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Will wireless shifting become the norm? SRAM Apex eTap groupset is on the way

Fourth-tier road/gravel groupset from US brand is set to offer wireless electronic shifting in 2023

SRAM’s fourth-tier Apex groupset will follow Red, Force and Rival in offering eTap electronic shifting according to documents filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the past few days.

Forms of wireless communication are licensed by the FCC in the US, and although most of the documents SRAM has submitted are currently confidential, others are free for the public to access.

This drawing (main pic) showing the label format and location of a shifter, for example, is labelled ‘Apex’. The shifter wouldn’t need to be filed with the FCC unless it was communicating wirelessly. Other documents provide Bluetooth and Airea test reports. Airea is the encrypted wireless communication protocol that SRAM uses for its existing eTap components.

Unfortunately for us, the photographs of the products and the user manuals have been granted short-term confidentiality. The titles of the user manuals refer to ‘eTap AXS’ – the same name that SRAM uses to refer to technology from higher up the range so it’s almost certain that SRAM plans to trickle existing tech down.

SRAM first announced eTap wireless shifting back in 2015 – SRAM Red eTap. The tech has been updated since then and extended to the Force and Rival groupsets, but the shifters have always communicated wirelessly and the derailleurs have always been powered independently, each with its own rechargeable battery.

SRAM eTap AXS, pronounced ‘access’, is an update of the original eTap system. Riders can mix wireless components from its different groupsets, see battery status, change component behaviour, personalise controls, get maintenance reminders, and update the firmware.

Entry-level Apex has been something of a poor relation in SRAM’s range over recent years. It was updated in 2016, going from 10-speed to 11-speed, but SRAM has moved all of its other road groupsets up to 12-speed since then. Apex is well overdue some attention.

2020 SRAM Force AXS 12-spd groupset - 1.jpg

Plus, as mentioned above, Red, Force (above) and Rival are all available with electronic shifting, and that’s the area of the market where all the action has been lately. That said, Force and Rival are still available with mechanical shifting too, and it’s likely the same will be true of Apex.

Apart from electronic shifting, what is the SRAM Apex eTap AXS groupset likely to offer? A move to 12-speed is extremely likely given that SRAM has already done the design work for its higher-level groupsets. An extra sprocket would be a point of difference from Tiagra, Shimano’s fourth-tier road groupset. Tiagra is still 10-speed although that’s likely to change in the next revamp (the last update was in 2019).

Beyond that, it’s a question of how much of Rival’s technology SRAM is willing and able to trickle down to Apex eTap AXS. Rival’s electronics are exactly the same as those of Red and Force – the same motors, switches, batteries, and so on – so it’ll be interesting to see if all of that continues to Apex.

Of course, when it introduced Rival eTap AXS, SRAM had to make changes to reduce the price. For example, the rear derailleur was given a spring clutch rather than the Orbit fluid damper system found on Red and Force, and you can't add auxiliary remote shift buttons to the normal drop-bar shifters. There are likely to be similar cost-saving tweaks with SRAM Apex eTap AXS.

SRAM also had to use cheaper materials for some Rival eTap AXS components. The cranks are aluminium rather than carbon, for instance. You’re unlikely to find much carbon fibre used in Apex eTap AXS components. Inevitably, the cheaper materials will increase weight.

> Read our review of the SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupset

Hydraulic disc brakes are a given – they’re already included in SRAM’S Apex 1 groupset – but will we see a power meter? The Rival AXS power meter (below) uses unique tech so it would make sense for SRAM to transfer it over in order to get the most from its R&D costs – but that’s pure guesswork.

2021 SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupset - front mech and crank.jpgSRAM’s formula for making its electronic road groupsets also suitable for gravel is also likely to continue. Shimano offers GRX and Campagnolo has Ekar specifically for gravel, but SRAM offers gravel-friendly options within Red, Force and Rival and there’s no reason for that to change.

