Having launched new Red just about a year ago, the news that SRAM has chosen to update its range-topping Red groupset must come as a bit of a blow for those who bought the 2013 version. Sadly, such is the pace of groupset innovation at the moment.
For those looking to invest, SRAM has brought plenty to the party for 2014. One could easily imagine that it would have been possible to drip feed it out, but no – both Red 22 and Force 22 groupsets along with hydraulic rim and disc brakes for both 10 and 11-speed will all arrive at once.
From the outset it’s clear that SRAM has managed to juggle the wants and needs of the updated groupset with the requirements of the new hydraulic road disc brake and have tried to minimise the complication for customers by adding an 11th gear – which has come with its own set of technical challenges – without changing any of the functions or ergonomics in the drivetrain.
The result is simply brilliant. Using the standard Red 22 version, everything feels just the same as the previous 10-speed groupset, but somehow just a little slicker. It’s probably easiest to describe the improvements as being the difference between your current, dirty bike and when it’s had a jolly good clean – it just all works that little bit more sweetly.
The standard and Hydro versions of the shifter have exactly the same feel from the hoods. It’s only when you come to pull on the brake lever of the Hydro version or glance down at the extra centimetre of hood that’s sticking out in front of your hand that you notice any discernible difference.
With a smooth hydraulic action, the brake lever is both light in action and positive at the same time, giving you a secure feeling through your fingertips. As you might expect, the feeling is distinctly different to that of a cable operated brake. Not only is the lever action lighter and smoother, but it also gives a definite feeling of resistance when the pads hit the disc, which continues through the lever travel as the braking force increases
For the first few miles of the ride I was encouraged to drag the front brake slightly to get a little build-up on the disc. Once the pads were bedded-in, the initial bite was superb. Throughout the lever stroke, the high level of feel made it easy to gauge how much braking force was being applied and how much more was yet to come – giving me the confidence to give the lever a really good squeeze without any fears of locking the front end.
This confidence meant that I was able to leave braking later and really haul on the anchors to the point that the rear wheel lifted off the ground – they’ve certainly got some stopping power. The modulation at this point was significantly better than on a standard cable-operated caliper and was very impressive. With some big hills to test the brakes on, that hard-earned speed was easy to lose.
With either one big stop or several small ones building some heat in the system (from the friction of the pad on the disc) I couldn’t detect any fade after repeated stops. However, there did tend to be a slight pad knock against the rotor for 10 or 15 seconds after the stop as the heat dissipated.
All this hard stopping did expose one issue and that was that the axle moved slightly in the fork dropout, a known phenomenon in mountain bike circles.
The Zipp staff were quick to point out that they’d seen this before in testing and that the 303s we were using were pre-production versions with a standard axle. The finalised retail versions will have larger axle end caps, increased to 19mm to give a bigger clamped surface area on the inside of the dropout to eradicate any axle movement.
With the braking covered and the descending done, it was time to take the rolling climb back to base and this presented us with a great opportunity to test the shifting. I can’t say that I’ve ever specifically missed the 16-tooth sprocket on a 10-speed SRAM cassette, but climbing for long periods on rolling terrain is certainly best done on a cassette with single tooth increments so it was good to have a tighter selection available.
Chatting to the Red 22 engineering team, it was obvious that they had put a lot of effort into the design of this groupset. Without wanting to belittle their achievements, the extra gear was all but imperceptible. The main body of the shifter feels exactly the same under the palm of your hand with the double tap shift and brake lever sitting in exactly the same place.
In fact, the outer surface is probably the only part that hasn’t had to be changed. But the addition of that one extra gear meant the internals had to be completely reworked to get them to fit and pull the correct amount of cable for the slightly reduced movement between gears of the rear mech. Even the grease used inside the mechanism had to be altered so as not to cause conflicts.
