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SRAM Apex XPLR AXS first ride review - premium groupset at a pleasing price point

SRAM brings electronic shifting to the people with no compromise on performance, quality and pricing

SRAM is one of the most innovative cycling component companies in the world having pioneered both the Grip Shift and 1x drivetrain concept, changing the way we consume and think about off-road-specific shifting solutions. Having recently overhauled its Force line of groupsets, the American brand turned its sights to its fourth-tier Apex range in a bid to revolutionise the entry level and bring AXS electronic shifting to the core of the market - a clever play considering the current cost of living crisis.

> New SRAM Force AXS first ride review — is it any good?

Apex has always represented the entry-level side of the spectrum but never felt any less functional than its higher-tiered stablemates and I’m talking from personal experience with the product here. The Apex moniker accounts for a fair chunk of SRAM’s business and ensuring it stays relevant and on-trend in the current market and economic climate was the driving force behind the new iteration we got to sample on the pristine gravel roads of Galena, Illinois. 

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Dubbed E-01 Series, Apex AXS represents a major turning point in the way entry-level components are now perceived but SRAM hasn’t forgotten about the purists and diehards who still crave the tactility of the analogue mechanical experience. Read our SRAM Apex mechanical first ride review over at off.road.cc to find out more about the cable-actuated derivative.

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Designed using tech and learnings from SRAM’s more premium groupset offerings, Apex AXS is a culmination of eight years' worth of research and development, and the result seamlessly aligns with SRAM’s forward-thinking approach of developing a holistic product ecosystem. 

Here’s everything we know and think about SRAM Apex AXS.

Premium, not precious

Premium, not precious: those three words best describe SRAM Apex AXS, and I mean that with all respect. Apex AXS was never designed to sit on the top rungs of SRAM’s product offering but rather operate as a gateway into the SRAM AXS ecosystem, bringing electronic shifting to the core of the market. Apex allows the user to progress through the range with the focus here very much hinging on customer retention. SRAM says, “Apex is well suited to new riders in terms of features and price points for cyclists to become lifetime enthusiasts.”

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As a result, SRAM Apex AXS benefits from a sophisticated visual application not too dissimilar to what’s found on Rival. In fact, the only real difference between Apex and Rival comes in the form of the material in the derailleur cage (we’ll get into that a bit later), pulley wheel bearings, paint finish and aesthetic. It all looks very refined and the SRAM branding and design treatment help bolster the groupset’s perceived quality. It gets a new NX-level Apex flat-top chain but eschews a nickel-chrome coating for a polished finish which, according to SRAM, is identical in function and durability to that of Rival.

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Visually, the controls utilise the same slimmed down hood shape of Rival and comfortable ergonomic interface. Going deeper into the disparities, Apex uses a stamped brake lever as opposed to the forged unit used on Force which is a purely cosmetic difference and does nothing to affect useability.

To soar or explore

The Apex AXS range is available in two configurations - Eagle or XPLR, and which one you choose will come down to the riding and terrain you most prefer. While our time was spent exclusively testing the Apex XPLR AXS based purely on the topography of our test routes, Apex AXS Eagle will suit those who ride more technical routes with steeper climbs and lots of singletrack. 

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Both Eagle and XPLR share the same Apex 1 Wide crankset and drop-bar control layout - there’s also an MTB-style flat-bar brake lever arrangement (S300 flat bar brakes) available for both Apex AXS and Apex mechanical.

The crank arms - ranging from 160-175mm - are crafted from aluminium and utilise a lightweight DUB spindle and direct-mount X-SYNC chainrings that promote an optimised, wider chain line which also plays nicely with wider tyres. OEM chainrings are available in sizes ranging from 38-42T and feature the company’s widely employed direct-mount eight-bolt interface.

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A 40T steel chainring is standard issue on all OEM builds and differs from Rival only by way of finish, colour and laser etch detailing. If you want to go bigger, there’s a 44T and 46T chainring available as an aftermarket option.

The main differences between the two drivetrain configurations come in the form of the chain and what’s happening at the rear, namely the derailleurs and cassettes. The X1 Eagle AXS rear mech is compatible with all Eagle drivetrain cassettes, 50T and 52T, and operates with a traditional 12-speed or Eagle drivetrain chain.

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Like its MTB counterparts, X1 Eagle gets the overload clutch feature and cage lock functionality. The derailleur itself is constructed to GX level, meaning it gets the same cage material, pulley wheels and bearing assembly. The standard 11-50T cassette is built to NX level so it’s not the lightest around but it is a robust unit that should go the distance. Both the Eagle and XLPR cassettes will fit a traditional 11-speed HG-style driver body for broader integration (they are not XDR compatible).

