New SRAM Red – Long Term Review, Part 2: How It Rides
In Part One, I covered the installation and actual weights for the New SRAM Red group. Here, the performance run down. As mentioned, the new Red group has been in our office on various bikes since its introduction, and we’ve got our own complete group as well.
Compared to the first generation Red group, the “New” or “2012” Red aimed to be quieter and have a lighter shift feel. It also needed to solve its lack-of-front-derailleur-trim problem. The trim was solved not by adding that feature, but rather by eliminating the need for it altogether with the new YAW front derailleur.
SRAM also addressed aerodynamics, and they made the crank arms stiffer than ever while still dropping weight. All together, it sounds quite impressive, but how do charts and claims transfer to the real world? Read on and see…
It’s hard to say which improvement makes the biggest difference -the group really is better all around- but from a long term improvement in riding enjoyment, I’d lean toward the noise suppression. Several parts lay claim to making the system quieter, from a more chamfered chain plate profile to AeroGlide shaped pulleys with ceramic bearings. But, likely, most of the decibel squelching comes from the new Powerdome-X cassette.
Where the original was solid, the “X” model gets machined holes between the cogs. The tooth profile has a small recess where the chain pins first make contact, letting them hit the rubber Stealth Rings first. The pins don’t really make metal-on-metal contact until they’re half way around the cassette, according to SRAM’s diagram:
The result, despite our attempts at recording the differences, is a dramatically quieter drivetrain. Ride next to someone on the old Red and it’s night and day. This is a huge improvement.
AERODYNAMICS & BRAKING
If I told you I could tell a difference in this, I’d be lying. But the efforts are appreciated visually. Most parts received some small aerodynamic attention, but the brakes got the lion’s share. Their frontal footprint is much, much smaller, largely thanks to the removal of the support arm and addition of a hidden linkage. Other tiny touches include recessed spring adjusters and (not shown) streamlined barrel adjusters and quick release levers.
Above, shown left to right, is the open and closed (braking) position. It’s hard to see much movement, but there’s plenty of braking force. The black piece with the cable clamp bolt pivots on the main caliper arm and is connected to the other braking arm by a small link, which SRAM says multiplies the force. I didn’t measure leverage forces, but in practice it feels very smooth, offers plenty of power and keeps things somewhat simpler and lighter by remaining a single pivot brake design.
Yes, I know it needs a cable cap.
Across all the bikes we rode with the New Red, stiffness was as expected from a top end group. One typical indicator of flex in the system is increased chain contact with the front derailleur under all-out sprints. Depending on the bike (because frame flex plays a role), rub was minimal or non-existent, which we take to mean the crankset and chainrings are plenty stiff. None of us had any complaints.
Not only is general riding volume turned down, front and rear shifts are pretty quiet, too. And they seem smoother. Where the original Red could, at times, feel and sound like you’re shoving a muscle car into gear during a drag race, the New Red is a more refined. Not Shimano refined, but close, and to be perfectly honest, sometimes that tactile, mechanical feel is refreshing. It hits a nice blend of smooth shifting with adequate sensory feedback.
For those who haven’t ridden SRAM’s DoubleTap shifters, a single inner lever controls both up and down shifts. Push it a little and it goes one way, push it further and it does the opposite. On the rear, a longer push sends the chain up the cassette to an easier gear. Occasionally, I would push the lever almost far enough and end up shifting to a harder gear. It was a rare occurrence, but it usually happened only when I was trying to make a lazy quick shift, or I was really fatigued and just wanted to be home. Overall, it becomes intuitive after a few rides.
Front shifting felt significantly lighter than with the original group. Effort at the lever feels markedly reduced, which is another of my picks for best improvement, particularly when combined with the YAW movement of the front derailleur. At this point, it’s safe to say that SRAM was actually working on a two-way trim design for the levers (the original had a single click trim in the small ring, but not the large), but just as they were ready to make an announcement, they told us to hold off on publicizing anything, that things were moving in a different direction. Six months or so later, we had YAW, and I’m very happy for it. It’s a simple solution to a real problem that works as advertised. Win.
(UPDATED) In Part One, I mentioned the various adjustments offered at the lever, including brake lever reach. It’s a good feature, you’ll need to adjust the shift lever separately so when the brake lever is dialed in closer to the handlebar, the shift lever won’t extend past it during shifting and catch on the side of the brake lever during the return. This doesn’t affect the shift, but it does require you to flick it loose to shift again. The shift lever’s adjustment has three fixed positions, which can leave a small gap between it and the brake lever.
The only real nitpick is that the levers are super smooth. This looks good and feels great when it’s dry, but in the rain they can feel a bit slick on ungloved fingers. I had to remain more conscious of keeping solid contact during braking on wet rides.
Ergonomically, the levers and hoods are great. The levers cant outward, lending a natural reach, and the hoods are slimmer than before, which makes them easier to grip for standing grinds. They lay flat, too, helping you set up a nice, comfy perch for your hands once the bar is wrapped.
Beyond quieter and smoother, the New Red just seems to work a bit better as a whole.
Shifting is quick, with up to three shifts per push on the rear (though you have to push it really far inward to get three). Changing gears while grinding up a hill or hammering all out is consistent and drama-free. I could easily shifter to a harder gear while sprinting for the city limits sign. When climbing, I could drop to the little chainring or work my way up the cassette without changing my effort or cadence and not have to worry about the chain skipping around, dropping or getting bogged up. And it didn’t matter if I was standing or sitting, mashing or spinning. That’s great peace of mind.
Another thing worth mentioning is the available options. When investing in a group like this, it’s good to know there’s some versatility. SRAM offers a wide range of compatible cassettes, including a cyclocross-specific version that’s heavily machined for better mud clearing, as well as a WiFLi rear derailleur for use with larger cassettes. So, just switching a few parts could make your bike ready for a day in the mountains.
SRAM’s a relative newcomer to the road drivetrain party. The New Red feels like it’s finally come into its own, taking the brand’s freshman groups and introducing refinements their competitors have had decades to develop. One could argue that the first generation Red gained quick acceptance because it was dramatically lighter than what was available at the time, cost less and worked pretty well. The New Red is still lighter and still costs less, but now someone could enthusiastically spec it because it works really, really well.