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SRAM RED AXS Review. The Ultimate 1x Drivetrain?

SRAM RED AXS Review. The Ultimate 1x Drivetrain?

Without a doubt, if you are looking for a new gravel group, SRAM RED AXS wireless groupset should be on the list. The Chicago company’s flagship product offers faster shifting, 1x or 2x drivetrain options, enhanced cross-compatibility with SRAM’s AXS mountain bike components, improved lever feel, and newly customizable programming, all with the same convenient wireless format. This is a system that SRAM is going to build on for a long time.

SRAM AXS RED
What’s important is how your groupset performance a year down the road. Not only is the SRAM RED AXS groupset light but it has survived rainy weather, gravel roads, singletrack, and rock gardens.

Rolling out of the driveway on this new groupset, you know it is going to perform like a champ. But, what happens after 500, 1000, or 5000 miles. We have several thousand miles of road, gravel, and single track on our SRAM RED AXS groupset and it has been pretty flawless. Aside from limited gearing, which SRAM has addressed, I think we have a winner.

SRAM RED AXS Review

We already mentioned that the groupset has performed flawlessly but so did our SRAM Force AXS group. So what does the extra price tag offer, besides a larger credit card bill? Like most things, more money means nicer, and in the bike industry, it also means lighter and more redefined. With the RED groupset, you’ll get more carbon and titanium, ceramic pulleys, nicer finishes, and friends that will have bike envy. You are looking at roughly 300 grams and around $1,000 compared to Force.

SRAM RED AXS 12-speed Groupset Features:

  • Wireless 12-speed shifting
  • Updated eTap shift levers and tactile paddles
  • Carbon and titanium bits for lightweight performance
  • Quarq DZero integrated power meter
  • SRAM AXS mobile app for configuration
  • Brakes feature adjustable contact point and reach
  • Same eTap batteries for 11-speed and other AXS components
  • Compatible with all AXS components
  • Single or double wide-range gearing options

So what is SRAM AXS? AXS is SRAM’s new bike component integration system. It takes eTap wireless shifting to the next level through updated gearing, HDR braking, 1x specific components, and more. The SRAM AXS app allows riders to see battery status, change component behavior, personalize controls, get maintenance reminders, and update the firmware.

OPEN UP with SRAM RED AXS
Shown above is an OPEN Up with SRAM RED AXS groupset and Zipp 30 Course Wheels

Mix and Match SRAM AXS Road and Mountain

We’ll start off with one of the nicest benefits of AXS! No matter what kind of bike you want to run SRAM AXS on, there is an available configuration. All of the new AXS components work together so you can pick and choose what will be best for you. 1x or 2x in front with options for an integrated or non-integrated power meter, disc or rim brakes, mullet setup, and plenty of options for remote shifting. Out setup was plain and simple, a 1x with a 10-33 cassette, a power meter, and blip shifters puddied our bars until we could find the proper location.

Shifters, Blips and Brakes

Since the shifter/brake levers are the first things you lay your hands on, we’ll start there. First off, the shape of the levers hasn’t changed. Compared with Shimano’s hydraulic DURA-ACE version, the levers of SRAM’s new eTap groupset are slightly bigger and chunkier but still fit nicely into the hand. Especially in a TT position, the hoods provide a firm and secure grip allowing the rider to transfer power to the bike effectively and, evenly on the tops where the hands sit firmly behind the hoods. This inspires a lot of confidence, especially on fast downhills. Even with bulky winter gloves, the fit is spot on. The revised rubber on the hoods is another welcome update. Compared with previous models, the new rippled texture significantly improves the grip, which is particularly useful if you like riding without gloves.

As far as ergonomics go, we’re really fond of SRAM’s independent grip-width adjustment, which allows you to adjust the position of your brake levers – particularly with brakes, a “one-size fits all” approach isn’t really sufficient. This clever system allows everyone to find their optimal setup, regardless of the size of their hands. We love it!

You’ll also quickly appreciate the updates to the shift paddle. They’re now bigger and feature an anti-slip pattern, making them easier to reach and operate, even with those chunky winter gloves. Yes, we’re afraid to say that we’ve been forced to keep on wearing winter gloves, even at the beginning of March!

One more clever feature is the function button on the back of the right-hand shifter, which allows you to switch to a predefined shifting mode.

