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So far it’s a solo ride.

12 Speeds of Red: First Ride on SRAM's new RED AXS Group

Derek Yarra |

You may have seen snippets and rumors of information or spy photos from the pits of pro tour races. You've probably heard your friends mention it on the group ride, or even asked your local mechanic about it. In the age of the internet, product leaks are pretty hard escape. But today the cat is out of the bag and the rumor mill ends, as SRAM has officially launched the newest Red drivetrain, along with the rest of their new AXS wireless platform. 

sram red axs first ride lifestyle full bike

The drivetrain gets a complete facelift with a laundry list of updates. A brand new crankset with a selection of new chainring combinations. Refined levers with improved ergonomics and grip. A cassette that spans twelve cogs and a new freehub to support it. A completely new chain with a flat-top haircut. Even the rear derailleur sees a new hydraulic damper, an evolution of the clutch mechanism found on their 1x systems.

sram axs red launch bike profile

While we could geek out forever getting into the minutiae of the tech specs and numbers, we wanted to get to the core of what really matters. Do any of these improvements amount to any real difference in the ride? We set up elite athlete Mary Robbins on a bike with the new drive train and sent her out to put it to the test. She's been riding a Dogma equipped with the previous gen eTap (albeit a rim brake equipped one), perfect to come back with an apples-to-apples review. 

So after a few days of riding on her Marin County training grounds, what did she think?

sram axs red launch levers
Our first question was what she noticed the most on the new group.

The biggest change for me was the gearing. By moving to 12-speeds, SRAM has completely re-vamped gearing, and the combination of smaller chainrings up front and more range in the rear cassette make this build incredibly versatile. It’s built for everything—climbing, descending, and riding on the flats.

Overall, the gearing feels slightly more efficient, making terrain management easier, and allowing the rider to shift with more fluidity. The % change between gears on the 10x33 is technically smaller, so each shift is less of a jump between gears. This should be a slight improvement to riding efficiency and speed, in theory, but you really can feel it on the road.

While climbing, I was able to ‘spin’ at a higher cadence than before, even going up some pitchy ascents. The new 48x35 option gives you plenty of range to climb the steeper sections while staying seated, which was not always an option for me before. While descending, the gearing is equally impressive (to my surprise). In the big ring, the bike rides a bit more like a 52 or 53x36, and I never really spun out, even on the sharp descents or riding the flats with a tailwind.

sram axs red launch cassette

What about the shifting itself? Did it feel any better, faster? Any difference in feel switching from the rim brake levers to disc?

As for feel, the first difference in the shifting interaction came when I hopped on the bike and felt the hoods, which are more upright and ‘secure’ than the rim brake hoods I was riding before. The shifters have been slightly re-engineered from the first generation, and I noticed a subtle change to the feel and texture of the shifters, which I liked. At first, the disc hoods felt more sporty and less sleek than the rim version but the more I rode, the more I appreciated the shape, especially for climbing and descending.

In terms of speed, the shifting felt quicker on AXS than the first generation E-Tap, by a small margin. It is most noticeable using the multi-shift function, which quickly ‘jumps’ 3 gears when you hold the shifter. It took me a moment to adjust my reaction time to this, but once I got it, it was very intuitive. Shifting the front derailleur is a crisp experience! The chain felt like there was more tension and less slack no matter what the gearing, which was a nice improvement. I felt like there was never a risk of a dropped chain, and that has always been a problem with other component groups.

sram red axs launch chainrings crank

Let's face it, in the world of high performance bikes, aesthetics play a huge role. Any thoughts on the looks?

Let me start by saying that I love the aesthetics, and they are definitely eye-catching. Looks will be important to many people, but I think AXS really shines in terms of functionality—the gearing, shifting, and feel are big improvements and should make for faster riding. That being said, the AXS aesthetics are sporty, edgy, and ‘sharp’ overall. It was clearly designed with an eye on design as well as function.

The chain redesign really caught my eye first because it looks ‘straighter’ than a normal chain. I think they call this chain asymmetric, because it is reinforced around the outward-facing edge and thinner on the underside. From the side, it looks like an unbroken line, and this is a cool design element. The Quarq Power Meter, was redesigned with slimmer crank arms and a more streamlined profile than any other Quarq I have seen. I’ve been riding Quarq for 7 years, and love this new release. The black Quarq, paired with chrome chain rings, and black on the rear derailleur; the overall aesthetic keeps up with SRAM’s style.

sram red axs launch brakes

After riding back to back, any stance on rim vs disc brakes?

Rim. However this was my second time riding disc brakes, so I am still very new to the technology. Disc definitely has benefits, many of which I felt on my first few rides. On steep descents, in the rain, and on off-road or muddy conditions, disc really shines. This kept me safe while descending in some dicey conditions with rain, wind, and debris. I just find the feel of rim is so much more natural. I wouldn’t mind having one of each someday!


sram red acs launch derailleur

Any final thoughts after testing the new group?

It was so fun to ride the new SRAM E-Tap AXS component group, and compare the two drivetrains back-to-back. Even though I only rode the new E-Tap AXS a few times, I came to really appreciate the subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes to the group. I would say the changes as a whole are significant, spanning all elements of design and function. From gearing changes, to redesigned hoods and shifters, changes to the ‘feel’ and pace of shifting, and a huge aesthetic revamp—SRAM has very thoughtfully and intelligently re-designed their E-Tap line.

All of these features were really fun to test, and I enjoyed experimenting with the bike all over Marin. I do think the changes will improve each rider’s interaction with the bike; for me, they certainly did. Bottom line: the longer I rode the new E-Tap, the more I loved it, and the harder it was to give the bike back on Monday.

And there you have it, some valuable insights from a working class pro athlete. With all the hype and rumors that have been floating around about this group the past season, we're quite pleased to see that the goods really deliver. The SRAM Red AXS is available now and we've already some on the way for some fresh bike builds you'll see very soon. If you're ready to make the upgrade or have been waiting for the drivetrain to drop to start a new build, we're always happy to help and only a quick call or email away. 

Of course, a big thanks to Mary for putting the groupset through the ringer and offering up her feedback. Stay tuned. You'll be seeing a lot more of her around here soon... 
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