Buyer’s guide: SRAM groupsets 2017

From Red eTap to Apex, we cover all of SRAM’s groupset permutations

Alongside Shimano and Campagnolo, American brand SRAM are one of the three major options for consumers when fitting their bike out with a brand new groupset.

Like Campagnolo, they’ve also got a small foothold in the OEM market, so while it’s most likely a new bike will be fitted with a Shimano groupset, there’s scope to narrow down your search to a SRAM-equipped bike if your heart is set on one.

– Thirteen of the best bikes with SRAM Red eTap –

There’s a lot to like about SRAM too. Aside from the DoubleTap shifting found on the majority of groupsets, which is markedly different to Shimano and Campagnolo’s shifting mechanisms, and their top level wireless electronic groupset, Red eTap, there’s a sense that if you have SRAM installed on your bike, it’s a choice that’s been made on purpose. It not only sets you apart, but there’s also the knowledge that that decision has been made for a reason – whether that be for performance or simple personal preference.

From DoubleTap shifters to wireless Red eTap, there’s a lot to like about SRAM

SRAM groupset heirachy

SRAM have four road groupset families and the heirachy looks like this:

  • Red
  • Force
  • Rival
  • Apex

The top tier is occupied by Red, with its eTap and mechanical versions. As of late 2016, both are available with disc brakes, too. Next up is Force, with its three brake versions (mechanical rim, hydraulic rim and hydraulic disc) as well as a 1x system – although that’s only available with disc brakes.

Third-level Rival is much the same, available in the same three brake configurations as well as also being 11-speed, and offering a 1x version too. Apex comes next, with ten speeds and only a rim brake option for the main groupset, though SRAM’s commitment to 1x drivetrains stretches to this bottom rung of the ladder too, with the Apex 1 setuo also available with hydraulic disc brakes.

So, while there are four overall groupset families, each has its own individual permutations, allowing each level to be tailored to the frame you have, and the type of riding you want to do. Let us explain further…


eTap & mechanical

SRAM’s Red eTap groupset was launched in August 2015 and has hit plenty of headlines since then. That’s because it’s the only fully wireless shifting setup currently available on the market. That adds a level of exclusivity that neither Shimano’s Di2 or Campagnolo’s EPS systems can match – but on top of that, it’s also a particularly intuitive system, distinct from anything else out there.

Unlike Shimano and Campag’s system, eTap operates by making use of one lever to shift up the cassette, and the other to shift down. You can even press and hold each button to actuate multiple shifts, while if you want to switch between chainrings, you press both in at the same time.

– RCUK 100 2017: SRAM Red eTap groupset –

Seeing as you can only flick between one chainring or the other, SRAM have recognised that there’s no need to have separate buttons or levers to actuate a front derailleur in a particular direction. Smart. eTap also allows you to fit ‘Blips’, which are satellite shift buttons that can be places just about anywhere you think it’d be more comfortable to make a shift from.

The groupset communicates via SRAM’s proprietary wireless protocol network, known as AIREA, which is the brains of the system – a 128bit-encrypted network that’s housed in the front derailleur. This links up to the rear derailleur for the whole shifting experience, all the while with components that are almost as light as their mechanical counterparts thanks to their use of carbon, ceramic and lightweight alloy materials.

SRAM’s Red eTap groupset is the only truly wireless shifting setup currently available

Red mechanical was the forebearer of the eTap system, in that it’s the lightest groupset available on the market currently. The shifter blades are made of carbon, while shifts are actuated by SRAM’s DoubleTap system, meaning to shift to a harder gear on the cassette takes a small push to a first click, while to shift to an easier gear is actuated by a full push of the lever throw until the second click is engaged.

The front derailleur is also innovative, using SRAM’s Yaw technology, which instead of moving the chain guide in or out, actually rotates in the direction it needs to face for the best chain line. As a result, there’s never any need to trim the shifters if the system is setup correctly, in either eTap or mechanical guises.

The rear derailleur makes use of a lightweight titanium fixing bolt and ceramic bearings, while you can also get SRAM’s WiFLi capability which, when teamed with a mid-cage derailleur, can accommodate a 32t cassette sprocket at a marginally higher price.  