Apex XPLR AXS can be had in one of three cassette options: 11-44T, 10-44T or 10-36T. The derailleur doesn’t feature a cage lock but does employ a spring-loaded clutch for secure chain management over all terrain and surfaces. The OEM-spec 12-speed 11-44T cassette has a decent enough gearing spread to ensure progress is adequate in almost all situations, even when the gradient gets a bit nasty.

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Of course, there’s a power meter option available, too - the same Quarq DUB-PWR spindle-based unit that we’ve seen on Rival 1x. It will cost around $250 (which converts to about £200) and will add a scant 40g to the total weight of your bike. As a spindle-based data harvester, power is measured on one side only but still provides the accuracy of spider-based power meters, according to SRAM. The strain gauges are housed within the left crank arm or spindle side, while the battery hardware plugs into the spindle from the drive side. It’s an elegant and simple design which we’ve truly appreciated over the years. 

In terms of complete groupset weights, the Apex XPLR AXS tips the scales at 2,900g, while AXS Eagle comes in at  3,191g.

Riding impression

As far as first impressions go, the SRAM Apex XPLR AXS groupset is simply superb, to such an extent that it doesn’t feel like an entry-level option. The shifting is as precise as Rival, which makes them hard to separate in terms of functionality. There’s no real weight disparity between Apex and Rival either - about 124g in favour of the latter - with the only difference being aesthetics.

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The brake levers are reach adjustable and the overall ergonomics are geared towards comfort. The new textured hood interface feels great and grippy and provides confidence when riding out of the drops - no slipping here. It’s also much easier to brake from the hoods which allow riders to mix up their hand positions and avoid fatigue during long stretches and descents.

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The brakes are really good and powerful, allowing for controlled stopping power and pin-point modulation. The confidence this instils in the rider means descents can be taken faster allowing more speed to be carried through corners. While bereft of SRAM’s Bleeding Edge technology, the brakes are a brand-new flat-mount version of the Level caliper design, the only difference being the bleeding process which follows the same method as 11-speed HRD controls. Going this route was purely a cost-saving measure.

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On the test ride, I got to sample the Apex XPLR AXS groupset, a set-up that will appease those who enjoy stitching together a meld of Tarmac and gravel. While there are three 12-speed cassette configurations available including a 10-44T and 10-36T, my Cervelo Aspero test bike was fitted with an 11-44T. Sure, it loses the extra top-end afforded by 10T but it didn’t really find myself in need of an extra gear. If your local training loop comprises fast, rolling terrain you can always fit a larger chainring or you could opt for the 10-44T cassette. Personally, I loved the gearing spread afforded by the 40T, 11-44T combination and felt it offered enough variation to keep things swift. The rhetoric behind the 11-44T cassette is to give riders the 11-speed feel in a 12-speed package.

Early verdict, pricing and availability

Based on my initial impressions, SRAM’s Apex AXS has what it takes - both from a performance and pricing point of view - to rake in a slew of new customers as well as sate the requirements of existing ones; it’s that good. While SRAM hasn’t pigeonholed Apex AXS as a discipline-specific groupset, it’s rather left it open to interpretation meaning it will find favour with gravel riders, those of the all-road persuasion, bikepackers and mountain bikers moving into the gravel space. The fact it can cater for the broader off-road demographic is a unique selling point and something that will bring many new customers to the brand.

From a pricing perspective, SRAM Apex AXS will also appeal to the smart spender which is a very clever move given the current economic climate. In terms of pricing and retail availability, a SRAM Apex XPLR AXS groupset will set you back £1,227 /  $1,195 / €1,371, while SRAM AXS Eagle comes in at £1,299  / $1,292 / €1,456. Both groupsets are available right now in both OEM and aftermarket configurations. 

Tech specs

SRAM Apex XPLR AXS
Price: £1,227 /  $1,195 / €1,371
Shifting: Wireless
Braking: Hydraulic disc
Speeds: 1x12
Weight: 2,900g
Cranks: Aluminium, 160mm - 175mm
Chainrings 1x: 38T, 40T, 42T (44T,46T aftermarket)
Cassette: 11-44T, 10-44T, 10-36T

SRAM Apex AXS Eagle
Price: £1,299  / $1,292 / €1,456
Shifting: Wireless
Braking: Hydraulic disc
Speeds: 1x12
Weight: 3,191g
Cranks: Aluminium, 160mm - 175mm
Chainrings 1x: 38T, 40T, 42T (44T,46T aftermarket)
Cassette: 11- 50T, 10-50T, and 10-52T

Aaron is the editor of off-road.cc. He completed his BA honours at the University of Cape Town before embarking on a career in journalism. As the former tech editor of Cyclingnews and Bike Perfect, digital editor of Bicycling magazine and associate editor of TopCar, he's travelled the world writing about bikes and anything with wheels for the past 17 years. A competitive racer and Stravaholic, he’s twice ridden the Cape Epic, raced nearly every mountain bike stage race in South Africa and completed the Haute Route Alps. He's also a national-level time triallist and eSports racer, too - having captained South Africa at both the 2022 and 2023 UCI Cycling eSports World Championships. 

