First Ride: SRAM Force eTap AXS Wide

SRAM goes wider in more than one way.

Just a little over a year ago SRAM launched eTap AXS which put them back on the map for drop-bar bikes. Along with this launch was a new generation in chainring options to match their 12-speed cassettes that feature a 10 tooth cog. For many it was very confusing but it didn’t take long for the masses to realize this wasn’t fake news and the new offering was indeed a step forward for the industry.

Well SRAM is now responding to Shimano’s GRX offering with wider gearing options. This is two-fold, one is a wider range cassette with matching rear derailleur (10-36), and the other is a wider crank. The new crank is 2.5mm wider on each side for a 5mm wider q-factor. With the wider stance is a new front derailleur that is 2.5mm wider, leaving more room for tires if you choose a 2x setup. The new “wide” crank comes in a new 43/30 chainring set, targeting all-road and gravel builds but also compatible on most road bikes too.

The new 10-36 cassette builds on the already available 12-speed cassettes, 10-26, 10-28 and 10-33.  SRAM says the new 36t compatible derailleur is compatible with the new 10-36 cassette as well as the 10-28 and 10-33 but not the 10-26. The new rear derailleur can be paired with any of the now four available crank options, 43/30 (new), 46/33, 48/35 and 50/37. That means the new 10-36 cassette can be matched with any of the cranks as long as you have the new derailleur.

Back to the new wide 43/30 crank, the added width is in the spindle so different spacers are needed to make it compatible with DUB bottom brackets. Force 43/30 cranksets work with the following bottom bracket
standards when used with a SRAM DUB bottom bracket bearing: BSA 68, PF 86.5, BB30 68, BB30 73-A (Cannondale), PF30 68, BB386, PF30 79-A (BBRIGHT), PF30 73-A (Cannondale), T47 85.5, BSA 73, BB30 73 and PF30 73. Looks like Italian threaded and BB90 (on many Trek bikes) is not compatible. The new Force 43/30 crank must be matched with the new front derailleur.

LET’S RECAP

New crank option with 43/30 chainrings that is also 5mm wider (2.5mm per side). This new crank must be paired with the new “wide” front derailleur because of the wider stance. This new crank can pair with the existing derailleur (33t max) or the new 36t max option. The new derailleur is to accommodate the new 10-36 cassette which can be used with all four crank options. The new rear derailleur can also be paired with the 10-28 or 10-33 cassette.

FIRST RIDE

When we first got the notice that this new offering was coming we thought of the Lauf True Grit. It is one of our favorite bikes, but it has two small flaws. First is there is no routing for a front derailleur, this is not really a mistake but a way of limiting the use of a 2x system. Why? Well turns out when you mount a front derailleur it interferes with the rear tire, limiting the max tire size and that’s the second flaw. Lauf has offered their bike with a 2x eTap build but it was for those looking for a bit more all-road setup.

This new Force AXS eTap “wide” would be a perfect match, wider so no more tire interference and a 0.83 gear ratio mean more range for exploring.  Turns out our guess was correct and not only did it bolt straight up but we now have a much wider range of gears over our 1x setup, but we also have more options in between. Previously we had a 42 tooth ring matched to a 10-42 cassette. For those that remember we also had modified that for the LA Tourist race with an Ethirteen 9-44t cassette That offered a bit more range in both directions but would have been best paired with a 40t chainring.

What are we missing, a power meter. Yup, the new 43/30 crank with its 94mm bcd is not offered with a power option like the 107mm bcd cranks. Options are, to use a pedal or hub-based system like Powertap (which SRAM now owns.) Really that’s all that we lost out of the deal.

This is a Kenda Alluvium 45mm with the new “wide” front derailleur. A 38-40mm tire would rub on the normal version.

We have been logging a lot of solo miles on the new gears on roads and trails that get very little traffic. Part of this is due to many of our mountain ranges being closed due to the pandemic, but also because it’s fun to explore. Climbing and exploring unknown routes is more fun especially since we carry three bottles most of the time a well as a frame bag full of goodies. The added weight slows things down but the .83 gear ratio means we can keep our cadence at a more comfortable rate.

On the paved downhills, we could spin comfortably spin up to speeds of 35-36 mph, that’s just over 100 cadence. Sure we could get a bit more out of the 43×10 but it seemed for little gain and we’d rather just eat a snack and rehydrate on the way down. Off-road we rarely use the 43×10 or 11, really they were only needed on the paved roads.

Shifting was spot on and the AXS controls are very intuitive no matter what system you are coming from. The new 36t rear derailleur has the same added retention as the previous so rough roads and washboard were no problem, even with the double. The Lauf Grit fork is known for letting us get a bit too much speed when descending off-road, and even our most out of control send it into the weeds encounters didn’t derail the chain.

CONCLUSION

Overall the new offering just adds to the options for building your dream bike. Sure, like anything there are always small compromises but very few. Like Shimano and their GRX, the new SRAM Force “wide” offerings just expand one’s ability to customize a drop-bar bike. We like that almost everything is backward compatible with existing AXS but we wish there was a power meter option.

For those performance road oriented riders, the new 10-36 cassette could be a great option for big climbing days or maybe spinning while riding with those that are a bit slower uphill. When matched to the mid-compact 48/35, you would have less than a 1/1 ratio without losing the top end. Then when back to your normal routine swap in the 10-28 for the minimal gear gaps.

PRICING

Cassette XG-1270 12 Speed 10-36 $185
Rear Derailleur Force eTap AXS 12-Speed Medium Cage (Battery Not Included) $490
Front Derailleur Force Wide eTap AXS Braze-on (Battery Not Included) $350
Crankset Force Wide D1 DUB 43-30 (BB not included) $420

MORE NEW STUFF

Mechanical Force 1, Rival 1 and Apex 1 are all offered with a dropper post lever on the left. Force will be $290, Rival $246 and Apex for $215.

New Paceline rotor in six-bolt and centerlock. Paceline six-bolt rotors include steel rotor bolts $40.
Paceline rotor CenterLock (does not include lockring) $50

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