More thoughts on Sram Red, 22, Hydraulic Disc Brakes (HRD).
Guitar Ted gave his (somewhat predictably) quasi-negative thoughts here. I say “somewhat predictably” not as a criticism of GT–I don’t think he’s a retrogrouch. But his views on SRAM drivetrains and Avid brakes have been made clear over a long period of time, and I did not expect the combination of those two technologies to act like a double-negative and suddenly win his endorsement. GT indicates that he’s heard bad things about SRAM brifters, and hasn’t had good luck with Avid hydro brakes…but has had good luck with BB7s, and thus doesn’t see a particular benefit to upgrading. Those seem like reasonable concerns.
SRAM also released some more press information on the setup, here.
I’ve seen a few sources bristle about the perceived aesthetic concerns of the brifters, focused predominantly focused on the proboscis at the top of the brifter.
Again, I can understand that concern. Here are my thoughts:
- I have spent the past couple years throwing everything possible at my Vaya, which is equipped with BB7s and Avid Rival (and now an X0 rear derailleur). The brifters have been flawless. Regular readers will know that it sees extensive gravel, light singletrack, mud, and tons of abuse. The brifters have been flawless under about the worst conditions imaginable. Yes, I do regular maintenance on the drivetrain, but I’ve never touched the brifters in any way. They’ve been perfect. I love them, and I love their shape. The guts have never exploded, the brifters have never failed to work. Not once. Never.
- I love my Rival so much that when NCC built the Madone, the only drivetrain choice for me was SRAM Red. It has been flawless. Perfect. It does everything I want, and more. It is light, it shifts like buttah, looks good, and is dead reliable. Adjusting the front derailleur takes a little practice–it isn’t like a normal front derailleur (you have to get used to the Yaw), but once you do, it’s golden.
- I happen to like SRAM drivetrains. I had Shimano Ultegra on my Ridley, and it functioned well. It did not, however, have the same mechanically satisfying feel of the SRAM Red. I also have SRAM on the Mukluk (where it has seen every kind of abuse, mud, dunking, snow, salt, gravel, dust, etc. imaginable) and on the Superfish. They have all functioned impeccably, and without fail. When we built up the Superfish, I had a choice between SRAM and Shimano…and I went SRAM largely because of the great feel it had when I rode Spearfish in Arizona last year. I had Shimano XT on my last mountain bike before the Superfish, and I liked the action of the SRAM better.
- On the hydro brake side, I have Avid brakes on the Superfish, Mukluk and El Mariachi. All have functioned impeccably. I’ve never had a bleeding problem, a function problem or an adjustment issue. I wish the SRAM brakes were a bit better designed to integrate with gripshift on the Superfish, but that’s a small complaint–from a function perspective, they’re perfect.
- I have BB7s on the Vaya. Let’s be clear–when they’re properly adjusted, they have way more braking ability than you’ll ever need on a gravel bike. That isn’t the issue at all. If you keep them clean and adjusted, they function great. My frustration with BB7s is related to what they can’t do. They cannot self-adjust. They cannot retract both pads to have better rotor clearance if there’s a tiny little wobble in the rotor. For me, that means I’m constantly chasing the adjustment, working on getting it just right. That’s partially because I’m A/R (ok, perhaps predominantly), and partially because of the inherent challenges of mechanical disc brakes. I’ve been praying for a hydraulic, drop-bar friendly solution for 2 years.
- I’ve looked at the TRP and other kludge systems. Sure, they work, but they’re compromises. Cable over hydraulic? Blech. Not an elegant solution.
- So add it all together. What if I could get the shift quality of SRAM Red, with hydraulic disc brakes and the great feel and reliability I’ve come to expect from SRAM? That’s a perfect solution. Perfect.
- 22 speed is just a little icing on the top. I don’t find myself needing higher or lower gears on the Vaya. With a 50/34 crank and 11-32 cassette, if I don’t have a gear high or low enough, the Vaya isn’t gonna cut it. I actually suspect that once the 22 is out, I’ll go to an 11-28 cassette, to bring the spread between gears down a bit, and give me some more useful cadence gears. 34/28 is plenty low for the climbing I see. I think. I do think it makes perfect sense for SRAM to make their gearing such that they’re adding another gear mid-cassette…that’s where I’d like to see it for tuning cadence, as mentioned above. So it makes sense to me as an upgrade.
In short, I’m a SRAM advocate and an Avid brake advocate, based upon my pretty extensive experience with both. I view the new HRD as the answer to my prayers–bringing hydro brake functionality in a clean package to my Vaya. I don’t find the look of the brifters objectionable, and I’m frankly impressed with how SRAM has integrated the brakes into the brifters without significant alteration in overall function. I’m hoping and praying that these are available soon.
Shimano’s announcement is around the corner. I expect Di2 hydros to be forthcoming. While I liked the time I spent on Di2, and while I can see its applications, I’m still a little nervous about putting an electronic drivetrain on a bike that sees so much abuse. Would a Di2 rear derailleur take kindly to being carried through a chest-deep creek, or ridden through BB-deep water? I don’t know…but it scares me a bit.
I suspect that I’m the market share that SRAM is looking for with this product, and I’ll be the first to geek out and say it: I want to be a fanboy, because the product looks awesome. I will be curious to see what they release for information on hubs…and I’m hopeful that my DT240s will be a cassette body away from 22 speed (though a bit worried that it will require new hubs. We’ll see).
So my thoughts: I don’t have any aesthetic or durability concerns, and I don’t see any reason not to use this technology. I suspect it will function better and more consistently than mechanical disc brakes. The canti/disc debate I’ll leave for another day, but when I spec’d the Vaya, I knew disc was what I wanted (and I wouldn’t go back).
Based on the specs, I think this will be a hit right out of the ballpark, and I’m looking forward to SRAM Red, 22, HRD. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, given that I’ve written about it now something like 15 times.