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Will wireless shifting become the norm? SRAM Apex eTap groupset is on the way

Fourth-tier road/gravel groupset from US brand is set to offer wireless electronic shifting in 2023

SRAM’s fourth-tier Apex groupset will follow Red, Force and Rival in offering eTap electronic shifting according to documents filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the past few days.

Forms of wireless communication are licensed by the FCC in the US, and although most of the documents SRAM has submitted are currently confidential, others are free for the public to access.

This drawing (main pic) showing the label format and location of a shifter, for example, is labelled ‘Apex’. The shifter wouldn’t need to be filed with the FCC unless it was communicating wirelessly. Other documents provide Bluetooth and Airea test reports. Airea is the encrypted wireless communication protocol that SRAM uses for its existing eTap components.

Unfortunately for us, the photographs of the products and the user manuals have been granted short-term confidentiality. The titles of the user manuals refer to ‘eTap AXS’ – the same name that SRAM uses to refer to technology from higher up the range so it’s almost certain that SRAM plans to trickle existing tech down.

SRAM first announced eTap wireless shifting back in 2015 – SRAM Red eTap. The tech has been updated since then and extended to the Force and Rival groupsets, but the shifters have always communicated wirelessly and the derailleurs have always been powered independently, each with its own rechargeable battery.

SRAM eTap AXS, pronounced ‘access’, is an update of the original eTap system. Riders can mix wireless components from its different groupsets, see battery status, change component behaviour, personalise controls, get maintenance reminders, and update the firmware.

Entry-level Apex has been something of a poor relation in SRAM’s range over recent years. It was updated in 2016, going from 10-speed to 11-speed, but SRAM has moved all of its other road groupsets up to 12-speed since then. Apex is well overdue some attention.

2020 SRAM Force AXS 12-spd groupset - 1.jpg

Plus, as mentioned above, Red, Force (above) and Rival are all available with electronic shifting, and that’s the area of the market where all the action has been lately. That said, Force and Rival are still available with mechanical shifting too, and it’s likely the same will be true of Apex.

Apart from electronic shifting, what is the SRAM Apex eTap AXS groupset likely to offer? A move to 12-speed is extremely likely given that SRAM has already done the design work for its higher-level groupsets. An extra sprocket would be a point of difference from Tiagra, Shimano’s fourth-tier road groupset. Tiagra is still 10-speed although that’s likely to change in the next revamp (the last update was in 2019).

Beyond that, it’s a question of how much of Rival’s technology SRAM is willing and able to trickle down to Apex eTap AXS. Rival’s electronics are exactly the same as those of Red and Force – the same motors, switches, batteries, and so on – so it’ll be interesting to see if all of that continues to Apex.

Of course, when it introduced Rival eTap AXS, SRAM had to make changes to reduce the price. For example, the rear derailleur was given a spring clutch rather than the Orbit fluid damper system found on Red and Force, and you can't add auxiliary remote shift buttons to the normal drop-bar shifters. There are likely to be similar cost-saving tweaks with SRAM Apex eTap AXS.

SRAM also had to use cheaper materials for some Rival eTap AXS components. The cranks are aluminium rather than carbon, for instance. You’re unlikely to find much carbon fibre used in Apex eTap AXS components. Inevitably, the cheaper materials will increase weight.

> Read our review of the SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupset

Hydraulic disc brakes are a given – they’re already included in SRAM’S Apex 1 groupset – but will we see a power meter? The Rival AXS power meter (below) uses unique tech so it would make sense for SRAM to transfer it over in order to get the most from its R&D costs – but that’s pure guesswork.

2021 SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupset - front mech and crank.jpgSRAM’s formula for making its electronic road groupsets also suitable for gravel is also likely to continue. Shimano offers GRX and Campagnolo has Ekar specifically for gravel, but SRAM offers gravel-friendly options within Red, Force and Rival and there’s no reason for that to change.

In terms of pricing, SRAM Apex eTap AXS will be cheaper than Rival eTap AXS. You can find SRAM Rival eTap AXS on bikes like the £2,800 Boardman SLR 9.4 Disc Carbon, although that price is unusually low. At £5,050, the Trek Domane SL 6 is a more typical price.

When is SRAM Apex eTap AXS likely to be launched? Those manuals and photographs filed with the FCC (above) are confidential for six months – until 28 May 2023 – so we’re guessing that we’ll hear something officially in the first half of next year.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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