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Tech Report, with Matt Pacocha – SRAM’s Red group: Worth the wait, but is it worth the price?

SRAM finally unveiled its top-of-the-line component group last month. The company outlined details of the "Red" group during the Tour de France, where the group - still in prototype - saw action. Now, on the eve of the industry tradeshow season’s start, at Eurobike in Friedrichschafen, Germany, SRAM introduced a round of ready-to-ride pre-production parts, manufactured on the line's final tooling. Red’s specifications were finalized in conjunction with SRAM’s entry into the ProTour, by means of its sponsorship of Saunier Duval-Prodir. The relationship proved challenging to say the

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By Matt Pacocha

The ceramic bottom bracket costs more than half of what the arms and rings cost.

The ceramic bottom bracket costs more than half of what the arms and rings cost.

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SRAM finally unveiled its top-of-the-line component group last month. The company outlined details of the “Red” group during the Tour de France, where the group – still in prototype – saw action. Now, on the eve of the industry tradeshow season’s start, at Eurobike in Friedrichschafen, Germany, SRAM introduced a round of ready-to-ride pre-production parts, manufactured on the line’s final tooling.

The backside of the crank features rather flashy graphics. “We wanted to do something to make it fun,” said Ro …

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Red’s specifications were finalized in conjunction with SRAM’s entry into the ProTour, by means of its sponsorship of Saunier Duval-Prodir. The relationship proved challenging to say the least. Herman Pascal, Scott USA’s road product manager and a key liaison between SRAM and Saunier Duval, said that in the early season the team’s riders immediately gave feedback, and much of it was negative.

For the riders, the biggest sticking point was the front derailleur’s lack of trim. Pascal went so far as to say some of the riders were angry at the team’s decision to use unproven components under the demanding conditions of the ProTour. SRAM worked hard to tutor the team’s riders and mechanics on the group’s proper installation, adjustment and use, while riders’ feedback was fast-tracked into new variations of Red shifters and other components. A second generation of prototypes made their way into the hands of Gilberto Simoni and David Millar, just in time for the Tour de Georgia.

The ultra-light (and ultra-expensive) Red rear derailleur.

The ultra-light (and ultra-expensive) Red rear derailleur.

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Red takes the basic technologies of the Force and Rival groups — DoubleTap, Exact Actuation and PowerGlide — to another level. It’s a group that spares no expense, much like Campagnolo’s Record line. The biggest factors contributing the group’s staggering $2142 price tag are materials and tooling. Expensive ceramic bearings grace rotating parts, while the rear derailleur and shifters depend on ample doses of carbon fiber for their structure. The front derailleur and brake set both rely on titanium. SRAM uses these exotic materials to produce a group that weighs in at a scant 1928 grams… or $1.11/gram.

Welcome to the PowerDome
SRAM introduces one new technology — PowerDome — and pulls another from its mountain-bike line — ZeroLoss — to complete Red. The DoubleTap shifters with ZeroLoss technology reduce the degree of the shift lever’s travel considerably by translating all lever motion into cable movement. This is immediately noticeable to a rider familiar with the operation of Force or Rival. Shifts to the outer chainring are noticeably faster and smoother. SRAM has also added a third detent to the shifter allowing two trim positions for the outer chainring, thus appeasing many, including the Saunier-Duval team.

The PowerDome cassette is one of the coolest items in the new group.

The PowerDome cassette is one of the coolest items in the new group.

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The new PowerDome refers to the manufacturing process of Red’s steel cassette. The top eight cogs of the cassette are made from a single piece of steel. The steel is first milled into a dome with teeth then CNC machined; the cassette spends roughly an hour on milling and machining tools before the task is complete. Once fully machined the steel pieces are electrolysis-nickel plated to improve durability. The single steel piece is completed by two floating steel cogs, an alloy lock ring and an aluminum inner sleeve and back plate. It’s light, strong and quite unlike anything we’ve seen before. It’s an example of the sort out-of-the-box engineering one gets when designing a component from the ground up.

Another example is the independent reach adjustment on the shifters. There is 8 degrees of independent adjustment on each shift and brake lever. That alone should make Red a popular choice among those with smaller hands. Cable routing through the lever bodies now allows for a mechanic to place shift cable either on the inside or the outside of the bars to suit personal preferences. SRAM’s earlier DoubleTap shifters allow only outside routing.

Spring tension is adjusted here.

Spring tension is adjusted here.

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The derailleurs utilize premium level materials. In addition to the ceramic pulleys, the Red rear derailleur gets a full carbon pulley cage and a carbon inner parallelogram link. It’s the lightest derailleur that SRAM has ever produced and, at $311, it’s also the most expensive.

The front derailleur’s body is forged from aluminum and its cage is molded from titanium.

Red’s front derailleur will only be available as a braze-on, but two band clamps will be available.

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The Red crank’s story mostly has to do with new larger, stiffer chainrings and ceramic bottom bracket bearings, but its redesigned aluminum-splined, carbon arms have a lower profile, which narrows its stance width. The Red crank is lighter and stiffer than Force.

Sure it’s nifty, but does it work?
The first thing I noticed while setting up my Red test bike were the brakes. The lever action is impressive. The entire operation feels smooth, precise and quite solid.

And the shift lever is adjusted just below the levers’ pivot.

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Adjusting the reach of the brakes took a bit of work, but not much. The shift lever was first and its no-tool operation was somewhat tricky, because of the cam’s small size. The brake lever, on the other hand, was quite simple, with an Allen adjustment screw under the brake hood.

Once on the road the shifting proved to be positive, and required less input than earlier DoubleTap models. The front shifter benefits the most from this attribute of ZeroLoss. I appreciate the added trim detent when in the big ring, as its absence was one of my complaints with Force.

It will be interesting to isolate the Red shifters from the new chainrings and cassette. When used in combination, it’s tough to distinguish which improvements have the biggest impact on shifting performance.

An examination as to the effects of each component of Red is important because of the group’s overall price, one that even a SRAM employee referred to as “shocking.”

Since Red, Force and Rival all share SRAM’s Exact Actuation ratio they can be mixed and matched. Indeed, Red shifters may provide the most performance-for-the-buck out of the entire line. Red levers cost just $60 more than Force but offer ZeroLoss, large chainring trim and adjustable lever reach. Those alone are worth the price difference. I think we can expect those features to show up in other SRAM road groups soon.

As for the rest of the components in the group, we’ll have to wait and see if those high prices translate into stellar performance. We’ll be conducting long-term tests and let you know what we find.

Pricing
Here’s what Red will cost you when it becomes available this fall:The whole group price, paired with SRAM’s PC-1090R 10-speed chain, whichRed shares with Force, will cost $2142. Here’s the breakdown.Shifters: $555 280-gramsFront Derailleur $108 58-grams (braze on only)Rear Derailleur$311 153-gramsBrake Set$297 265-gramsCrankset $370 750-grams (with bottom bracket)Bottom Bracket $195Cassette$230 155-grams (11-23)Chain $76 255-grams

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