April 23, 2009

This year at Sea Otter SRAM released its revamped 2010 Force group. After the official product launch Road Bike Action was invited on an exclusive test ride of the new group. When we arrived at the SRAM hotel we found a 2009 Specialized Roubaix SL2 with our name on it (literally). Along with the 2010 Force group, Zipp made it possible for us to test two new products simultaneously and outfitted our test bike with their new 303 wheelset.

The most obvious change from the 2009 Force group is the new styling, which borrows heavily from SRAM’s professional Red group. The 2010 Force barrows Red’s bold graphics using a newly designed white Force logo against black carbon. Another visual carry over from Red is that the SRAM logo will be featured on the inside of both crankarms. Exclusive to Force is that all the aluminum parts are anodized with what SRAM is calling Zephyr Silver.

The Force brake levers move to unidirectional (UD) carbon, which adds strength and reduces weight. The shift levers remain magnesium and have a much lighter and crisper feel than the previous Force versions. Side by side it was nearly impossible to tell the difference in feel between the Force and higher end Red shifters.

Like the brake levers, the crankarms have also moved to unidirectional (UD) carbon. The cranks were stiff and delivered solid power transfer from the pedals. The new white graphics give the cranks a professional look, and are easily mistaken for SRAM Red.

Shifting performance was quick and reliable. The quality of shifting was on par with SRAM Red. The rear derailleur never missed a gear and with the new lighter action shifters, the shifting feels faster and more precise.

We were particular impressed with the quality of the front shifting, which was super fast and required minimal lever throw. Some of the front derailleur’s performance can be attributed to the use of a steel cage. While this adds a bit of weight over Red’s titanium version, it also adds stiffness. Don’t be surprised to see SRAM sponsored teams running Force front derailleurs.

The new Force brakes get a major overhaul and now mirror the top of the line Red brakes in both appearance and performance. The Force brakes offered good modulation and it was easy to tell when the brakes were about lock. This was particular impressive since we were running the new carbon Zipp 303s without carbon specific brake pads.

The 2010 SRAM Force is another big step forward for a company that just entered the road market three short years ago. With the redesign and improvements, the 2010 Force feels virtually indistinguishable from Red.

Zipp 303 Wheelset
The new Zipp 303’s debuted this year during the cobbled classics and were officially launched at Sea Otter. The new Zipp 303s feature several changes over last year’s model. Most Notably the rim width has been increased from 22.4-millimeters to 27.5-millimeters and given an angled braking surface for better modulation. The wider rim is designed to increase lateral stiffness and impact resistance. The new design is also suppose to provide a more forgiving ride. Like the old 303s the new version feature Zipp’s dimple surface design for improved aerodynamics.

The new Zipp 303s feature Zipp's new 88 front hub and 188 rear hub. Both hubs are named for their weight in grams and feature a 17-millimeter axle and higher flanges. The hubs are attached to the rims using Sapim CX-ray spokes with external nipples for serviceability. The wheels we rode were outfitted with Zipp's Tangente tubular aero tire, which is now available in a 23-millimeter width.

From the side the Zipps appear to look like normal deep section carbon wheels. Its not until you look down on them that width of the rim becomes apparent. The added width required a minor readjustment of the brakes, but otherwise they fit the frame perfectly. First impressions of the Zipp 303s were that they are smooth, fast rolling wheels. They have great acceleration and once going they hold their speed well. In crosswinds the Zipp 303s felt stable and easy to control. Perhaps most impressive aspect of the wheels was the ride quality. The 303s were lateral stiff, but provided a subtle ride. While we were unable to weigh the wheels, we have no reason to dispute Zipp’s claimed weight of 1182-grams for the pair.

Even though the Zipp 303s are designed for the cobbles of the Northern Classics, our first impression is that they should not be overlooked as all around aero wheels. The 303s would be ideally suited to a fast century or high mileage rider looking for an aero wheel that is easy to control and smoothes out the road.

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