Brand New! The SRAM Red eTap AXS 12 Speed Group - Initial Impressions

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Every late winter, or early spring, I seem to catch the same bug. Not a cold or flu from our minions, but rather the N+1 bug. If you’re a cyclist, you know what I’m talking about. Last year, the bug was pretty devastating to my wallet. I ended up with a Moots Routt 45, my dream bike made by my favorite custom bike builder since I was back in college, Moots. This year, I figured I should just lay low and not anger the CFO, aka wife. However, since I did reduce my stable of bikes down to three (from 5 or 6, depending on who you ask), I figured I could sneak in a couple upgrades, or maybe one giant upgrade…

Ever since selling my Roubaix with Di2 I have missed the always flawless shifting of an electronic drivetrain. It’s the one thing I wanted to change on my do it all bike, the Routt 45. Well, that and a set of carbon 650b wheels, but I digress.

Overall, I was very happy with the Di2 system as a whole, but my frame did not come predrilled for internal cable routing, hoses or in the case of Di2, wires. I’m not a fan of a messy aesthetic on a bike, the cleaner the better. However, I have realized external routing of hydraulic brake lines isn’t a bad thing, especially for repairs and maintenance. The frame design on my preferences left one system for me, the wireless Sram Red eTap. From what I’ve heard, it works. Although, depending on who you ask, the reviews are mixed (the negatives often coming from those who are speaking from hearsay, not extensive use). The key benefit with this system in my case was that I wouldn’t have to route a bunch of wires externally all over the frame. Over time those wires would likely begin to look terrible and probably malfunction due to damage to said wiring from transporting the bike and of course wiping out.

So it was settled, I was preparing to drop some coin on this system later in the spring and all will be right and perfect in bikelandia, right? Wrong. Of course, SRAM then dropped an entirely new, shiny and upgraded group set late in winter of 2019.

Enter the drool worthy SRAM Red eTap Road AXS 12 speed system and all of its shiny, gadgety goodness. Suddenly, going wireless was looking even better.

I proceeded to read all I could on this very new system, consulted with my local bike shop and then placed the order. Pretty easy so far right? The hard part would be when it came time to pay for all of that shiny new bike bling. I won’t go over costs, but let's just say you could buy a really nice bike for the same or less, but hey, I’m not buying a new bike this spring, right? It’s cheaper than the cheapest open heart surgery right? I am trying to justify the cost, don’t worry, it’s not working. Why not go for it, you only live once right? It’s cheaper than a heroine habit, at least long term, I think. #treatyoself

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Anyways, as luck would have it, SRAM had the system available for immediate shipment upon launch. The following week, my bike was at the LBS for the bicycle equivalent of open heart surgery. When I entered the bike shop, I was presented with a couple of large, very cool, very fancy looking boxes and inside each one were parts and pieces of a cutting edge new groupset. Lots of stuff to play with, learn about, and of course put thousands of miles on. Upon seeing all of that goodness, I started to forget the pain my wallet was going to endure later in the day.

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I’m fortunate to have a great local bike shop. I spent the day watching their head mechanic install what might have been the first AXS system in our state, which I thought was kind of neat. Watching the process was helpful for me to get an idea of how it all goes together in case changes or adjustments need to be made in the future by a non-expert like myself.

There were a few minor hiccups during the install, but that is to be expected on a brand new, complex product. SRAM decided to assume I had 6 bolt rotors because of my ‘old school’ post mount brake calipers when in reality I have fancy pants twist lock rotors on both wheel sets. Probably one of those assumptions they initially make that will turn in to an option when speccing out an AXS kit down the road, but something to keep in mind if you do place an order. For this install it wasn’t a huge deal, we just used the “old" Shimano twist lock rotors until SRAM sent the replacement two days later. Also, it didn’t come with a hanger for the front derailleur, but being a good bike shop, they had a large box full of options for me.

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After a spacer here and there and a couple of specification lookups on the inter webs later and voila, the Moots had a shiny new electronic shifting system installed!

Upon completing the mechanical portion, it was now time to set up the fancy electronic gadget portion, which was shockingly easy. The batteries didn’t arrive fully charged, so while the install was taking place we had set up the single included charger to top off each battery. Yes, there are two identical batteries, once for each derailleur and they are removable, one of my favorite features when comparing eTap to Di2. I’m thinking that a spare battery and charger wouldn’t be the worst purchase to consider in the near future.

Once the batteries were charged and installed, a few button clicks were needed to adjust the drivetrain (end points, alignment, etc.), but only a few and it was ready to go in under 10 minutes.

We then downloaded the new AXS app to my phone and connected it to the system. Again, it was super quick and easy, but did require me to create a new account in order to save all of my settings. I’ll go through all of the available settings at a later date, but being an early adopter, the updates from SRAM arrive often and I feel by summer there will be many additional features to discuss.

Keep in mind, this was all done in later winter, in Michigan. While the components were being installed we watched it snow outside so other than a short test ride, the bike and new drivetrain would have to wait. I’m not sure how the system will react to road salt, but I’ll let someone else report back on that.

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A few days later the weather was still lousy, but I couldn’t wait any longer. At least it had rained and washed away most of the salt. The inaugural bike ride was uneventful, exactly what I was hoping for from an electronic shifting system. Shifts were perfect and crisp and everything worked as it should. Coming from a Shimano system, the single button on each side would be an adjustment, but after a few hundred miles at this point, I like it much better, especially with cold, numb hands, or gloves. The Di2 system in comparison had two small buttons on the brake lever which, on a cold ride (and even warm rides when tired), were often hard to differentiate. I know, the first world problems seem insurmountable. I will be sure to go through all of the features of this system as well as a more in depth comparison to Di2 soon.

Thus far, it has continued to shift perfectly. It is fast and to be honest I really don’t notice any kind of delay when comparing it to the Di2 system I had previously. I have a few hundred miles on the system with many more to come this season. I have been absolutely thrilled with it. I will have much more feedback and information on the system as the 2019 season progresses,. I’ll have some long rides on rough terrain that would test any bicycle drivetrain. We’ll see how 12 speed shifting holds up to muddy gravel rides, battery life after long days in the saddle, and just general day to day ease of use. Stay tuned, there is plenty more to come on the new SRAM AXS system.

My initial thoughts, in bullet form!:

* Good looks, from the derailleurs to the crankset to the shift levers

* Clean install, no ugly wires to distract from the Ti frame

* Easy install, easy setup

* Perfect, crisp, firm shifts, every time

* Love the removable batteries, but much shorter life than Di2, they are much smaller and lighter though too.

* Love the hydraulic “clutch” in the rear derailleur, which pretty much eliminates chain slap on the chain stays.

* The app works well and it appears that there is much potential in the future for it

* The two button shifting is great, but may take some getting used to.

* Two word summary: Love it!

Coming Soon:

1. SRAM Red eTap AXS vs Shimano Di2 from someone who has owned both (Shimano definitely has the lead on an easier to say system name)

2. The AXS App, more gadget bling or a useful tool?

3. AXS System Overview - Buttons, Levers and Batteries, oh my...

4. Down and Dirty - How does the AXS 12 speed system like a muddy Michigan gravel ride?

5. Final Thoughts - Was it worth that many clams? Would I do it again?

6. Long Term - The AXS system, one season later, how is it holding up?