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By Matt Pacocha
It’s easy for forget that SRAM’s Force group has never been used in the Tour de France.
The company had such a strong entry into the road market, and ProTour competition, it’s easy to assume that it’s old hat for the brand. But come Saturday, even if it’s overlooked, SRAM will achieve the final milestone in its coming-of-age party on the road — starting the sports biggest event, the Tour de France.
“SRAM Force is in its first Tour,” said Michael Zellmann, SRAM’s road PR manager. “This is a big deal for the Force [group]. I just want to remind people that Force did well in the Giro and we expect it to do well in the Tour.”
The reason SRAM seems like such an old pro is because of the buzz generator the brand has become. Its road product line has done a good job of surrounding itself in mystery and hype, and that drama continues to keep SRAM in the spotlight. Its initial road launch was preceded by some early leaks of the group’s details. Then this spring information leaked all over the web about a new group set to trump the still-new Force, Red. In many ways the leaked information was a little suspicious, especially the date that it supposedly hit the Internet — April 1.
So was the Red group leak just creative guerrilla marketing?
“It’s neither here nor there how or why it [the leak] happened, but it has happened two years in a row,” said Zellmann. “I told people don’t believe what you read — you’re not going to get all of the facts.”
Have you read about the Red group? Well, the details leaked earlier were just a glimpse of something a lot more interesting.
Despite what Saunier-Duval Produir was riding in the Giro, the shifters won’t change to aluminum or magnesium, those were just prototypes, but they will have a Zero Loss cable pull ratio, refined shapes and independent reach adjustment for both the shifter and brake levers.
So on the eve of Force’s biggest achievement — going from introduction to racing the Tour de France in less than a year and a half, in a category that’s all been locked up by two manufacturers for the last 25 years — that we’re again overlooking the group that paved the way. Instead we’re focusing on Red.
Official word about Red
To start, SRAM confirmed that the Red shifters have evolved from Force. Design engineers focused on efficiency, maximizing the benefits of DoubleTap technology and minimizing weight. The hood and shifter body ergonomics remain the same as Force, but both the shift and brake lever have been refined. Both levers are made from uni-directional carbon. The brake lever is one centimeter longer with a slightly different curve that’s a tad shallower than Force. The shift lever is slightly shorter and narrower, to allow for more clearance to a handlebar and also so a rider can better reach its bottom from the top of the hood.
Internally the body of the shifter is made from carbon filled nylon rather than Force’s glass filled nylon body. The material change allows for less to be used, so its lighter, but it also incorporates features like dual shifter cable routing for less friction and so that cable doesn’t have to be routed around the outside of the handlebar and an improved window for shifter cable replacement. Because the material is stronger, SRAM also was able to use a honeycomb structure on the side of the body to save even more weight. The new shifters come in at 285-grams apposed to 306-grams for Force.
Yes, they’re lighter and the ergonomics look improved, but that’s just the start. Red incorporates one of those no-brainer improvements that will surely have both Campagnolo and Shimano scratching heads and saying: “Why didn’t we think of that?” Red’s shift and brake levers offer eight degrees of independent reach adjustment to accommodate rider ergonomics and preference. The shift lever has a no-tool five-detent adjustment and the brake lever has a micro-adjust screw.
But the number one improvement according to Ron Ritzler, SRAM’s road product manager, is the new Zero Loss technology. The new mechanism shaves 11-degrees of movement off of the initial shift of the left hand (front) lever to its first detent. Inside the mechanism the pawls are now slightly negatively biased (aligned next to each other) so that on the first shift, one doesn’t have to travel over the other, thus creating an instant engagement. The left shifter also has a total of three detents to allow for trim in the large chainring.
“It’s a shorter throw on the front, so you don’t have to move your hand as far,” said Ritzler. “The negative bias [in the mechanism] allows them to react a little faster. On the rear it feels a little better, but on the front it’s like holy cow.”
No details were offered on the derailleurs or brakes, they did allow pictures, but Zellmann and Ritzler did offer insight to the road line’s weak link, its cassette. If you read about Red, then you’re probably thinking about exotic materials like carbon and titanium, but the reality the new Red cassette is made from steel. An attribute that should make it last a long time, but also keep its price in the range of Shimano Dura-Ace with a weight in the range of an all-titanium Campagnolo Record Cassette. The new cassette relies on Open Glide shifting technology, but its steel construction is the catchy story. The larger eight cogs of cassette are milled and machined out of a single solid piece of steel. The inside is milled away except for the smallest cog, which is splined. The back of the cassette has a pressed on aluminum cover, which is also splined and the production version will have a sleeve that connects the two pieces so they don’t gall an aluminum hub’s cassette body. This leaves the inside of the cassette completely hollow and brings the weight down to around 160-grams, according to Ritzler.
The outside of the cassette is completely CNC machined. Each tooth of each cog is machined out of the same piece of steel. So instead of paying for exotic materials, you’re paying for the machining time it takes to make this component.
It will be interesting to see how this item does in production and in the field, though SRAM says that the whole system has been ridden hard already and it’s fared quite well. Zellmann was quick to point out that the production version will be quite a bit sharper than the prototype they were showing.
We’ll have to wait and see how it performs and we’ll even have to wait for the rest of the details of Red, including its final weight, price and more specifics regarding the cranks, derailleurs and brakes. SRAM does have a knack of drawing things out. For now, the only thing that can be added is that we know the group will be sub-2000-grams and available for spec’ on 2008 bikes.