If you’re choosing between Shimano Dura-Ace 9150 Di2 and SRAM Red eTap electronic groupsets, lucky you! Here’s how the two different systems compare.
Shimano first introduced Dura-Ace Di2 in 2009 and then added an electronic version of its next-level-down Ultegra groupset in 2011. A new version of Dura-Ace Di2 – R9150 – has recently been launched.
SRAM launched Red eTap in 2015. The single biggest difference from Di2 is that Red eTap shifting is wireless. Di2 runs from a single battery that’s usually hidden inside the seat post with cables running to the various components. Red eTap has separate batteries in each of the shifters and derailleurs. Shift signals are transmitted and received in accordance with SRAM’s proprietary wireless protocol known as Airea.
Other electronic groupsets are available for road bikes. Campagnolo offers electronic versions of its Super Record, Record and Chorus groupsets and FSA says that it will launch a K-Force WE semi-wireless electronic groupset (where the derailleurs are linked by a cable but communication with the shifters is wireless) later in 2017.
Here’s how Shimano Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 and SRAM Red eTap compare in key areas.
If you’re building up a frame from scratch, nothing is simpler than fitting SRAM Red eTap. You bolt the various parts in place, you pair them up – and that’s it. You’re talking about 15 minutes. Genuinely.
Di2 is more complicated in that you need to run the wires internally – which may or may not be straightforward, depending on your frame – and you usually need to fit the battery internally too.
You need a Junction A unit to connect the shifters to the rest of the system. With 9150 Di2 this fits either into the frame or into the end of the handlebar. If you go for the handlebar version you need a hole in the handlebar itself by which the wire can exit.
You also need a Di2 wireless unit to allow the system to communicate via ANT private protocol with head units (such as a Garmin Edge bike computer) and your smartphone, tablet or PC.
We’re not saying that fitting R9150 Di2 to a bike is especially complicated, but it isn’t as simple as fitting eTap.
It’s worth pointing out that this is a one-time job. Unlike with mechanical shifting, you’ll probably never need to replace the cables. And if you’re buying a built up bike you don’t need to worry about the initial setup anyway.
With Red eTap you perform shifts via a paddle that sits behind the brake lever. You push the paddle on the right shifter inward to move the chain to a smaller sprocket. You push the paddle on the left shifter inward to move the chain to a larger sprocket. You can hold each paddle in those shift positions to perform multiple shifts – if you want to go from the bottom of the cassette up to the top, say, you just push the left paddle and hold it there. You push both paddles together to shift from one chainring to the other.
When he reviewed SRAM Red eTap Dave Arthur said, "The feel of the shift levers is a highlight... There is no [possibility of pressing the wrong button] with eTap. No accidentally shifting into the wrong gear, because the paddle only has one task, and your brain doesn't forget which is which. This improved feel of the groupset is, for me at least, far superior to Di2. It makes eTap a joy to use."
You can’t customise the function of SRAM eTap. The brand reckons this would add an unnecessary level of complexity to the system.
"On the whole, the shifting is very quick and crisp," said Dave Arthur. "Most of the time, trying to distinguish whether eTap is slower to shift than mechanical Red or Dura-Ace Di2 is impossible. It's as fast as you need, with no lag or delay when requesting another gear, whether you're cruising or in a chain gang.
"Shifting works well under load, whether working up the cassette when sprinting out of the saddle, or changing down from the big ring when climbing out of the saddle."
In contrast to eTap, Shimano Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 is highly customisable. By default, the left-hand shifter controls the front derailleur and the right-hand shifter controls the rear derailleur. Each has two buttons located behind the brake lever, one for upshifts and the other for downshifts, and another button hidden under the hood cover.
You can use Shimano’s new E-Tube Project software on a PC, iPad or smartphone to set any of these six buttons to upshift or downshift either of the two derailleurs. Each of these buttons can have two different functions, one when you press it and the other when you press and hold it.
You can set Di2 buttons to change the display on a Garmin Edge bike computer. Shimano invites third party manufacturers to come up with other uses for the buttons, which send commands via a private ANT+ protocol, so functionality could be increased in future.
The R9150 Di2 buttons have a more pronounced click to them than previous versions. This means that you always know whether or not you've pressed a button, although our experience is that you can occasionally hit the wrong one when riding in big winter gloves because they're positioned so close together.
