Component manufacturer SRAM makes a range of groupsets for road bikes and mountain bikes. In this guide to SRAM's road bike groupsets we'll walk you through your options from SRAM's innovative wireless electronic shifting systems to the entry-level Apex groupset.
The American-based component maker was founded in 1987 and SRAM's first product was Grip Shift, a twist-grip shifter for road and triathlon bikes that was subsequently adapted for mountain bikes.
SRAM essentially has four road groupsets, and the good news is that you should be able to get a setup that suits both the type of riding you do and your budget. All four have hydraulic disc brakes as options, and there are still some mechanical rim brakes to be found in the range.
From low to high in terms of price, Apex is their entry-level groupset, followed by Rival, Force and Red. Red eTap is SRAM's lightest and most expensive groupset – the one used by SRAM’s professional road racers. Though it came to the party much later than Shimano's Di2, SRAM has pioneered electronic shifting since SRAM Red eTap was released in the summer 2015.
However, it’s more complicated than that – it always is! SRAM's mechanical groupsets are still 11-speed, whilst their three top-tier groupsets - Rival, Force and Red - are available in 12-speed wireless electronic versions. Below is SRAM's groupset ranking:
SRAM wireless groupsets:
SRAM mechanical groupsets:
SRAM has focused on single-chainring '1X' (pronounced one by) systems, initially for mountain bikes, then for cyclocross, gravel bikes and road bikes. All versions of Force, Rival and Apex are available in 1X configurations (with a single chainring instead of a double).
With Red being a few years old now and a new Force groupset just launched, could 2023 see SRAM Red go to 13-speed? We'll wait to find out, but for now here are all your SRAM groupset options for drop bar bikes...
Read our first ride review: SRAM Red eTap AXS
It's getting on for four years old now (and after new SRAM Force was revealed in March 2023 we anticipate a revamp soon) so you might already know about SRAM's top-of-the-range groupset, the Red eTap AXS wireless groupset which replaced SRAM Red eTap.
SRAM Red eTap AXS is the second incarnation of SRAM's wireless electronic groupset. Shifting is actuated by switches on the brake levers, which send a signal to the derailleurs to do their thing.
Clicking on the right-hand button moves the rear derailleur to larger sprockets, while a click on the left-hand button takes you to smaller sprockets. Clicking both at the same time shifts the front derailleur.
Red eTap AXS is a 12-speed group, with a 10-tooth smallest sprocket on each of the three available cassettes. Those cassettes will only fit on wheels with SRAM's XDr freehub body, which is 1.85mm wider than the mountain bike XD body so that the chain clears the spokes on the largest sprocket.
You can choose from 10-36, 10-33, and 10-28 cassettes with a 36t-max derailleur and 10-26, 10-28, and 10-33 cassettes with a 33t-max derailleur.
There are double- and single-chainring chainsets, and all of them have smaller chainrings than most current chainsets. Your double-clanger options are 46/33, 48/35 and 50/37. That generally yields gear ranges with a higher top gear and lower bottom gear than in previous widespread use.
The chainsets are available with an optional power meter. Controversially, in most versions, it is built into the chainrings, so when the big ring wears out, you'll have to replace the power meter too.
SRAM says that this makes for a lighter, stiffer crank-based power meter.
One rear mech rules them all, for the road at least. It works with all three cassette options and single or double chainrings.
There is an internal Orbit chain management with fluid damper which SRAM says makes it quieter, simpler and more efficient.
There's also good news for gear tinkerers: the mountain bike Eagle AXS rear derailleurs will work with drop-handlebar controls so you can put together a 1X system with a super-low gear if that's what you need.
Red eTap AXS is customisable via a smartphone app that communicates with the system, meaning you can set it up however you like. Whether that's switching the way the shifting works so a right-hand tap yields lower gears rather than high or getting the system to take care of shifting the front mech for you so you only have to tap one button at a time...you can do them both.
The app also monitors battery level and updates will be able to detect chain wear and tell you how many shifts the system has executed.
