SRAM brought out the new Force and Rival groupsets a while back [read our Review of the Force groupset here], and the Saunier Duval ProTour team used it on their Scott bikes to great effect last season. Now SRAM have released the SRAM Red group set and as well as Saunier Duval, the new Astana team will be using the Red group on their Trek Madone frames for the 2008 season as well.
We managed to get a sneak preview and a short ride on an Astana team bike recently when they were in Spain for their first training camp.
First of all it’s great to have another choice other than Campagnolo and Shimano and the SRAM Red is a group that is as competitive as Record or Dura—Ace: it’s light; it looks good; and it works like a dream – once you get used to it that is!
Unlike their competitors, the SRAM shifters only use one lever to change gear. As you all know, Shimano use the brake lever and an extra lever behind the brake lever, whereas Campagnolo use a lever on the side of the body of the brake and a lever behind the brake lever. Both systems use one lever to go up the gears and another to come back down.
The SRAM “Double Tap” system uses the same lever, behind the brake lever, to go up and to go down. It’s different, but after an hour or so it became second nature.
First the look of the lever is similar to Campagnolo Record, but without the small lever on the inside of the body, also the neat little Red logo’s on the black lever makes these levers standout from the bunch.
Probably the best facet of the levers, after the “Double Tap” function, would be the adjustable reach on the brake lever and gear lever to suit your hand size and the reach of your fingers.
You first adjust the gear lever, then the brake lever to your needs. This is a great function that all brake lever / shifters should have. Lots of carbon is involved to make the RED shifters 10% lighter than the Force shifters.
here is also a choice of cable routing which is great if you own bars with a tight bend for the cabling at the back of the bars, and with the Red you can have the cables at the front.
The carbon cranks are also similar to the Campagnolo set in the way it looks, apart from the Red logo.
The set weighs in at a feather light 760 grams for the full set and the bottom bracket uses Black Box Ceramic bearings for a smooth, resistance free, pedaling.
The cranks come in six different lengths and three chain ring combinations, 53/39 and compact 50/36 and 50/34, and are made of 7075-T6 aluminum and alloy fixing bolts.
The rear derailleur is very light weight and works with great precision; the weight is saved by the use of carbon and titanium.
The pulleys have ceramic bearings and the cage is made of carbon, brining the weight down to only 153 grams and the mechanism will take a maximum 28 tooth sprocket.
The front derailleur has a hardened titanium cage onto the alloy body and now has more adjustability due to the fine tune on the left lever, more like the Campagnolo small clicks.
Alan Buttler, the Astana Mechanic and previously with Discovery and U.S. Postal teams, thought the rear mech the best bit of componentry he had seen for a long time, so with his experience, if he says it’s good it must be good.
The sprocket cassette is a wonderful piece of engineering: light, stiff and very hard. In fact everything you want from a cassette, it’s also Red on the inside, so it’s very visible.
The cassette is machined out of a solid block of Chromo-steel that has been heat treated and then shaped by CNC methods. You don’t need to understand it, but when you see one it’s like no other cassette you have ever seen and weighs in at only 160 grams.
When I was at the Astana camp the team were using Shimano cassettes and chains as they were waiting for the gear ratios that they needed, otherwise they would have been on it.
SRAM chains have always been amongst the best, they have the “Power Lock” connecting link which is secure and so much easier than any other system. The pins are hollow for weight saving and strength, top chain.
When I looked at the Force and Rival group sets I didn’t much like the look of the brakes and well, I still don’t!
Don’t get me wrong here, they work brilliantly, with a sharp feel like Shimano, but that ‘skeletonized’ look I just can’t get used to, and now I have another reason not to like them, they are silver (which is OK), but with all that black carbon on all the other bits, then the brakes should be black.
I guess the main thing is that they work, which when it comes to stopping that’s very important. They also look very much like the Campagnolo cut away design – and I don’t much like the look of them either.
How does it Ride?
Obviously I was riding a team Trek Madone, the same bike as Tour winner Alberto Contador rides – in fact it was his spare bike, so you can’t get better than that!
The bike felt great as it also was fitted with Bontrager wheels.
The shifters took a little to get used too, but with more practice you wouldn’t have to think about it, it would become second nature changing gear, the gear change is precise and accurate, without any slips or miss changes.
The brakes are very sharp compared to the Campagnolo Record that I am used too.
The chainset doesn’t hit your ankle and looks good too.
Everything else felt as only a top class race bike should, no complaints (except those silver brakes should be black).
Overall I would say the SRAM Red group compares very well with Shimano Dura-Ace and Campagnolo Record, if two of the best teams on the planet use it and are successful and happy then you don’t need to worry.
This review was originally written for www.bikecyclingreviews.com. Check it out if you want to see the original work and some different photos of the group set.