Previously unseen SRAM eTap AXS shifters have been spotted on the bikes of cyclocross stars Lars van der Haar, Lucinda Brand and Shirin van Anrooij leading to increased speculation that the US component giant is preparing to launch a new groupset, but that’s not quite the whole story…
A couple of weekends ago, a friend of road.cc noticed that Baloise Trek Lions cyclocross riders were racing with shift-brake levers that weren’t current generation SRAM Red.
Interesting. SRAM Red is certainly due for an update. The latest version, 12-speed SRAM Red eTap AXS, was introduced in 2019 and SRAM has revamped both Force and Rival since then, so could it be trying out a new design with its top riders before a 2023 launch?
Will wireless shifting become the norm? SRAM Apex eTap groupset is on the way
In terms of shape, the levers in question look like the ones from SRAM’s third-tier Rival eTap AXS groupset but with carbon fibre brake levers rather than the usual LFRT (long-fibre-reinforced thermoplastic). Check out the pic below with the new lever on the left and the Rival lever on the right.
We couldn’t find out any more from squinting at photos so we sent road.cc roving newshound Ryan Mallon to the Dublin round of the cyclocross World Cup last weekend, secretly hoping that we might get the scoop of an entirely new groupset. Here’s what we found…
This Trek Boone belongs to Lars van der Haar of Baloise Trek Lions. It seems to us that all of the SRAM components on this bike are current generation SRAM Red eTap AXS apart from those levers. Disappointing!
Could Van der Haar really be using a SRAM Red groupset with Rival shift-brake levers? It would be odd but SRAM Rival eTap AXS hoods are slightly smaller than those of Red and Force eTap AXS; you can wrap your hands around them more easily. This is possible partly because there are neither ports for remote shifters nor contact point adjustment (meaning you can’t alter the point in the lever stroke where the brake pads come into contact with the rotor). SRAM left these features out to keep the price down.
Could it be that some pro riders simply prefer the SRAM Rival shift-brake lever shape? We asked SRAM.
“These are SRAM’s newest shifter architecture featuring a custom carbon lever and pro race graphics,” said SRAM’s Marie Didier. “Lars van der Haar, Lucinda Brand and Shirin van Anrooij of Baloise-Trek Lions will use these during the CX season.”
SRAM’s most recent shifter release was Rival eTap AXS (above) so this could be the brand’s way of confirming what we thought – this is essentially existing Rival with posher levers.
That begs more questions. Why would a rider want to switch to this architecture? What’s the benefit over standard Red? Do the shift-brake levers have ports for remote shifters and contact point adjustment? Will they be offered to the public in this form?
Alas, SRAM has gone silent on us. That first sentence in SRAM’s response sounds suspiciously like a stock reply. Google it and you’ll see that it’s exactly the same, word for word, as the reply CyclingTips got to a similar question.
It could be that SRAM is getting its sponsored riders to try out the shape before adding it as an option to the Red groupset – going back on what it said when it introduced Rival eTap AXS – but we’re getting into supposition here. Feel free to chip in with your own theories down below in the comments.
All this talk of next-generation SRAM Red got us thinking: what will we see included in the update that will surely come in 2023? Here are the top requests from the road.cc and off.road.cc teams…
SRAM goes 13-speed
SRAM Red, Force and Rival are all currently 12-speed systems (Apex is still 11-speed although we expect to see an update in 2023, including the introduction of electronic shifting) so will we see an extra sprocket?
We’ve not seen any patents to suggest this will happen (and we spend an unhealthy amount of time reading patents) but an extra sprocket would be the most obvious update.
Campagnolo is at 13-speed with its gravel-specific Ekar groupset and SRAM likes to make its road groupsets appealing to the gravel market too. An extra sprocket makes a big difference to a 1x setup so we’d say 13-speed SRAM Red is a distinct possibility in 2023, but we only want it if SRAM can make it fit on the existing XDR free hub.
Streamline those derailleurs
SRAM’s eTap AXS front and rear derailleurs are chunkier than their Shimano and Campagnolo counterparts, partly because each one carries its own battery – a necessity for a fully wireless system. Shimano and Campag systems are powered by batteries hidden within the frame.
There’s no way that SRAM is going to start using an internal battery – a fully wireless system is its biggest USP – but battery tech is improving constantly. Maybe SRAM can reduce the size of those batteries now.
That said, offoad.cc contributor Matt Page said, “If they slim the battery down, they really, really need to keep the connection the same. It would be so annoying if they changed it.”
Yes, we want the moon on a stick.
Longer battery life
If we can’t have smaller batteries, we’d like longer life from batteries of the existing size. SRAM reckons you currently get about 60 riding hours on a full charge.
As with anything else, you get used to charging the derailleur batteries, but a greater interval between charges would be welcome.
Greater customisation of shifting
You can already customise the shift actions of SRAM AXS controllers to a limited extent via the AXS Mobile App, but it would be useful to have a greater degree of customisation.
At the moment you can alter which lever moves the rear derailleur in each direction but it would be cool to have more control, perhaps by following Shimano’s example and having a button (or buttons) hidden under the hood. That would allow you to move the rear derailleur in both directions with the same hand, or to move the front derailleur one-handed.
Faster shifting, especially at the front
We’d like next-generation SRAM Red to have quicker shifting. It has never been particularly fast, especially at the front, whereas the latest version of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 is quicker than ever so the difference has become more obvious.
You get used to the pace of SRAM’s front derailleur shifting but we still see it as a downside.
Better hoods with less bulk around the reservoirs… maybe
This is the subject that started our discussion, but it’s not clear-cut.
Aaron Borrill, editor of off.road.cc (he’s a roadie too), would prefer slimmed-down hoods, but Matt Page says: “I actually prefer the hoods on Force/Red to Rival which is slimmer. I find the broad shape good and more supportive. The higher front section is useful off-road, giving a little more support.”
Shift-brake lever shape is one of those things that comes down to personal preference.
What features would you like to see included in SRAM's next Red eTap AXS groupset?
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