The new standard.
SRAM's Red eTap Road Shift Kit has been six years in the making, with its much anticipated reveal to the world finally arriving with the 2015 Eurobike and Interbike trade shows. From the earliest prototypes, eTap's wire-free system hinted at clean lines and a potential to change the way we think about electronic shifting. The final production group doesn't disappoint, setting what will likely become a new standard for the cycling industry with updated ergonomics and impeccable wireless operation. It lets you say goodbye to broken shift cables that leave you stuck in the smallest cassette cog at pivotal moments, shake off worries of errant debris buffaloing a mechanical or electric derailleur cable from its proper placement, and welcome a bicycle free from aesthetically unpleasant shift cable housing.
We got our first look at an eTap prototype a couple of years ago out on the roads of Chicago, where it was not-so-stealthily disguised behind a clunky, fake port box amidst swirling rumors of a SRAM electronic system in development. (We've also seen what looks to be a hydraulic disc version clandestinely running on certain sponsored 'cross machines, but have no official word to relate. Yet.) As mentioned above, the final version has been tidied up quite a bit, eliminating the camouflage to reveal the drivetrain's simple, clean beauty.
At the heart of it all, SRAM's proprietary Airea communication protocol creates a unique, 128-bit encryption code that securely pairs the shifters and derailleurs, resisting both hacking and jamming for worry-free shifting even in a pack of other eTap steeds. Unlike other electronic drivetrains, SRAM's system is closed and does not allow shift reprogramming, which is actually a refreshing dose of user-friendly simplicity in an industry that can occasionally get lost in minutiae. SRAM is confident that the eTap shift logic delivers an optimal shifting experience across road-related disciplines without requiring a host of minor tweaks — an ethos developed and proven by the company's mechanical road and mountain lines.
The so-called brains of the system sit in the rear derailleur, which translates the Airea protocol to drive exacting shifts. Featuring the Exact Actuation technology found in mechanical Red derailleurs, the eTap rear derailleur manages the narrow spacing of an 11-speed cassette for reliable shifting accuracy with every click of the lever. It also allows for multi-gear shifts with an extended depression of the shift lever, so it's spry enough to help you respond to any sudden attacks. The front derailleur boasts SRAM's Yaw technology, another carry-over from the mechanical groups. Yaw rotates the cage ever so slightly as the chain runs across the cassette to maintain an optimal chain line and reduce chain rub for quiet, precise shifting and efficient operation across the entire range of gears.
The shifters' bodies look similar to the mechanical Red 22 shifters but carry less weight and a few tweaks for notably more comfortable rides. The entire hood enjoys a smaller profile without all those internal mechanical workings, allowing a more ergonomic shape that sits comfortably in your hands without compromising a secure hand/hood interface. Adjustable reach on the levers accommodates a wide variety of rider hand sizes for easy shifting and braking.
The shift paddles sit under the brake levers in a similar position to the mechanical version, but they use eTap's peculiar shifting logic — arguably the most pronounced departure from traditional shifting in decades. The right lever directs the chain down the cassette for a harder gear, the left lever guides it up the cassette for an easier gear, and simultaneously engaging both levers shifts the front derailleur between the chainrings. We suspect this system was built with one-by in mind, but we're also able to adapt to it with a double crankset after just a few minutes of throwing levers. Each shifter also features ports for compatibility with SRAM's separately sold Blip shifters, offering virtually endless potential for shifting access from the drops or the flats.
The front and rear derailleurs each carry their own rechargeable battery pods, which click into place quickly and easily and are interchangeable between the two derailleurs. With their claimed 60-hour ride times, you shouldn't have to worry about losing power, but it's nice to know that if you do forget to charge up and you run out of rear derailleur juice out on the road, a two-second battery swap from front to rear will get you back up and running with full access to the cassette range. SRAM claims that 60-hour run time means a fully charged rear derailleur battery will last over 1000 kilometers or 620 miles, with the front derailleur lasting even longer because of its relative dearth of use compared to the rear.
Each shifter is powered by a CR2032 coin type battery with a predicted lifetime of two years when riding an average of 15 hours per week. To keep tabs on the various battery statuses, each derailleur and shifter features an LED indicator light to communicate battery life, with green, red, and flashing red stages to clearly relay power levels. Each component also incorporates an accelerometer that puts it into sleep mode when stationary to conserve battery, and wakes it up for full functionality when your bike is in motion.
SRAM claims eTap has been extensively tested in a wide range of riding conditions, both in the real world and the lab to ensure reliability; as we mentioned above, we've actually seen evidence of this on the roads and 'cross courses around the country. Given the cold-weather tolerance issues of its first generation hydraulic road brakes, we're particularly pleased to note that SRAM specifies that eTap has undergone testing in its in-house climate chamber, proving the group's reliability in temperatures ranging from -20 degrees up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
The SRAM Red eTap Road Shift Kit comes complete with right and left Red eTap shifters, a RED eTap front derailleur, and a RED eTap short cage rear derailleur compatible with a maximum cassette cog of 28 teeth. The kit also includes an eTap Powerpack for derailleur battery charging and an eTap USB firmware Airea update stick.
- The most user-friendly electronic drivetrain to date
- Wireless connection unique to each individual pairing
- Shifts multiple cogs with one lever throw
- Rechargeable derailleur batteries afford 60 hours of runtime
- Automatic rest mode engages when bike is stationary
- Tested in temperatures ranging from -20 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit
- Includes charging pack and firmware update stick
- SRAM continues to question even the most basic assumptions about cycling components