New SRAM Red review - drivetrain performance review for complete group

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…


New SRAM Red review - drivetrain performance review for complete group

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:

2012 SRAM Red Powerdome-X cassette with StealthRing elastomer noise damping 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.


New SRAM Red review braking performance and aerodynamics

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.


New SRAM Red review - drivetrain performance review for complete group

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.

New SRAM Red review - drivetrain performance review for complete group

(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.


New SRAM Red review - drivetrain performance review for complete group

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.


  1. It’s useless to compare the new Red to the old. Most people who will be purchasing it will be interested in comparing the new Red to Shimano and Campy. It’s time to go out on a limb and actually state a brand-to-brand comparison and your preference.

  2. The rear derailleur will easily shift more than two gears per push.

    On all the rigs I have encountered sporting the new Red when shifting from your smallest cog, a single big push will easily skip two cogs and finish in the fourth from the smallest (1—>4). More often than not, a big push will skip three and land in you in fifth from smallest. (1—>5)

  3. You have to adjust the shift paddles in before the brake lever. I have my brake levers really far in and the shift paddles arent touching the brake levers.

  4. Shift lever reach is adjusted separately from brake lever reach. Dial the shift lever reach back so it doesn’t interfere with the brake lever. Also you can downshift 3 cogs with one push. It’s the same as every other SRAM lever.

  5. I had the older Red on a Madone and switched to the new group this year. Absolutely no comparison, as noted in the review, the new group is quieter and smoother. The new cassette is good but I particularly like the new front derailleur which has better shifting and eliminates the trim function. Brilliant design that works.

  6. All – you’re correct, I forgot about the shift lever part during the initial write up, though it’s called out in Part One. Doh! Updated post with that and three shifts.

    Sprockets – Very cool! I’d never tried to get four, but sure enough, it’ll pop through four when starting on the smallest cog. I can’t get mine to shift more than three starting from any other cog, though.

  7. Yes, please compare to DA 7900 or 9000 (mechanical)! How much has the rear shifting improved? I have the old Red and thought rear shifting was poor till I switched to a DA cassette and chain. Much better. Front shifting w/ the Ti caged der was poor too. I bought the yaw FD and it does improve front shifting even w/ old Red rings.

    To fix slippery gloss finish of shifters maybe try skate board tape that has a rough surface. I feel it sends more of the effort into shifting or braking instead of trying to maintain grip.

  8. “The rear derailleur will easily shift more than two gears per push.”

    Then all the rigs you rode were not set up properly. They need to follow the instructions and adjust the barrel adjusters or shorten the cable (the adjusters is the recommended method in the manual). That happens with Dura-Ace and Ultegra too if you don’t take care to set the cable up correctly.

  9. @ ez

    The manual recommends adjusting the cable tension to address slow shifts, which, in their extreme, can present themselves as unintentionally skipping a cog.

    If the tension is optimally set and shifts are crisp and clean upshifting will go one cog at a time from biggest to littlest. Downshifting can move three or more depending on where the chain starts. Both upshifting and downshifting are controlled by cable pull and release. The shifter releases enough cable to allow the derailleur to move one cog at a time going down. The push of the shifter paddle can pull enough cable to move the three cogs when downshifting.

  10. for the old sram stuff, only the very first release of Force had no front trim. all others since had trim in the big ring (which made the shift much less intuitive IMO).
    what’s with the curb feeler cable end coming off that rear derailleur? do you use it as a kickstand too? ideally, the cable should end pointing forward, slightly under the parallelogram plate.

  11. Would this mean I’m able to replace my old Red cassette with the new Red cassette? I would love to take advantage of the new stealth ring tech, and at the same time soften my shifts. Or is the stealth ring only effective with the new rear Red derailleur?

  12. How does the 2012 Red compare with 2012 Force? Would upgrading be worthwhile, and if so would it make sense to start with shifters/derailleurs and go from there?

  13. Che – yes, those are the new S-Works road shoes, and yes, review coming.

    Jmg – our understanding is the current Force is, for all practical purposes, as good as the old Red. Depends on if you want to spend another $1,200 to drop about half a pound (roughly) and get quieter, smoother performance. If there’s nothing wrong with your Force group, probably not worth it unless the cash is just burning a hole in your pocket.

  14. Thanks, got it. I had seen some deals on red shifters lately ($340) and was thinking of getting a frame and building it up with my current force group. That’s why I ask.

  15. While it might be louder, the old Red cassette is the one piece that would improve a Force group- it is 55g lighter than the Force cassette in 11-23 (according to the Sram site), a full 2oz of rotating weight. I ride two of the old Red cassettes, and the noise hasn’t bothered me too much. Maybe in a large group with more than a couple guys running them it would be amplified, but the weight and durability of the steel one-piece trumps the negative of a bit of chatter.

  16. I actually am running Force with an older OG-1090 Red cassette, and it is a big improvement. I don’t find it noisy at all, and it is very solid feeling.

What do you think?