First ride: Sram Apex

First ride: Sram Apex. It’s new. It’s got a big cog. It quite possibly has the potential to revolutionise sportive-riding for a lot cyclists out there.

by David Else   December 14, 2010  

For the last few weeks we’ve been road-testing the new Apex gearset from SRAM. Released with much fanfare earlier this year, though surprisingly hard to find in shops, the Apex is less expensive than SRAM’s well-established Rival, Force and Red kit. There’s a range of chainwheel and cassette sizes, but the headline option teams up standard 50/34 compact rings with a decidedly non-standard 10-speed cassette going all the way from 11 to 32T.

 

We’ll be doing a full review of the SRAM Apex on road.cc soon - but here’s a summary of our thoughts so far: We like it. It quite possibly has the potential to revolutionise sportive-riding for a lot cyclists out there.

To understand why, humour me while I tell a little story.

I’ve got a mate called Aidan Leheup. In the 1990s he was pretty handy off-road, winning national and international mountain bike orienteering awards (Google him - with a name like that it won’t take long). Then he got into sportives when the UK scene started growing back in about 2002. With a compact chainset and 12-27T cassette on his road bike, Aidan found the gears to high for the serious hills favoured by early editions of now-legendary northern sportives such as the Polka Dot Gran Fondo and Fred Whitten Challenge.

The gears needed to be lower. So onto the road bike went some mountain bike gears: a lightweight Shimano XT 9-speed 12-32T cassette and rear mech - which worked perfectly with Dura Ace levers at the front end. Everything else stayed top-notch road kit, but equipped with this new 34x32 bottom gear it was now much easier to climb the hills that formerly called for out-the-saddle thuggery.

Move on a bit, and I bought that bike off Aidan, and for the next few years used it in many sportives across the UK. With the unusual set of gears in my armoury, I’ve gone up many famously steep ascents - from Peak Hill in Devon to Winnats Pass in Derbyshire - still nicely turning the pedals, while other riders are weaving all over the road or simply walking. And I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had shouts of “Wish I had gears like that, mate”.

Well now you can. If you were one of those strugglers, or if you just want to make the hills a bit easier, Apex could be just the ticket.

You might buy the whole chainset, or just the cassette and mech, and fit it to your current bike. Or if you’re in the market for a new sportive bike next year, look out for models with the Apex 11-32T gears already fitted.

I tested the Apex gears on a prototype bike: a Verenti Rhigos 04 - the new addition to the range of Verenti bikes from on-line superstore Wiggle - which should be available in early/mid-2011.

We’ve reviewed Verenti bikes here on road.cc before, notably the Kilmeston and the Rhigos 03. There’s also the mid-level Rhigos 02 and top-of-the-tree Rhigos 01. All the Rhigos bikes have been designed with UK sportives in mind and the framesets are the same - lugged carbon plus carbon fork with alloy steerer - with the equipment spec getting higher as you go from 04 to 01 model.

We’ll do a full review of the Apex-equipped Rhigos 04 nearer its official release date, but first impressions are very good. I’ve charged up and down a lot of steep hills, and also done a few longer outings too. The bike feels fast, light and responsive, but still comfortable enough to ride all day. Most important, the Apex gears are smooth and positive. I was pleasantly surprised to find nearly all the ratios available, with chain-rub only in ‘big and big’ and ‘small and small’ (which you’d never normally use anyway), and it was great to twiddle that familiar 34x32 bottom gear on the steepest sections.

Of course, you could get similar low gears with a triple 50/40/30 chainset matched with a standard 27T or 28T big sprocket on the cassette, and you’d also get smaller jumps between the ratios. But the Apex chainset has several advantages: with double rings you get a smaller Q-factor (ie, your feet are closer together, making pedalling more efficient); you get a higher proportion of usable gears (18 out of 20, instead of maybe 20 out of 27 or 30); and, according to Sram’s figures, the Apex is lighter than an equivalent-quality triple chainset, even taking into account the larger sprockets on the cassette and the longer rear mech to handle the extra chain length. Sram bills it as ‘WiFli’ - wider, faster, lighter.

On top of mechanical advantages, let’s be honest, there’s appearance to consider. On a sporty-style bike, a compact just looks better than a triple (well, to me it does anyway). There’s even something psychological going on: when you’re starting to struggle on a long climb, look down at a thin compact going round and round and it just feels better than seeing three big rings churning between your feet. No? Oh, just me then…

Although especially useful for sportive beginners (on the assumption that more experienced riders are happier on higher gears) it’s quite likely that the SRAM Apex and bikes like the Verenti Rhigos 04 will appeal to the old-hands too.

