Review: the NEW SRAM Red

 Oct 8, 2012 article & images by Nick Salazar

Red's shifting has been completely rethought, from chainrings to jockey wheels.

It wasn't too long ago that SRAM entered the road group market with its initial release of Force and Rival back in 2006. When it released Red the following year, it became an undeniable force in the world of cycling componentry. Red was the lightest groupset available when it was released, and offered some compelling new technological ideas including their novel DoubleTap shifting method, 1-to-1 cable pull ratios, and a cutting-edge style to match its forward-thinking philosophy.

Fast-forward to 2011, and the landscape had changed dramatically. Red still lays claim to being incredibly light, reliable, and with R2C shifting, provided a great ergonomic benefit to triathletes. But the ascendency of Shimano's Dura-Ace Di2 electronic group had changed the game. And while Shimano and Campagnolo have marched on with the evolution of their electronic groups, SRAM has continued to champion their mechanical group.

We're going to set aside the comparisons to electric shifting for the most part, but I'll bring it up at the conclusion of this article. I'm going to review the new Red at face value, picking it apart from the inside out. SRAM has made a rather huge effort to update their highest-end component group, and there's a lot worth taking about here.

Before we dive in, it's important to note from the outset exactly what was reviewed here. Given that TriRig is focused exclusively on triathlon equipment, I didn't conduct a review of the DoubleTap road shifters. There are pictures of them in the gallery, and I've used other SRAM DoubleTap controls before, but these aren't making the cut for our purposes here.

I also didn't review the new Red brakes, because of my obvious bias in the area of triathlon brakes. I have a philosophy about what kind of brake a tri bike should have, and traditional road calipers don't fit into it. That said, I can tell you that SRAM has made an effort to make their traditionally-shaped caliper a bit more aero than competing models, and they are quite simple to install and service. If you're dead set on road calipers, and you're spec'ing a bike out with Red, there's no reason not to grab these.

So what I am primarily reviewing, in my opinion, is the heart of the group. That consists of the front and rear derailleurs, along with the cassette, chain, crankset, and TT shifters. So with all that said, let's get right into it. Hit the jump for my part-by-part review of the 2012 edition of SRAM's impressive Red group.

Tags » components,  sram
  • The biggest change to the Red group stems from the biggest complaint most people had: the front shifting. The new YAW front derailleur significantly changes how front shifting mechs have traditionally worked.
  • With big changes, however, come trickier setup procedures. SRAM puts this sticker on every front derailleur sold to make sure its owner knows that installation isn't how it used to be.
  • YAW doesn't just move outward: it pivots relative to the chain line.
  • The integrated chain catcher attaches via this very special bolt, with internal threads behind the wrench recess.
  • Old vs. New: the front derailleurs look similar, but function in very different ways.
  • The new Red Rear derailleur is a thing of beauty. It's basically the same as its predecessor, but that's nothing to be ashamed of.
  • SRAM's new rear derailleur gets new shaping, quieter jockey wheels and a titanium pinch bolt, but the mechanism is virtually identical.
  • Old vs. New: the rear derailleurs look rather different, but function almost identically.
  • The Exogram crankset is beautiful, light, stiff, and functions flawlessly in the new group.
  • The hidden bolt design of the chainring and crank arm is a neat way to help get the crank both stiffer and lighter, by increasing the size of the crank arm and eliminating sharp curves in the carbon.
  • Advanced ramp and pin timings on the chainrings are part of the secret to the YAW derailleur's performance.
  • The new Powerdome X cassette looks normal from the top ...
  •  ... but from the side, we start to see the changes. These elastomers help dampen the sound of the cassette, and underneath them are cutouts in the steel body of the cassette.
  • Lots of cutouts in the new Powerdome X allow it to save 30g on an already impressively-light cassette.
  • The Powerdome X: a thing of beauty.
  • This is the complete test bike I set up for this review. Not too bad, if you ask me.
  • This shot contains what I consider the 'heart' of the drivetrain: derailleurs, crank, cassette, and chain. The shifters round out the package, and my preference is the R2C variant, but SRAM warns that shifters with trim aren't ideal for use on the front derailleur.
  • I like R2C shifting, but SRAM says it's not ideal with the new equipment, specifically the non-trimming front derailleur.
  • SRAM would prefer you shifted this way, with at least one 900TT shifter for the front derailleur. This is a bit weird, but I'll bet SRAM has YAW-specific R2C shifters waiting in the wings.
  • Setting up the new derailleur can be tricky, but yields a no-trim solution that shifts very well.
  • The ceramic GXP BB gets red anodized accents on the external bearing cups. I like it.
  • The standard 900TT levers still look great, and work just as well.
  • The slim profile of the 900TT brake levers stays out of the wind, they're easy to set up, and work perfectly well.
  • Another angle on the 900TT brake levers.
  • The crank arms are even branded on the inside face - a nice little touch.
  • The beautiful rear derailleur does its job in style.
  • I reviewed the standard-size rear cage, but the mid-cage 'WiFLi' version is available and allows cassettes as large as 32 teeth to be used on a standard road bike.
  • These are the new Red brakes. They are beautiful specimens, but I didn't include them on my test bike. SRAM added some features designed to reduce the frontal area and slim down the brakes, but they retain the same essence as a standard sidepull mechanism that hangs cable out in the wind.

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