Let’s be clear–to date, I have only a little over a hundred miles on my new SRAM Red. This is by no means a long-term review. That said, I’ve logged several thousand miles on SRAM Rival, several thousand miles on a Shimano Ultegra 6700 / Dura Ace blend, a couple thousand on 105, and some limited experience with Ultegra Di2, Campy Record 11, Campy Record (pre-11), and a few middling groups (Tiagra, Sora, etc.).
If you’ve been living under a rock, I’m talking about the Madone, with its SRAM Red drivetrain, Red/Quarq power crank, 11-28 cassette, Yaw front derailleur, Red rear derailleur.
I prefer the shape of the Rival hoods on my Vaya to the Ultegra hoods I had on the Ridley. The new Red hoods are head and shoulders above both. The top is nice and flat, and very comfortable. The sides and underside of the rubber on the hood is softer than the old Rival–it has more give, and a more gel-like feel. There’s some give when you squeeze the sides of the hoods, which makes it very easy to get a good, hard grip on it. It’s just an incredibly comfortable feel. Until now, if you asked me what my favorite hoods were, it would be Campy Record 11, hands-down. The shape and texture of the new Red hoods are equally as good. I wouldn’t necessarily say better…but just as good.
Shifting action? I’m at a loss for words. In my mind, I cannot imagine why someone would ever opt for Di2 or EPS over this. I cannot imagine going to an electronic system, barring some HUUUUUGE weight savings. I bought this blind, having not ridden the new Red yet. I made the decision because I loved the feel of my Rival hoods, and the functionality of X9 and X0 on the Superfish and Mukluk. It’s just amazing. Why would you want to have to worry about charging (and carrying) a battery?
The effort required to shift is spot-on. Any less, and it would feel cheap. Shifting the front derailleur with Red requires less force than shifting the rear derailleur with my Ultegra 6700. It’s simply in another league. Going all stream of consciousness, I’d say the Red is: fluid, tactile, precise, mechanical, positive, exact. Shifting feels spot-on; the first little bit of travel feels fluid–even, spring-loaded pressure. As you get closer to the shift detents, the pressure ramps up just a bit, and then you feel the detent. Keep pushing, and you click–snap–neatly into the next gear. Upshifts and downshifts are amazingly close in force required. Upshifts take more travel (swing further), but the amount of effort required to shift does not ramp up significantly.
I cannot overemphasize how amazing the shifting action is–particularly the front derailleur. Here’s a firearm metaphor. If you ever have the opportunity to shoot a high-end, bolt-action rifle, you’ll find that there is certain way that the bolt cycles. There is no lateral slop, no play. There is a very pleasing mechanical feel as the bolt rotates up, and then slides back to the end of the travel. There is a huge difference between a high-end rifle and your off-the-shelf cheapie. SRAM Red…feels like the high-end rifle. And on that rifle, when you pull the trigger, there is a little bit of free play, and then you can feel the pressure ramp up a bit when you reach the point at which the trigger will actually fire the gun. Just like a precision trigger, shifting the brifters brings that same feeling. You can feel precisely where the shift detent is…and if you push through it, the shifting is clean and you control precisely when the hammer falls. It is an incredibly satisfying mechanical feel.
The Yaw front derailleur works as promised. In the big chainring, you can cross-chain to your heart’s content without a hint of rub. Every shift is on the spot–easy to shift, total precision. I haven’t dropped a chain, but if I did, the Madone has an integrated chaincatcher to mind the shop for me.
Rear derailleur is similarly perfect. Ceramic bearings in the idler cogs, exact actuation. No missed shifts, no partial shifts. You either shift or you don’t–no hesitation.
I’ve heard complaints about previous years SRAM Red cassettes being loud. For 2013, SRAM made a number of changes, including the addition of the black rubber bands that you can see between each gear. I can’t talk about previous Red, but this cassette is quiet–on par with Ultegra. I’m running a KMC DLC chain, which adds to the precision of the drivetrain.
I’m not running SRAM Red brakes, simply because the Madone takes Bontrager’s proprietary aero brakes (including the brake mounted under the BB).
Any criticism? I wish I could offer some constructive criticism…but I can’t see how to make it better. It works perfectly, and looks amazing. Double-tap shifting is totally natural–and the more I ride it, the more I appreciate how it works. If you’re riding and reach up for a handful of brake suddenly, the brake levers work perfectly, and provide immediate, linear braking. With Shimano’s STI, on the other hand, when you reach for brakes, if you’re not careful, you end up deflecting the shift lever inward. I’ve had a couple times when I’ve grabbed for brake in a panic stop situation, and have had the brifter deflect instead. No such problems with Red. Brake lever does brake, shift lever does shift. Dead simple.
Here’s one other change. With Ultegra/Dura Ace/et.al., you can move the shift levers up quite a bit, and if you release them, it will stay in the gear that you’re in. With Red, when you start moving a shift lever, you’re shifting–either up or down. You cannot bail on a shift and stay in the gear that you’re in. Simple solution: don’t want to shift…don’t touch the shift lever.
It’s really amazing. I can say, in all honesty, that there is nothing I’d rather have. Ok…maybe 11 speed. I mean come on…there’s always gotta be something. But I thought about going 11 speed. Frankly, I’d stick with 10 speed Red over 11 speed Shimano, every day of the week. I don’t see a real advantage to going to Campy, either. The shifting action of the SRAM is oh-so-sweet, and I didn’t have to buy a new set of tools.
Really. It’s that good.