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By Matt Pacocha
SRAM trickles down its technologies rather quickly. It was two years ago that the company launched its road line at the Sea Otter Classic.
That initial introduction included both the Force and Rival groups. Early last fall at the Eurobike tradeshow, SRAM unveiled Red. And now SRAM introduced improved Force and Rival groups, by incorporating the most pertinent shifting technologies of the Red group; namely Zero Loss and its adjustable reach levers.
With these improvements SRAM may have just launched an incredible performing value-based group, that may just be the best consumer cyclocross group ever.
For two years I’ve raced an original SRAM Rival group on one of my ’cross bikes. The Rival bike even owned the ‘A bike’ designation at times. It has performed admirably in all conditions. With the latest developments announced for Rival — without a price increase — it would be hard not to call Rival the best new group for cyclocross.
SRAM has been active in the fall sport since it launched its road line. It supports many of the best domestic cyclocross racers, as well as current women’s world cyclocross champion Hanka Kupfernagel and former world champion Marianne Vos. SRAM’s support of the sport will continue as the leaves turn for the 2008-2009 season, as it is rumored the brand will be outfitting some of the best cyclocross racers in the world, the Belgian Fidea team.
“Deal is imminent,” said an industry insider close to the team.
The team, including Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken, Klass Vantornout and Zdenek Stybar, will likely rely on Red, but that doesn’t take anything away from Rival’s ability to perform on the ’cross course, especially since it now shares most of Red’s technology.
The New Rival
The two most important upgrades the new group gets are Zero Loss technology and independent reach adjustments for the brake and shift levers.
Those that have experience with the current editions of Rival and Force know that there are a few degrees of movement at the beginning of the shift stroke during which the mechanism isn’t engaged. The Zero Loss travel feature engages the shift mechanism immediately, providing for quicker shifts with a shorter lever throw. It is one of the first features that proved a noticeable improvement for the Red group. Rival and Force will both have Zero Loss for 2009, albeit only in the front shift lever. Of course, it would be appreciated in both, but experience with Red proved having the technology in the front to be a more noticeable improvement than in the rear shifter. With this new mechanism, Rival and Force’s trim adjustment moves to the big ring. As I’ve stated in reviews of Red, this is an improvement over the previous, for racing, but I do believe there was value in having an option to pick your preference, especially since you cannot have both. I don’t think this change will be appreciated by every user.
The Rival group now has a polished anodized finish. The high-gloss black is the premium finish used in the Truvativ line. The shifters also get their own carbon brake lever, while the shift lever remains aluminum; both levers mimic Red in shape.
The new package also allows for inside or outside the bar cable routing. The new shifters are 20 grams lighter than the previous edition and weigh a claimed 320 grams. Aside from finish, the brakes and derailleurs are unchanged.
The Rival crank, however, is vastly improved from the previous two-dimensionally forged crank. SRAM finally makes good on its original hollow-forged crank specification for the group.
“To make it hollow, significantly hollow, is difficult,” said said Ron Ritzler, SRAM’s road product manager. “It’s a pretty intensive process. We like the technology but it’s a pain in the neck as far as development.”
The Open Core Technology, OCT, 3D forged crank is stiffer and lighter, by 40 grams, than the previous model. It’s also available in a full range of sizes from 165mm to 180mm, which is why you see it popping up in the ProTour peloton — the Red and Force cranks top out at 177.5mm.
In its road configuration, 2009 Rival will cost the same as it does today, around $920, and weighs a claimed 2149 grams. Force gets the same improvements of Rival: Zero Loss, also for the front only, new lever shapes and reach adjustment. Force maintains its original material make up; the shift levers will still be made from magnesium and the cranks from carbon, thus lighter weight. The 2009 Force group will weigh 2052 grams and cost $1400. Both groups are in production now and will be available early summer.
Getting back to cyclocross
In addition to the Rival and Force upgrades, SRAM’s brake division, Avid, will offer two new cyclocross brakes for 2009, one will be at a price point level and the other will carry Avid’s Ultimate moniker.
The more economical version features a refined shape that promises better mud clearing and less chatter, by way of a new pad position and road style cartridge pad, instead of the longer mountain style pad the current Shorty brakes are equipped with.
Not much is known about the Ultimate version, though you may be able to assume cartridge bearings, ‘ultimate’ worthy materials such as magnesium and titanium, not to mention a rumored reversible brake arm that will allow for low-profile and wide-profile set up. With Fidea in the SRAM development loop, it is imagined that it will have a fair amount of say with this project. And, it’s a possibility Avid will bring back the Tri-Dangle, though probably not in anodized purple.
More, More, More
The guys from Chicago have made an impact in the road market and there’s no sign that they’re going to let up anytime soon. In addition to revamping its two groups below Red, SRAM will add a crank to its top of the line group to support a design trend that’s gaining serious steam: BB30. SRAM’s first BB30 crank will be an option within the Red group and will carry the same aesthetic as the standard GXP Red crank.
“We’re pretty excited about the oversized bottom bracket,” said Ritzler. “It’s really optimized for the effective use of the materials.”
The advantages to the crank are a lower stance width — so less of a chance of heel rub — lighter weight, improved stiffness and a longer bearing life because of the larger size. The claimed weight savings are upwards of a whopping 100 grams.
SRAM will offer two new 1090 cassettes. This is SRAM’s top-level cassette whose eight largest cogs are machined from a single piece of steel. The new combinations will be 11-25 and 11-28, and SRAM claims this is a perfect solution to achieve triple gear ratios without the hassle of a triple.
SRAM will offer two new large time-trial chainring combinations, 54/42 and 55/42. The new rings are modeled after what SRAM sponsored pro teams are currently using.
Designed to complement the 900 series carbon time trial components introduced last year, SRAM will offer more affordable 500 Series TT shifters and brake levers for 2009. The difference is only in materials; the brake and shift levers are alloy.