The chain is dubbed Flattop because the outer edges of the links are flat. There's no backwards-compatibility with first-generation Red eTap.
Groupset pricing varies based on brake type selection, 2x or 1x drivetrain selection, and aero or spider-mounted 1x chainring type selection where applicable.
It's also still more common to be offered the derailleurs, brake levers and brakes as a set, then add your choice of chainset, sprockets and so on.
You'll also need wheels, a new rear wheel with an XDr freehub body or to replace the freehub body on your existing wheels with an XDr body.
A complete 2x groupset with disc brakes includes:
A Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 with SRAM Red eTap AXS costs around £11,750 and a Trek Madone SLR 9 with SRAM Red eTap AXS costs around £13,600.
SRAM introduced an electronic, wireless and 12-speed version of its second-tier Force groupset in its last round of significant updates in 2019/20, and for 2023 Force eTap AXS is now in its second iteration.
After previously addressing issues like the lack of customisation, migrating 12-speed technology from mountain bikes and coming up with a new approach to road bike gearing to develop a Force version of Red eTap, making it far more than just a heavier version of SRAM Red, what's new this time around? Well, the performance appears to be even closer to Red than ever, and the groupset is also a bit lighter than the outgoing version with new integrated chainrings and new power meter options.
The shifter hoods have also got smaller and neater on this update, although pretty much all the braking components are the same as previous-gen SRAM force.
There are a number of cassette sizes with a 10-tooth small cog as before, and there is now a 50/37 Force chainset alongside the 48/35 and 46/33 options. You can choose from 1x or 2x set-ups, and the double chainring cranksets on Force are now integrated. SRAM says this makes front mech shifting faster.
There is new Force power meter crankset options as well, with the new Force AXS Power Meter Crankset (shown above) offering a power meter integrated into the chainrings rather than the spindle. There are also spindle-based power meters in the Force range, but these measure your left-side power only and use that to calculate total watts.
As before, there is also SRAM Force Wide options if you want lower gears and an even wider spread of gearing. The Force Crankset is available in a 43/30T Wide version with a longer-than-normal spindle for both road and mountain bike width frame bottom bracket standards. This has non-integrated chainrings and is used with the SRAM Force AXS Wide Front Derailleur.
“Our 43/30T chainring combo combined with a wide chainline increases tyre clearance while providing ideal gearing for venturing off-road,” says SRAM.
As with Red eTap AXS you're going to need a whole groupset if you want to switch from whatever you're riding now, plus a new rear wheel with the XDr driver to accommodate SRAM's 10-tooth stop sprocket. There's no upgrade path from first-generation Red eTap.
A complete 2x groupset with disc brakes includes:
A Cannondale SuperSix EVO 4 Carbon 1 with new SRAM Force has an RRP of £6,750, while the Liv EnviLiv Advanced Pro AXS has an RRP of £6,999 at the time of writing.
Read our review: SRAM Rival eTap AXS
Last to turn electric was SRAM's third-tier groupset launching in April 2021. SRAM Rival eTap AXS makes electronic shifting available to more riders than ever before.
Rival eTap AXS is a 12-speed system, like Red and Force and is also available in 1x and 2x chainring options.
There is one derailleur option: 36t cog max derailleur that works with 10-28, 10-30, 10-33, and 10-36 cassettes. There is the option of a Quarq power meter inside a DUB crank spindle.
Like Force eTap AXS, there is a wide crankset option with 43/30T chainrings for bikes with up to 700x45c or 27.5x2.1" tyres.
A complete 2x groupset with disc brakes includes:
Read our review: SRAM Force 1
SRAM Force is also available as a 1x system designed for road, gravel, adventure, fitness and triathlon applications. This means you get a single chainring and a wide-range cassette.
SRAM says that a 1x system is simpler because there’s no front mech or front shifter, there’s no chance of the chain rubbing on a non-existent front mech, and it’s quieter on rough surfaces. SRAM also says that the interface between the chain and chainring is better because their X-Sync rings have tall, square teeth edges that engage the chain earlier, and the traditional sharp and narrow tooth profile helps manage a deflected chain.