And as for my mate Aidan, I’m not sure if he was the first to use this type of gearing on a road bike, and by around 2006 he certainly wasn’t the only one (I think Albert Contador had something similar fitted in a particularly steep section of the Giro a while back) but it’s very pleasing to see his one-time whacky invention now firmly entering the mainstream.

I predict a lot more sportive-specific bikes with Apex gears on the road next season. Revolutionary? Maybe not. Making a big difference for a lot of riders? Definitely.
 

28 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Ah yes, mountain biking has a lot to answer for, particularly the idea that real men can use small gears. A notion advanced by Lance too of course.

Back in the Day (mid 80s) using a gear less than 42 x 21 or even 42 x 18 for road racing was considered weak. And this was in hilly NZ. Still I was a lot fitter and younger and riding short races so it kinda worked. Buying your first proper 'corncob' cassette was, in itself, a sign of commitment to the cause!

These days I ride a triple with a bail out ratio of 30 x 25. This gives me a lovely collection of close ratio gears on top plus a sensible gear for twirling up the inclines in sit n spin MTB mode. For me the triple is still the best option for distance riding of any kind, including sportives. I am old enough to safely ignore the 'compacts look better' argument but young enough to cackle as I spin past those who mock earlier!

But yes, for racing it MUST be a double, and not compact either. Unless the Mortirolo beckons but we don't get much of that in London and Essex...

I think David is right though, there's going to be a lot of after-market retro fits of this combo on many bikes, particularly for riders who aren't bothered by notions of what looks good or what is correct. And can't afford the eye-watering change to triple setups...

alotronic's picture

posted by alotronic [305 posts]
14th December 2010 - 9:59

1 Like

get some legs people. This is a marketing purely for middle age wannabes - probably the ones that wear "comedy" lycra tops in a non-ironic way. And maybe "Colin Hunt" ties at work. If you can't get up a hill on a compact with at worst 12-27 on the back, then surely you're riding beyond your ability?

posted by the-yorkshire-p... [180 posts]
14th December 2010 - 12:15

2 Likes

I think its great that the Apex groupset has been launched. There are riders who require lower gears because they have problems with knees etc.. Not everyone can climb steep hills comfortably and if it encourages less able riders to tackle more difficult climbs then what's the harm in that?

Its not manly riding huge gears up climbs and ruining your legs.

posted by hopster [11 posts]
14th December 2010 - 12:30

2 Likes

Was the advent of the compact chainset a result of Tyler Hamilton's 2003 Tour de France ride? The compact chainset has certainly been used by any number of riders on the painfully steep Plan de Corones stage of the Giro.

The relatively close ratios of the typical cassette (say, 12-25T) mean you can fine-tune your cadence to match the road conditions. However, on undulating terrain it can mean repeated multiple shifts when the road switches from up to down or vice versa.

The more widely spaced cassette ratios used by MTBs make sense in the hills (the gaps between them shrink when used with smaller chainrings anyway). I've never understood why this practice, popular with tourers and tinkerers, hasn't been recognised sooner by manufacturers. If a rear mech can cope with a triple it is likely to manage a few extra teeth on the back when the smallest chainring is absent. Instead of a new chainset surely you can simply buy a rear (MTB?) mech and cassette to get these ratios. And there are 10-speed MTB groupsets now too, albeit at rather high prices.

I don't have any hangups about the appearance, weight or 'psychological effect' of a triple chainset; I deliberately chose a triple. Wouldn't the presence of 'dinner plate' cassette be equally off-putting and un-manly? Wink

Living in Shropshire and a fan of riding hills, I'm occasionally glad of my 30x25 bail-out gear, while I find I can leave it on the 39T middle chainring a lot of the time. I also like the fact that there isn't such a large jump between chainrings, though from online discussions I've read this bothers some people more than others.

