SRAM is an acronym for Scott, Ray and Sam, the three founders of the American-based firm that started out producing grip shifters for road bikes in 1987. While these shifters didn't sell particularly well, SRAM adapted the technology for off-road use and it became an instant hit among the mountain biking fraternity.
Since then the company has made significant strides as far as technological developments and world-firsts go, having introduced wireless shifting as well as pioneered the 1x and 12-speed drivetrain revolution. Nowadays, SRAM has cemented its place as one of the 'big three' alongside Shimano and Campagnolo, and both its mountain bike and road bike groupsets are sought after by many.
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- Shimano gravel groupsets: The great GRX roundup
SRAM road groupsets: Terminology
While SRAM and its house brands, Zipp and Quarq, produce components and gear for all disciplines including mountain bikers and commuters, this buyer's guide will focus on the company's road groupsets which can be divided into four technologies: eTap AXS, eTap, 22 and 1x.
- eTap AXS: SRAM's newest offering comprises 12-speed and wireless technologies, and is cross-compatible with Eagle AXS components from the brand's mountain bike groupsets range. (It's unfortunately not backwards compatible with eTap).
- eTap: The first wireless road groupset.
- 22: SRAM's esteemed 2 x 11-speed mechanical groupset
- 1x: Single front chainring road groupsets with a clutch-equipped rear derailleur.
SRAM road groupsets: Range overview
SRAM RED eTap AXS
12-speed and wireless, it's the ultimate in modern shifting
Shifting: Wireless | Braking: Disc, dual pivot rim | Speeds: 1x12, 2x12 | Weight: 2101g 2x rim / 2,518g 2x disc | Cranks: 165mm - 177.5mm | Chainrings 2x: 46/33, 48/35, 50/37 | Chainrings 1x: 36t, 38t, 40t, 42t, 44t, 46t, 48t, 50t | Cassette: 10-26t, 10-28t, 10-33t
RED eTap AXS is the second generation of SRAM's wireless groupset which saw the entire system overhauled from the ground up. Available in both rim- and disc-brake varieties, the addition of a 12th cog to the rear cassette has spawned a new XDR driver body and chain standard.
The new groupset is integrated into SRAM's AXS ecosystem, meaning it will play nice with the Eagle AXS derailleur should you want to use the 12-speed MTB cassette on your gravel bike, or the RockShox Reverb AXS dropper post should you feel the need to get extra rowdy. AXS can also talk to a companion app and allows you to customise the shifting controls, including the Blip remotes as well as monitor the battery life and firmware updates.
At the back, the rear mech features Orbit - a speed-sensitive fluid damper which does the same job as a roller-bearing clutch. The fluid damper allows the derailleur cage to rotate forward smoothly during shifting so as not to overtax the motors or battery. This new system also eliminates chain slap and improves security; meaning the same derailleur can be used with both 1x and 2x front chainrings.
If you are running a 2x setup, the front derailleur has been reshaped to make more room for gravel wheels and is claimed to clear up to 42mm tyres. At both ends, the derailleurs have new chips and motors which provide faster shifting.
The cranks will accept both single and double chainrings, which are all single piece in construction - some even possess a built-in Quarq power meter. While this creates a stiffer and lighter unit, if you wear out or damage one of the chainrings, you'll need to replace the entire unit, including the power meter at the cost of over €1000.
SRAM is offering three one-piece cassettes; 10-26t, 10-28t, and 10-33t which combine with 1x and 2x chainrings — the jumps between the 2x chainrings are 13-teeth in every combo. Even if you opt for a smaller chainring at the front, the 12-speed cassette offers an extensive spread of ratios thanks to the 10-tooth cog. In some cases, this offers a broader range than traditional road gearing.
Despite a pro-only crankset being available with up to 54 teeth available on the big chainring, the consumer-available options are limited to 46/33, 48/35 and 50/37, though when paired with a 10-tooth cassette sprocket, this still offers a bigger top-gear than your more commonly-found 53x11.
To make room for that extra cog at the back, the gear spacing has once again got smaller resulting in a narrower chain. SRAM has bolstered the chain by introducing a new flat-top construction, which is claimed to add strength and shift performance.
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SRAM Force eTap AXS
Trickle-down tech at its finest
Shifting: Wireless | Braking: Disc, dual pivot rim | Speeds: 1x12, 2x12 | Weight: 2453g 2x rim / 2812g 2x disc | Cranks: 165mm - 175mm | Chainrings 2x : 48-35, 46-33 | Chainrings 1x: 36t, 38t, 40t, 42t, 44t, 46t, 48t | Cassette: 10-26t, 10-28t, 10-33t
SRAM's Force eTap AXS is the perfect example of trickle-down technology at its finest. Yes, it's slightly heavier and less bling than the Red equivalent but on the road, Force eTap AXS offers more or less the exact same performance.
