SRAM Force – more than a viable alternative
Are you ready to make the leap? SRAM have waited a long while to enter the Road market with complete groupsets. They have had cassettes and chains in the pro peloton for a while, but they wanted to wait until they had everything right before they attempted the complete groupset. The result is two groups the Force and the Rival. We had a chance to ride the result, the Force group, for a couple of hours around the lanes of Derbyshire yesterday. Hopefully we’ll have a test group soon for a longer test term, but here are our first impressions.
This is the main plus point for the SRAM groups. They have pitched the lever between Campag and Shimano. Concealed cables are a big aesthetic improvement over Shimano and the overall feel of the lever is somewhat smaller and less bulky that Shimano, a bit fatter than Campagnolo. The transition part between the bars and the lever hoods is smoother than any previous brake levers.
The obvious similarity to Campagnolo is the fixed brake lever which is much better than the flipper design that Shimano users struggle with. The SRAM lever design sits perfectly into the hand and allows the fingers to fall straight onto the brake levers which kick out slightly. This is also improved by a bigger space behind the lever for your hands and a fatter lever hood which is comfy for climbing and sprinting. The result is popular with both Shimano and Campag users. The Force levers use magnesium, titanium and carbon parts, the Rival less exotic parts with an aluminium lever. There are less working parts than Shimano and like Campagnolo they can be rebuilt.
Double Tap. It sounds simple and in function it really is. A shift up into lower gears requires you to ‘push’ the gear stick inboard three gears at a time is possible. To shift into higher gears it’s a simple ‘one’ click tap. The only thing that takes some getting used to is the fact that to shift either way the lever goes the same direction. The brake lever doesn’t move at all and the gear lever can be moved and held in the fingers for a “sprint” posititon. The feel is more positive than Shimano and less clunky than Campag with a 1:1 ratio shift a bit like the XO mountain bike derailleurs. Very positive.
The front shift is indexed but the pick up and drop down is very crisp. There is also one derailleur for both compact and standard size chainrings, with two fixing bolts for braze on fittings – which is a really neat idea (this means that the cage will always be close enough to the chainset.
The brakes are smaller and lighter than Dura Ace. The Force brakes have titanium hardware and a nice nickel finish. The action is good and the spring tension a bit stiff at first. The pads are soft compound and we found the new set a bit grabby at first, however the calipers are stiff and responsive and best of all the levers are easy to reach when riding in the drops.
A great start for SRAM. They have made an intuative group that works really well and makes sense when you first get on the bike. Only the front shift took some getting used too, we’d like to live with that a bit more, see how it shapes up. The braking isn’t as progressive as Campag but competes easily with Dura Ace and Ultegra.
With Shimano and Record you have very different options. SRAM have done a little more than just fill the middle ground they have made a ‘leap forward’ in technology and function. As a weight saving group it could be combined with lighter cranks and brake calipers to more than satisfy the weight weenies out there, saving many tens of grams. The levers are brilliant, the best bar shifter to date. I think the groups will appeal to both camps, if you get the chance to use it you’ll be a convert – it is very good.
They are looking at August/September for the groups to available in the shops and 2007 for complete bikes, so later in the year. As yet SRAM can’t confirm who will be speccing their stuff, yet they seem to be very happy with the uptake of the high end groups. Expect the Rival to be on £1500+ bikes and Force to be on £3000+ bikes.
Nothing confirmed as yet, but we’ll have some prices next week. SRAM say that the Force group is set to be less than Campagnolo Record and slightly more than Dura Ace. Whilst the Rival group will be less than Chorus and slightly more than Ultegra
• Great ergonomics
• Great function
• Light yet crisp shifting
• Compatible with Shimano chains and sprockets
• Not compatible with Campag groups, at all
• Rear mech design a bit bland
• Indexed front shift (but nothing really wrong with it)
• Braking is a little ‘Grabby’
• Cheapest group is £600