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Road Racing

Life with SRAM Red 2012: Top-tier group easily surpasses previous offerings

SRAM Red 2012 is a great option and may be the quietest group on the market

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In case you haven’t noticed, SRAM launched its new Red 2012 group in February. Caley Fretz reported on the festivities from Mallorca and also wrote several follow up pieces, including one on compatibility with older SRAM parts.

This article is about how the parts work after the glimmer of “newness” has worn off. I’ve ridden Red 2012 on my personal Harvey Cycle Works road bike for the past several months and maintained it on my girlfriend’s Cannondale Evo Six Women’s. So far, all is going well. Red 2012 certainly takes SRAM’s top road group to a new level. But how does it compare to the competition?

The good

For the most part, SRAM’s new Red group is a big improvement over the previous generation. I like the ergonomics of the shifter better and adjusting reach on the brake and shift levers is easier than before. The whole system runs much quieter thanks to the new cassette and shifting is vastly improved, even when used with old SRAM and Rotor rings.

Shift-lever feel, with properly installed and maintained cables, is a bit ruddier than previous SRAM, and I mean that in a good way. It feels robust. You are sure of each shift. For those new to SRAM DoubleTap, the new Red will decrease the learning curve of DoubleTap shifting.

The great

The Yaw system front derailleur is a very clever design — perhaps a bit too clever, as it takes some serious instruction reading the first time one sets it up (SRAM also has a video that helps). But after figuring out how to install and adjust it, the shifting is wonderful. The new four-arm crank and all-new chainrings are a marked improvement over previous generations. It now takes less force than before to shift and whether going to the larger or smaller rings, the shifting is seamless.

Even with Rotor rings (not really recommended by SRAM), I experienced perfect front shifting. Part of that is also thanks to the integrated chain catcher. The catcher is very elegant, secured to the fixing bolt of the front derailleur and adjusted with a small setscrew. Making adjustments is very easy, but it’s something you’ll really only have to do if you change the size of chainrings or cassettes.

The ergonomics of the brake levers is improved over the previous SRAM shape. They feel better in the hand than Shimano’s mechanical groups and Campagnolo’s offerings. SRAM includes a set of gel inserts that help soften the transition from hood to bar and they’re simply fantastic. Each set of shifters comes with two sets, made for use with either front-of-bar or back-of-bar routing of the shift cable.

The Achilles heel

The brakes are not what I thought they would be. I tinkered with brake pads and rim combinations and never got them to perform they way I would have liked. I think SRAM may have gotten a bit carried away in the weight department when designing them. When it comes to stopping power I think Shimano still outperforms SRAM.

What’s great about the new Red brakes is how they handle the latest generation of wide rims. I also like the quick-release adjuster on the brakes. It’s a nice design with indented travel that allows a rider with several wheelsets to adjust for wider rims very easily. It would also allow a rider on a long, wet ride or race to easily compensate for pad wear if using carbon wheels.

What next?

With both compact and standard cranks on offer and cassettes from 11-23 to 11-28, Red has most cyclists covered. But for those that enjoy even lower gearing (and I’m one of them when riding dirt climbs), SRAM WiFli will be offered in Force and Red derailleurs.

Currently you can pair an XX 11-32 cassette with Rival’s WiFli rear derailleur for a pretty light setup, but SRAM has a Red cassette in the works with its rubber dampers for quieter running.

The Reve Tour, six women who rode the entire 2012 Tour de France route one day ahead of the pro men, were some of the first to get the new Red WiFli rear derailleurs. Paired with XX cassettes, they worked well, with no reported problems.

The WiFli rear derailleur is both a little heavier and a little more expensive than its short-caged brother — 167 grams and $380 compared to 145 grams and $358. For those looking for more fun in the hills, that is weight worth carrying and money worth spending if they’re in search of an ultralight climbing machine.

SRAM has also released a new Red 2012 version of its Quarq power meter crank. Available in both standard and compact, the new crank uses Red 2012 rings and therefore has a four-arm spider.

In summary

Life with SRAM Red 2012 is good. I love the ergonomics of the new shifter and the aesthetics of the entire group. The drivetrain runs quieter than you realize, something I noticed when hopping on other bikes. While the front derailleur is tricky to adjust at first, taking the time to do it properly leads to fantastic front shifting.

With more options than ever, including compact, WiFli and power meters, SRAM has delivered a great top-tier group that easily surpasses its previous offerings. What is possibly more impressive is that SRAM has reached this level after only six years of making road components. Both Shimano and Campagnolo have been at it for considerably longer.

In April 2006, Lennard Zinn, after riding DoubleTap for the first time, wrote that, “It not only looks like the two-party system in road components may be over, but that the SRAM group is no Nader-like spoiler only thwarting the chances of one to the benefit of the other. SRAM looks poised to take market share from both Shimano and Campagnolo, selling to those looking for another option as well as those seeking the lightest weight and/or highest performing.” Six years later, SRAM has done exactly what Zinn predicted, effectively marginalizing Campagnolo in the process.

At $2,575, SRAM Red 2012 isn’t cheap, but performance doesn’t come easily. For essentially the same money, one can buy Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 group, but with a weight penalty. You can also find Shimano’s mechanical 7900 Dura-Ace group for the same money. Soon, Shimano’s 9000 mechanical group will become available for $2,700, but you’ll likely have to add the cost of new 11-speed compatible wheels to that price tag.

For this reviewer, that all adds up to SRAM Red 2012 as a great option, fully in the hunt among its competitors. If you’re already a SRAM fan, you’ll really enjoy the upgrades to Red 2012. If you’re new to SRAM, or didn’t like DoubleTap before, give Red 2012 a test ride. Shifter feel is much more distinct than before.

And on top of all that, Red may be the quietest group on the market, something this mechanic’s ear really appreciates.


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