About two years ago, it seemed that the entire peloton was riding SRAM's Red GXP Groupset. The advent of electronic shifting shuffled things around a bit in the pro ranks, but for those of us who are self-sponsored warriors in the categorized colosseum of the weekly crit series, mechanical is still the way to go. After all, if the cyclist on your inside overcooks one corner, you may well be in the market for new derailleurs.
The fact that it's mechanical doesn't mean Red is slop, it's just not going to be featured on the covers of high gloss industry rags in the dentist's waiting room; instead, it'll continue to feature at start lines the world over. That's because the groupset has experienced some big changes to every component bearing the Red label over the course of its life, but — this being a whole build kit and us being in charge of what we want to talk about — we're going to begin by focusing on the crankset.
If the crankset is the heart of a drivetrain (and it is — don't let the self-important pomp of the shifters and the derailleurs' over-inflated egos fool you) then the Red GXP model pumping this group's blood would have a resting BPM of around 35. The crank arms are carbon, and the drive side arm feeds seamlessly into a four-arm spider for a unified design that eliminates flexible joints and the material required to buttress them up. The spider also has a higher volume than its predecessor, which let SRAM use even less material in the lay-up without sacrificing stiffness. In fact, the whole thing is actually stiffer, which eliminates the occasionally sloppy front shifting that we've encountered with the earlier, five arm Red models.
We were maybe a bit unfair to the shifters and derailleurs earlier, since without them, you're on a single speed. When they were first introduced, the Red shift lever bodies' size and shape were the middle ground between their minimalist Italian and bulky, ray-gun shaped Japanese counterparts. They were the ideal blend of a secure grip and comfort. The other manufacturers have since moved to meet SRAM in the middle, but we all know who was first. The levers are positioned for sprinters or those who tuck on descents, so you can shift easily from the drops while flying at 45+ mph. Those shift levers hide behind the reach-adjustable carbon fiber brake levers, which are also ergonomically shaped and very comfortable for two- or three-finger pulling — even after 100 miles.
The front and rear derailleurs team up to deliver rapid, positive engagement across all 22 gear combinations. The rear derailleur's strong springs translate into instantaneous shifts, and shifting effort that's not too heavy but not too light, either, so you can feel the bike shift when a peloton of drivetrains is drowning out your own. The front derailleur has a built-in chain catcher and is stiffer than its predecessor. Anyone who cringes at the thought of a mixed drivetrain but wanted to the stiffer action of the previous Force derailleur can now run full Red without worrying about squishy shifts. The front derailleur also features SRAM's Yaw technology, which further sharpens shifting and eliminates the need to trim the derailleur's position to prevent chain rub. You can finally cross-chain to your heart's content, and the retro grouch in your riding group can't yell at you for it because there won't be any chain rub to tip him off.
The included SRAM Red Aero Link brakeset is remarkable in both its weight and performance, and yet its design raised some eyebrows when it debuted. Aerodynamics, weight, and control were all considerations that drove engineers to revert "back" to a single-pivot design. Looking at the vast majority of high-end road brake calipers on the market, you'll notice dual pivot points that facilitate the rotation of the caliper's arms. SRAM conducted thousands of hours of testing to determine that this was, frankly, silly. The extra weight and complexity brought on by the extra pivot doesn't do nearly enough to justify the tiny increase in braking power it affords. Instead, the Red brakes utilize the Aero Link arm to drive the caliper's pivot action. Aero Link acts almost like a pulley, amplifying the cable's motion and translating into unprecedented stopping power from a single-pivot brake or any other mechanical brake on the market, for that matter. The difference is something you feel immediately and will never want to do without.