After four years of development, SRAM introduced its 12-speed wireless electronic shifting groupset RED eTap AXS in February 2019. This included the improved and characteristic flat-top chain, a rear derailleur with hydraulic damping, 12-speed cassette with 10-tooth top gear and a unique combination of front chainrings offered a completely new gear shifting experience. In short: a lot of innovation on this American company’s highest-end groupset. Up until now. This whole system has been made available in a more affordable version. Please welcome the SRAM Force eTap AXS!

SRAM Force eTap AXS

SRAM Force eTap AXS. It is a mouthful, but this is essentially brings all the innovations from the new eTap system to the Force groupset. And that’s a lot. Though it’s all done with one goal in mind: to allow the cyclist to be more capable of adapting to the increasing range of scenarios in which riders find themselves these days.

Smaller front chainrings

SRAM started from scratch when designing this drivertrain, and it resulted in some surprising changes in both front and rear gear cogs. The difference in sizes between the two front chainrings is only 13 teeth—this compares with, for example, a 16-tooth difference on a standard 50/34 compact. This was not an arbitrary choice. The smaller difference between both front cogs makes for more fluid and faster gear changing between big and small ring, and visa versa. In addition, each Force cassette comes with that 10-tooth cog as highest gear. But let’s be honest: few riders can easily turn a 52/10 gear. The largest combination on the SRAM Force eTap AXS is therefore 48/35. (There’s also a 46/33 option.) And for cyclocross, Triathlons and criteriums you can also choose a single front chainring for a 1x setup. Something for everyone. Traditional racers should not be deceived, however: 48×10 is about the same gear as 53×11, only it doesn’t quite sound as hardcore.

SRAM Force eTap AXS

The 48/35 combination on the SRAM Force eTap AXS. Photograph: Road Bike Connection – Tristan Cardew

Wider range rear cassettes

The smaller 10-tooth cog is not the only change to the rear cassette. Now that the cassette is 12-speed, SRAM has taken that opportunity to keep a one-tooth difference between as many cogs as possible. While six cogs with one tooth difference may not sound impressive, it makes a lot of impact in practice. Firstly, there’s a bigger chance that you will find yourself in the gear that most suits your natural cadence. But there’s an additional advantage: shifting is that much smoother.

SRAM eTAP AXS CASSETTES

The difference in jumps between gears comparing SRAM with the competition. Image: SRAM

As you can see from the above table: the SRAM cassettes are available in three versions: 10-26, 10-28 and 10-33. This basically covers all the gear ranges of a traditional compact set-up, but SRAM goes even further. The cassettes can be mounted to every XDR hub, which is the standard fitting for all cassettes that include cogs with fewer than 11 teeth. Many of the latest range of Zipp wheels, for example, have an XDR hub fitted as standard. Older XDR models are compatible with the new SRAM cassettes.

Chain and rear derailleur

The chain is another important part of the drivetrain. And similarly to the high-end version, the SRAM Force eTap chain has that eye-catching chain design. In order to accommodate 12 cogs on the rear cassette, the chain had to be made narrower. But the engineers did not want to compromise on strength, which resulted in the flat-top design. This added strength to the thinner design has an extra advantage: it’s quite a bit quieter than a normal chain, according to SRAM.

SRAM Flattop

The SRAM Flat top chain. Photograph: Road Bike Connection – Tristan Cardew

The rear derailleur has also been taken to the laboratory. As well as its job of ensuring that the chain glides smoothly across the cassette, the derailleur’s job is also to ensure enough chain tension. (Good tension is important for avoiding clumsy gear changes.) SRAM has replaced the traditional strong spring—which is used to pull the chain tight—with a hydraulic damper. This is designed to stop the chain jumping, without the ceramic bearings in the pulleys coming into play.

SRAM Force eTap AXS Orbit

The SRAM Force eTap AXS rear derailleur. Photograph: Road Bike Connection – Tristan Cardew

The shifters

Another of the important and significant part of SRAM’s new groupset is the shifters. The system is different to both Shimano and Campagnolo, with some saying that SRAM’s shifting system is far more intuitive than others. The ‘paddle’ under the right brake lever is for changing to an easier gear on the rear derailleur and the left paddle is for changing to a smaller cog on the rear derailleur. Do you want to change the front derailleur? Then press both paddles at the same time, and the front derailleur will shift the chain to the new front sprocket. (This system is also fully compatible with hydraulic disc brakes, in case you were wondering.) But in order not to put off the fans of rim brakes, SRAM also has a rim brake version of the groupset. If you use time trial handlebars you can you the ‘Blipbox’, which the RED set also has. This is a wireless remote control for gear shifting.

SRAM Force eTap AXS shifters

The SRAM Force eTap AXS levers are simple and elegant . Photograph: Road Bike Connection – Tristan Cardew

Power metre ready

SRAM is also aware that the demand for power metres is going up all the time. That is why they have, similarly to the RED group, made the crankset power-meter-ready. You can either buy the groupset with one of two built-in Quark power meters: a single-sided version, or the more expensive spider variant. The spider measures the power output of both legs with a maximum deviation of 1.5%. You can also buy it without the power meter.

AXS app

Last but not least: all the wireless elements of the system use the AXS system to connect. This is SRAM’s own system (so neither Ant+ nor bluetooth) and works together with a smartphone app. This app is not only a reader of status and data; you can use the app to adjust your entire gear-shifting experience. You can also tell the system to change gear automatically at the rear derailleur if you change front chainrings. By changing gear at the rear at the same time, the SRAM system reduces the jump in cadence. But it’s also easy to switch off, if the situation doesn’t require this feature. This app, as one would expect, also gives you firmware updates and shows battery status.

SRAM Force eTap AXS

The standard road version of the SRAM Force eTap AXS groupset. Photograph: SRAM.

Weight and prices

This groupset is now on the market and a number of major manufacturers such as BMC, Trek, Orbea and Specialized are slated launch bikes with SRAM Force eTap AXS fitted as standard. The groupset is also for sale on its own. The major difference between the Force and RED variants lie in the choice of materials: the Force groupset is 300g heavier than the RED, but it’s also a sight cheaper.

  • 2x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake (with power metre 2,912g): €2,548
  • 2x Rim Brake (with power metre 2,553g): €2,408
  • 1x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake (with power metre 2,608g): €2,148
  • 1x Rim Brake (with power metre 2,249g): €2,048
These relatively low prices mean that SRAM’s latest technology will be made available to a much larger group of cyclists. So you can enjoy the latest quality and technological innovations from this American company for a lot less money than the RED system. And that therefore offers a direct alternative for Shimano’s Di2. For both on and off-road use…
Are you curious whether or not this SRAM system is as good as they say it is? We gave the set a major test in the hills of Girona, Spain. Read more in The Prologue soon.