Perhaps expecting unbridled good weather in Majorca at the start of February was a bit ambitious, and sadly it wasn’t the case for SRAM’s 2012 new product launch. All the same, having waited five years for a new range-topping groupset we weren’t going to let a little rain and snow keep us off the bike – unlike other magazines.

The protocol for bike launches is usually quite formulaic, but the SRAM crew are clearly bike riders as they put the testing side of things high on the agenda – lets just say others should take note.

SRAM gets the seminars out of the way early, leaving more of the day to ride, which is the key part when investigating a new product after all. With bikes set up it’s out for four hours of led rides with a couple of tame pros on hand to either spice things up with a little sprint, drive the group into a headwind or just keep spirits high.

With a brand new Specialized Project Black Venge prepped with the new groupset and waiting with Cycling Weekly’s name on it, this trip turned into a double bubble, providing the opportunity to test ride a production Venge too. Of course the new Red groupset was the priority. Despite production already having begun, and the groupset expected to be available in the shops from March our test bike still had pre-production versions fitted.

It’s a small but important point, as more often than not equipment that’s not quite in full production looks spot-on but has a few little niggles that need ironing out, and there is of course no guarantee that a few niggles won’t creep into the production version – all the same it’s best to know before riding.

As you can see from the pictures, we were treated to the very latest version of the Zipp Firecrest 303s and the optional Quarq Red power cranks along with a Garmin Edge 500 complete with left and right power balance.

The first day temperatures just nudged into the double figures so we hit the road eager to sample the new Red and see if the differences SRAM had told us about were perceptible.

Top notch

Despite changes to the hoods there wasn’t an immediately apparent difference. With the test bikes set up with the wide-rimmed Zipp Firecrest wheels it was apparent that SRAM has made the new Red brakes with the widest options in mind – the brake can be set with up to 31mm between the pad surfaces. It does give the inner cable a slight bend which initially looks odd though. While the frontal area is less than a single pivot brake, SRAM has used a nifty dual pivot system.

The Aerolink arm that the cable attaches to is pivoted such that the first part of the pull has a greater pull ratio so the pad moves quickly to the rim. This ratio then slows so that more control can be exerted. It’s a clever system but it does mean that cable set-up becomes more important and the brake feel can be slightly adjusted to give a firmer or spongier feel depending on preference. Our brakes were fitted with the Zipp Platinum brake pads which I’m personally not a fan of but know that most people get on with them very well.

Having the Quarq cranks fitted was great news too as I now feel lost riding without a power meter. This new Red version is a massive visual step forward and I can imagine them being a big seller for SRAM. The price in pounds has yet to be set but the GXP version is €1725 so the pound price will have to be broadly similar given the current exchange rate.

The addition of the left and right balance is a nice touch and oh so simple. Thanks to the BB magnet the cranks know where you are in the pedal stroke and simply divide the force at 12 and six o’clock to give the last full revolutions power balance.

Rain meant the second day’s ride group was greatly diminished. In the wet those changes to the hoods were much more noticeable – with double gloves and plenty of water slipping potential was there in spades, but the new file pattern gave a more secure grip. It turns out the that SRAM trialled four different grades of file for this, with the most popular being the second to finest – it certainly seemed well judged to us.

Intelligent design

Much as you might love or hate Lance Armstrong, it is he that we have to thank directly for the additional height at the front part of the shifter. It was his comments that led to the changes and frankly I think they are a success.

It helps you feel secure in poor conditions and gives you somewhere else to grip when tucking in – as seems to be popular with current racers. The tweaked profiling, where the hood meets the bars, wasn’t noticeable until we re-tried the old version. Then it became more obvious how much more comfortable the new shape is. SRAM is really setting the standard for the rest to now try and match, much as it did with the original Red.

As for the Yaw front derailleur it’s a unique design, and correct set-up is critical to it working well, so SRAM has simplified the process as much as possible. The Yaw mech is laser etched to assist correct set-up around the big chainring. This gives ideal set-up from a known point. It’s clearly highly sensitive but appears to work very well.

The front shifter needs a positive shove, as it’s still a quick lever ratio, but it works a treat and the lack of trim is just one less thing to think about. The million dollar question is, was there any chain rub? Basically no. It ran without rub on the stand and 99.99 per cent of the time on the road. If I really threw the bike around in a sprint I could get a fractional rub, but I’d say for now it was very satisfactory – SRAM has achieved its goal of removing the need for front indexing.

Quiet at the back

On the old version of Red there was a lot of drivetrain din thanks to the cassette, but with the new design with altered tooth profiles on both the jockey wheels and the cassette sprockets themselves, the running is super quiet. Just how well the elastomer rings will last will have to wait for another day, but my initial assessment is that it’s a huge success presuming you like a quiet-running bike.

Come day three, overnight snow and sleet meant only two of us turned out for the ride and to be fair we did only manage an hour. That didn’t reveal much more about the groupset, except that even when filthy it still worked a treat. Two pairs of gloves didn’t stop fingers from going numb but the shifters still proved to be easy to find and the new gear lever shape transmits more of the upshift ‘click’ to the rider’s fingers meaning there is less chance of missing the gear through under pushing the lever, another worthwhile gain.

Heading back to the airport gave time to reflect on what we had learned. To summarise, it was well worth the wait. Red’s five-year hiatus has meant a massive step forward and it’s truly a world-class groupset. There is still life in the mechanical groupset, whatever others might say.