All the electronics are the same, as are the ergonomics of the shift levers; the main differences come in the form of the cassette, which is pinned together as opposed to a one-piece machined unit. The crank arms are aluminium wrapped in carbon rather than hollow carbon fibre. Force eTap AXS still gets a flat-top chain, though the pins are solid and the chainrings are stamped rather than milled.
At Force level, the power meter isn't integrated into the chainset - instead, it's spider-based which also means the chainrings are individually replaceable, too. The chainrings are available in 48/35 and 46/33t combos (13-tooth jumps) and combine with the 12-speed rear clusters in 10-26t, 10-28t and 10-33t combos all using the XDR driver body.
Like the Red eTap AXS groupset, the rear derailleur also employs the Orbit fluid-based damper meaning the same derailleur works for both 1x and 2x applications and offers added chain security.
As part of the AXS ecosystem, Force AXS components can talk to Red AXS and Eagle AXS parts and can be mixed and matched without concerns about pull ratio compatibility.
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SRAM Red eTap
Now old but still gold
Shifting: Wireless | Braking: Disc, dual pivot rim | Speeds: 2x11 | Weight: 1970g rim / 2236 disc | Cranks: 165mm - 175mm | Chainrings 2x: 46/36t, 50/34t, 52/36t, 53/39t, 55/42t | Chainrings 1x: N/A | Cassette: 11-25t, 11-26t, 11-28t, 11-30t, 11-32t
SRAM's Red eTap was the first commercially available wireless road groupset, which laid the groundwork for AXS. While it's been superseded for a couple of years now, it's still available and a top-performing option for roadies looking for electronic shifting. RED eTap marked SRAM's intuitive shifting system; push the paddle on the right shifter for a harder gear, the left shifter for an easier gear, and both together to shift at the front.
Available in both rim- and disc-brake HDR versions, it was the first product to feature SRAM's Airea wireless protocol. According to SRAM, it decided against Bluetooth or ANT+ because the company wanted to avoid interference and stave off would-be hackers, too.
Red eTap turns 11 cogs at the back and is compatible with brakes, chains, chainrings and cassettes from the Red, Force or Rival mechanical groupsets if you're hoping to mismatch and save cash.
There are no cables connecting the shifters to the derailleurs. Each derailleur is powered by a separate battery and SRAM says the rechargeable cells should last about 1000km. In contrast, the shifters are powered by CR2032 coin cell batteries but only need to be replaced every couple of years.
Unlike the AXS kit, Red eTap is not equipped with any sort of clutch or damper, so there's no 1x solution. There are standard or WiFli versions of the mech which can handle up to 28t and 32t cogs respectively.
SRAM Red 22
Still one of the lightest groupsets available
Shifting: Mechanical | Braking: Disc, dual pivot rim | Speeds: 1x11, 2x11 | Weight: 1778g rim / 1984g disc | Cranks: 162.5mm - 177.5mm | Chainrings: 46/36t, 50/34t, 52/36t, 53/39t, 55/42t | Cassette: 11-25t, 11-26t, 11-28t, 11-30t, 11-32t
Red 22 is the most weight-weenie friendly groupset out there, weighing in about ~200g less than Dura-Ace 9100 and Super Record. Mechanical shifting is also still a hyper-reliable method of shifting that can be fixed at the roadside using traditional methods.
The DoubleTap Shifters move the chain with a positive click; half a push shifting the derailleurs down to a smaller cog, and a longer stroke pushes it up the cluster. Red 22 also allows cross chaining without the need to trim the YAW front derailleur — though SRAM doesn't necessarily recommend riding this way.
The rear derailleur is available in a standard- and long-cage WiFLi version which allows for a 28t or 32t cog at the rear, and there are front chainrings available from 35t up to 55t.
Sram Force 22
Best for the privateer racer
Shifting: Mechanical | Braking: Disc, dual pivot rim | Speeds: 2x11 | Weight: 2054g rim / 2232g disc | Cranks: 165mm - 175mm | Chainrings 2x: 46/36t, 50/34t, 52/36t, 53/39t | Cassette: 11-25t, 11-26t, 11-28t, 11-32t, 11-36t
Remember what we said about Force AXS eTap and that it's mostly the same as Red just a bit heavier? Well, the same applies to SRAM Force 22. It uses the same DoubleTap mechanical shifting, features the YAW front derailleur and there are both standard and WiFLi versions of the rear derailleur.
Available in both rim- and disc-brake versions, Force 22 is lighter than Shimano Ultegra too, but it's also more expensive.
With carbon-fibre cranks, Force sees a two-piece arm and spider design which adopts the hidden bolt design used in the previous RED 10-speed crank. Chainrings come in combos ranging from the burly 53/39, down to a mountain friendly 46/36.
