SRAM’s All New 12-Speed Road Drivetrain

12 speeds that redefine the modern drivetrain

THE DETAILS

• Without a doubt, the main talking points of the SRAM Red AXS go far beyond a matter of available gear inches. The one feature that was the most talked about was the AXS app that allows riders to not only check battery status and update the firmware, but more important, bring a new level of personalization to the ride by being able to alter the drivetrain’s behavior.
• Yes, similar to Shimano’s Synchro Shift, AXS allows for two optional auto shift modes: Sequential (actuates the front derailleur) and Compensating (actuates the rear derailleur). While both enhanced shift modes are programmed with the phone app, they can be deactivated to return to the neutral mode via small toggle buttons located on each shift levers.
• The AXS app allows full personalization, whereby you can make the lever shift either the front or rear derailleur in either direction. Additionally, you can also actuate the remote shifter “blips” and even the eTap-powered RockShox dropper seatpost.

Photo: Jordan Clark Haggard

• While there was some hemming and hawing on SRAM’s part when the comparison with Synchro Shift was made, it spiked again as they explained another new feature of the rear derailleur referred to as Orbit Technology. This chain-management system is basically a clutch-type technology that minimizes chain slap and is helpful for 2x drivetrains and a necessity for the 1x. The big difference is that Orbit relies on a fluid-driven damper to get the job done. Sight unseen, this one feature struck me as truly remarkable. I mean, who thinks up this kind of stuff?!
• As for the rear derailleur itself, it now uses larger X-Sync pulleys and ceramic bearings for increased durability and efficiency. SRAM also said that it has an improved motor and signal travel for faster shifting. The rear derailleur will work with either a 1x or 2x crank as long as the biggest gear does not exceed a 33t cog.
• In case you’re counting, the total number of gear selections available with the new Red AXS drivetrain is 24.
• The front derailleur has a streamlined design specifically to allow better clearance compatibility with bigger rear tires.

Photo: Jordan Clark Haggard

• If there was one moment when silence fell over the meeting room, it was when announcing that the new chainrings would feature an (optional) integrated Quarq power meter; we were told that when the chainrings wore out, the whole package—power meter included—would have to be tossed. Really?!
• It was then that road category manager Paul Kantor did his best to reassure us that depending on conditions, and owing to its manufacturing process, the chainrings would likely last at least five to seven years of use before needing to be replaced. This was also when the more mechanically inclined made the point that proper chain care and replacement is first and foremost the best way to ensure chainring longevity. We were told that the new chainrings have a 50-percent reduction in wear versus the previous versions. Still, if by some strange occurrence you bend a tooth, c’est la vie!


• The double chainrings are machined from a single piece of hardened aluminum and consumers have a choice of using chainrings with or without an integrated Quarq DZero power meter.
• The power meter we were told has readings that are accurate within +/-1.5 percent, aren’t affected by climate conditions, and, best of all, measure both left and right legs separately.
• In order to maintain the chain’s strength as it got narrower, SRAM designed a new AXS dedicated chain,, which loses the curvaceous design of old and is replaced by the new appropriately named Flattop design.
• When we finally did get around to the 1x discussion, the focus fell on what SRAM called their “mongrel bike.” Since the Red AXS drivetrain tops out with a 33t cog (with no WiFLi option), SRAM’s solution for “extreme” 1x use is to use the new Red 1 crank with a 48t or 50t chainring up front with the mountain bike-spec Eagle rear derailleur that will wrap the dedicated X-Sync chain around a rear cog from 35t to 50t.
• As with the 2x crank, the Red 1 crank is available either with or without the integrated Quarq power meter. Chainrings are available in 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, and 46t with the non-aero fou-bolt spider and 48 and 50t rings with the direct mount aero model.
• Although its (currently) only available with an Eagle-compatible chain, SRAM is using a new rainbow-licious oil slick coating that (for some) greatly enhances the look of the bike. Fingers crossed that it becomes an option for AXS.
• To satisfy the desires of the picky pro-level riders who abhor any big gaps in their “fast” gears, the first eight gears of both 10-26  and 10-28 are placed at 1-tooth increments, while the 10-33 cassette has 1t jumps on the first six gears.
• The one-piece X-Dome cassettes are machined from a single piece of steel.
• The batteries of the new drivetrain are the same used for the previous system, with the benefit of not only being detachable for easy charging, but they can also be swapped between front and rear derailleurs. SRAM says that depending how much you ride and shift, the derailleur batteries should last about two months while the coin-cell batteries in the shifters are said to last about two years.
• Of all the possible gears you can grab, the small-ring/small-cog combination is always locked out to avoid chain rasp.
• Last and—well, yes—least, there is a new bottom bracket to go along with the group, and SRAM even decided to throw a bone to the rim brake set by updating the finish and making them work up to a 28mm tire.