In terms of pricing, SRAM Apex eTap AXS will be cheaper than Rival eTap AXS. You can find SRAM Rival eTap AXS on bikes like the £2,800 Boardman SLR 9.4 Disc Carbon, although that price is unusually low. At £5,050, the Trek Domane SL 6 is a more typical price.

When is SRAM Apex eTap AXS likely to be launched? Those manuals and photographs filed with the FCC (above) are confidential for six months – until 28 May 2023 – so we’re guessing that we’ll hear something officially in the first half of next year.

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.

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19 comments

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twobitcyclist | 1 year ago
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Given the existence of the already carbon-absent Rival group, I don't think another product like it will sell well. However, make the brakes cable-actuated and market the product towards home mechanics and SRAM might actually gain some customers...

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Off the back | 1 year ago
1 like

Do you know what surprises me? The big 3 all make electronic gears with all sorts of varying intigration. Why have non of them produced a groupset that charges up as you ride? Campag, Sram, Shimano - they all need to be charged up sooner or later. I would of expected some kind of wireless charging using a magnet dynamo or something by now. That way you can hide the batteries and charging points away making them much more user friendly for casual riders and not just those who want performance kit. 

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IanMSpencer replied to Off the back | 1 year ago
1 like

Like one of those wind up torches. Wouldn't it be straightforward to stick a magnet inside the hollowtech axle and have a pickup wedged magically in the seat tube. It wouldn't have to be a high powered generator, and arguably if the system went flat after standing for a while all you'd need would be to pop it on a bike stand and crank it by hand for a couple of minutes to jump start the system so you don't actually need a charging point. You could probably use a much smaller, lighter battery too. Of course, no good for SRAM and their "distributed power system".

Good suggestion. Get down the patent office now.

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Calc | 1 year ago
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I don't understand why mountain bikers are using 1x12 mechanical in harsh conditions and have been for years, yet us roadies are told that 12 speed mechanical isn't possible and we have to pay more for our groupsets than mountain bikers do for a front suspension carbon bike with 12 speed mechanical.   Anyway, I go tired of waiting for SRAM or Shimano to get the memo.   I converted my Apex 1x11 to 1x12 (10-44) with a Ratio kit.  Works great, shifts smooth, acceptable gaps between gears whilst still very low and very high gears available.  This is what should be available on most bikes in bike shops.  Unless you're the person who can turn a 53x11 easily on the flat but for whatever inexplicable reason also need a really, really low gear to get up hills and can't handle an 8rpm difference between a few cogs, then I think 1x12 is perfect most of us and the ease of use is "chef's kiss".

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fukawitribe replied to Calc | 1 year ago
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I wasn't aware of anyone saying "that 12 speed mechanical isn't possible" for road, or any other type of bike. That would seem rather silly given that they already exist at several price points, and that manufacturers that don't have them (Shimano) have said they're not ruling them out.

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Calc replied to fukawitribe | 1 year ago
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Who makes 12s road mechanical apart from Campagnolo?

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fukawitribe replied to Calc | 1 year ago
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Sensah and Rotor spring to mind, at the low and very high price points - and Campagnolo have the three mid- to high -range options.
Edit. Forgot LTWOO; had in mind there was at least one more Asian supplier but couldn't remember who it was ..

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Calc replied to fukawitribe | 1 year ago
1 like

(Conspiracy hat on.) Isn't Sensah ex-SRAM employees?  (Conspiracy hat off.) Rotor is Hydraulic not mechanical.  Anyway, these are effectively internet brands, no one walking into a bike shop will see them.  To buy a new bike, remove the mainstream groupset and install a groupset you found on the internet is something that only happens on youtube.  Punters buying new bikes in shops won't see a bike with 12s mechanical.  Yet they can get 12s mech. mountain bike for little coinage and have been doing so trouble free for years.  The ratio kit required only one small part changed in the shifters to make 12s mechanical, so (Conspiracy hat on again): it's a tax on bendy handlebars.