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14 comments

Avatar
quiff | 9 months ago
0 likes

I've always thought it an odd choice to call their entry level product "Apex".   

Avatar
Secret_squirrel replied to quiff | 9 months ago
0 likes

Should be Nadir.  Or possibly Trench.

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mtbtomo | 10 months ago
2 likes

Whilst I can afford these kinds of groupsets and will probably buy more electronic groupsets in future contributing to the spiralling prices, I can't help but feel electronic groupsets are disproportionately priced regardless. Even discounted, the costs are crazy. How much extra should a couple of batteries (or one in the case of 1x), motor(s) and some circuitry cost? Along with knocking off some complexity of construction for less moving mechanical parts in the shifter.

Avatar
cyclisto | 10 months ago
0 likes

I am a bit of the bicycle market after inflation but £1,227 seems like a good price. For a whole great new bicycle.

I would like to see reviews on cheaper options like Microshift and Sensah, that are more reasonably priced.

Avatar
Secret_squirrel | 10 months ago
2 likes

So basically the compromise is that you can get cheaper than Rival but only if you give up the front mech?

Given that Rival AXS has a retail of £1470 - happen to think that I'd rather pay £250 more for a front mech and the next groupset "up".

Avatar
Off the back | 10 months ago
4 likes

End of the day its still £1227 for a 4th tier groupset. Not exactly aimed at the core market as much as they make it sound. Complete Sram Force groupset can be found for that.

https://www.chainreactioncycles.com/p/sram-force-etap-axs-hrd-1x12sp-road-groupset

https://www.chainreactioncycles.com/p/sram-force1-12-speed-chainset

https://www.chainreactioncycles.com/p/sram-xg-1250-12-speed-cassette?color=silver&cassetteTeeth=10-30t

Total circa a grand

Am I missing something?

Avatar
Dicklexic replied to Off the back | 10 months ago
4 likes

Off the back wrote:

Am I missing something?

Yeah a chain. 

And also the fact that the article above quotes the RRP for the new groupset, yet the RRP for the Force stuff you posted links to is in the region of £2k. My point being that we all know that RRP is rarely applicable when it comes to groupsets. If the new Apex AXS stuff gets discounted to a similar extent, then it should soon be well under a grand for the whole lot. Pretty good for those that really want to swap to electronic shifting without the big outlay.

Avatar
Off the back replied to Dicklexic | 10 months ago
0 likes

That's one hell of an expensive chain 🤣

I get what you're saying about discounting but Force 1x12 has been around a while so you expect it to be discounted.so If it's below the RRP of a new product that's got nowhere really to go price wise. Otherwise Sram are selling it at a loss surely . If they are suggesting it's more at launch than a groupset 2 tiers above it, they must know shops are selling their stuff well below what  it was a few years ago 

Avatar
fukawitribe replied to Off the back | 10 months ago
0 likes

Welcome to the World. This happens all the time, and it's not restricted to this groupset, or SRAM, or bicycles. This surely can't be the first time you've noticed it ?

Avatar
Off the back replied to fukawitribe | 10 months ago
1 like

Obviously it happens all the time, but it's not ususlly as noticeable as this. I have seen loads of shops selling Force for much less than its RRP. I can't see Sram selling the Apex for much less than it's priced at now. 

Avatar
fukawitribe replied to Off the back | 10 months ago
0 likes

Off the back wrote:

Obviously it happens all the time, but it's not ususlly as noticeable as this. I have seen loads of shops selling Force for much less than its RRP. I can't see Sram selling the Apex for much less than it's priced at now. 

Initially, no - then few months down the line it'll probably  follow the same pricing profile as almost every other bit of kit. It's also nearly always as noticeable as this, and equally nearly always someone posts a comparison of a discounted, previously released thing and a new thing at RRP. Kind of predictable, kind of dull.

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Secret_squirrel replied to Dicklexic | 10 months ago
0 likes

Dicklexic wrote:

Pretty good for those that really want to swap to 1x and electronic shifting without the big outlay.

FTFY.

Avatar
Velophaart_95 replied to Off the back | 10 months ago
1 like

You're not the only one. Over £1,000 for a 4th tier, I'll repeat that, a 4th tier groupset......double what it should really be.

 

Avatar
Rich_cb replied to Velophaart_95 | 10 months ago
0 likes

I'd be very surprised if you couldn't pick this groupset up for around £600 within a year.

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