High-performance CX and gravel grinding groupset
Shifting: Mechanical | Braking: Disc | Speeds: 1x11 | Weight: 2446g | Cranks: 162.5mm - 177.5mm | Chainrings 1x: 38t, 40t, 42t, 44t, 46t, 48t, 50t, 52t, 54t | Cassette: 11-25t, 11-26t, 11-28t, 11-32t, 11-36t, 10-42t
Previously known as CX 1, SRAM Force 1 takes the same materials and performance of Force 22 but ditches the front derailleur. SRAM forced the extinction of MTB front mech as well as led the road/gravel/CX 1x movement.
Only available with hydraulic disc brakes, the main difference between Force 22 and Force 1 is in the rear derailleur and 1x crankset. Force 1 is designed for bikes likely to spend most of their time away from paved roads, so it's no surprise to see it borrowing design features from the brand's MTB derailleurs, including a roller-bearing clutch. This system adds a bit of friction to shifting but drastically reduces chain bounce and dropped chains.
The second big difference is the narrow-wide X-Sync tooth profiles found on the front chainrings and jockey wheels. Alternating between tall square teeth and traditional triangles, the wide edges grip the chain and prevent it from falling off, while the sharp teeth keep everything running in line. X-Sync chainrings are available in sizes from 38t up to 54t.
The rear derailleur can handle both an 11-36t road cassette or 10-42t MTB cassette, granted you fit an XD driver body and long cage.
Just like Red at a fraction of the cost
Shifting: Mechanical | Braking: Disc, dual pivot rim | Speeds: 2x11 | Weight: 2348g | Cranks: 170mm - 175mm | Chainrings 2x: 46/36t, 50/34t, 52/36t | Cassette: 11-28t, 11-28t, 11-32t
Occupying roughly the same space as Shimano's 105 groupset, Rival 22 leans heavily on technology from Force and Red. With the 22 moniker, you get a double chainset paired with 11 gears at the back, utilising the same DoubleTap trim-free shifting over the entire cassette.
The levers feature the same ergonomics as their more expensive cousins in both the rim-brake and hydraulic-disc versions, but all the carbon bits have been replaced by aluminium. If we're honest there's no real loss in performance, the scale just reads a bit higher.
At this level, a 52/36t is the largest chainring combination available, along with 50/34 and 46/36. At the back, the cassette is available in 11-26t, 11-28t and 11-32t and can be had in both short cage and WiFli rear mech options.
1x on a budget
Shifting: Mechanical | Braking: Disc | Speeds: 1x11 | Weight: 2690g | Cranks: 165mm - 177.5mm | Chainrings 1x: 38t, 40t, 42t, 44t, 46t, 48t, 50t | Cassette: 11-42t
Just like Force, Rival is also available as a 1x specific group. There are no carbon bits to be found here but, most importantly, the Rival 1x rear mech features both a roller-bearing clutch and the X-Sync narrow-wide jockey wheels and chainrings. Available as a short- and long-cage version, the derailleur can accept a 36t or 42t 11-cog cluster.
Like Force 1, Rival 1 is only compatible with hydraulic disc brakes.
Entry-level gear pioneer
Shifting: Mechanical | Braking: Dual pivot rim | Speeds: 2x10 | Weight: 2419g | Cranks: 170mm - 175mm | Chainrings 2x: 48/34t, 50/34t | Cassette: 11-23t, 11-26t, 11-28t, 11-32t, 11-36t, 12-25t, 12-26t, 12-27t, 12-28t, 12-32t, 12-36t
Apex occupies the entry-level step of SRAM's road groupsets. There are only 10 sprockets on the rear cassette but Apex still sees crisp DoubleTap shifting. The derailleur hasn't been updated to the Yaw profile, so to avoid chain rub as you move down the cassette, you'll need to trim as you go.
Apex was the first to offer a 32t rear cog, though it didn't take long for Shimano and Campagnolo to follow suit; the rear derailleur is available in short- and WiFli long-cage varieties. The crank looks a bit dated, however, the chainrings maintain SRAM's Powerglide teeth and are available in 50/34t and 48/24t sizes.
Entry level 1x is ready to shred
Shifting: Mechanical | Braking: Disc | Speeds: 1x11 | Weight: 2719g | Cranks: 165mm - 175mm | Chainrings 1x: 40t, 42t, 44t | Cassette: 11-42t
Trickling all the way down to the entry-level Apex is the roller-bearing clutch rear derailleur and its long cage capable of accepting a 42t cassette. The front chainrings still have the narrow-wide X-Sync teeth but are backed up with a chain guide for added security.
Even as an entry-level option, the SRAM disc calipers are hydraulic, though they do offer a cable-driven lever should bikes be equipped with a mechanical actuation.
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