In terms of shifting performance, it's hard to fault Dura-Ace R9150 Di2. It's fast and super reliable via both the front and rear derailleurs and in either direction.
Shimano’s Synchro Shift
Shimano Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 offers Synchro Shift which is a feature new to road cycling. The new Junction A unit (below) allows you to switch between shift modes: manual, semi-Synchro Shift or full Synchro Shift.
Manual is straightforward: one button moves the rear derailleur one way, another button moves it the other way, and it’s similar set up for the front mech.
If you go to full Synchro Shift, you simply press a button for a lower gear and the Di2 system will move you to the next lowest gear available even if that means shifting chainrings. One push of a button and the system could move you from the large chainring to the small chainring, and from a large sprocket to a smaller sprocket.
If you were using the small chainring and one of the small sprockets and pressed the button to move to a higher gear, the system might move you automatically to the large chainring and a larger sprocket.
Synchro Shift is fully customisable. You can go into Shimano’s user-friendly E-Tube app and decide what will happen when you press up or down from any chainring/sprocket combination.
Why would you want to use Synchro Shift on the road? It has really been introduced for time trial and triathlon where you can have just one bar end shifter on the left aero bar and another on the right. However, if you want to use it on a standard road bike, it is an option.
There is currently no warning beep to let you know when the front derailleur is going to move the chain from one chainring to the other, which would allow you to adjust the amount of pressure you’re putting on the pedals accordingly, although Garmin will bring in this feature via its Edge bike computers, and any other computer brand that cares to can do the same.
The semi-Synchro Shift option might be of more interest to road bike users. With semi Synchro Shift, when you move the front derailleur the rear derailleur will automatically move the chain a certain number of sprockets at the same time.
Say you’re moving from the small chainring to the large chainring. In normal circumstances this would increase the size of the gear by a considerable margin, right? With semi-Synchro Shift enabled, the system will move the chain up the cassette to reduce that margin and keep your cadence more consistent.
Moving from the large chainring to the small chainring would usually reduce the size of the gear by a large chunk so Di2 will automatically move the chain down the cassette to reduce the jump.
If you’re an experienced bike rider you probably do this yourself a lot of the time without even thinking about it.
Mapping the gears – deciding the specifics of how Synchro Shift and semi Synchro Shift work – is simple via Shimano’s E-Tube software which you can run on a PC, iPad or a smartphone.
You can add Shimano’s sprint shifters (SW-R610) and climbing shifters (SW-R9150, above)) to allow you to change gear more easily from the top of your handlebar or from the drops.
Similarly, SRAM offers Red eTap Blips (above) which are satellite buttons. A Blip links to a shifter via a cable – the only cable in the eTap system. Pressing a Blip connected to the right shifter moves the rear mech outboard; pressing a Blip connected to the left shifter moves the rear mech inboard, and pressing a Blip connected to the left shifter at the same time as pressing a Blip connected to the right shifter moves the chain from one chainring to the other.
You can position Blips on the tops of your handlebar for use when you’re climbing or on the drops for shifting when you sprint. They can go either underneath your handlebar tape or out in the open.
Each SRAM eTap component has its own battery. The derailleurs’ rechargeable batteries offer power for over 1,000km (625 miles) of typical riding while the widely available CR2032 button cell batteries in the shifters need changing on average about once every two years, according to SRAM.
You can check the charge of different components at any time. LED lights indicate the current level of charge.
If you ignore these LEDs and allow the rear mech battery to run out, you can swap the front mech battery on to the rear, foregoing front shifting for the journey home.
If you run out of both, you can manually put the chain onto the gear you want and ride home singlespeed.
Recharging a derailleur battery is simply a case of unclipping it and putting it on the USB-powered charger for 45 minutes.
When the shifters’ CR2012 batteries run low you simply swap new ones into the ports in the hoods.
The Shimano BT-DN110 Di2 internal mounted battery can last between 1,000km and 2,000km between charges, depending on conditions and the amount of shifting you do.
The battery is usually fitted inside the seatpost although it can be accommodated elsewhere within the frame. You can check how much charge remains via lights on the Junction A unit.
If the battery runs low the front derailleur will stop working first. If you run out of juice entirely you can position the chain on a sprocket of your choice and ride home in a single gear.