SRAM Red AXS

You need brakes that work and work well and the latest version does the trick. At 170lbs I was impressed with the great bite and good modulation they offer. There have been a few sketchy sections of singletrack where a little larger rotor might have been helpful, but overall the brakes were solid.

Among SRAM’s promises is quieter braking performance. As far as we’re concerned, we didn’t hear a single squeal throughout the entire testing session, which is largely thanks to the new rotors (not shown in the picture, they arrived later). However, we did notice that the eTap AXS brake pads sit fairly close to the rotor. In wet and grimy conditions this could cause the odd bit of brake rub, but so far we haven’t had any problems.

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SRAM RED 1x Crank with Power Meter

SRAM Red Crank

Going 1x has its benefits and this is one of them. SRAM has received some bad publicity on their new RED AXS power meter for the road and the cost to replace chainrings. Not the case here, one the 1x system chainrings are replaceable and we are happy about this.

SRAM’s all-new Red eTap AXS group allowed the brand to completely reconfigure its components to suit any rider’s needs. One such component is the Red AXS 1x power meter. Designed for the gravel and all-road cyclist, it offers the simplicity of a 1x system with weight savings that pairs quite well with its new 12-speed group.

Naturally, the hollow arms are constructed of carbon providing strength, stiffness, and low weight. SRAM uses a proprietary layup that increases the thickness in critical areas while tapered, terraced, carbon architecture reduces weight elsewhere. Next up, is the oversized aluminum DUB spindle that first appeared on its mountain groups now available for the first time on the road. This standard significantly adds durability to the bottom bracket bearings and broader frame compatibility without sacrificing stiffness.

The 1x system is offered with 40, 44, and 46t chainrings that bolt up to a direct mount spider and work very well with the 10-tooth starting cog 12-speed X-range cassette. This allows for a wide gear range with close steps between the cogs. SRAM’s patented X-SYNC wide/narrow-tooth chainring technology provides maximum chain retention especially now that the new Red AXS eTap rear derailleur sports an Orbit damper system. The tall, square teeth engage the chain earlier than traditionally shaped teeth and better manage the chain while its finish is laser etched for better durability.

The Quarq DZero power meter uses spider-based integration and it measures left and right legs separately. Data is transmitted to your head unit via ANT+ and Bluetooth LE for maximum compatibility and easy firmware updates.

SRAM RED Rear Derailleur

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Red eTap AXS uses three wireless protocols: ANT+, Bluetooth, and SRAM’s Aria.

The rear derailleur on the AXS stands out from the Force and old RED groupsets. It uses the same batteries as the eTap but the design looks more robust and angular while also running on larger X-Sync pulleys and ceramic bearings under the surface.

There’s also an all-new motor with more power and faster signal transfer to go along with the groupset’s overhauled chipset that’s running things.

The rear mech will work with either a 1x or 2x system and in order to get around the need for a clutch on a 1x system, SRAM’s come up with a clever alternative, called Orbit.

Cassette & chain

The switch to 12 speeds isn’t the only drivetrain news. SRAM also shrunk the sizes of its chainrings and cassettes, citing that shifting performance is better with the smaller-diameter rings and cogs, and smaller is lighter as well. One thing they did not seem to be concerned about is friction on the smaller cassettes.

All cassettes have a 10-tooth small cog. Three cassette sizes are offered: 10-26, 10-28, and 10-33. These cassettes require SRAM’s XDR driver body. Construction is the same as the 11-speed Red cassette: most of the cogs are machined from a single piece of steel, with the largest cog made of aluminum and pressed on.

Like previous SRAM RED cassettes, the new XG-1290 cassette uses a one-piece design for significant weight savings.

To fit the 12 cogs into pretty much the same space as 11 cogs, SRAM needed to tighten things up. That meant a narrower chain. But when a chain is made narrower, it loses strength. SRAM’s solution was to fill in the outer links’ traditional scoops, which gives the eTap AXS chain its unique look. SRAM calls it FlatTop, and it weighs about as much as the company’s 11-speed Red chain. It’s also claimed to run quieter and shift more accurately.

The Flattop chain is not compatible with SRAM’s mountain bike groups.

Download the AXS App

New to the AXS party is an app on your phone. The development of the app moves forward at a regular pace but the core functionality has remained the same. The AXS app is a centralized place to check the battery, update firmware, and customize controls of your system. It can also, with some setup, add value as a place to analyze gear changes and miles covered.  

More SRAM AXS

Be sure to check out our SRAM Force AXS review and the new SRAM XPLR AXS.

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