If the Apex offers people a setup that copes with most terrain they are likely to encounter without breaking the bank it is most certainly a good thing.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2058 posts]
14th December 2010 - 12:31

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Another perspective on the compact 'killing off' the triple - it makes economic sense:

"Component manufacturers would rather offer compact double cranksets instead of triples. Even if they could produce a triple version of a standard double with minimal changes to tooling (ex: Shimano Dura Ace 7700/7703 nine-speed and 7800/7803 ten-speed double/triple cranksets), the complexity of producing triple shifters and derailleurs to match far outweigh the cost developing the molds or dies for the compact crank. And for companies offering complete bikes, they know that they can often get away with offering road bikes only with compact cranks, particularly in the entry- to mid-level segments. Reduced variation means easier stocking, which leads to better profitability."

From http://bikehugger.com/2008/05/the-rise-of-the-compact-crank.html

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2058 posts]
14th December 2010 - 13:00

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the-yorkshire-pk-ripper wrote:
get some legs people. This is a marketing purely for middle age wannabes - probably the ones that wear "comedy" lycra tops in a non-ironic way. And maybe "Colin Hunt" ties at work. If you can't get up a hill on a compact with at worst 12-27 on the back, then surely you're riding beyond your ability?

It depends on the hill. What if it is 25%? I've ridden up that in Cornwall (but I was using a Rohloff on my 26" wheeled tourer).

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1380 posts]
14th December 2010 - 13:17

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the-yorkshire-pk-ripper wrote:
get some legs people. This is a marketing purely for middle age wannabes - probably the ones that wear "comedy" lycra tops in a non-ironic way. And maybe "Colin Hunt" ties at work. If you can't get up a hill on a compact with at worst 12-27 on the back, then surely you're riding beyond your ability?

If you take that 'riding beyond your ability' argument to its ultimate conclusion then you could say that we should all be riding fixed gear and spurning the geared bicycle completely! If it allows riders to enjoy their hobby more then fair enough; if people happen to be wearing comedy lycra tops and colin hunt ties at the same time as availing themselves of wider gear ratios that allow them to get up a hill without walking or having a stroke at least it provides comedy value too!

...  Soyez Realiste-Demandez L'impossible ...

posted by Gregoire500 [138 posts]
14th December 2010 - 13:22

1 Like

cat1commuter wrote:
the-yorkshire-pk-ripper wrote:
get some legs people. This is a marketing purely for middle age wannabes - probably the ones that wear "comedy" lycra tops in a non-ironic way. And maybe "Colin Hunt" ties at work. If you can't get up a hill on a compact with at worst 12-27 on the back, then surely you're riding beyond your ability?

It depends on the hill. What if it is 25%? I've ridden up that in Cornwall (but I was using a Rohloff on my 26" wheeled tourer).

I'm not saying I have legs of steel (far from it) but I have ridden 23 & 25%'s regularly with a 53/39 and 11-25 set-up - and the legs burn all the way through. But I chose to enter the events with those in as a test and challenge to myself, on the basis that I felt I was capable of doing it.

If I wanted to mooch around and spin gears on steep climbs, I wouldn't enter an event to do it. Maybe it's the terminology that's wrong here - is it actually the sportive set that this gruppo is aimed at, or is that the term du jour for the aspiring weekend rider?

Surely it's an Audax thing?

posted by the-yorkshire-p... [180 posts]
14th December 2010 - 13:27

1 Like

the-yorkshire-pk-ripper wrote:

I'm not saying I have legs of steel (far from it) but I have ridden 23 & 25%'s regularly with a 53/39 and 11-25 set-up

Bully for you. I suppose you lift 5-tonne boulders with your bare hands and hold back the tide on a whim as well.

Quote:
If I wanted to mooch around and spin gears on steep climbs, I wouldn't enter an event to do it.

What a load of patronising crap. If someone finds lower gears help them get up the climbs they wish to attempt then who are you to tell them they are weak / inadequate and should stay at home? By all means ride with whatever gearing you like but don't tell me what rings I should put on my bike or which events I should or shouldn't enter.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2058 posts]
14th December 2010 - 14:10

1 Like

Simon E wrote:
the-yorkshire-pk-ripper wrote:

I'm not saying I have legs of steel (far from it) but I have ridden 23 & 25%'s regularly with a 53/39 and 11-25 set-up

Bully for you. I suppose you lift 5-tonne boulders with your bare hands and hold back the tide on a whim as well.

Quote:
If I wanted to mooch around and spin gears on steep climbs, I wouldn't enter an event to do it.

What a load of patronising crap. If someone finds lower gears help them get up the climbs they wish to attempt then who are you to tell them they are weak / inadequate and should stay at home? By all means ride with whatever gearing you like but don't tell me what rings I should put on my bike or which events I should or shouldn't enter.

