SRAM Rival is a mid-priced groupset, and at around £650, sits on a similar platform to Shimano’s Ultegra groupset in terms of current website price searches. In SRAM’s line-up it is the budget version, as both Force and Red are more expensive. I’ll say from the outset that to my mind, Rival’s performance is close to Dura-Ace, which means it punches considerably above its impressively low weight.
SRAM Rival was originally launched in 2006, so you’d expect the ’09 upgrade to feature a few cosmetic, material changes trickling down from SRAM’s Red and Force groups, as well a few ergonomic modifications which make gear changing (even) easier.
In the looks department the ‘double tap’ technology brake levers have been upgraded to carbon and look for all the world identical to the more expensive Force versions. Essentially the gubbins are also the same on the inside as Force, that this year has seen the trim shifted from the inner ring onto the big ring, another improvement. Where this year’s model wins out is with the slightly longer levers and larger format gear-shift paddles, which on the road makes braking and shifting a doddle from a variety of hand positions, particularly in the drops and a vast improvement on the originals. The short 15deg sweep also gives a shift that is superior to Shimano, feeling vastly reduced especially when changing up the block.
To my mind the hood shape has always been superior in design to Shimano and Campagnolo alternatives when it comes to comfort and that’s still the case here, replicating the top-of-the-range Red ergonomics. Reach is adjustable but this can be fiddly; the shift lever uses a separate adjuster that is the worst, needing to push in a small clip, which requires a sharp implement or small flat-bladed screwdriver. The brake lever is the polar opposite, just pull back the hoods and use a hex key to pull back the lever.
Rear shifting was always excellent on the Rival groupset, especially using the 1070 OpenGlide cassette with its sculpted sprockets that appear to have lost some teeth, allowing the chain to move up easier under pressure. A PowerLock link on the PC-1070 chain makes for fast and easy fitting and has been faultless so far.
This year the left-hand (front) shifting has improved markedly to match the rear, with the longer levers offering better ‘throw’ for smooth, quick shifting between inside and outside chainrings. The front derailleur is also designed for either compact or standard front ratios, keeping things simple.
The Skeletonised brakes, that again replicate the higher-ranked Force, offer powerful and well modulated braking as before, and there is improved access when replacing pads. Otherwise, everything remains the same apart from the finish that is an improved black on the cold-forged arms.
There’s nothing much to report in the chain and cassette areas, but on the crankset the once-optional ‘Open Core technology’ AL-6066 alloy crank arm upgrade is now standard and provides a little weight saving and improved rigidity for better power transfer. A stiffer ring design in the shape of SRAM’s PowerGlide rings has aided the shifting performance up front. This crankset also makes good use of the GXP bottom bracket designed to work specifically with SRAM’s cranks and help drivetrain’s rigidity.
Overall, SRAM Rival looks a lot better, performs a little better and weighs a little less than its previous incarnation, so the trickle-down effect of technology has improved Rival in comparison to its competitors and its fair to say this is so similar to Force its scary, just losing out on weight. Although this is something we have come to expect after a few seasons on the market, Shimano is the smoothest shifting system and Campag the most accurate (especially when multiple shifting) so whether SRAM Rival will do anything to impress those traditionalists who swear by one or the other is unlikely. Rival is a hugely impressive groupset considering its position at the ‘lower’ end of SRAM’s range.