All the bike industry big guns have tasty treats forthcoming in 2008: Shimano has their carbon fiber Dura-Ace crankset. Mavic revamped their entire high-end wheelset portfolio. And rumor has it that Assos will give their bib short line the same sort of face lift they gave their jerseys in ’07. But no new product intro has had the same seismic effect as the new SRAM Red road gruppo.
What is Red? Here’s your 50-words-or-less answer: SRAM took the fundamental functionality of their Force gruppo and souped it up with a cost-is-no-object mentality. The shifting (specifically between chainrings) is vastly enhanced. You get significant drag reduction through the use of ceramic bearings. And from an eye candy standpoint Red can’t be beaten, especially thanks to its shamelessly NASCAR graphics package.
A decent abundance of technical info exists online for Red already. In fact, you can click on any of the links below to get a detailed low-down on individual Red components. The purpose of this What’s New entry is different: We want to give you a quick list of our impressions about Red (not to be confused with facts, of course.) Here’s what stands out to us:
1. The #1 reason to buy Red. It’s not because of weight or looks or durability or ceramic stuff. It’s because it remedies the only real complaint we ever had about Force. As you might already know, Force allows you to micro-adjust (also known as ‘trim’) the front derailleur in the small chainring only. This design detail was much to the chagrin of bike racers (Cat 3’s and Saunier Duval alike) who like to prepare for the next inevitable attack by staying in the big chainring as much as possible, oftentimes in an ugly cross-chain gear like 53×23. Red now provides this elusive front derailleur trimming ability when you’re in the big ring. Bid adieu to the heinous noise pollution you get when you cross-chain! Hurrah!
2. Proof that ceramic bearings are here to stay. SRAM is the first of the three mainline road component companies to build their components with ceramic bearings. Shimano? Campagnolo? Nada. Not to complain about Shimano or Campagnolo bearing quality, but sometimes we wonder why they’re so slow to move. It’s like the compact crankset situation all over again: After 2 years of hoping-against-hope that the trend will pass, they finally realize that they’ve lost 2 years of sales and that they’ve ceded no small market share to hitherto fringe companies.
With Red, SRAM provides a compelling benefit absent to Dura Ace and Record: You get their BlackBox ceramic cartridge bearings in the rear derailleur pulleys, and in the bottom bracket. We’ve retro-fitted God-knows-how-many Record cranksets and Dura-Ace bottom brackets with ceramic bearings here. But as cyclists there’s something reassuring about not having to alter your factory-assembled gear. With Red, you buy your components and don’t have to give another thought to retro-fitting them with higher-performance innards. We like that.
3. If you’re a weight zealot, proceed with care. Don’t get us wrong here, Red is really light. SRAM claims in their marketing materials that it’s the first-ever true sub-2000g road gruppo, and we applaud the accomplishment. But Red has the price tag of a cost-is-no-object gruppo, and on a component-by-component basis the weight savings isn’t dramatic over Force.
The one exception is the new OG-1090 PowerDome cassette. It saves ~75g over the Force-quality OG-1070 cassette. But other than this one exception you save 10-20g per component between Red and Force. Yes, the net difference in the gruppo weight as a whole is noteworthy, but the cost difference (nearly $700) is so dramatic that it’s hard to use the weight argument as a reason for stepping up from Force to Red. Upgrade because it looks cool or because the shifting quality is remarkably improved. But don’t buy it to please your gram scale.
4. Why don’t we see more graphics like this? Sure, some people won’t like SRAM’s decision to put a huge logo on the backside of the crankarms. But we love it — and we wonder why we don’t see more flourishes like this in the component biz. The last component we can recall that was decaled up with such boldness was the Dura-Ace 9-speed ‘Team Edition’ cranksets, with 10-foot tall Shimano logos on the crankarms and chainrings. Big decals are mouthwateringly Pro.
If we had to venture a guess at answering our own question, it’d be this: As the bike industry transitioned from metal components to carbon ones, the sinister black latticework of carbon was a sufficiently stark visual to behold in comparison to endless years of nothing but shiny steel and aluminum. The Bling! factor of carbon, though, has already exhausted itself, don’t you agree? Give us color, people! We love our carbon, but give it some life!
5. The more things change, the more they stay the same. One small detail to note if you’re thinking about making the leap to Red: There is no Red chain. Chains are the one component SRAM didn’t mess with for 2008. If you’re going with Red, you’ll want to use the same PC-1090R chain they introduced last year with Force. It has pierced plates to give it the same look as Merckx-era drilled-out Nuovo Record brake levers. Too cool. And it proved its worth last year in terms of durability and shifting quality. SRAM couldn’t have improved much in the chain department.
6. Patience, virtue, etc. In terms of unleashing Red upon the world, SRAM took Chapter #1 out of the Shimano marketing manual: Hype & Tease. Hype & Tease. Repeat.
We first saw Red at the Tour de France in July; they then upped the volume on promoting it during the August Eurobike tradeshow. And Interbike will doubtlessly be Red central. But, unfortunately, we don’t expect to see any in stock here until late October at the very earliest. We DO have the SRAM Red-caliber GXP Ceramic bottom bracket in stock now. And we have the recently released SRM SRAM Powermeter here, too. But we’re looking at Halloween to see anything else. We’ve been taking pre-orders, so don’t hesitate to get in the queue if you know you’d like a gruppo, or a Red-equipped bike. Like all the good things in life, supplies will be limited.