The narrower chain brought a reworking of the front and rear mechs too – so in a sense it’s a new groupset from the ground up, it’s just that the drivetrain looks almost identical. So it’s actually a compliment that the changes are imperceptible, especially when you consider that it all feels that bit more polished than the fantastic system it supersedes with every action tangibly crisper and smoother. Hats off to SRAM, its new groupset really has stepped up a gear.
Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon
Along with needing a frame to fit the new groupset and brakes to, SRAM also needed a set of wheels, as luck would have it Zipp was able to step in. Not quite the final production version, but very close, the 303 Disc-brake wheels are the latest additions to the line-up. A clincher and tubular version are available for the new 303.
When looking into the new wheel Zipp found that the current 303 rim, which normally sees action in the cobbled Classics, was tough enough to take the strain of having the braking forces transmitted through the spokes rather than put into the rim directly but that they needed to cross the spokes. It was interesting to note that the standard Sapim CX Ray spokes were also strong enough.
The hub is also a completely new item and the early version we tested will gain a larger spacer on the axle to better grip the fork dropout. Expect to pay £2,450 for a pair of the disc-brake carbon clinchers and £2,300 for the tubular tyre version.
Specialized S-Works Roubaix disc
As a partner to SRAM, Specialized is obviously privy to what the groupset company is developing long before the rest of the world.
In the case of the road disc brakes, a slightly different approach was needed because for SRAM to be able to provide the world’s press with the opportunity to test its new groupset, someone had to make a dozen road disc-compatible bikes.
Naturally it was Specialized that came up with the goods. Nothing official was mentioned about the frames and it was apparent at the launch that we were also trying out the next generation of S-Works Roubaix. Dressed in Project Black livery, the bikes were understated but not exactly shy in announcing what they were.
With 135mm rear axle spacing (just 4mm wider than standard Red 22), the Zipp 303 Firecrest disc wheels slotted in nicely with the disc lifting into the caliper with only a little alignment required.
Out on the road the new frame rode brilliantly on the smooth tarmac. It felt alive, fast and relatively aggressive; to my mind a near-perfect sportive bike.
When the black top started to break up it was more than up to the task – thanks to the Zertz inserts – just as you’d expect from what has to be the class-defining bike for the sportive market. The last Roubaix I rode, the SL3, had a tight front end that was something of a fidget and felt reluctant to settle down and run in a straight line.
Happily, this latest version was right back on form, especially when descending over poorly finished tarmac – it felt so stable and controlled. Let’s just hope that they don’t change anything between the pre-production version I rode and the final 2014 model.
|SRAM Red 22 price list|
|RED 22 shift/brake lever set||£499.99|
|RED 22 front derailleur (Chain Spotter included)||£114.99|
|RED 22 short cage rear derailleur||£299.99|
|RED 22 crankset GXP (BB not included)||£379.99|
|RED 22 crankset BB30 (BB not included)||£415.99|
|RED Quarq 22 power meter GXP (BB not included)||£1,599.99|
|RED Quarq 22 power meter BB30 (BB not included)||£1,649.99|
|BB GXP (ceramic)||£189.99|
|BB BB30 (ceramic bearings)||£189.99|
|RED brakeset aero link front and rear||£299.99|
|Cassette XG-1190 (11-25)||£284.99|
|Chain PC Red 22 (114 links)||£49.99|
|HS1 rotor 140mm or 160mm||£34.99|
|HSX rotor 140mm or 160mm (includes ti rotor bolts)||£59.99|
|IS Bracket – 0 IS (front 160/rear 140)||£14.99|
|Disc brake pads stainless/sintered, SRAM road (one set)||£19.99|
|RED 22 shift/hydraulic disc brake (disc and bracket sold separately)||£429.99|
|RED 22 shift/hydraulic rim brake rear shift rear brake||£389.99|
|SRAM S-700 shift/hydraulic disc brake (disc and bracket sold separately)||£294.99|
|SRAM S-700 shift/hydraulic rim brake rear shift rear brake||£232.99|
This article was first published in the April 25 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!