Ryan’s Review of SRAM’s Red eTap Electronic Wireless Group
Most people who know me probably know that I have my favorites when it comes to bike gear. I’m also lucky enough to get to try a lot of gear just to make sure that my point of view from the soapbox has some deeper route than a loyalty to a brand or a stubbornness common in cycling. It is a bit of the “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” approach. I can be a bit reluctant to try something new, but if I think it has a chance of being cool, I’m likely to find a way to give it a shot. So for the last five years, my go-to has been the top-end framesets from Time, in the ZXRS and Skylon models, built with either the mechanical or electronic versions of Shimano’s Dura-Ace components.
This fall, I replaced my Skylon frameset with a newer one and this gave me the opportunity to give the new Sram eTAP electronic/wireless shifting a serious try. I had test-ridden eTAP equipped bikes on several occasions and was excited to really give it a go out on the road. Unfortunately my bike’s completion didn’t beat the snowfall. This was due to a great extended fall of mountain biking lasted until the middle of November and I couldn’t resist stretching the dirt season knowing that I’d have plenty of road time in the spring. I’m embarrassed to say that the first several rides of my eTAP group was on a trainer. Since I probably shift less than twice per ride on the trainer, my first exposure to the difference between eTAP and Shimano was the shape of the brake hoods. As it is with Shimano, it seems like one of the nice side-effects of an electronic group is having less constraints on the shape of the shifter body and being able to focus purely on ergonomics of the hoods. I wouldn’t say that the eTAP is necessarily better here, but they definitely did it right.
At the first glance of spring weather, I was able to get outside and get some real riding in and really give this stuff a test. I have to say I was really impressed with the overall performance of the group. Probably my favorite thing in the group is the tactile click that the shifter makes with each shift. This is the same thing that everyone said about Campagnolo’s EPS groups. Shimano’s road groups are notorious for feeling more like a “mouse-click” with each shift. The changes Shimano made to their mountain bike groups and the upcoming Dura Ace tell that they heard this from lots of people. Ok, maybe my real favorite thing is the unique way that the shifters work to control the front and rear derailleur. Having always preferred the movement or functionality of both Campagnolo and Shimano’s shifters over Sram’s Red Double Tap functionality, the eTAP definitely offers a totally new approach. One that is easy to explain to new users and really easy to explain to someone new to riding. It’s simple. Push the left button (the only button) to move the rear derailleur to the left. Push the right button (the only button here too!) to move the rear derailleur to the right. Push them both to shift the front to whichever chainring the chain isn’t currently on. It’s intuitive and easy to adapt to. Yes you can add “satellite” or additional shifters. Sram calls them Blips. I guess if I was still racing I’d maybe put a set of them on the drops for sprinting situations. The other noteworthy function is you can hold the shifter buttons down to shift the entire range of the cassette. Something that I never really thought was necessary, but I know people have always loved this with other electronic groupsets out there.
Push the buttons and it shifts. Well you hope so. I was a bit skeptical at how my bike would shift. I was running a non-Sram crank (so I could keep my SRM aboard to measure the rapid descent of my power output) and a Shimano cassette on my rear wheel. Mixing parts is always discouraged by the manufacturers and I understand why. Luckily there were no issues here. The bike shifted well. The shifters made crisp and precise clicks. I was even able to control them with fairly fat fingered gloves. My only “I don’t know if I can get use to that moment” came at the bottom of a steep short climb. Normally I’d drop the chain to the small ring and shift the rear into two or three gears harder in anticipation of where I’d need to be a couple of minutes later. Well you can’t shift the front and rear simultaneously. Is it a big deal? Probably not. It does require an additional step but it happens pretty quick.
The wireless eTAP makes setup easy and works seamlessly. Time will tell on this. We’ve got several eTAP groups out on the road and some of them have over six months on the road. It’s clear that Sram did their testing on this. I don’t really have a grasp on battery life, but I’m confident that this will be a non-issue like it is on both Campagnolo and Shimano’s electric shifting systems. I was a bit skeptical of having multiple batteries, but they’re smaller and easy to remove for docking in their charging station. One small complaint, I wish you could charge both batteries at the same time.
Obviously the main focus of any commentary on Sram eTAP is going to be about the shifting. What about the rest of the group? The brakes are superlight and work well. I’d say that a lot of carbon wheels and super light brakes take the “good enough” approach to stopping. These definitely are far better than that. The cranks look great and come in every configuration possible including having a Quarq powermeter on board. The chain, chainrings and cassette leave nothing to complain about. Shimano has always set the standard here and I’d say these guys have done a great job in the “continually getting better” category.
So the overall consensus is that the eTAP is really great. The sensation of actually clicking a shifter rather than tapping a mouse and the intuitive nature of how the system works are the highlights. I honestly feel that these features overshadow the fact that the system is wireless. I’m excited to get out and ride this group more and really put it through the paces. Hopefully this group’s durability is as good as it’s functionality has been in the first few months.