We put SRAM Red eTap, the only wireless groupset on the market, through its paces
SRAM Red eTap has to be the most anticipated new product to hit the market in the last few years. First spotted in the rather low key setting on the Illinois State Cyclocross championships in December 2013, it was then tested with some misleading fake wires at the 2014 Tour of California, before some much more open use throughout 2015 by Ag2r-La Mondiale.
After finally being officially launched in September 2015, we’ve got it in for test. The question is, after nearly two years of hype and anticipation, will SRAM Red eTap be able to meet some fairly lofty expectations?
Installing SRAM Red eTap is really an astonishingly simple process, and one that is comfortably within the skill set of even the most ham-fisted of home mechanic.
The first step in installing SRAM Red eTap is to pair the derailleurs with the shifters. This is very easy, and all you have to do is press and hold the small function button on the rear derailleur arm until the LED light flashes next to it, and then repeat this with the shifters and front derailleurs.
Watch: how to install SRAM Red eTap
The front derailleur is fitted in the same way as a standard front derailleur, with the height and angle of the derailleur governed by how you attach it to the frame, and the high and low limits adjusted using screws on the outside of the unit.
The high and low limits of the SRAM Red eTap rear derailleur are adjusted in the same way, as is the height of the derailleur cage using the B-adjust screw. Adjusting the alignment of the rear derailleur means using the micro-adjust function, which is done by holding down the function button on the inside of the shifting levers, while simultaneous pushing the lever itself.
That might sound a little fiddly, but in reality it really isn’t, and can be done easily enough with one hand while riding along if you find the chain is rubbing on the outside of a sprocket.
While both Shimano Di2 and Campagnolo EPS use a single central battery to provide power to all their components, SRAM Red eTap goes down a different route, giving individual batteries to the shifters and each of the derailleurs.
The derailleurs are powered by one of SRAM’s own Lithium-Ion Polymer batteries, which simply clip on to the back of the derailleurs, and can be removed easily enough if you’re travelling with your bike overseas.
These batteries provide a minimum of 1,000km or 60 hours of riding, and can be recharged in only an hour using the supplied battery charging pack. The LED lights on the SRAM Red eTap derailleurs will also show how much juice they’ve got left, showing green if when the battery life is good, going through red (for when battery life is down to about 250 kilometres) and flashing red (for when you’re about to completely run out of juice).
If you do find yourself running out of battery, then the rear derailleur battery will go first. However, the good news is that because the batteries are interchangeable between the front and rear derailleurs, you can simply shift into the small ring at the front, then move the still-running front derailleur battery to the back, which should be enough to get you home.
The SRAM Red eTap shifters use standard CR2032 coin batteries, which are easy enough to find in supermarkets. This means that if they do run out of juice mid-ride, then it should only be a short ride to go and buy another one, although with a battery life of up to 24 months, you shouldn’t have to do this too often.
One of the big questions surrounding SRAM Red eTap when it was announced was about security. It’s hard not to have visions of crafty directeur sportifs hacking into the shifting systems of rival riders and having their chain drop into the small ring just as they needed to respond to an attack.
The good news is that, according to SRAM, this is impossible. In fact, to put it in the terms used by the company itself, “SRAM Red eTap is more secure than a cash machine”.
This seems like a pretty big claim to us, and surely nothing could make the system completely secure in an age where cyber-attacks appear every other day on the news. However, SRAM certainly seems to have gone to every reasonable length to make its system as secure as possible.
Communication between the various SRAM Red eTap components is done through a proprietary system called Airea, which uses a 128-bit rolling encryption, so each shift generates a new, unique encryption code. This means that anyone trying to hack in to the system cannot simply record one transmission between the shifter and derailleur, then replay this to break into the system.
The derailleurs can also only be paired with one set of shifters at any one time, and the pairing session that you have to go through when setting up the system times out automatically after 30 seconds, so you cannot accidentally leave the system vulnerable if you forget to end the session.
Watch: Buyer’s guide to road bike groupsets
Aside from concerns about hacking, it could also be conceivable that SRAM Red eTap could suffer from interference from other wireless signals such as from TV and radio, or indeed from other SRAM Red eTap systems nearby.
