Buying guides

Best SRAM road groupsets 2020

Category: Buying guides

SRAM Apex

We have put together the best SRAM road groupsets 2020 for you, but first here is a little about the company behind these amazing groupsets…

US brand SRAM cut its teeth in the world of mountain biking and is known for often being first to market with new and innovative technologies, from Gripshift shifters in the 1980s to spearheading the 1x revolution (and 12-speed off-road Eagle drivetrains) in the last decade.

In recent years the Illinois-based company has firmly focused that spirit of innovation on road gearing, becoming in 2015 the first of the ‘big three’ groupset makers to introduce wireless electronic shifting with its eTap technology, and also spearheading the (as yet not fully successful) introduction of 1x drivetrains for on-road use. The honour of being first out with 12-speed for road fell to Italian rival Campagnolo in late 2018, but SRAM followed suit in spring 2019 with its AXS 12-speed system.

This not only adds an extra sprocket but offers road riders an alternative ecosystem of gearing ratios (called ‘X-range’) which SRAM claims to be more versatile than ‘traditional’ 11-speed chainring and cassette combinations and more suited to the needs of modern road riding.

What are the best SRAM road groupsets of 2020?

 

We’ll talk about the AXS concept a little more later on but it’s worth noting that as yet, it has only been extended to versions of SRAM’s higher-end groupsets. In terms of hierarchy, the company offers four main gruppo ‘families’, starting with entry-level Apex (roughly equivalent to Shimano Tiagra), moving on to Rival (so-named as it’s intended to compete with Shimano 105) and then on to the Force and Red families in ascending order of price/performance. All SRAM groupsets are available with hydraulic disc or rim brakes, and in 2x (two chainrings and a front derailleur) or 1x (single front chainring, no front mech) configurations.

Wireless eTap shifting is reserved for Force and Red level, which are also available in new AXS options. SRAM has traditionally offered the lightest gram-for-gram groupset options at each level, with Red in particularly appealing to weight weenies and mountain goats. The advent of aero bikes and the subsequent defocus of all-up weight as the defining characteristic of a performance bike has subsequently made this less of a selling point, but we thought we’d tell you anyway.

With a wide range of options on offer – from budget-friendly Apex (great for gravel bikes) to pro-level Red eTap AXS – there are plenty of reasons to consider SRAM for your next groupset.

Here’s our roundup of the best for 2020.


SRAM Apex

 

SRAM Apex

SRAM Apex is the company’s entry-level 10-speed groupset and as the name (somewhat) suggests, it’s available with a range of gearing options that make it particularly suitable for spinning up the steepest of slopes, so increasing its appeal to many a sportive rider or gravel grinder.

As expected you can choose from two compact chainset options (34-50t or 35-48t) – as perhaps not so expected a standard 39-53t is also included in the range (you won’t find this racing-focused option on many lower-end Shimano cranksets) and a 1x version is also available and ideal for gravel, cyclocross or endurance road. A rear cassette of up to 11-32t can be used but you’ll need a longer-cage ‘WiFli’ derailleur to do so.

In 1x guise with a WiFli rear mech and hydraulic disc brakes Apex makes a great groupset option for a gravel or CX bike, or for any budget bike that will be likely to take on rough roads or technical terrain.

 


SRAM Rival 22/1

 

SRAM Rival 22:1

Next on the SRAM groupset hierarchy is Rival, cheekily named to position it as an alternative to Shimano 105. Like Apex it’s mechanical-only, and like all SRAM mechanical groupsets it differs from Shimano and Campagnolo in using a shift system SRAM calls ‘DoubleTap’ – which means that both the up and down shift are carried out using a single gear leaver on each side (Shimano/Campy use separate levers or paddles for upshifting and downshifting respectively).

With DoubleTap, the left lever shifts between chainrings and the right between cassette sprockets. A quick click on the left lever moves from big to small chaining, a longer (double) click brings you back. On the right, one quick click takes to you a smaller sprocket, a longer push takes you back up.

SRAM Rival is an 11-speed groupset available in 2x configuration (Rival 22) or with a single front chainring only (Rival 1), and is also compatible with a wide-range WiFli rear mech and cassette. Hydraulic disc or mechanical rim brakes are available and – somewhat unusually – there is also the option of hydraulic rim brakes (SRAM HydroR) in the range.

Some product updates found at the higher end of SRAM’s offering haven’t made their way down to Rival level yet, including slimmed down hydro brake hoods (current ones, housing the master cylinder, stick up quite prominently which can be a love/hate thing for some riders).

 


SRAM Force 22/1

 

SRAM Force 22:1

Competing with Shimano at the Ultegra level is SRAM Force, which again is available in hydraulic or rim brake options and as a 2x (Force 22) or 1x (Force 1 – previously known as CX1) offering – we’ll discuss the newer, 12-speed Force AXS version below.

The primary differences between Rival and Force (not Force AXS, bear with us on this) come down to materials and weight – you’ll find carbon fibre cranks, levers and rear mechs here instead of the alloy Rival versions. Force 22 gearing ranges from 36-46t up to a 42-55t at the front which can be paired to cassettes ranging from 11-25t up to 11-36t (with a WiFli rear derailleur).

