SRAM targets gravel with lower gearing, space for wide tyres and dropper post lever

The new SRAM eTap AXS groupset comes alongside support for dropper seat posts on gravel bikes

SRAM has unveiled a new version of its Force eTap AXS groupset, with small chainrings and wide cassettes designed to help riders reach the summit – be it steep kickers off road or the long slog of a tarmac climb.

Not only has the Force eTap AXS groupset been revised to offer more lower gears and make space for wider tyres, but alongside this launch SRAM has also added dropper post compatibility to Force 1, Rival and Apex 1 groupsets.

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SRAM says these updates could benefit those heading out on the tarmac for long climbs – but most of the innovation puts a focus squarely on the gravel market, which up until now has been largely catered for by Shimano’s dedicated GRX option launched in May 2019.

Rumour has it that GRX has made up the lionshare of Shimano’s sales since its unveiling – with the majority of 2020 gravel builds adorned in the set up. It remains to be seen if SRAM’s new offering will move in on some of this territory, but the brand has demonstrated riders will enjoy a wider range of gears with the Force eTap AXS selection.

Cycling Weekly’s tech team took delivery of a bike equipped with this groupset earlier this month and will be bringing a full review in the coming weeks.

New, wide gearing

The headline addition to SRAM’s Force eTap AXS groupset is a 43/30t chainring which can be paired with a 10-36 cassette; the previous lowest gearing available was a 46/33t chainset with 10-33t at the rear.

The groupset comes with a new wide front derailleur. Like Shimano’s GRX groupset, this allows for greater tyre clearance as rubber continues to expand for those venturing off road.

Previously, some riders were opting to mix it up with SRAM AXS road components paired with the off-road Eagle AXS kit, but the configurations available with the Force launch now provide a wider range without the pick-n-mix approach.

The new SRAM Force AXS crankset comes with ‘X-Range’ gearing, that’s based around the much slighter 13t difference between the small and big chainrings. It’s also been designed around a wide chainline to be compatible with 700c wheels wearing 45c tyres, or 650b wheels wearing 2.1″ width rubber.

The crankset uses SRAM’s DUB bottom bracket standard, and is compatible with road and mountain bike bottom bracket shells for greater versatility. Q-factor has grown by 5mm on standard version (that’s 2.5mm each side) and crank length options are vast – with 165mm, 167.5mm, 170mm, 172.5mm, 175mm and 177.5mm all available.

The new wide crankset means that you’ll need to pair this with the Force eTap AXS wide front derailleur, you won’t be able to match this to existing Force or Red AXS builds.

At the rear, SRAM now offers a 10-36 cassette, and again it’s all about ‘X-Range gearing’. This monster cassette will pair up with all 2x and 1x eTap AXS cranksets, but it has to be used with the new Force eTap AXS Max rear derailleur.

The rear mech will work alongside 10-33 and 10-28t cassettes, and comes with ‘Orbit chain management’ designed to keep rattle at bay, large X-Sync pulleys are said to add to efficiency. This is all compatible with existing eTap batteries.

Comparing its 2x gearing with the obvious GRX competitor, SRAM demonstrates that riders receive a greater range when opting for the Force eTap option – boosted from 479% with a 46/30 and 11-34 cassette to 516% with a 43/30 and 10-36 cassette.

It also highlights that thanks to the grouping of the rear gears, there are more single tooth jumps towards the smaller sprockets, with the big jumps appearing at the other end on the larger sprockets, needed for climbing.

Of course, don’t take SRAM’s word for it – pairing up with the AXS Web app will allow riders to see exactly which gears they’re using most of the time, which could be helpful for those deciding if an upgrade to this new, wide range set up is needed.

And the prices? Here we go…

  • Cassette XG-1270 D1 12 Speed 10-36 – $185/€190/£170
  • Rear Derailleur Force eTap AXS D1 12-Speed Medium Cage (Battery Not Included) $490/€465/£415
  • Front Derailleur Force Wide eTap AXS D1 Braze-on (Battery Not Included) $350/€325/£290
  • Crankset Force Wide D1 DUB (BB not included) $420/€435/£390

Dropper seat post compatibility

With riders testing the boundaries of what’s possible with a gravel bike, more and more models are beginning to come featuring dropper posts for those wanting to get low for the more techy trails without a full seat post adjustment.

Up until now, it’s been possible to make a dropper post work with SRAM’s double tap shifters, but the brand is now supporting this with a dedicated solution for Force 1x Rival 1 and Apex 1 groupsets. The paddle that would usually control the front mech now works the dropper post, a capability also offered by Shimano GRX.

These come in at £273 for Force, £231 for Rival for £202 for Apex.

Finally, SRAM has added new Paceline road focuses brake rotors, these are available in 140mm and 160mm diameters and come in both six-bolt (£40) and centerlock variants (£50).