Simple to use; easy to charge; comfortable and ergonomic levers; great price
Lacks remote shifting
In bringing 12-speed wireless shifting down to just slightly more than $1,400 for a complete group, SRAM has pulled off a neat trick. In a handful of short and long rides around Colorado, I’ve been impressed with how similar it feels and performs to its more expensive Red and Force siblings. In a few ways, in fact, it’s better: the hoods are more comfortable thanks to reduced height on the front of the shifter knobs, and the more gentle curve up to them. And, of course, the price is nice. Beyond the expected weight-for-cost tradeoff, the primary downside is the lack of remote shifting, which is one of the great benefits of electronic systems over mechanical ones.
The pros: Ergonomics, gear reconfiguration, price
Smooth shifting and shape
At the shifters, SRAM has for years done a good job with a very smooth bar-to-hoods transition. This shape lets you rest your palms anywhere along the continuum of the bar extension and hoods without feeling a divot or lump. And the simplicity of SRAM’s one-shifter-per-level system leaves a lot of room for your fingers to wrap around the hoods.
While the levers don’t have the luscious curves of Campagnolo, the outward slope at the bottom makes for secure braking from the drops.
And the shifters have positive feedback when depressed, both in clicking sound and in snappy, tactile feel.
The top of the hoods, although still huge compared to mechanical brake/shift levers, are shorter than Red and Force eTap levers. This comes with the loss of pad-contact adjustment (moving the brake pads closer or further away from the rotor), but honestly, that is one adjustment on Red and Force that I have a hard time discerning, as the adjustment range is so small. Reach adjust — how far the levers are from the handlebar — is still included in the Rival levers.
Some people may like the huge knobs on Red and Force, but I for one am happy to see a reduction in the form factor. The upward curve at the end changed, too, with a more gradual ramp than Red and Force’s more wall-like banking. I did a 6½-hour ride Saturday and my hands felt great at the end.
In short, the Rival levers feel and look better to me than those on Red and Force!
In the jump to 12-speed, SRAM reconfigured its cassette and chainrings. The cassette goes down to 10-tooth cogs, and the chainrings come in 48/35, 46/33, and 43/30. I tested the 48/35 with a 10-36 cassette. I love how much I’m able to stay in the big ring when the big ring is just 48 teeth. It may be a dumb psychological thing that has zero effect on frictional or biomechanical efficiency, but I dig it anyway.
The group’s biggest gear, the 48-10, is bigger than a 52-11 but smaller than a 53-11. I normally ride a 52/36 with an 11-28 or 11-30, so this set-up feels fine on the top end and nice and easy on the 35-36 bottom end.
If you run the 11-30 cassette, you get smooth, single-cog steps between the 10 and the 15. On the 10-36, you get single-cog steps from 10 to 13 cogs, then 2-cog, 3-cog, and 4-cog steps.
Gravel folks: The 43/30 crankset is ‘Wide’ — meaning that you can run a tire up to 45mm with the Wide Rival derailleur, whereas 42mm is your max on the other two cranks with the standard derailleur.
As with all AXS groups, the new Rival uses detachable, rechargeable batteries that can be swapped front and rear. They are a bit bulky, and the life is much shorter than Shimano and Campagnolo’s internal batteries. But unlike Shimano and Campy, you are less likely to strand yourself in a single gear when you run out of juice. And you will get caught out with a dead battery — or at least I often do. In spite of being able to see battery life on your Garmin or Wahoo — and getting a flashing red light on the derailleur when shifting a nearly dead battery — sometimes you forget to deal with these things. Or, um, I do.
In any event, with SRAM, I have never had both batteries die at once. So I can often limp home with the live battery mostly in the rear, and then stopping at the bottom or the top of a big hill (or little mountain) to temporarily move the live battery to the front to shift chainrings. Contrast that to Shimano, where when you are nearly out of battery, the front derailleur stops working, so you are left with the rear only to get home.
The batteries charge in an hour, and last about 60 hours.
In my years of testing SRAM, I have only had a shifter battery die once. In that instance, I used the buttons on the derailleur to manually shift a few times to get home. And changing out the coin cell battery is easy.
Power (can be) included
I am a big proponent of power meters, so I am happy to see a power meter option with the new Rival. I have not yet been able to get my paws on the spindle-based Quarq meter yet, but will report back when I do. The meter adds $220 to the group price — not bad for a power meter!
The cons: No remote control
One of the cool things about electronic shifting is that you don’t need a fancy lever system to work it; you just need a button or two, and you can put them anywhere. I really appreciate having satellite shifters under the tops of the bars.
I also appreciate being able to add clip-on aero extensions with satellite shifters. The me of 20 years ago would have been stoked for this set-up to do stage races that have a time trial. The me of today uses this set-up on occasion for long gravel missions, especially Covid-era solo competitions.
While Red and Force eTap shifters let you connect satellite shifters, Rival shifters do not. Bummer.
Another thing I would love to see from SRAM in its eTap family is remote control of Garmin or Wahoo computers. Right now Shimano has buttons on the top of its Dura-Ace Di2 levers that can be configured (with the use of sold-separately D-Fly unit) to control a head unit, so you can move through pages or start timers without taking your hands off the levers. This is cool, and arguably a safety feature. What do you say, SRAM?
Bottom line: Good functionality at a great price
SRAM is excellent at rapid development and visual design of new product. In my experience thus far, SRAM Rival eTap AXS is a solid group at an excellent price. Sure, you pay a weight penalty of 150-200g compared to SRAM Force, but you don’t fork out as much cash, and you still get nearly all the functionality. The hoods, in my opinion, feel even better than Force and Red. The wide range of gearing is welcome for riding a variety of terrain, and the option for a power meter on a third-tier group deserves kudos. I look forward to seeing this group pop up on complete bikes this year and beyond.