SRAM Red is the lightest groupset on the market

The centre point of both eTap and mechanical Red groupsets is the chainset, which has cranks arms fashioned from carbon fibre for low weight and stiffness. You can also get a Red-branded crankset with a Quarq power meter, owing to the fact SRAM owns Quarq.

As for braking, SRAM offer options with mechanical rim brake – the lightest option for weight weenies – or hydraulic ‘HRD’ discs. The rim brake calipers are designed with aerodynamics in mind, with the AeroLink arm that is claimed to improve power while reducing frontal area, and a sculpted body for the parts that remain, including the barrel-adjustor, which points away from the airflow.

The discs on the other hand are hydraulically actuated, and while they lose a bit in the weight and aerodynamics department, the CenterLine rotors are available in a lighter weight ‘X’ configuration, which helps minimise the losses at just 86g for a 140mm rotor. 

Both Red drivetrains are tied off with the XG-1190 cassette and the Red 22 chain, which uses HollowPin technology to keep weight to a minimum, and takes a PowerLock connector, claimed to be the easiest to install in the world.

Bottom line

Red is SRAM’s race groupset, and that can be seen in its light weight and carbon outfittings in the levers and cranks. eTap takes things one step further in the groupset market with wireless shifting, while both eTap and mechanical are also available with disc brakes too.

Target riders

  • Pros
  • Racers
  • Sportive riders

Key features

  • 11-speed
  • eTap and mechanical versions
  • Rim and disc brake versions
  • Chainset available with Quarq power meter
  • Yaw front derailleur – no trimming required
  • Relatively cheap compared to rivals


  • £2,387.00 RRP (Red eTap HRD)
  • £2,169.00 RRP (Red eTap)
  • £2.003.00 (Red HRD mechanical)
  • £1,742.00 RRP (Red mechanical)

SRAM Force

Force 22 & Force 1

The second level groupset SRAM offer is Force. It’s available in normal double chainring or 1x setups, as well as with hydraulic disc and rim brakes, and mechanical rim brakes. In terms of performance, it’s an approximate rival to Shimano’s Ultegra, although there’s no electronic version here.

Instead, you do get 11-speeds at the cassette, with Yaw technology in the front derailleur handily removing the need to trim. Like Red, you also get a built-in chain catcher, with a crankset that is also made with carbon fibre cranks arms.

The rear derailleur adopts much of Red’s mechanical technology too – so here there’s SRAM’s Exact Actuation tech for those immediate shifts, quiet operation via the Aeroglide pulley system, and use of carbon in the cage to keep weight down.

SRAM’s 11-speed Force 22 groupset

There are also those three braking options – hydraulic and mechanical rim calipers, as well as hydraulic discs. Like Red, the hydraulic and mechanical versions require their own specific lever, but each can be used with the 1x system and are all constructed of lightweight carbon.

They all continue to use the Doubletap shift system as well, while the disc brakes use the same Centreline Rotors as the Red flagship groupset, with a flat-mount system adopted. In each lever there’s also something called ‘Individual Reach Adjust’, so the positioning of the levers can be fine tuned to your specific hand size.

Finally, there’s also the 1x system. It simplifies gear selection in that there’s only one chain ring, so all selections are done using one lever. SRAM’s shifters work across the 2x and 1x setups – as long as the brake system is the right one – although there is a separate brake lever available without a shifter for the full 1x experience.

SRAM’s Force 1x is an all-encompassing groupset, which simplifies gear selection as there’s only one chainring

Gearing is at the choice of the rider – so you can pick between 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, 52 and 54t chainrings at the crankset, and marry it up to the MTB-inspired Full Pin XG-1150 10-42t cassette (a special XD freehub is required), or the universal PG-1130 cassette with 11-26, 11-28, 11-32 or 11-36t options.

The massive range of gearing is managed by a specific rear derailleur, which utilises a clutch system to keep the chain taught across the extended gear range.

Bottom line

Still a lightweight groupset rated on a par with Shimano Ultegra, with the added option of a 1x system that widens its appeal beyond the road.