This is where SRAM’s extensive testing in the pro peloton comes in. Even before it was released, SRAM Red eTap had been used in professional races for a year and a half, and the company says there has been no problems with interference, even in races as big as the Tour de France where you’ve got TV and radio motorbikes everywhere, team and race radios, and spectators at the side of the road with smartphones.
I am going to have to take SRAM’s word for it to a certain extent on this one, but at least I didn’t have the same sort of problem suffered by users of Mavic Mektronic, a wireless shifting system released in 1999 that was infamous for getting a mind of its own and shifting erratically when riding past radio transmitters.
One other thing to note is that although the Airea system doesn’t allow signals to come in to the system, it does allow signals from the system to be sent to other devices. This opens up the possibility for things such as battery life and gear selection to be shown on your cycling computer, as is the case with Shimano Dura Ace Di2 (when using D-Fly) and Garmin Edge computers. This is something that we’d certainly expect to see on future Garmin Edge firmware updates.
The shifting on SRAM Red eTap makes a pretty major departure from that on the mechanical SRAM groupsets. Gone is DoubleTap and in its place is a shifting system that is far more intuitive and easy to use.
You change up at the back by pressing the right shifter, change down using the left shifter, and change the front derailleur by pressing both shifters simultaneously. Being so different to all other systems on the market means that it can take a couple of rides to get used to, but no more than that.
As well as being a highly intuitive way to set up a shifting system, this configuration also does away with one of the big problems with Di2. With Shimano’s system, the shifter buttons are positioned right next to each other, and while they are easy enough to distinguish when riding with bare hands, once you impede your sense of touch with bulky winter gloves it is very easy to press the wrong button and find yourself shifting in the wrong direction. With SRAM Red eTap, this is impossible.
The other way in which the SRAM Red eTap shifters are a step up from Shimano Di2 is that they give much better feedback when changing gear. With Di2, you only get a small click, which is easy to miss when wearing gloves, but the eTap shifters give much better response, going some of the way to replicate the response you would get from mechanical levers.
The only minor problem I found with the SRAM Red eTap shifters was when shifting the front derailleur. The problem stems from the fact that the same action (pushing both levers simultaneously) is used to shift the front derailleur in both directions (with the system knowing which chainring you are in, and therefore which way to shift).
The bad news is that although the system knows which chainring you’re in, you’re not always quite so sure. Let’s say for example you’ve just got over the hardest section of a steep climb and a steadier section of 2-3 per cent, meaning that you shift into the big ring, while staying in the 21t sprocket.
A few seconds later you begin the descent, but forgetting that you are already in the big ring, you go to shift the front derailleur in search of a harder gear, only to find the chain being shipped into the small ring. Not ideal.
That said, I’ve only had this happen once or twice during my time on SRAM Red eTap, and it is more an inconvenience than a problem, especially when you consider the otherwise excellent shifting.
The shifting, both front and rear, is crisp and precise. The rear derailleur is very consistent, giving the exact same feel whether shifting from the 28 to the 25 or from the 12 to the 11.
As is the case with Di2 and EPS, SRAM Red eTap has a multi-shift system, which means that if you press and hold the levers, the chain will be sent cascading up or down the cassette. Even better, while you’re doing this you can also shift at the front. So if you’re at the top of a climb and about to start a quick descent, you can hold down the right shifter to send the chain skipping down the cassette, while also pressing the left shifter to change into the big ring at the front.
The only slight gripe that some might have with the shifting is that it is not quite as quick as on Shimano Di2, something which SRAM says is down to the requirement to ensure longer battery and chain life. However again this is a very minor issue, and barely noticeable most of the time. Perhaps adjustable shift speed (something offered by Shimano Di2) will be offered in a future firmware update.
At the front things are just as good, with the vast majority of changes handled with minimal fuss or effort. The great thing about electronic groupsets is that the motor in the front derailleur gives more power than can be offered by mechanical front derailleurs, meaning more assured shifting, even under load.
That said, you do still need to ease off the pedals a little if you’re trying to change rings, while riding out of the saddle up a steep climb, but that is the same on any groupset, so I’ll let SRAM off on that one.