The 1x system comprises three elements. Those X-Sync single chainrings are available in a range from 38 to 54 teeth; wide-range 11-speed cassettes are available in 11-36, 11-32, and 11-30, plus the whopping 10-42 introduced for the original mountain bike 1x, which needs a special XD freehub body. Finally, there's the clutch mechanism rear derailleur which prevents chain slap.
A 1x transmission can offer a very wide range of gears. A 46-tooth chainring with the 10-42 cassette gives a slightly wider gear range than a 50/34-tooth compact double with an 11-25 cassette.
We’ve used Force 1 and we did notice the fairly sizeable jumps in gear ratio size across the wide-range cassette. You sometimes find your legs spinning far quicker than you’d expected, or far slower, but you soon adapt. Although it’s not the best option for everyone, we’d say that 1x certainly has a place.
SRAM Force 1 is available with both hydraulic and mechanical brakes.
Read our review: SRAM Rival 1
Like mechanical Force, Rival is still available in a 1x configuration with just a single chainring and a wide-ranging cassette. It has no direct rival from Shimano or Campagnolo.
The most important part of the groupset is the Rival 1 X-Horizon rear derailleur. Inside its bulky exterior is a clutch mechanism that prevents unwanted chain movement. It eliminates chain slap when you’re riding over bumpy terrain.
It won't be for everyone, but Rival 1 offers shifting simplicity, a useable range of gears, and powerful hydraulic brakes (or mechanical brakes if you prefer).
It’s also easy to use. You have one shift paddle to move the derailleur across the wide-range cassette. You quickly adapt to the simplicity of the shifting, and while the actual gear shifting is a little clunky – it doesn't have the lightness or quietness of Shimano – there's no mistaking a gear change.
There are slightly bigger leaps between certain gears which will put off cyclists who like to be in the cadence sweet spot all the time. This is one of the biggest compromises with this groupset, but for solo riding it's not nearly as problematic as you might expect.
Anyone building a gravel, adventure, touring or cyclo-cross bike might be interested (and lots of new cyclo-cross and gravel bikes are shipping with this groupset), but it won't appeal to road racers, where the gear jumps and simple lack of range will limit its suitability.
Where the double-chainring version of Apex is ten-speed, the single-ring version goes up to 11, which is probably the smallest number of sprockets that can provide both the wide gear range gravel bikes need and comfortable spacing between the gears.
Like Rival 1, Apex 1 uses SRAM's X-Horizon rear derailleur tech, with a roller clutch to control chain slap, and in pretty much ever other respect, Apex 1 is a budget kid brother to Rival 1, so the same comments apply, and it's common to see Apex 1 on single-chainring gravel bikes, a niche SRAM had almost to itself until Shimano's launch of GRX in 2019.
Read our review: SRAM Apex
Apex is SRAM’s entry-level road groupset, and it’s a 10-speed system. You don’t get the same level of technology as with the higher-end groups, but that’s to be expected. For example, the front derailleur doesn’t incorporate SRAM’s Yaw tech to avoid the need to trim the position as you move the chain across the cassette, but you do get DoubleTap controls and powerful dual pivot brakes.
Like all the other SRAM road groupsets, Apex is available in a WiFLi configuration meaning that you can fit a wide range cassette (12-32-tooth) with a long cage rear derailleur.
The Apex chainset comes in 53/39-tooth, 50/34-tooth and 48/34-tooth, options, but there’s no 52/36-tooth semi-compact available here.
Although it looks a little dated next to its more illustrious siblings, Apex is sound stuff and we like it very much. Plus, of course, it’s far more affordable so if you’re looking for good performance on a budget, this could be the option for you.
SRAM Red 22, Force 22 and Rival 22 are all previous-generation mechanical SRAM groupsets that are no longer available as complete groupsets. However, SRAM retailers may still be able to access individual parts such as rear derailleurs and shifters, and you can find plenty of these parts at smaller bike retailers and on eBay.
For more info go to www.sram.com
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Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.