SRAM's Force groupset is pretty much a direct competitor to Shimano's Ultegra, and like Ultegra it's an excellent transmission that takes a lot of the functionality of the maker's top-tier groupset (Red, in SRAM's case, Dura-Ace in Shimano's) and trickles it down to a more affordable level. It's lighter than Ultegra 6800 and the real-world cost is higher. Even so SRAM's second-tier groupset is an excellent choice for the privateer racer, or anyone building or buying a lighweight bike for fast riding. Force 22 is available with hydraulic levers for either disc brakes or hydro rim brakes, but we're testing the standard calliper setup here.
|You can find the SRAM Force 22 groupset online at Wiggle (who will also price match other deals) or if you prefer to support your local bike shop you can find a SRAM dealer here.|
SRAM's DoubleTap mechanism is the unique feature of their shifters, and has been much refined over the last few years. If you haven't used the system, it's simple: the shift lever located behind the brake lever handles both upshifts and downshifts. Tap it to move to a smaller sprocket at the back (or to the small chainring); push it to shift the other way. You can shift up the block three sprockets at a time.
Because the (alloy) shift lever is entirely independent of the (carbon) brake lever it has some advantages. It's pivoted so that you can pull it back from the brake lever, which makes shifting from the drops a lot easier. SRAM have enlarged the paddle on the shift lever from previous years to make this even easier. The shift leaver is reach-adjustable independently of the brake lever, too. That means if you spend a lot of time in the drops you can move the shift lever to favour that shifting position. Personally I like to wind them in towards the bars. I find that position is easy to find wherever your hands are. If you have a small reach you can also move the brake lever in to suit. In the midst of a sprint I find it a lot easier to drop a cog at the back with SRAM's lever position than I do with Shimano's. It's also a very easy system to use when you have your winter gloves hindering your shifting.
Shifting is simple and precise, with a light action but positive feedback. it's more clicky than Shimano but with not quite as much feedback as Campag, if that makes any sense. You're never in any doubt about whether you're shifting, anyway. The accuracy of the shifts is a product of all the components of the system, not just the levers, but SRAM make great play of their Zero-Loss™ technology which should mean all shifts are immediate. And to be fair, most of them are. It's difficult to get the groupset to miss a beat.
There are a couple of minor disadvantages to the DoubleTap system. The force required to shift down is fairly small so it is possible to click the lever without meaning to. Once you've done that, you're committed to a shift, either up or down. you can't stay where you are. That can be irritating. The other thing that's missing is lever feedback when you've reached the lowest sprocket: you can keep shifting, but nothing happens. Both of these are minor annoyances though.
In terms of lever shape SRAM have removed a bit of bulk from the Force lever, although it's still a touch chunkier than Shimano or Campag and a bit squarer in profile. Personally I find it the most comfortable of the three, although there's not much in it these days. They've also tweaked the clamp to make it easier to fit to ergo bars, although I didn't really have any problems with the old one.
We used a mid-cage derailleur on our test bike as we were running a standard 53/39 chainset and 11-32 cassette. It gives away nine or so grams to the short-cage mech and looks a bit lankier, but in terms of performance it's hard to fault.
Force 22, like all of SRAM's road groupsets, uses their Exact Actuation technology. Put simply, this means that for every 1mm of cable that gets pulled through the shifter, the derailleur cage will move 1mm as well. Both Shimano and Campagnolo use a higher ratio, pulling less cable to get the same amount of movement.
Does it make a difference? Well in theory it should make the SRAM system a bit more forgiving of tiny changes in the length of the cable run caused by the various bits settling into their stops, and each other. In practice I can't say I've found it noticeably better in that regard.
In any case, the Force rear derailleur has been entirely unremarkable in its operation, going about its shifty business with quiet aplomb. Missed shifts have been few and far between. SRAM say they've tweaked the geometry of the teeth on the jockey wheels to make the chain run quieter. I haven't done any objective comparative tests, but it is pretty noise-free at the back. If you don't need the 32T WiFli cassette, the standard cage mech will handle up to a 28T sprocket.
"It's the front derailleur that changed everything", SRAM say about their Yaw™ front derailleur. The premise is that the mech cage not only moves in and out for shifting, but also pivots to take into account the different chain lines of the two front rings. The upshot, SRAM claim, is that you can easily set up the mech to allow you to use all 11 sprockets at the rear, from either chainring at the front, with no chain rub. No trim positions or multiple shifts across the front cogs.
And do you know what? They're right. It really does do a bang-up job of letting you use whatever combination you want. The setup still needs to be very precise, but once you've dialled it in you can go big/big to small/small and anything in between.
Obviously chain wear is greatest whenever the chainline is at its extreme, and for that reason it's normally good practice to avoid those ratios where you can. But if you're hanging on in the chaingang or a race, for example, those concerns are secondary. It's a very minor advantage to be able to stay in the big ring up a punchy climb and not have to change down, then back up again. But most of us need all the help we can get.
