RBA EXCLUSIVE: The Real Story Behind Sram’s Apex Drivetrain


While making the rounds at the Sea Otter, I heard two great background stories about how some modern day road bike products were developed. One was about a Sidi shoe (for a later day), and the other was about Sram’s breakthrough 11-32 Apex drivetrain. As I was going over the new drivetrain with Sram’s Bill Keith he made mention of how it was actually Alberto Contador who was the seed for the wide-range gear set’s inception back in 2008. What? It seemed a tad crazy that the super honch Spaniard would have some DNA connection to a gear set intended for entry level riders looking to avoid the weight and social stigma of running a triple. But it was true.

Bill’s short version was that when AC was training on the super steep and rough Plan de Corones/Kronplatz TT climb (which will be used in this year’s race) he found that maintaining traction was proving especially difficult on the 12.9k climb’s whopping 24 percent grade near the top. When AC discussed this with the team, and more specifically his fear of having to stand on the pedals and lose traction, his mechanic Faustino along with Sram’s Alex Wasserman devised a plan to retrofit a wide range mountain bike cluster onto Contador’s Trek Madone to give him the desired low gear which, most importantly, would allow AC to stay in the saddle to pedal. After the parts were cobbled together Faustino apparently twice rode the bike up the “climbs” of a nearby parking garage and called it good to go…or in Alberto’s preferred lingo – “bueno!”

In the end, the day would belong to Liquigas rider Franco Pellizotti who made the arduous climb in just over 40 minutes. Contador would roll in at fourth place to retain his coveted pink leader’s jersey.

The key take-away here? If anyone ever tells you that racing doesn’t improve the breed, tell them they are dumb. The second is that since so much of this silly sport of ours revolves around ego and one-upsmanship, if anyone ever laughs at you for running a new Sram Apex gruppo, tell them that the wide-range drivetrain as it’s roots in the winning effort at the 2008 Giro D’Italia.

For all the details on Sram’s Apex gruppo – just head to the Road Bike Action Apex Review.

Here it is from the man who was there to make it happen, Sram’s Alex Wasserman
“Faustino and I rebuilt Alberto’s race and spare bikes the morning of the race after he, AC & Johan recon’d the course by car at dawn. AC made the call then that even the Red 11-28 was not enough because of the poor traction at the top. This perception proved to be true for many racers that day that were over geared, causing them to slip and lose momentum or balance. The road was so steep, in fact, that only motorcycles were allowed for the final KM. Each follow mechanic slung a spare bike over their shoulder as a wheel change would have taken too much time.”

“The rear derailleur was standard Red, but after trying several different modifications, the only way it cleared the custom 30t cog was by reducing all the upper/guide pulley teeth by about 50% with a file. The cogset was a custom 12-30 10 speed: we punted the 11t from the 11-28 OG1090cs and added a Shimano 30t cog from a mid-level 9 speed MTB cogset. We then test rode the set-up and it was approved for the history making ride…

For more cool bike tech from the Sea Otter head to Zap’s (Not A) Blog .

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