Tech Feature: SRAM Red revealed, May 17, 2007
SRAM launched an ambitious road component program last year with the complete (and wholly new) Force and Rival groups, both of which utilize the innovative DoubleTap shifter design. In particular, the top-level Force group was billed as a formidable match for the best offerings from Osaka and Vicenza in both performance and weight.
While our experience has shown Force to be an exceptionally capable group, there was clearly still room for obvious improvement in a few areas. As it turns out, SRAM was well aware of those opportunities, too, as word is out on a new top-tier group that is intended to eclipse even its own Force offering.
The ink has barely dried on a short teaser video SRAM had posted on its web site, but a recently leaked document offered a more revealing snapshot of what's possibly in store from the Chicago-based company for 2008. For the record, SRAM Road PR & Media Manager, Michael Zellman, would neither confirm nor deny the information contained within the said document, and he was adamant that its pre-production specifications were not necessarily an accurate representation of what consumers will see once the items are officially released.
While the document did suggests it is a pretty good indicator, we'll have to continue to sit tight until SRAM releases some truly 'official' information in the near future.
Much like Bianchi's celeste green and Park Tool's signature blue, red has become the trademark color for SRAM and now 'Red' is the moniker for the new component group. The teaser video suggests that the complete Red package will duck in under the 2kg mark, thus making it the undisputed lightweight leader among the three main component contenders.
While we won't go so far as to say with certainty where those grams will be shaved, the logical choices would be those components that were shared between Force and Rival, namely the cassette, front derailleur, and possibly the brake calipers. The DoubleTap shifters and carbon fiber crankset were already class-leading items in terms of weight (or nearly so) so it's unlikely those will receive major changes. However, a few rumored features in the shifters will mark some minor functional differences from the current Force and Rival groups.
Last year's OG 1070 cassette was arguably the most glaring hole in the Force lineup with its relatively modest three-cog aluminum carrier and all-steel cogs. Speculation (and the occasional spy photo) of a BlackBox-level SRAM mountain bike cassette with a carbon composite spider have circulated over the past several months, and it seems logical that SRAM will grace the new road-going Red model with a similar upgrade that will probably secure a greater proportion of the cogs.
In addition, SRAM has never been a fan of non-ferrous materials for the cogs in the past, but its self-stated premium-level intentions for Red may warrant an exception to shave an appreciable amount of heft. For the sake of comparison, the inclusion of just four titanium cogs in the steel/titanium version of Campagnolo's Record cassette lops over 30g from the Chorus model which is otherwise wholly identical save for its all-steel cogs.
Likewise, the shared Force and Rival front derailleurs came as somewhat of a surprise last year (they differ only in finish), so a similar sort of material substitution is also possible for the new Red front mech, most likely in the cage.
The existing Force DoubleTap integrated brake/shift levers have been lauded in nearly every cycling media outlet for their feathery weight, but other aspects of their function and fit have not been as universally praised. Some users have found the shifter throws to be longer than ideal (particularly for multiple shifts), most lament the omission of a trim position for the outer chainring, and the rear exit-only for the internally routed derailleur housing rubs some hands the wrong way.
SRAM had hinted earlier this year that that last complaint may be addressed for 2008, and it seems plausible that an optional front-exiting housing position will be integrated into Red, similar to what happened in the early days of Campagnolo Ergopower (meaning that we can hang up our Dremel tool for now… not that we would even think of performing such an operation).
Sightings of a prototype DoubleTap lever by another publication at the Tour de Georgia also reveal a revised shifter paddle shape that will facilitate shifts from multiple positions, and shorter throws courtesy of what we presume to be some sort of internal changes. Even though our experience with Force has proved it unnecessary, rumor has it that the Red front shifter will also now include a conventional trim position for the outer chainring.
Lastly, SRAM informed us of a hybrid ceramic bearing option for its road and mountain bottom brackets and derailleur pulleys back at Sea Otter, and it seems a given that these items will be integrated as stock equipment for Red.
Will SRAM's new group leave others seeing Red?
On the whole, SRAM Red will likely continue to heat up the already-hot competition in the road component market, and FSA's entry hasn't even been sighted in public yet. With Red's lustful sub-2kg weight claim and its anticipated performance, we'll freely admit that we can't wait to see it ourselves. Stay tuned!