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fukawitribe replied to Calc | 1 year ago
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Yes they're ex-SRAM, as is one founder of LTWOO, Rotor is hydraulic - so not electronic - mechanical, just using fluid in the cable housing instead of wire . All of which is rather irrelevant to the fact that there are extant 12 (and 13) speed groupsets around, hence why I said it would seem rather silly to claim they're impossible even ignoring the MTB ones. One would have been a sufficient counter example. You can also buy bikes with them fitted, and buy Campagnolo everywhere and the others in stores in Asia, not that where you buy them from is relevant either.

So, back to my original point, who has been telling "us roadies are told that 12 speed mechanical isn't possible" ?

If you wanted to say "I wish 12 speed mechanical groupsets were more easily / cheaply available already fitted for road bikes" then say that

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check12 replied to Calc | 1 year ago
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No Tom foil hat needed, they are 

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check12 replied to Calc | 1 year ago
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34/50 and 12-32 11 speed, doesn't get any better (well I have 13-32 but that's a faff so I'll keep that to myself)

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Calc replied to check12 | 1 year ago
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I wish there were more "12 to" cassettes also.  I did like 46/36 12-27.  I'm 65kg so climbing 36x27 wasn't too knee busting.  What I liked was 46x meant I would stay in the 46 95% of the time and only used the 36 as a bail out with the 27: I had a 1x with a bailout.  I then made the jump to 1x proper, as the 36 chainring could be replaced by 1 extra gear on the cassette.

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Welsh boy replied to Calc | 1 year ago
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Have a look at Miche cassettes, you can have anything from an 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 smallest sprocket. They do Shimano and Campag flavours in 10 or 11 speed. I have a couple of 13 to 28 11 and 10 speed Shimano ones. I am sure that other places sell them but I got mine from https://thecycleclinic.co.uk/products/miche-11-speed-for-shimano-individ...

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nickyburnell replied to check12 | 1 year ago
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Yep. 11 speed 12-32 54/50 perfect.  Slight disadvatage downhill but at 105kg I've stopped peddling by then and am by far in the lead  3  Campag of course, It will still work in ten years. Older Shimano stuff I have, shifters mainly, get very tired with age. Oh, and Campag are made in a demorcracy (bothers me but I do seem to be a minority). Touring world will keep mechanical stuff alive for years yet, lower tier maybe but who cares?

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BonerFide | 1 year ago
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What's the point of what will undoubtedly be a "paper launch"?  I've been trying to buy a Force XPLR groupset since launch and not one single online or LBS retailer can give me any sort of date for availability.

The cycling press do nothing to help cyclists, gleefully reviewing what's sent for free, probably keeping it too, with the notable exception of DC Rainmaker, who in addition goes out and buys whatever he's reviewing at retail.  If Road.cc were to do that, we wouldn't be subjected to these Jim Bowen previews and reviews ("Here lads, come and look at what you could have won").

Review what's available to buy, this imaginary stuff is pointless. SRAM are the absolute worst of the worst at this, but they're by no means the only offenders.

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Jack Sexty replied to BonerFide | 1 year ago
3 likes

We do only publish full reviews of products that are available to buy (or at least pre-order/commit to buy) that's our policy. If a bike brand doesn't have any product to sell to customers they are very unlikely to loan it to us! 

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mark1a replied to BonerFide | 1 year ago
2 likes

This isn't really a review, it's a news item about a potential future product based on a statutory compliance filing. 

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Secret_squirrel replied to BonerFide | 1 year ago
4 likes

Its also readily available on bikes (PX Tempest in 21 days) - so whilst I do get where you are coming from - I think you're being a bit whiney.   Retail supply for home builders & upgraders is not the be-all and end-all.

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Recoveryride replied to BonerFide | 1 year ago
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Here's a link to Rival https://www.thewoodscyclery.co.uk/shop/components/groupsets/sram-rival-a...

It's mechanically identical (if you'll forgive the pun) and if you want to save a bit of weight, you can swap out the chainset to Force (and Force 1x chainsets seem pretty readily available).

The other SRAM tip is you can usually find all the bits at different retailers if you're prepared to shop around.

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