SRAM Red 2012: long-term test #3

I began testing the 2012 incarnation of SRAM’s flagship Red road groupset in September and am now approaching the 1,000 mile mark.

Winter has crystalised my thoughts, along with some of the ground beneath my wheels. The impressive function exhibited in the kinder conditions of early autumn has continued unaffected by the harsher conditions of winter; a final fillip, which, combined with its efficiency, low weight, innovation (especially in the front mech), and appearance, leads me to declare it the best of any I’ve ridden this year.

SRAM’s offering is one of many top-end groupsets I’ve tested since January from the three giants of cycle component manufacture: Shimano’s new 11-speed 9000-series Dura-Ace iteration, and Campagnolo Record and Super Record among them.

SRAM Red 2012 – rear mech adjustment screws

I fancy SRAM have pulled off something impressive with this latest evolution of Red by creating a groupset not only with a character of its own, but one that sits happily between the two admirable, but distinct qualities of its rivals.

At one end of the ‘character’ scale sits the aforesaid 9000-series Dura-Ace, which has become considerably softer and smoother than earlier iterations, and now boasts a near fluid-damped feel to its mechanical shifting. At the other end is Campagnolo’s Record, with its definite clicks; a study in crispness. This isn’t to say that Campagnolo’s offerings don’t offer light shifting, or that Shimano hasn’t produced a groupset of excellent precision, rather that both play to their strengths to forge a character of their own.

Red sits between the two. It has an extremely precise, unashamedly mechanical feel to the shifting, but not quite the blunt click of Record, or the fluid feel of Dura-Ace.

DoubleTap is now an established technology, and has overcome early suspicions, from this correspondent at least, that it operated differently to its rivals for the sake of difference alone. Habits formed from greater experience with rival componentry were quickly overcome, however. Within the first few rides, my thumb had forgotten Campagnolo’s ‘go fast’ button on the right hand shifter, and my fingers had stopped trying to push the brake levers sideways as the roads rose.

Red has the simplest feel among mechanical offerings from the Big Three, which I mean in the best sense. The brake lever’s sole duty it to operate the brake caliper; the shift lever paddle actuates shifting and nothing else. There is no additional work, or alternative method involved.

The yaw function of the SRAM Red front mech is simple and effective

Aesthetically speaking (and for me, there’s joy to be had simply from regarding well-designed components and understanding the thoughts of the designers and engineers involved) Red is a fine piece of near mass produced craftsmanship. It pulls off the difficult trick of looking at home on machines of wildly differing appearance; for example, it doesn’t look out of place on the spindly steel of the Test Rig, but appears equally suited to the latest fat tubed, super stiff carbon race machine (due on RCUK soon). A clever trick.

In use, I have already waxed perhaps a little too lyrical about the new yaw feature of the front mech, which I consider an ingenious solution to such a common problem that it is remarkable it has not been thought of before (normally the best ideas have…discuss). I have abused it a few times, and left the Test Rig unwashed for a few rides, but the groupset and shifting has remained faultless.

During a particularly filthy excursion into the wilds a few weeks ago, it was subjected to an onslaught of mud that would have had a hardened Belgian pro wondering if their machine would ever be clean again, and it still performed superbly. Two “sluffed” (I’ve invented a word) gear changes when animal matter containing straw gunked up the cassette and mech briefly, but soon all was well again.

SRAM have, in my view, created a classic groupset that commands a place alongside the 7700 incarnation of Dura-Ace, and the Campagnolo Century Record groupset? All this praise, and I still haven’t had to re-charge a battery…

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Fisher Outdoor Leisure


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