Built up the Trek Project One Madone over the weekend with SRAM Force. Earlier this year, the DA parts from the Madone had been dispersed to the Hotspur and Modal and I’ve been wanting to test SRAM. The summary report is “very good” with these observations
- Solid – there’s no “light action” of any sort on SRAM. It shifts similar to Campy way back in the 90s. You not only feel a shift, but hear it, and know it occurred without a cable shift indicator to tell you so. I also appreciate another group that opens up the cockpit by running the cables along the bar.
- Loud – carbon derailleur cages, with carbon wheels, on a carbon bike is loud. The drivetrain ironically sounds like a fishing reel.
- Responsive – I’ve never shifted from the big ring to the little and back faster. Wham it’s there and same thing with the rear.
I figured out the DoubleTap shifting in about 17 seconds. I did periodically grab the brake lever while shifting and I also a few times wanted to shift a button with my thumb like Campy. Cable actuation and all the engineering didn’t matter much to me, but I did wonder what was happening between my index finger and brain to figure out that a short tap meant a rapid upshift and a longer double-click meant a downshift. I didn’t really have to think about it is the point. It just works.
The fit, finish, and quality of the FORCE group was on par with Campy and Shimano, with a few exceptions
- Barrel adjustersÂ – here’s this very nice group, with plasticky adjusters, and the same problem with the cable ferrules.
- Carbon Crank – I’ve never met a carbon crank I’ve liked, except for the Shimano, and that’s because of the aesthetics. It seems like carbon-weave fashion wins out over form and function, but the quality is high and I’m sure other roadies totally dig it.
- Black chain link – what’s the point of indicating a chain link with black if that’s not meant for removal?
Finally, the ergonomics of the group is outstanding. SRAM has the best in-the-hand feeling hoods, reach, shifting, and braking.
While SRAM is on par with its competitors, I don’t see that compelling of a reason to leap to it, and replace your current group. But if it comes on a new bike, or you’re spec’ing a new bike, or considering upgrading, it’s def worth it. The opinion comes from the fact that I’m riding, testing, and trying out lots of different bikes and groups and I’ve become way less religious about my choices. Fact is that any higher-end group is going to shift and perform exceptionally well.
Where SRAM does win is with its marketing. It’s appealing to racers and enthusiasts with blogs, road diaries, and an all-out effort to represent a “working man’s group.” Offering a 11 x 26 cassette is proof enough that they’re listening to cyclists that race bikes. SRAM is also driving the competition and while Shimano may never admit it, expect their innovations in the 09 group to directly compete with SRAM.
One surprise is a certain amount of playah hatin’ on SRAM in the bike shops. I don’t think it’s the group itself, but more the fact that for a shop mechanic here’s another group they have to support, have unlimited knowledge of, speak intelligently about, and work on. Much easier for them when it was just two groups.
With props to what SRAM has achieved, there are problems that I think that are overlooked in the enthusiasm for the brand. The shifting at times is sloppy and other times overloaded. I’ve had the dropped chain problem, seen others have it, and working on a term for it: the loaded shift drop or chainstay reach-around. What happens is when you shift to the small chain ring and at the same time even slightly peddle, the chain will not complete the drop and bind up in the chainstay. I think the chain is dropping with such force that that spring energy has to go somewhere, and it goes right into the chain, whipping it up, and around.
SRAM also requires lazer-like derailleur alignment. If your hanger and frame is slightly askew, you’re going to have issues.