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SRAM Force eTAP AXS Review. 1x Drivetrain

SRAM Force eTAP AXS Review. 1x Drivetrain

If you’ve not had the luxury to ride SRAM’s eTap AXS group you’re missing out. SRAM’s second-generation wireless shifting has taken things up a notch and made the single chainring setup more versatile. The simplicity is second to none, that goes for the ride and the install.

Almost everything is new, the exceptions being the brake calipers (rim and disc) and hood shapes, which carry over from the previous generation and get a pretty nice graphic update.

So what is AXS? The AXS label denotes the unique gearing, as well as integration with any other component labeled AXS. That means you can mix and match — with some limitations — mountain bike and road AXS components.

Campagnolo and Shimano cassettes go down to an 11-tooth small cog; with SRAM, thanks to XDR cassette driver, you can now go down to a 10-tooth rear cog. This means you can get a wider gear range and use smaller and lighter chainrings along with fewer chain links. From a 1X perspective, The 10-tooth cog is a major benefit when hitting fast sections of road or gravel.

SRAM Force eTap AXS offers the key features of RED eTap AXS—modern gearing, advanced chain design, and easy personalization without the dent in the bank account.

I have said this before, but this time I really mean it! After putting some miles on the road, some gravel and even some single track I’m struggling to understand why you’d want to pay more for the top-tier Red AXS group. Force eTap AXS HRD shifts and brakes cleanly, looks great and integrates easily with computers like Garmin’s Edge lineup. Sync your AXS system with SRAM AXS Web and you’ll have more data then you know what to do with!

Donnelly CC Gravel Bike set up for our SRAM Force eTap AXS review
Shifter (and brake) cables are a thing of the past.

SRAM Force eTap AXS Shifters

SRAM’s eTap is controlled with one “button” per side. This is located behind the brake lever and controls the rear derailleur. The left-lever button puts the chain in a larger cog, the right-lever button puts it in a smaller; pressing both buttons at once moves the chain between the chainrings (if you have a 2x setup). Along with this shifting simplicity, the SRAM AXS app, allows you swap out the left and right shift buttons, control cog steps and more.

SRAM Force eTap AXS Shifters
The 12-speed group is wireless for shifting and comes in rim-brake (cables) and hydraulic disc (HRD) options. Brake lever fit and feel is a personal thing but I found them rather comfortable. Riders have individual positioning preferences, as well as unique hand sizes and finger lengths. Reach Adjust makes it easy to adjust your lever for maximum one-finger control for everyone.

SRAM’s Force eTap AXS HRD levers offer a rather large brake hood compared to a cabled brake, with a substantial amount of room for the hydraulic master cylinders. Some folks will like this and some won’t. I think it is going to depend on hand size and purpose, large hands and those that really want something to crank on off-road will love them. The larger lever offers more control in my opinion. If you are deterred by the hood size the rim brake version is considerably less bulky.

SRAM Force AXS Shifters
What appears to be a gesture that would get kids suspended from school is actually me pointing to the lever on the “button” that makes the magic happen. SRAM’s HRD levers have the same chunky aesthetics as the Red version, with substantial hoods housing the hydraulic master cylinders. The rim brake version is considerably less bulky.

SRAM HRD Brakes

SRAM’s HDR brakes get the job done, it is that simple. As stated above the disc brakes have only had an aesthetic update. SRAM says the performance is good enough and I had no issues with them. I was running 140mm rotors front and back and only on the steepest and nastiest descents was I hoping for for a little more help.

SRAM Force eTap AXS Rear Derailleur

Donnelly CC Gravel Bike with SRAM Force AXS

No we did not forget about the front derailleur, SRAM kicked it to the curb with some of the groups. Designed for both 1x and 2x systems, the Force eTap AXS rear derailleur capitalizes on X-Range gearing technology for enhanced range and chain management.

Can you run the same shifters and rear derailleur on both a 2x and 1x system? The answer is yes. The front brake includes a shifter so, in theory, you could switch back and forth between a 1x and 2x system, but it seems like a pain in the ass to me. Personally, unless this group is going onto a road bike I wouldn’t even bother with a second chainring. The new 12-speed cassette offers plenty of range.

Donnelly CC Gravel Bike with SRAM Force AXS
Batteries across the SRAM AXS groups and their Reverb AXS seatpost are all the same. Road, cross or MTB batteries are all the same. Battery life is said to be between 50 and 60 hours on derailleurs but I would swap them out with a freshly charged one every 4 or 5 rides.

SRAM Force eTap AXS 1X Gear Range

With the SRAM Force 1X set up you have numerous cassette options that include: 10-26, 10-28 and 10-33. 33 in the rear, not enough? Then possibly look into a mullet build with a 10-50 SRAM Eagle cassette and XX1 rear derailleur. All AXS components are interchangeable to a certain extent. So basically you are not putting a Force derailleur with an Eagle cassette.

For chainring options, you will have several ranging from 36T to 48T in 2 tooth jumps — but 36T and 38T are not available on power meters. While a 38T or 40T chainring may not sound that awesome, it is plenty for gravel and most of the time on the roads.

SRAM has a nice little calculator here that illustrates things very well.

Upgrade to a Quarq Power Meter

The Quarq Power Meter add-on offers a proven and simple setup. It pairs super easily with any head unit and provides detailed individual leg power and cadence. Training with power is an incredible tool. It is a $300 upgrade for the power option but well worth it if you have the cash. I’ve found the power measurements to be accurate and actionable. Should you use any number of training programs, this setup will allow for seamless integration. Or, if you’re like me, the combination of Wahoo and Strava’s power analysis does the trick. I can quickly see how my power output is trending and what each ride did to my fitness. I also use it to compare bikes and other equipment on identical routes.

SRAM Force AXS Crank

New 12 Speed Flattop Chain

Specifically designed to work with its new AXS 12-speed group, SRAM’s Force 12-Speed Chain is a unique take on chain construction. It uses its all-new Flattop technology creating a lighter, quieter, and stronger chain. This also enables SRAM to build a narrower chain to accommodate those 12 cogs without sacrificing strength or durability.

Please note that the chain is only compatible with eTap AXS rear derailleurs and requires a Flattop Powerlock chain connector (included).

Donnelly CC Gravel Bike with SRAM Force AXS
SRAM fortifies the inner link plates and rollers with its Hard Chrome plated surface treatment that helps resist corrosion and reduces wear which in turn increases its service life. The end result is a very quiet and ultra-efficient bicycle chain allowing for more space between its outer plates and the narrow spacing between the 12-speed cogs on either side.
XPEDO M-Force 8 Pedals
We paired our Force group with the Xpedo M-Force 8 Pedal. SPD compatible, the ultra-sleek titanium body brings it all together at a mere 215 grams per pair with the titanium spindle.

There are two main ways to tell Force eTap AXS apart from Red eTap AXS: with a scale (~300g) and with your wallet (~$1,000). If you like SRAM’s wireless shifting style, this is a great group with a wide gearing range.

Quote from VELONEWS

Force eTap AXS HRD Verdict

After several months of riding, I can definitely say this group is a winner and one I would buy it in a heartbeat. Normally I am a little bit of a bike snob and need to have the top of the line gear, but I think this is a case where I would have no problem passing on the AXS Red Group and going Force. The functionality is all there, you just don’t get some of the bling you get with the top-end group, or the absolute lightest weight. You do get some extra cash in your pocket so you can go check out a sweet gravel event somewhere.

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