Road Gear

Reviewed: SRAM Rival Hydro 22

Rival mirrors virtually all the performance, design, and durability standards of its pricier siblings, it just weighs more and costs less

Although third in line behind SRAM Red and Force, Rival mirrors virtually all the performance, design, and durability standards of its pricier siblings, it just weighs more and costs less. It’s this cost-effectiveness that makes it a great choice for a cyclocross ‘B’ bike, training bike, or even a thoroughly competent race bike.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but bike stuff is expensive. If you’re a cyclocrosser and want two identical rigs it’s doubly so. In cyclocross it is definitely advantageous to have two bikes but for most of us, the norm is to ride most races entirely on the ‘A’ bike and only resort to the second, or ‘B’ bike, in extreme conditions if exchanges are required or if there is a mechanical issue.

If you have two bikes, it is important that they are as close to identical as possible so they don’t mess up your handling, but that only really extends so far as setup, position, and how they feel. If you’re on a budget (aren’t we all?) the ‘B’ bike is a great place to save some dollars while hopefully retaining the same performance and feel as the primary ride. Enter SRAM Rival Hydro 22.

Building up a Rival test bike is remarkably similar to dressing one up all in Red. The brakes bled perfectly the first time, derailleur setup and cable layout is the same, and even little things like bottom bracket adjustment and lever reach adjustment have all been handed down from the higher-end groups.

So it would make sense that a bike built with Rival would feel and ride the same as a bike with Force or Red right? Exactly right. If you were to build two identical bikes, one with Red and one with Rival, and ride them blindfolded (this is ill-advised in practice), they would feel exactly the same. Lever size and shape, brake lever action, brake sensitivity, shift paddle shape, and shift action are indistinguishable next to Force and Red. So too is the 11-speed rear shifting and the Yaw front derailleur. It all feels the same and works the same.

So what would be stopping someone from just putting Rival on everything they own? In a word, weight. Red’s shiny finishes and coolness notwithstanding, a bike with all Rival bits will gain almost a pound, and in the world of cyclocross that’s not insignificant. If you want to go svelte and feathery, the only option is to go high-end; that pound is going to cost you.

But the approximate price difference between Red and Rival is right around $1,400. In other words Red costs more than twice as much as Rival. Suddenly the Rival gear is looking pretty attractive — depending on options, it’s around $1,000 for a group.

The good news is this component decision does not need to be made all at once. Rival, Force, and Red are all completely interchangeable and can be mixed and matched as desired. The brake calipers and master cylinder internals of all three are almost identical, the graphics and finishes are different, and there are some substitutions for upgraded materials to shave some grams.

The smallest weight difference is in the brake/shift lever and brake caliper area, so that’s a great place to save bucks for minimal weight gain. Each Rival lever/caliper costs $384, while the Red unit is $590 per side.

One obvious upgrade is the crank. The Rival crank represents more than half of the almost one-pound weight discrepancy between Rival and Red — if you’re going to go high-end for one component, the crank should be it. Depending on bottom bracket options, the Rival crank runs $192-$218, while the Red crank can cost up to $517.

If you’re like me and always stock some essential spares, including a replacement rear derailleur, the Rival version works the same, weighs 34 grams more, and at $59 is a fraction (that fraction, incidentally, is 1/3) of the cost of a Red rear derailleur.

For those looking to hop on the single-chainring cyclocross bandwagon, SRAM Rival can be a less-expensive, and again slightly heavier, alternative to SRAM’s CX1 system. The shifters and crank can be used with a Force CX1 rear derailleur and narrow/wide chainring. Rival cranks are only available in compact bolt diameters, so all of the Rival 22 crank sets are compatible with the CX1 chainring.

Whether you’re building an ‘A’ bike, ‘B’ bike, training bike, or racing bike, SRAM Rival is a flexible, capable, and cost-effective solution for any ‘crosser, and if you tear off a rear derailleur in a muddy race you won’t burst into tears.

SRAM component weights: Red vs. Rival

Rear derailleur: Red: 144g, Rival: 178g
Front derailleur: Red 69g, Rival; 79g
Crank: Red: 550, Rival: 836g
Rear shifter w/caliper and cable inner: Red: 380g , Rival 398g
Front shifter w/ caliper and cable inner: Red 370g , Rival 376g
Cassette: Red 1190 185g, Rival 1130 273g
Chain: Red 22 246g, Rival 1130 259g