Meanwhile the 1x version can accommodate cassettes right up to 10-42t (the widest range one does however require an XD hub driver) and a range of X-Sync wide/narrow chainrings from 38t to 54t is on offer. The Force 1 rear mech is notable for featuring a roller bearing clutch that help minimise chain slap, an innovation first introduced on MTB drivetrains and since widely adopted on gravel groupsets. If all of the above (plus HRD hydraulic disc brakes) leads you to think that Force 1 would make a great option for a gravel or cyclocross bike, you’re not wrong.

 


SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD FM 1x 12Sp

 

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD FM 1x 12Sp

Now here’s where things start to get interesting. But first, a quick history lesson…

SRAM first came to market with its wireless electronic shifting system (called eTap) in 2015, initially on its top-tier Red 22 groupset but as we can see here, it’s now been rolled out as an option at Force level. Meanwhile, in 2019, SRAM also introduced a new, 12-speed version of Red called Red AXS (of which, more below) which added a 10-tooth smallest sprocket to the cassette and in so doing, pretty much rewrote the rules for road gearing (of which…. more below).

As tends to happen, those innovations have since then been rolled out to Force level as we see here, with a 12-speed wireless electronic Force groupset presented in 1x guise. Follow? Force AXS uses the same derailleur motors and high speed chipset as found in Red AXS, as well as a fluid damper on the pully cage called Orbit which ensures “next-level chain management” (less mech bouncing).

Where it differs from Red, as you might expect, is again in use of fewer top-end materials, a choice responsible for a subsequent (but small) weight penalty. As with mechanical Force 1 seen just a short time ago, Force eTap AXS 1x can accommodate cassettes up to 10-42 and comes with chainrings from 38 to 54t.

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD FM 1×12 Speed


SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD FM 2x 12Sp

 

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD FM 2x 12Sp

Intrigued by the idea of eTap and AXS but don’t want a 1x setup (or don’t have the cash to splash for SRAM Red)? This Force eTap AXS 2x groupset could be a great place to start. If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu it’s understandable – this is essentially the 2x version of the Force eTap AXS 1x groupset we’ve just discussed above.

Somebody really needs to have a word with SRAM about naming and categorising their product families – we get that there is a lot of innovation going on here but sometimes it feels like you need a degree in mechanical engineering just to be sure of which one version you are talking about.

But, we digress. Let’s talk about some of the other innovations on show here, including SRAM’s HRD hydraulic disc brakes with fully adjustable lever reach, separate ports to install satellite (‘blip’) shifters as well as what SRAM calls Bleeding Edge technology (basically a series of amends to internal caliper circuitry that makes bleeding brakes a lot easier). Also noteworthy – of course – is AXS itself.

This refers to SRAM’s new 12-speed gearing standard which adds a 10t sprocket to the cassette, without making the cassette any wider (thus calling for a narrower chain standard, which SRAM has interestingly given a ‘flat-top’ design for claimed extra strength). However that’s only part of the story – with AXS SRAM has also downsized the chainrings to give riders a greater range of gear choices via the cassette, with smaller incremental jumps between gears.

Under AXS, for example, the biggest 2x chainring option is 37-50t (compared to a ‘traditional’ 39-53t). However when matched with the new cassettes riders can achieve similar or even improved top and bottom gear ratios (a 50×10 gear, for example, is bigger than a traditional 53×11) with smaller gaps between gears allowing for more consistent cadence.

SRAM have called this new thinking about road gear ratios ‘X-Range’ (again with the names) and it’s the principle behind the entire AXS platform. So anywhere you see the AXS acronym, it signals the presence of a 12-speed cassette and non-traditional selection of gear ratios. It’s a lot to get your head around, but SRAM are convinced it suits the needs of today’s riders much better than the ‘old’ choices of 11-speed and compact, semi-compact or ‘pro’.

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD FM 2×12 Speed


SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 1x 12Sp

 

SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 1x 12Sp

By now this should be getting pretty self-explanatory – now we’re talking about the 12-speed AXS version of SRAM’s top-end Red groupset, originally launched in 2019 with hydraulic disc brakes (HRD) and wireless eTap shifting, seen here in 1x version.

SRAM’s wireless eTap system is lightweight and impressive in use, using the company’s proprietary ‘AIREA’ wireless protocol instead of ANT+ or Bluetooth. The system can be optimised to your preferences using an AXS app and the flat top chain is not only narrower than on an equivalent 11-speed setup but is also claimed to be stronger and quieter.

As with Force AXS above, Red uses a fluid-based damper to clutch the rear mech (as opposed to the roller bearing found on Rival-level derailleurs), which reduces chain bounce and enables the same components to switch between 1x or 2x setups.

SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 1×12 Speed


SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 2x 12Sp

 

SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 2x 12Sp

This is the 2x version of SRAM’s flagship groupset with all the technological features discussed above as well as plenty of exotic parts to keep weight to an absolute minimum.

Most of the tech we’ve covered already, but it’s worth drawing attention to some of the finer details you get once you come this Red level, including an elaborate one-piece chainset with a Quarq DZero power meter integrated into the crank arm (available to purchase separately).

This groupset is also customisable with multiple add-ons for time trial/triathlon bikes, including satellite shifting buttons (blip shifters), aero brake levers, aero extension shifters and more.

SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 2×12 Speed


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