED gruppo since March, and logged a few thousand kms through all kinds of weather – hot, cold, wet… It’s been enough time to confirm what we really like about it, and consider improvements.

Overall the component group has performed as I’d expected for top line gear – exactly as it’s been designed to, and that’s a good thing. After the 2006 much bally-hooed introduction of the FORCE gruppo – offering fans a viable and worthy 3rd choice in groupsets, SRAM continued its development charge with the launch of RED in Fall of 2007, with some very noticeable improvements.

Now you can get hoods to match your bike – as long as it’s red, white, or black.

We reviewed FORCE in depth (read it here) , and the differences with RED are distinct – both in looks, weight, and performance. RED is lighter – at just under 2000 grams for the whole set it’s the lightest complete groupset on the market – and performance has been improved via better shifting and braking over the FORCE group. Overall comfort is also notched up with adjustable reach levers – so now virtually any sized hands will feel at home on the RED handles.

Here’s a look at how RED has performed in the longer run.

LEVERS – More Of A Good Thing
Still my favorite part of the group – the RED levers retain the same ergos and basic functionality that I loved in the FORCE steer sticks. The low profile hood grips, internal cable routing, and overall shape are just hard to not love – they look great and feel even better.

Lever shape remains the same as FORCE, and I‘ll say again how nicely designed these are – the outward sweep of the levers makes grabbing them easier from the drops, and the slightly acute edge that runs down the outside of each lever allows finger tips to grip and pull the levers without full finger-wrapping contact – very nice.

PEZ Tech Charles Sez: I’ll go ahead and say what most publications can’t seem to spit out… The SRAM lever ergonomics were a market leader from the word “go”. SRAM are the baby on the block, but look no further than Shimano and Campy’s new levers for acknowledgement that SRAM have not only arrived at the party but promptly did the equivalent of getting the hot girl at the party to step outside for some fresh air… SRAM have a ways to go before they claim the history and depth of tech and success of their competitors, but looking at the levers makes me think that as ergos go the competition have made the leap. I’ll admit I am hot for the new D-Ace, but the last three groups I have purchased (some folks don’t realize I don’t take a paycheck from Pez…) have been SRAM. Here’s to competition pushing all three manufacturers to make better kit. Now if we could just get ‘em to start a price war at the top end!

Internal cable routing – your choice of inside or outside.

All shifting is controlled off the shorter inner lever, and actuated by pushing the lever over ‘one-click’ or two clicks, depending on which way you want the chain to move.

What has changed is the engagement of the shifting process – SRAM’s new “zero Loss” shifting means that lever play is virtually eliminated – as soon as you move the lever to make a shift, it’s pulling cable and moving the derailleurs. The feeling is immediate, precise, and snappier than FORCE, and exactly what I expect from a pro level component group. In reality, theirs is a tiny it of play at the lever tips, but this is virtually undetectable when riding, and the difference from FORCE is significant.

Not recommended for the ham-fisted. The shift levers’ reach is adjustable by rotating that cam under Charles’ thumb.

SRAM’s spring feels heavier than both Campy Record (not to be confused with the Campy Pro line and its heavier gauge spring) and Shimano DA08, and definitely requires more effort to make the shifts, but a lot of riders like this more ‘positive’ feel.

Personally I like the shifting performance and overall feel of the rear derailleur – nice and solid, each gear change is signaled by a confident snap of the chain engaging a new cog. Shifting performance is also aided by the GORE cables semi sealed system. I had two RED sets on test – one with the Gore cables and one without, and did notice a slightly smoother action from the Gore system.

SRAM shaved about 23 grams out of the RED levers, while adding some very nice functionality in the form of adjustable reach for both the brake and shift levers.

Brake lever reach is easily adjustable by turning that little allen bolt.

SRAM is also the first of the big three gruppo makers to give us built-in adjustable reach in the levers. With the simple turn of an allen key, the brake levers can be set to accommodate a really wide range of hand sizes. The shift levers can also be set, although not quite as easily – but just as effectively, by turning an infinitely adjustable cam inside the lever housing to one of five settings – not the simplest design, but it works.

The RED front derailleur gets a titanium cage and loses 30 grams over FORCE. Although controlled by the front shift lever, the front derailleur’s one trim position has moved from the small ring to the big – based on pro rider feedback who spend the majority of their time on the big ring.

If there’s one area of RED that I feel still needs some refinement , it’s the front shifting. The lever throw is too farther and heavier than I prefer, but I’m sure other guys will have a different opinion. In fairness, the front shifting on a new RED gruppo that just arrived here is actually better than my original test set, so this could have something to do with set up.