Target riders

  • Racers
  • Sportive riders
  • Club riders
  • CX riders

Key features

  • 11-speed
  • 1x system available (disc only)
  • Rim and disc brake versions of 22
  • Yaw front derailleur on standard Rival
  • Trickle-down tech from previous generation Red


  • £1,125.00 RRP (Force 22 HRD)
  • £915.00 RRP (Force 22)
  • £1,140.00 RRP (Force 1 HRD)

SRAM Rival

Rival 22 & Rival 1

Rival continues to make use of 11-speeds, and it too is available in both 22 and 1x configurations. The 1x system also continues to make use of the clutched rear derailleur, and the same ease-of-use of the Force system. You lose the 52 and 54t chainring options from the crankset, but retain the taller, more pronounced teeth that help to keep the chain engaged.

Again, it’s an option arguably more suited to gravel, cyclo-cross or adventure riders, but can also have applications on the road too with use of the same cassette options as with Force. You can have it with hydraulic and mechanical rim brakes, or hydraulic disc stoppers.

SRAM Rival gained an extra sprocket to jump to 11-speed back in 2015

The Rival 22 shifters are forged from aluminium but they still get the same ergonomic profiling, plus there’s the DoubleTap mechanism, of course. The front derailleur also still moves using Yaw technology – so it’s not necessary to trim it, and you get that chain catcher.

At the rear, you can have short or mid-cage (WiFLi) derailleur options for a range of cassette ratios (you can have up to a 10-42t cassette with the WiFLI derailleur), with Exact Actuation and AeroGlide pulley features still prevalent. You gain a little in weight as a result of the all-alloy finish with stainless steel internals, but performance remains high.

SRAM’s Rival 22 front derailleur borrows Yaw technology from further up the range

The crankset is also beefier than with Red or Force, machined from aluminium and available in 52-36t, 50-34t and 46-46t (no 53-39t, however, potentially further limiting its appeal to racers).

However, you do still get X-GlideR chainrings for smoother engagement even when shifting under load. There’s some upwards compatibility too – so should you choose to upgrade the front derailleur at any point, the Rival crankset will still do a job for you.

Bottom line

Rival provides much of the high-level shift technology, as well as a 1x system if you choose it, just without the super-lightweight focus.

Target riders

  • Sportive riders
  • Club riders
  • CX-riders
  • Gravel bikes

Key features

  • 11-speed
  • 1x system available (disc only)
  • Rim and disc brake versions of 22
  • Yaw front derailleur on standard Rival
  • Trickle-down tech from previous generation Red


  • £931.00 RRP (Rival 22 HRD)
  • £624.00 RRP (Rival 22)
  • £923.00 RRP (Rival 1 HRD)


Apex 22 & Apex 1

SRAM’s entry-level groupset only comes in ten-speed. However, again, Apex is available in 1x, giving gravel riders the option of installing it on their machines.

Trickle-down tech is limited with Apex, so the 22 version doesn’t receive a Yaw front derailleur. Trimming is back on the menu, but if it’s well-looked after that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. It’s also rim brake only.

The chainset is available in a 53-39t, 50-34t and 46-36t configuration. Want a 11-32t cassette to go with it? That’s no problem either if you choose the mid-cage WiFLi derailleur. Either way, the Apex rear mech continues to use SRAM’s Exact Actuation derailleur geometry, so you should get crisp, accurate shifting.

Apex is SRAM’s entry-level groupset

Overall, there’s greater system weight, as you might expect, although gears are still actuated via SRAM’s signature DoubleTap system, with Reach Adjust thrown in for good measure too. It’s also tidy, retaining the non-cabled look of the more premium groupsets as well.

The 1x system features a specific rear derailleur complete with the roller bearing clutch mechanism that keeps the chain in check. It can accommodate a PG-1130 11-42t cassette, while the S350-1 chainset is available with 38, 40, 42 and 44t rings. You’re also required to fit hydraulic discs for the 1x too.

Bottom line

Apex is the entry-level groupset but there’s still the signature SRAM DoubleTap shifting and decent quality brakes on offer.

Target riders

  • Club riders
  • Entry-level riders
  • CX riders
  • Gravel bikes

Key features

  • Ten-speed
  • 1x system available (disc only)
  • DoubleTap shifting
  • Option of Apex-spec hydraulic levers
  • Some trickle down technology


  • Approx. £515.00 RRP (Apex 22)
  • £781.00 RRP (Apex 1 HRD)
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