As you’d maybe expect, the SRAM Red eTap front derailleur inherits the excellent Yaw technology that has received so much praise on the mechanical version of SRAM Red. This means that the front derailleur cage rotates as the chain moves up and down the cassette so that it is always parallel with the chain.
This differs from the auto-trim function on Shimano Di2, and means that as long as you have set it up correctly, it is impossible to have any chain rub on the front derailleur, even if you’re forcing it to deal with a seriously inefficient chainline, running a gear combination like 53×28.
As you’d expect SRAM Red eTap comes with the ability to attach remote shifters, or as SRAM has chosen to call them, Blips, which are small buttons designed to be attached to the handlebars in the desired position.
In line with the rest of the system, setting up the Blips is an absolute doddle. Each shifter has a couple of ports into which you can plug the Blips using the only wires in the whole system.
You can have two Blips attached to each shifter, meaning that there is the possibility to have these positioned on both the tops and in the drops, allowing you to easily shift wherever your hands are on the bars.
The only slight issue I had with these is that the Blips on the Cycling Weekly test bike were positioned on the drops with a well-cushioned gel handlebar tape over the top. Adding on to this the fact that I was testing in the middle of winter with bulky winter gloves, and they required a bit of a prod to use.
However, this is only really going to be a problem if you’re lucky enough to be using SRAM Red eTap on your winter bike in the middle of winter, as when you’re not wearing thick gloves, the Blips are very easy to use.
SRAM Red has earned a reputation as the weight weenie’s groupset of choice, with a total system weight of around 1,750g, making it the lightest groupset on the market. SRAM Red eTap can’t quite match this, but it certainly compares well with other electronic groupsets.
The weight of the shifting components are as follows:
Front derailleur (with battery) – 162g
Front derailleur (without battery) – 138g
Rear derailleur (with battery) – 235g
Rear derailleur (without battery) – 211g
Shifters (each) – 131g
Batteries (each)– 24g
Blips (each) – 6g
That means that the total SRAM Red eTap weight is 659g, plus an extra 12g for each set of blips that you choose to attach. This is pretty comparable to Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 once you factor in Di2’s junction box and cables, and around 100g lighter than Campagnolo Super Record EPS
The rest of the hardware weights are as follows:
Crankset (53/39t) – 557g
Bottom bracket – 53g
Cassette (11-25) – 151g
Chain – 246g
Brake calipers – 240g
This means that, once you include all the non-electrical parts, SRAM Red eTap weighs 1906g, plus an extra 12g for each set of blips that you choose to attach, making it the only electronic groupset to weigh less than 2kg.
The complete SRAM Red eTap groupset has a recommended retail price of £2,060, including all of the non-electrical pieces of hardware (crankset, brakes, cassette, bottom bracket, and chain). However, if you’ve already got a SRAM groupset, then it is possible to just upgrade the shifting, while leaving all of those bits and pieces where they are.
The prices for the individual shifting and charging components are as follows:
Front derailleur – £420
Rear derailleur – £265
Shifters – £205 (each)
Blips – £150 (set of four)
Charging pack – £50
USB Firmware update stick – £35
That means that you can get all the electrical parts of SRAM Red eTap for £1,180 (without Blips).
This might sound like a lot of money but is actually incredibly good value. A complete Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset retails for roughly £2,130 and Campagnolo Super Record EPS for even more, so to be able to buy a complete SRAM Red eTap groupset, which is arguably the most technologically advanced and forward-looking of the three electronic groupsets on the market, for less than either of its competitors seems like excellent value.
What’s more, you can take note of that £1,180 price-tag for the electrical components, even if you’re using Shimano on your existing bike. SRAM Red eTap will work perfectly well with a Shimano crankset and cassette, so you could possibly make the massive jump from running the latest version of Shimano 105 to full wireless SRAM Red eTap for only a little more than a grand.
SRAM Red eTap is an excellent groupset that is the match of any other groupset on the market. It’s an absolute doddle to install and set up, and once it’s in place provides excellent shifting with a revolutionary shift logic. What’s more, with a recommended retail price of £2,060, SRAM Red eTap is almost a grand cheaper than Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, while also being lighter too.