Shifting between the two rings is very good, and SRAM include a chain catcher as part of the front mech package so you don't gouge bits out of your bottom bracket shipping the chain on a botched downshift.
SRAM haven't followed Shimano and Campagnolo down the four-bolt route, preferring to stick with five equally-spaced bolts. One of those bolts is now behind the crank. The crank arm itself is unidirectional carbon fibre, and that's mated with an alloy spider on which you can bolt your choice of chainrings: the 53/39 is a 130mm bolt circle diameter and 52/36, 50/34 and 46/36 all use the same 110mm BCD spider. Internal and external bearing versions are available, and the cranks are available in 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm, 175mm and 177.5mm lengths.
SRAM's chainsets are light, no doubt about that. The Force unit is much lighter than the equivalent Ultegra one, which is all-alloy. SRAM have stiffened up the chainrings: now they're machined from 5mm 7075-T6 aluminum and of course they're shaped and ramped to harmonise with the new front derailleur.
I tested the 53/39 PF30 chainset and couldn't eke any noticeable flex out of it. Shifting with the Yaw™ front mech was generally flawless. There's not much more a chainset can do, really. It's light, stiff and shifts well. Good work, SRAM Force chainset.
The SRAM Force brakes are light, and pretty, and they work well. Braking is the one area where SRAM are playing second fiddle to Shimano at the moment, though. The new symmetrical-pivot callipers that Shimano introduced with Dura Ace 9000 – and which have since trickled down as far as the new 105 groupset – are the best rim brakes you can get, in my opinion.
That's not to say the Force units are bad, because they're not. They're very good. They have plenty of power and the modulation and feel at the lever are excellent. The indexed quick release lever is good too. But in terms of all-out performance they're a shade behind the competition at the moment.
Force 22 uses an 11-speed cassette in line with other top-end groupsets. It may not sound like a big deal compared to ten sprockets but the extra one makes more difference than you'd think. Specifically, it gives you an extra cog in the middle to even out the jumps. In practical terms, that means that if you were umming and aahing between an 11-25 and an 11-28 on your 10-speed set up, with 11-speed the cassette is a 10-speed 11-25, with a 28T bolted on the end. The best of both worlds. Pro teams are increasingly just fitting an 11-28 to team bikes these days, as there's no real trade-off. You can still have an 11-25T though. and an 11-26T. All the cassettes use an alloy/steel spider for the big sprockets with loose steel sprockets and plastic spacers on top.
I was using the WiFli 11-32T cassette. With the standard 53/39 chainset you get the same bottom gear as a compact 50/34 and 11-28T setup, with the big gears of a racing setup. The trade-off is that you lose the 16T sprocket so the bigger jumps start a bit earlier. I can live with that a nearly 400% range between top and bottom ratios.
I didn't have any issues with the shifting across the cassette, and over the course of testing the wear was pretty minimal. in the past I've found SRAM cassettes to last a similar amount of time to Shimano ones and I didn't see anything during testing that would require me to revise that view.
SRAM's 11-speed PC-1170 chain uses hollow pins to save a bit of weight, and the side plates are shaped to improve shifts. It comes with a Powerlink connector which makes fitting a whole lot easier, although it's a one-time-only unit so it doesn't help if you need to remove your chain. You get 114 links and if you're running the same setup I was – standard chainset, WiFli cassette, mid-cage mech – you'll probably need each and every one. Chain wear during testing was minimal and I've always found SRAM chains to give a decent service life.
In all likelihood,if you're looking at buying SRAM Force then Shimano Ultegra is the other name at the top of your list. To be honest there's little between them in terms of performance. Force, for me, edges it in the availability of shifting from different positions. Ultegra has better brakes. Either groupset would be a great choice for a privateer race bike or lightweight sportive machine. Overall, Force is about 200g lighter than Ultegra for the same configuration and if that's important to you it's probably worth the extra £70 or so that it would cost to buy it. Groupsets are dirt cheap online at the moment and SRAM Force for less than £600 represents a real bargain.
Top drawer performance for the privateer racer or sportive rider
If you're thinking of buying this product using a cashback deal why not use the road.cc Top Cashback page and get some top cashback while helping to support your favourite independent cycling website
Make and model: SRAM Force 22 groupset
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
READY FOR YOUR BEST. However you define yourself as a rider, SRAM Force 22 is ready to help you achieve your personal best, offering no compromise of quality, function and features. We have completely redesigned SRAM Force and loaded it with all of the key innovations of SRAM RED, with no apologies for its fleet looks, ergonomics, efficiency, and lightweight design. Apart from the complete overhaul, SRAM Force also provides you twenty-two usable gears, YAW™ shifting speed and precision that can only be matched by SRAM RED, and a new sleek finish. The understated SRAM Force gruppo is for rational people with an irrational passion for performance. It is our most exciting introduction for 2013, and we designed it to be everything any rider at any level would ever require, and it's ready for your best.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Excellent performance throughout.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Light weight, crisp shifting.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Brakes not quite as good as competitors'.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Age: 42 Height: 190cm Weight: 100kg
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.