SRAM Red 2012: first ride

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SRAM Red 2012: long-term test #2

It’s been nearly a month since we fitted the SRAM Red 2012 groupset arrived at RCUK Towers for long-term test to the Test Rig.

As the observant may have already noticed, the only flaw has been the absence of long drop brake calipers. This has meant leaving the trusty customised Bontrager SpeedLimits in place. Fortunately, the SRAM Red 2012-equipped Cyfac Absolu V2 gave us an excellent insight in to the braking performance of the new AeroLink calipers.

One of the major design tweaks of the new SRAM Red over the previous version is the front mech. Its new ‘yaw’ feature, which as we described in the first installment of our long term test, moves the cage in a slight arc as the chain shifts across the two front rings, angling the mech towards the rear cassette.

The SRAM Red 2012 front mech’s yaw facility is a simple but ingenious method of eliminating chain rub

It is a simple and ingenious solution to the perennial issue of trimming the front mech to accommodate the chain angle when at the extremes of the rear cassette. New, electronic front mechs use an auto-trim function to keep the drive train silent; SRAM have resisted leaping straight in to the electronic race, and have solved the problem with an impressive, geometrical solution.

As readers who have experienced the character of the previous Red shifting mechanism might have expected, the single click, downshift is very sharp. We found it a little softer than previous incarnations, requiring a gentler push on to the inner ring. It remains fast, but even under pressure has yet to make use of the chain spotter. Let’s see if this continues into the gathering winter weather.

Shifting back on to the big ring is a smooth affair. There are six machined grooves on the rear face of the outer ring, and a selection of other well machined nibbles and nicks which enable this to occur. Clearly, a lot of attention has been paid to the pick up moments and leg position during the pedal stroke: even when shifting out of sync with the grooves, the chain slid back up to the 53 tooth outer ring easily.

It’s hard to convey just how impressive the front mech’s yaw function is. It’s very simple to set up, and extremely reliable in function. It’s turned into something of a party trick in bike shop discussions, everybody intrigued by the clever answer created by the SRAM boffins.

The crankset seems stiffer than the previous version; we experienced greater flex from the Test Rig’s steel frame than from SRAM’s carbon cranks.

We experienced greater flex from the Test Rig’s steel frame than from SRAM’s carbon crank arms

The ceramic bearing GXP bottom bracket is another phenomena of the 2012 groupset. It is extremely smooth. We all know how well a crankset performs with a  fresh bottom bracket pressed or threaded into place. but the red anodised cups enclosing the ceramic bearings (supplied with a small syringe of extra grease) really do feel special. Noticeable to all who sat astride the Test Rig and went for a spin on the rollers was a ‘floaty’, friction-free feel.

The subtle design changes and revisions have created a visually impressive rear mech that also delivers excellent shifts up and down the machined block. Under pressure, and tested with an exaggerated ‘panic shift’, we were surprised that mech and block remained in harmony. Jabbing the carbon shift lever sharply sideways to go up the block at the base of a hill did not create the crunching jumble of noise we expected. Further ham-fisted experiments all left the shift system unflustered. More mechanical sympathy from the rider clearly smooths the change, and the new elastomer bands, and open ‘back’ to the cassette create a silent shift that is certainly the best this correspondent has encountered from a mechanical groupset, and perhaps on a par with electronic rivals.

The shift levers and brakes are excellent. SRAM Red has always felt a little more skeletal under hand when on the hoods when compared with the beefier offerings of other manufacturers. These are no exception. Shimano for example, always feel very solid on the hoods, with a plastic body filling out the rubber covers; Campagnolo position a downshift button beneath the thumb. SRAM, on the other hand, have a hollow spot where your thumb naturally rests, which to some feels flimsy, while to others adds a softness and a boon to the stripped out, light weight feel.

The SRAM Red 2012 STI unit feels slimmer than its rivals

The knobs on the top of the hoods are taller, but the overall profile feels a little slimmer under hand. Certainly the pronounced knobs are easy to grasp, and comfortable when pushing into them. The lever blades, both shifting and brake, have been mildly altered and all felt naturally positioned when on the tops, hoods, or on the drops. Reach is easily adjustable and when dialed to your personal preference will remain set. One of our test team has not been a huge fan of the DoubleTap actuation, but even he expressed admiration for the very clean downshifts and harmonious upshifts. The uninitiated may struggle at first with the elongated, but delicate throw required to shift up a single cog at the rear, but as with most actions, practice makes perfect.

Coupled with the aforementioned SpeedLimit calipers, the braking was very good; in fact, we noticed an improvement in feel and control over the usual set up. We’re happy to pronounce the brake levers well engineered. On the Cyfac, we found the new AeroLink calipers offered very positive braking. The cam assisted arm is similar in principle to the SpeedLimits, but with a more robust linkage which aids the surety of the stopping system.

We can safely say that thus far the 2012 incarnation of the SRAM Red groupset offers such significant improvements over the previous version that it is the highest standard of mechanical shifting this correspondent has encountered. We’ll soon begin a long-term test on Shimano’s new 9000 series mechanical Dura Ace gruppo, and we’ll be interested to compare the two.

Against the new breed of electronic systems, Red acquits itself well, offering commendably controlled and consistent shifting – and we haven’t had to recharge it yet!

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