The tide, yes I do that most thursdays, but the boulders just break a nail darling.

posted by the-yorkshire-p... [180 posts]
14th December 2010 - 14:42

1 Like

This might be of interest: in the past I've paired an XT rear cassette and long-cage derailleur with a 53/39 standard chainset, as a way of approximating the gears you'd have on a compact. That setup worked really well in the Alps. I guess you could do the same with Apex.

The only thing to watch out for is that I had to run the chain a link shorter than normal, or risk chain slap on the inner ring in the lower third of the block.

fourstringsisplenty's picture

posted by fourstringsisplenty [67 posts]
14th December 2010 - 18:18

2 Likes

I have to agree with the posters who have taken offense at the "cyclists" who think only people who can get up any hill on 52/21 should be allowed to ride bikes.

Please guys give up cycling, buy yourself a 4 wheel manhood extension and go join Clarkson!

I for one can't wait to be able to afford to buy a long cage rear mech and wide ratio cassette to help me get round our rides in the Peak.

bikeandy61's picture

posted by bikeandy61 [399 posts]
14th December 2010 - 18:39

2 Likes

I can see both arguments on this: making it easier to climb hills will encourage more people to ride, more people entering Sportive style events, more people spending money in bike shops, all good.
On the other hand I also think a lot of riders try to make up for lack of ability/training/dedication by buying into the latest greatest fad, the idea that you NEED low gears or you NEED a carbon frame etc.

Personally I can't stand compact chainsets on road bikes. I like it on my CX which is much more of an all-rounder (and yes, I've run that with an MTB cassette in the past, giving me a low gear of 34:34, invaluable for the Three Peaks!)

posted by crazy-legs [568 posts]
14th December 2010 - 19:28

2 Likes

I've got Apex on long term test too, a full review comprising mine and david's thoughts will follow. Personally i think it'll definiteley catch on, just like the compact has. I'm not pretending to be a racer, but i like riding sportives for the craic. my bike has mudguards on it. I even do the odd audax. why shouldn't i have low gears and a compact setup? I'm a big lad, i need them.

YPKR: you may well be able to ride up those grades in that gear – i don't doubt it, i've seen you ride on the flat – but that doesn't make them the right choice, for you or anyone else. As for sportives and audaxes, well one's just a glammed up version of the other, so far as i can see. More route arrows and timing chips, fewer WI cakes (and the worse for it). let's not pretend that it's racing though, eh? cause it ain't. If you want to moan about Apex turning up on the start line of your Cat 2 crit, that's another matter. But sportives? You pays your money, you can ride what the hell you like as far as i'm concerned. I'll be on Apex, +1 for easier gears.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7504 posts]
14th December 2010 - 19:44

1 Like

Apex may well be aimed at the sportive rider, and I'm sure there will be those who get as sniffy about a 32 cog as they do about triples. That 32 cog (other cassettes are available) is primarily what makes Apex different and as it's compatible with other higher end SRAM groupsets tooso I'm sure we'll see pros using it in the future on mountain stages - Vinokourov and John Gadret of AG2R both rode with an Apex rear mech and 11-32 cassette at the Giro this year.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4160 posts]
14th December 2010 - 21:22

2 Likes

I don't understand some people's snobbery/elitism. I recently rode Tour of the Peak (eg Winnats Pass) and was one of relatively few to get up the beast without walking. Bully for me. But it hurt like hell and I have an Apex cassette on my Xmas list (as i already have a long cage rear mech it should work fine) for use on the Dragon ride and Etape next year. Hopefully this will remove some pain from the steepest bits and help me go faster the rest of the course as I'll have avoided going into the red zone. Sometimes pain isn't 'pro' it is a symptom you can/should avoid in order to go faster. In sunny Northants I happily ride 53/39 SRAM red but why not adapt to the conditions? I'm no beginner, but happily embrace change. As one comment said, if you want to be a snob about it why not ride sportives 'fixed' with toe-straps, a bottle of wine and some spare tubulars round your shoulders? Odd. Long live Apex

Ps to the other chap riding the etape, hope to see you en route. Bonne chance/chapeau!

Addicted to pedaling

posted by moolife [11 posts]
14th December 2010 - 21:56

1 Like

how much is the apex groupset?

posted by miffed [163 posts]
14th December 2010 - 23:25

2 Likes

Simon E wrote:
Was the advent of the compact chainset a result of Tyler Hamilton's 2003 Tour de France ride? The compact chainset has certainly been used by any number of riders on the painfully steep Plan de Corones stage of the Giro.