I’d also like to see one more trim position for the inner chainring. Sure I’ve learned to ride without it, and in reality it has not detracted from any of the enjoyment I get from my rides or the groupset… but it is one of those things that I like on Campy and Shimano and I’d like it on SRAM too. I think there’s a patent issue that limits the trim positions on SRAM, although the official party line is that they feel they don’t need it…

PEZ Tech Charles Sez: One common “issue” I just don’t feel is press worthy. I get enough “Trim” as it is thank you… After a few thousand miles, I can’t say that I have ever wished for more front derailleur trim. I took the extra two seconds to adjust the drive train properly and simply haven’t had any problems. I do agree with Richard (which I hate to admit) that I would like shorter lever travel for the front mech. The new D-Ace really scores with their front mech action, but they also gave up… yep, trim. I just think it’s a non starter as an issue.

SRAM shaved a wopping 25grams out of the rear derailleur which now weighs in at 153g. The overall design functions the same as FORCE, but they reduced the mass of the main body with some snazzy design work, and included a titanium parallelogram pivot.

The RED rear derailleur now runs ceramic bearings in the pulley wheels to reduce the drag on the drive train.

The RED brakes lose a reported 15 grams on the set, and gain a slightly modified shape based on their skeletonized Dual Pivot design. I’ve liked the nice clean lines of the SRAM brakes from the start, and in fact they’re my favorite stoppers – especially running cork pads and carbon wheels. The stopping power is strong and predictable – even in both positions of squeezing from the tops, or the drops.

More impressively, they’ve added a spring tension adjustment screw, and repositioned the brake block securing screws so they’re actually accessible with the brakes mounted on the bike. Okay, they were accessible on Force too but the new design should reduce hair pulling considerably when it comes time to change the brake shoes.

PEZ Tech Charles Sez: As for the new stoppers, I wouldn’t call the action “powerful” as much as I would say they have a very consistent and solid feel. Some place between Campy’s Skeletons and D-Ace (and all three brake sets are really good). I like that the Red brakes don’t seem to be weak at first only to ramp up and get “snatchy” and that they don’t have too much initial bite. Today’s wheels are getting pretty light and lately I have been fixed with mostly carbon rims. Too much leverage isn’t necessarily good with the lower rotating weight of high end wheels, but too little stiffness can make for chattery / brake pulse response. Neither of those things is good. A smooth consistent feel is what I appreciate and I would call it “confidence inspiring” more that “powerful”.

The crank arms pick up a slightly new shape, and a very cool new graphic finish with ‘SRAM’ splashed in huge letters in the inside of both crank arms – it’s an unexpected use of real estate to max the branding. The crank arm weight is down about 30 grams from FORCE, while the chain ring picks up a new shape – more filled in and finished in a striking gun metal.

The new BB is ceramic, and depending on which side of the ceramic revolution you reside, is either awesome or at least as good as before. I’ve been running the compact 50/34 version, and found shifting and overall performance excellent – which in terms of cranksets means I’ve had zero problems, and almost no dropped chains.

Another very noticeable, and truly impressive design is the RED PG-1090 cogset. By essentially machining the bottom 8 gears out of a single piece of steel, SRAM has hacked 50 grams out of this piece. It’s offered in 11-26 and 11-23 tooth counts, meaning lovers of 12-25 still have to fit an aftermarket cassette.

Their ‘Open-Glide’ design works well in both directions, again meaning I encountered no problems at all with rear shifting – just like I’d expect.

PEZ Tech Charles Sez: For me the two things SRAM needed to improve with Force were the chain and Cassette. The Red “cone-sette” just makes me scratch my head… The damn thing should eat through freehubs like Britney Spears should eat through prozak, yet a few thousand K and I’m actually ready to call it safe. I have no problem strapping it to a set of SRAM’s D.A.R.P.A. division wheels (Zipp) without worry that I’ll need to dent my credit card for a new freehub… shifting was fine with the Force cassette but the new one is better and lighter and seems to last fairly well relative to the higher end aftermarket cassettes I like.

They also give us a better chain…

The new one is on par with my favorite aftermarket drive belt from Yaban chain (also sold under the KMC logo) and features hollow pins and plates shedding needed grams without shedding shift performance. Not enough miles to call it long lasting, but the action is smooth and these links are befitting a top line group set as it should.

About the Color?
PEZ Tech Charles Sez: “Red” is the corporate color for SRAM. That said, there are those uber sensitive types that don’t necessarily like a flagship group not matching what their top of the line dream bike looks like, despite the fact that there’s probably not more that a square inch of the color on the group. Now my version might simply be to create a custom painted lever (which would take about 15 minutes with some masking tape and a can of auto paint). But then I thought, what the hell… Why not just go whole hog and make a bike that matches the square inch and a half…

… more to come…

What Johan Says

But why take my word for it -? I asked Johan Bruyneel how the team liked riding SRAM’s RED, and here’s what he said…
Johan …I think the favorite aspect is definitely the weight. Right now, for example, with the material we are using – the Trek frames and the Bontrager wheels and the SRAM components we are under the [weight] limit. So, we have to make sure we add weight to our bikes to be up to the limit. Then, I think also the special shifting of SRAM, it’s not positional it’s double clicking. Once they get used to that, they really like it. Also the ergonomic part of the brake levers is something I hear a lot of quality things about.

Read our FORCE Review here

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