Since the SRAM RED eTap entered the market, we’ve had our eyes on it. Finally, we had the chance to complete a long-term review on it, and it did not disappoint. SRAM’s flagship group provides everything you want in a group without the wires and cables.
We had the luxury (we do mean luxury) of riding SRAM’s eTap along with ZIPP’s 302 Carbon Clinchers and after nearly a year and several thousand miles of testing it, we can say — resoundingly — that it was worth the wait. Easy installation, solid shifting, pretty much maintenance free and did we mention no cables or wires. Yep, it is wireless in case you didn’t realize this. SRAM RED eTap uses wireless technology to communicate between shifters and the derailleurs – the first and only group to do this.
So What Makes SRAM RED eTap So Special?
First and foremost, it’s wireless, which makes setup and tuning far easier than with other mechanical or wired systems. Without cables to worry about, you simply mount the components on your bike and pair them (using SRAM’s proprietary 128-bit wireless encryption system, called Airea) and that’s it. There are no tricky shifter cables to route through the frame, fewer cables to rattle on rough roads and it looks slick as shit. Granted you do have to fine tune it, adjust the chain length, position the brake levers, but the only way you are avoiding this is by cruising around on a single speed in skinny jeans. And once set up, we found it to be pretty much maintenance free except for a couple of small issues that were our fault.
SRAM eTap is pretty easy to set up initially, and should be well within the capabilities of anyone with a decent set of allen and torx wrenches, along with the ability to read an instruction manual, or download a video on an iPhone.
Okay, maybe you need a bit more than an allen set, you will actually need the following to do the installation: Allen set, Torx set, cable cutters, chain tool, a tad bit of grease and your favorite craft beer.
Riding SRAM RED eTap
Shifting quality is what you would expect from a flagship group, it is accurate and retains SRAM’s solid and direct feel. If you have never ridden SRAM RED, the mechanical group shifts with a resounding, very positive feel, which some riders prefer and some don’t. Personally, and I don’t mind, it kind of reminds me of the old school disk wheel sounds, just not as extreme. On the upside, you never question whether or not you’ve shifted. Folks talk about the shift speed being nominally slower than SRAM RED mechanical, but it’s nothing that impedes performance — it’s just different.
Shifting is as easy as 1 – 2 – 3
Out on the road, shifting is simple: press the right lever and the rear derailleur moves outboard to the right; press the left lever and the rear derailleur moves left. Press both at the same time and the front derailleur shifts. Press both levers again and the front derailleur shifts to the other chainring. Give yourself two rides and you will be accustomed to the new layout. There’s also the option to just hold down the shifting button and have it sweep as far through the cassette as you like.
Ergonomics of RED eTap
Everyone has an opinion, and everyone has a right to voice that opinion. Why am I saying this? We went out and read numerous reviews and blogs on eTap and everyone says something different about the levers overall, the perch is too big, mine feels too small, the lever reach is too far while in the drops. I am sure a few of these are legitimate complaints, perhaps females with smaller hands, but overall there was nothing horrible about the levers, the hoods or anything.
And guess what, lever reach is adjustable, all it takes is a 2.5mm hex key to access the adjustment screw on the side of the shift lever for mechanical braking eTap levers or underneath the shift lever on hydraulic braking eTAP HRD levers.
Shared Between SRAM RED and SRAM RED eTap
So you can buy eTap as a full group or simply do an upgrade to an existing 11 speed SRAM RED drivetrain, actually, you could do it to any 11-speed road drivetrain. The full group is everything you would expect including shifters, front and rear derailleurs, charger, crank, bottom bracket, chain, cassette and brakes. The upgrade will land you shifters, front and rear derailleurs, and a charger. The eTap upgrade is a nice option for those already running RED who don’t want to shell out the cash for a new crank and brakes.
A Few Other Perks. Shift From Anywhere.
The eTap system also lets you place satellite shifters, called Blips, anywhere your little heart desires. And SRAM’s circular design, with its quarter-size diameter, is tidy and quite convenient when spending a lot of time top of the bars or even tucked into a pair of aero bars. Basically, if your hands are close to the Blips, all you have to do is “lift a finger” to shift.
Charging the Battery
Do not forget to do this. Not that it is the end of the world, but you will hear about it from friends, and what good are friends if they don’t give you shit for doing something stupid. Battery design is about as simple as it comes, with 50 to 60 hours of riding time on a charge, you can get quite a few miles out of them. We also liked that, since the batteries are identical, if one of the derailleur batteries dies on a ride, you can swap the rear with the front (which likely gets less use) to make it home. The shifters take a watch-style CR2032, which is the same as the Quarq power meter, and might need to be replaced once a year. You can buy a 4-pack of these at the store for around $10.
Show up on for one group ride with a dead battery in your front derailluer and you better be ready to ride. Every shaved legged, spandex wearing person owning a Di2 group will TRY and put the screws to you. Game on boys!
Adjustments and iPhone to the Rescue
After fixing a flat while out on a ride one day, hopping back on the bike I noticed that the shifting was a tad off, so pulled back over and checked to make sure the wheel was aligned in the dropout. Hop back on the bike and still not quite right. So this means one of two things, the rear wheel was not quite straight before, or when I had the rear wheel off, I bumped the rear derailleur and possibly tweaked the hanger. Since I was out riding by myself I continued to ride for another half mile or so and it just bothered me. Crap, how do you tune this thing? While riding, I decided to look for a video on my phone and within a minute or so, I found a video and was on my way to being back in business. Granted I had to look this up the first time, but this is something I will never forget.
Sync Your Garmin Computer with eTap
While shifting communications are handled over the proprietary Airea network, the eTap rear derailleur, which collects information from the other eTap parts, also contains an ANT+ transmitter. Many head units from Garmin, Wahoo, Lezyne and others can receive the data transmitted by the rear derailleur over ANT+ and display gearing and battery charge in real time. Some can even store the information in the workout file so a coach or third-party app can analyze the amount of time spent in each gear. Please consult the individual head unit manufacturer for information on which models can communicate with eTap, and what the specific capabilities are.
Do I Drop the Cash and Upgrade to eTap?
The ultimate question: Should you upgrade and if you do, do you tell your wife (or husbands for the ladies)? Well, the answer depends on your finances and your priorities. Overall you will spend about $1,000 more to ride RED eTap versus SRAM RED mechanical. You can also upgrade existing 11-speed systems for about $17,00. Will RED eTap make you a better rider than RED mechanical or even Force — probably not. It is a luxury, much like heated seats and heated steering wheels. Shift quality is amazing, overall performance rocks, the coolness factor is out of this world, and if you travel a lot with your bike, there are no cables to mess with.
If you’re someone who wants the latest and greatest, this is the ticket. Just try and make sure the legs can back up the performance. Check out SRAM.com and SRAM Stories for “11 Things You Might Not Know About SRAM RED eTap.”
On a side note, we find it quite entertaining that people will go our and ride in 30-degree weather for hours on end, but they need a heated seat and steering wheel in their car.