Review: SRAM RED eTap AXS 1x Group
article & images by Nick Salazar
Aug 9, 2019
Although we try to be very thorough in all of our reviews, there are a couple of aspects we have skipped so far in thos one. To wit, the reader might notice that we didn't get into fine detail about fast RD shifts occur, how accurate they are, how limited is so-called "ghost-shifting," etc? These aspects are all, mostly, obsolete these days. What I mean is that for all the top-end drivetrains, especially electronic ones, shifting is virtually perfect, and nearly indistinguishable from one another. The obsession in marketing language to describe huge improvements in shifting is basically that: marketing language. However, that shifting quality can depend greatly on proper installation. So when I say "mostly" obsolete, I mean obsolete so long as installation is done properly, as discussed earlier.
On that topic, I find it ironic that originally, the premier feature of Shimano's Di2 system was its superlative front derailleur shifting. Virtually every reviewer crowed that Di2's front derailleur was its defining aspect. With Di2, you could shift your chainring quickly, reliably, and under load. The irony is that with AXS 1x, the defining feature of is that it finally allows you to eliminate the front derailleur!
Ever since the dawn of TriRig, we have been excited about the concept of sequential shifting, where all that was required was one "up" or "down" shift to advance to the next gear. And recently, Shimano has updated Di2 to offer that exact feature even with double-chainring drivetrains, nine years after Fairwheel Bikes hacked their own bike that way. (SRAM has also added this functionality with AXS in 2x configuration.) Yet this new AXS 1x version is, in our opinion, superior to sequential shifting. It eliminates the front derailleur and small chainring entirely, saving weight, drag, and complexity. It offers twelve gears, flawless shifting, light weight, slick aero components, and dead-simple installation. The price you pay is new standards on the freehub body and bottom bracket. But if you're willing to pay the literal and practical price, this group is more than worth it.
There's no getting around it, this group is very expensive. However, it might not be as expensive as you think. For around $2400, you can get everything you need to make the system work. That price covers the crank (with aero chainring), the rear derailleur, the cassette, chain, Blipbox, blips, and clics. Basically, everything you see in this review ... except the wheels, which are their own category. You'll need some kind of rear wheel with an XDr driver. Some more recent wheels can be retrofitted with the XDr, some can't and you'd need a whole new hub (or new wheel). So your all-in upgrade price will be somewhere north of $2400, and that assumes you already have brakes and brake levers.
So that's a very high price, but in relatively in line with what we've seen of other groups in the past. Shimano's first Di2 7970 group came in at more than $2650 for the same components in 2009, which is about $3150 in today's dollars. So, comparatively, that's a steal. If you were on the Di2 train back then, you should be more than happy to shell out for AXS today.
If you are a little more price-sensitive, the good news is twofold. First is that SRAM makes all these parts available ad hoc, so that you can get just what you need, rather than having to buy a complete group and selling off any superfluous parts. The second bit of good news is that SRAM has already started the trickle-down groups. You can put in a Force AXS rear derailleur, a Force AXS crank, and Force AXS cassette (all 12-speed AXS variants) and get all the same functionality and gearing reviewed here for about $600 less. You don't get the snazzy aero chainring of the Red crank, and it's a few grams heavier, but everything important is there. So if you go with the Force options, the comparative dollar amount is about $1800, compared to that same $3150 for Di2 brought to today's dollars.
So ultimately, yeah it's very expensive. But it's the best kit out there, and it's a very good value compared to the historical competition, and it's already starting to trickle down.
In our first look at eTap back in 2015, we asked whether SRAM's first electronic group could "dethrone" Shimano's venerable and well-loved Di2 group. At the time, our answer was a resounding no. Today, we feel exactly the opposite way. SRAM RED eTap AXS 1x is the best group we have ever used here at TriRig. The only real drawbacks are the price of admission, and the fact that you have to change BB and freehub standards to use it. Other than that, it's an absolute winner.
My only real recommendations (other than save your pennies) are to make sure you buy some spare CR2032 batteries, and a couple spare SRAM eTap batteries, to save yourself potential headaches mid-ride. Other than that, nothing.
SRAM is the first and still the ONLY brand to take 1x road groups seriously, and they are absolutely dominating this space. AXS is a MASSIVE win for the consumer, especially in the 1x configuration reviewed here. The fact that SRAM is already making downstream/less-expensive versions is even better, and we are thrilled to see them doing this cutting-edge work, which has real and significant benefits for the consumer.
SRAM RED eTap AXS 1x is absolutely amazing, and we cannot recommend it highly enough.
Best drivetrain ever, if you can afford it.
Individually, each AXS component is strikingly beautiful, especially the cassette and the crank. Here are some up-close looks at the parts themselves.
Our Test Rig
We set up our AXS group on an Omni, which can use a 2x setup, but is right at home with this 1x group. On Omni, the front derailleur hanger can be removed, and replaced with a small plate that completes the aero shape of the frame, leaving nothing for the wind to see.
Front End Details
Front end: we mounted the BlipBox on the underside of the Alpha One's Dragonfly, using the M4 threaded hole already on the BlipBox. No mods needed, and it keeps everything absolutely clean while still easily accessible. Please forgive the messy-looking arm cups. Those are our new prototype Scoops, just a 3D print with some hand-cut pads. Bar tape is Silca: Nastro Fiori on the extensions, and the slightly thinner Nastro Piloti on the base bar. This is easily the most comfortable front end I've ever used, and shifting feels awesome on the AXS clics.