“If there was one moment when silence fell over the meeting room, it was when announcing that the new chainrings would feature an (optional) integrated Quarq power meter; we were told that when the chainrings wore out, the whole package—power meter included—would have to be tossed. Really?!”

THE RIDE

Photo: Jordan Clark Haggard

For the two short rides we got in (one road and one mixed surface), the SRAM parts worked as well as expected. Although they’ve heard it before and still hate to hear it, the front derailleur seemed slow to shift. Sure, it was probably only by a millisecond, but on two occasions the derailleur’s tardiness to make a shift under load caused a near tip-over as I fumbled to quickly pull a track stand mid-climb waiting for the shift to finally happen.

Stuck in my ways as I am, I have never embraced Shimano’s Synchro Shift option, and after using the Compensating mode for one ride, I was still unmoved. Neither am I big on the whole phone app thing, but what this Mexican Luddite can’t appreciate, I know many in the modern do. Most important, it’s the level of personal optimization and modern performance features that SRAM’s Red AXS brings to cycling that is worth getting excited about.

What worked well for me was the experience with the new gear ranges. For the last few years I’ve been a fan of both mid-compact 2x and 1x chainrings for the express purpose of minimizing the need for making front shifts. Additionally, I’ve never complained about not being able to go fast enough in my top gear, while on the steepest of climbs I’ve often yearned for a lower gear, so SRAM’s Red AXS to the rescue!

UNTIL NEXT TIME

Just as people have asked if Campagnolo’s 12-speed drivetrain is worth the extra dough, our answer with the AXS 12 would be the same—no. I can bet there’s not a single one of you reading this who have endured a bad day on the bike only because you have 11 gears in back. The celebration here is not about having an extra gear but a new experience.

One key thing that sets this launch apart from their competition, all of these products are available today. That is correct, no 12-month wait to get the new components on your bike. If you are motivated enough you could probably be riding it this weekend and to us, that is how it should be done.

Beyond the SRAM components themselves, a very big initiative of the press launch was the coordination between SRAM and the bike brands present (Cannondale, Scott, Orbea, Trek, Specialized, 3T, Open, Canyon, Giant) to also make their AXS eTap bikes available at the very moment that you are reading this…as in, no more see it today and then wait for 12 months until it shows up at the dealer. That’s a really significant development – act now and you could be showing-up all your friends at this weekend’s group ride!

This is the SRAM Eagle mountain bike drivetrain, the 1x and pie pan cluster being an option for 1x gravel bikes, however, the 50t cluster is not compatible with the Red derailleur which taps out at a 33t top gear.

PRICING

2x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake w/ Power $4,158
2x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake $3,648
2x Rim Brake w/ Power $3,998
2x Rim Brake $3,488
1x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake w/ Power $3,708
1x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake $3,198
1x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake Aero w/Power $3,688
1x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake Aero $3,178
1x Rim Brake Aero w/Power $3,348
1x Rim Brake Aero $2,838

For more info head to www.SRAM.com

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