I've got a vague memory of Big Mig Indurain using a 36T inner ring that he had specially made for him by Campagnolo back in the 1990s. Radical at the time, but maybe that was on a triple rather than a 'compact' (the name hadn't been coined than).

Of course, if he'd been a real man he'd have kept it 39x27.

David Else

posted by David Else [294 posts]
15th December 2010 - 7:51

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miffed wrote:
how much is the apex groupset?

You can get the full groupset online for £500 or less, which is about what you'd pay for 105

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7504 posts]
15th December 2010 - 9:56

3 Likes

the-yorkshire-pk-ripper wrote:

I'm not saying I have legs of steel (far from it) but I have ridden 23 & 25%'s regularly with a 53/39 and 11-25 set-up - and the legs burn all the way through. But I chose to enter the events with those in as a test and challenge to myself, on the basis that I felt I was capable of doing it.

Maybe with my lower (appropriate) gears, spinning at 90 rpm, I'll get up the hill FASTER than you.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1380 posts]
15th December 2010 - 13:22

1 Like

I see a race being organised...

posted by Old Cranky [276 posts]
15th December 2010 - 14:29

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Apex isn't significantly different in weight or mechanical efficiency to 105 so the only real change is the ability to keep a higher cadence on climbs. that'll certainly benefit people who have a naturally high cadence, however fit they are. it would certainly be interesting to see how quick someone expending the same physical effort climbed on a wide range compact and a standard setup. maybe we'll set summat up...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7504 posts]
15th December 2010 - 14:48

2 Likes

Quote:
I for one can't wait to be able to afford to buy a long cage rear mech and wide ratio cassette to help me get round our rides in the Peak.

If you're running 9-speed a Deore MTB cassette & mech would surely do, and cost a pittance.

Quote:
As for sportives and audaxes, well one's just a glammed up version of the other, so far as i can see. More route arrows and timing chips, fewer WI cakes (and the worse for it). let's not pretend that it's racing though, eh? cause it ain't. If you want to moan about Apex turning up on the start line of your Cat 2 crit, that's another matter.

Those of us with only one bike don't have that luxury, run wot yer brung is the order of the day. Apex is not heavy, it still has 10 gears and runs 50x11, I don't see a downside. I always like it when someone on supposedly 'inferior' kit beats the ATGNI types and marketing mugs. Chapeau to all fellow inverted snobs Wink

Cakes. Yes! How is it possible to run a cycling event without cakes?!?

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2058 posts]
15th December 2010 - 16:56

3 Likes

Who cares what gearing others are using-the race is with yourself.

Need 34:32? Go for it. My old Man will need it.

I'm happy 53/39:25/27 but one day will need the apex Smile

People with injuries will love it.

I like my bike but it needs a hidden 25cc motor Smile

Fish_n_Chips's picture

posted by Fish_n_Chips [326 posts]
15th December 2010 - 20:50

3 Likes

Simon E - if it's cakes you like, i can recommend Barry's Bristol Ball Buster. a WI cake stop and a veritable cake shop at the finish.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7504 posts]
15th December 2010 - 22:12

2 Likes

Dave, that sounds perfect.

But is there a cyclist who DOESN'T like cake?

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2058 posts]
15th December 2010 - 23:53

1 Like

"I always like it when someone on supposedly 'inferior' kit beats the ATGNI types and marketing mugs. Chapeau to all fellow inverted snobs "

Simon E.

Simon I might turn up in march at the Peterborough 100 local sportive with winter bike, fenders 9spd tiagra and to really annoy them -my mountain bike baggies and shoes LOL
(next race after will be Lycra clad carbon etc) I might bring a bell and ring it often when I go past a whippet lol ok maybe not I don't want pi55 ppl off or get punched!

I'm sure I have a rear rack for panniers somewhere...

I like my bike but it needs a hidden 25cc motor Smile

Fish_n_Chips's picture

posted by Fish_n_Chips [326 posts]
16th December 2010 - 2:38

2 Likes

Fish_n_Chips wrote:
I might bring a bell and ring it often when I go past a whippet

Fish_n_Chips, I love the idea of a bell, that would be great fun!

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2058 posts]
16th December 2010 - 9:12

1 Like