Shimano Dura-Ace chainsets are available in five different variations: 50-34T (a 50-tooth outer chainring and a 34-tooth inner chainring), 52-36T, 53-39T, 54-42T and 55-42T with seven crank arm lengths from 165 to 180mm.
The RD-R9150 rear derailleur (only one cage length is available) will take cassettes with a minimum sprocket size of 11 teeth and a maximum sprocket size of 30 teeth.
SRAM Red chainsets are available in 46-36T, 50-34T, 52-36T and 53-39T versions and in six crank arm lengths from 165mm to 177.5mm.
Unlike the Dura-Ace rear derailleur, the Red eTap one comes in short cage and medium cage versions. The short cage will take sprockets with a maximum size of 28 teeth while the medium one will work with sprockets up to 32 teeth, so you can get very low gears with eTap as long as you buy the correct rear derailleur.
Both Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 and SRAM Red eTap groupsets are available with hydraulic disc braking.
The Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 dual control levers and hydraulic disc brakes are the first that Shimano has included within the Dura-Ace groupset. Previously, you could get Dura-Ace compatible disc brakes but they weren’t actually part of the group.
The R9170 dual control levers are almost the same shape as the R9100s (for mechanical shifting and cable operated rim brakes) and the R9150s (for Di2 shifting and cable-operated rim brakes). There’s no bulbous front end like you get on some earlier Shimano designs, the hydraulic reservoir being positioned in the centre of the lever body. The only real difference is that the R9170 design is a bit more of a handful where the hydraulic hose exits at the upper inner edge.
As well as offering reach adjustment, the R9170 levers have free stroke adjustment allowing you to tune the amount the lever moves before the pads touch the rotor.
The R9170 brakes, available in flat mount only, work beautifully whatever the conditions. You know the brakes are going to bite exactly when you want them to so there’s no need to give the levers a squeeze a second or two in advance just to be on the safe side. It doesn’t matter how wet the roads and the rims are, these brakes work, it’s as simple as that.
Yes, there’s a small drop off in performance in wet weather but it’s nowhere near the magnitude you see with rim brakes. That gives you the confidence to keep pushing your speed in situations when you might potentially soon need to slow down, like going into a tight corner. In some circumstances it might be the difference between getting into a break and missing the train.
SRAM Red eTap HRD Shift-Brake Controls have a higher front end than their Shimano counterparts with the hydraulic master cylinder positioned in the nose. You can adjust the contact point – when your brakes engage – and reach to the lever.
Both post mount and flat mount brake brake callipers are available.
SRAM offers power measurement via its Red Quarq power meter chainset. This comes with carbon arms and a machined alloy spider.
Power measurement is based on five strain gauges in the crank spider. SRAM claims +/-1.5% accuracy and you can get left/right power balance.
The system uses a replaceable CR2032 battery and has an IPX7 waterproof rating.
The latest version of Dura-Ace offers power measurement for the first time. The FC-R9100-P is a chainset with an integrated power meter. Strain gauges sit inside the crank arms to measure left and right leg power. The power meter ‘brain’ sits inside the Dura-Ace driveside spider.
An integrated rechargeable battery powers the unit. It can be charged with a small magnetic adapter without needing to remove covers or casings.
Shimano tells us it has thoroughly tested the power meter to a very high waterproof standard, but it has not provided an IPX rating at this stage.
These are the manufacturers' claimed weights for the various components of each groupset. We're comparing rim brake versions of each groupset here (the SRAM figures include batteries where applicable).
According to these figures, SRAM Red eTap edges it in terms of weight, but it’s a small difference.
Here are the recommended retail prices of the various parts of each of the groupset. Again, we’re talking about rim brake setups. Shop around and you'll find them cheaper.
According to these figures, SRAM Red eTap is nearly £800 cheaper at full retail price.
Both Shimano Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 and SRAM Red eTap are superb groupsets, as you’d expect. These are, after all, the top tier in the range of their respective brands and they’re used for racing at the very highest level, and we’re split in the road.cc office as to which we prefer.
Each shifts well and you really shouldn’t run out of charge while you’re on the road providing you get into the habit of checking battery levels regularly.
In terms of function, the biggest difference between the two groupsets is the way that you change gear (see ‘In use’ above), and your choice might come down to whether you prefer SRAM’s design or Shimano’s, bearing in mind that you can customise a Shimano set-up to a large degree.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.