GCN’s first ride with SRAM’s brand new RED AXS groupset

Simon Richardson gets acquainted with SRAM's new flagship electronic groupset that claims to be the lightest on the market

Clock17:00, Wednesday 15th May 2024

SRAM has just released its all-new RED AXS groupset that looks to build on the success of its predecessor. The new groupset is visually very different from the past generation but the changes run deeper than just on the surface. It aims to be the easiest to set up, use and tailor to your needs, all whilst claiming to be "the lightest electronic groupset on the market". Ahead of the launch, GCN's Simon Richardson took a closer look at the tech behind SRAM RED and took it for a first ride. See what he makes of the brand's latest flagship groupset in the video above.

What is the new SRAM RED AXS?

SRAM has gone back to the drawing board for the latest generation of its top-tier groupset. At a glance, it is clear that it's very different to the outgoing model. In fact, even the bits that look the same have undergone some small design tweaks to improve performance and shed grams.

Of all the redesigned components, the shifters have received the biggest update. The brake levers have seen a complete overhaul, moving the pivot point of the lever blade higher up to provide better leverage whilst using the brakes. According to SRAM this has reduced the force required whilst braking on the hoods by 80% and by 30% when braking on the drops.

In an industry-first move, the new groupset has been developed in conjunction with the Hammerhead Karoo head unit with some bikes and groupsets shipping with the head unit included.

For all the weight weenies out there, SRAM is claiming a return to the throne for the title of lightest electronic groupset with this new generation of RED AXS.

Time for an update

The outgoing model of SRAM’s flagship groupset launched way back in 2019 and at the time it brought with it a radical new design. It included an additional sprocket, making the groupset 12-speed for the first time, as well as a clutch in the rear derailleur to improve chain retention. It also featured a 10t sprocket, meaning a completely different approach to road bike gear ratios. Even five years on the groupset doesn’t look out of place in the sea of pro bikes that make up the professional peloton.

This third generation of electronic RED draws on concepts introduced on the previous generation and looks to improve them in a range of performance metrics, including functionality, weight and durability.

A groupset that is easier to use

When SRAM began working on the new groupset one of the key elements it looked at was making the groupset easier to use. To achieve this SRAM took a very holistic approach. They wanted it to be easier to fit to a bike, easier to configure and easier to use while riding.

Eye-catching new levers

The levers are the first thing to catch the eye, because these new levers are a bold departure from what we've grown accustomed to with SRAM’s previous groupsets. Firstly the lever body has been reduced in diameter slightly and lengthened to give a better ergonomic feel allowing riders to get a better, more secure grip.

The top of the lever section, known as the pommel, has been redesigned to act as an additional hand position, allowing riders to rest their thumbs on the sloping section. This has been made possible by a reconfiguration of the lever internals, in which SRAM moved the reservoir and master cylinder to a lower position inside the lever body.

All of these alterations combined make for a noticeable difference when it comes to pulling on the anchors. In fact SRAM claim that the force required whilst braking on the hoods has been reduced by 80% and by 30% when braking on the drops. On his test ride, Si was able to feel a tangible difference in the braking force required when using these new levers.

Continuing the theme of ease of use, the new levers have been designed to be used with one finger, even from the hoods, with more space given to your fingers behind. No matter your preference you should be able to dial in a comfortable setup with independent reach and contact point adjustment.

Something new to the levers is the inclusion of ‘Bonus Buttons’ that are found on the inboard face of the pommel. These can be used to control a range of ANT+ enabled items such as head units or smart lights.

The levers are only part of the braking equation with the callipers playing an equally critical role in how well a brake performs. These latest callipers have been improved in three ways. Firstly, there's more pad clearance, which should prevent disc rub. Secondly, they're lighter. Finally, the calliper is stiffer, which should make the brakes more powerful.

New crankset and power meter integration

Although not quite as radically redesigned as the levers and callipers, the crankset does have a new look about it. The cranks now use a hollow carbon-fibre construction that saves 29 grams over the previous model. They've been created in collaboration with Zipp, pulling on the brand's knowledge of carbon fibre manufacturing.

Keeping up to date with the latest trends in the cycling world SRAM has added a new 160mm crankset to the range, which opens up more options for bike fit, or for those looking to experiment with the aerodynamic savings that shorter crank lengths can offer. The crankset is available with and without a power meter. The power meter now neatly integrates into the crankset with a smoothed faring which is equally as pleasing to the eye as it is good for aerodynamics.

More gearing choices than before

When it comes to the cassette SRAM has boosted the options available. Sitting between the current 10-28 and 10-33 options is a new 10-30 cassette as well as a new 10-36 cassette to give riders an even wider spread of gears. This wide-ratio cassette is a welcome addition given the rise of the all-road bike and riders commonly looking to put their bikes through more demanding terrain.

SRAM has invested in improving front shifting by working on a new front derailleur. A narrower cage has been used which allows for more immediate shifting, with the derailleur using a micro trim adjustment to move the derailleur cage across to prevent chain rub.

The functionality of the rear derailleur has remained the same, however it is now 16 grams lighter. It also makes use of some new oversized pulley wheels that minimise the angle of articulation and as a result, reduce frictional losses within the system.

The chain hasn't been forgotten with SRAM plating the inner links and rollers with chrome to increase durability, all whilst managing to drop weight by 13 grams.

All of these small weight savings in isolation may not sound like much but when viewed across the whole system they amount to over 150 grams bringing the total system weight for a two-by set-up to 2,498 grams including the weight of the power meter.

Hammerhead Karoo integration

For the uninitiated, Hammerhead is a company that SRAM acquired back in 2021. Since then, SRAM has been busy integrating the functionality of the Karoo head unit into the brand's wider ecosystem. The new ‘Bonus Buttons’ on the shifters can be operated with a long press and a short press meaning across both shifters the buttons can command four different functions. This just happens to be the number of buttons on the Karoo head unit. This allows for complete control of the head unit without having to remove your hands from the bars at all.

The groupset can be set up to work with other head units and doesn’t need to be linked to a head unit at all in order to work. However some bikes that are sold with the new groupset will come with a Karoo head unit as standard, which is a bold and interesting move from the brand.

Cost

As you might expect with a top-tier wireless groupset this latest generation of SRAM RED AXS does not come cheap. However, interestingly, even with all the updates and new components Canyon has revealed that a comparable build featuring the new groupset will retain a comparable price featuring the new groupset as its bikes with the outgoing groupset.

If you are looking to buy this latest generation RED AXS as an aftermarket upgrade you will get not only the groupset but also the Hammerhead Karoo head unit. The retail price for the complete group is £3,000 / €3,350 / $3,000.

Are you a fan of this new groupset? Let your thoughts be known in the comments below. For the full news story with all the details of the groupset make sure to head to the tech news section of the GCN website to check out the full story.

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