It's sometimes hard to think that SRAM has only been in the road grouppo game for a few years. The Chicago based SRAM entered the market in 2007 with Force and Rival, two groupsets that introduced the world to DoubleTap, an intuitive technology allowing you to use one lever to control both up and down shifting. They also introduced Exact Actuation, an actuation ratio that gave you precise 3mm shifts in every gear. They followed those introductions, with Red a year later, Red became the company's top tier groupset, boasting improvements in ergonomics, function, and became the lightest groupset available at the time.
Even with all those improvements, there have always been two distinct weaknesses in the groupset. Front shifting and braking precision always left you wanting more. The front shifting lagged and felt unreliable, some questioned the use of titanium, and many mechanics recommended the lower tier Force front derailleur as an alternative. The brakes, while providing adequate braking, with a little drilling, were only marginally lighter than its peer Force caliper, left us wanting more in the way of modulation.
With the introduction of Red 2.0 or 2012 Red as it's officially named, SRAM overhauled the whole group and addressed those two issues - with great success we might add.
Red Front Derailluer
In our estimation, the biggest improvement found in 2012 Red is the introduction of Yaw. Up until now, all derailleurs worked by pushing the chain side to side. With the new Red derailleur, the movement is aided by a slight twist when it shifts from the small ring to the big ring. The motion results in quicker shifts, with the chain jumping to the big ring with zero hesitation, even allowing for some taboo gear combinations with no chain rubbing. The redesigned derailleur cage appears smaller, but stiffer, aiding in the smooth, almost effortless shifting. SRAM also includes an integrated chain keeper, a simple install, the nifty addition helps maintain accurate shifting as well as protecting your frame.
SRAM also tweaked the crankset, claiming it's the stiffest crankset they've ever made. The new crankset gets stiffer chainrings with new shift timing pins and ramps that are optimized for shifting with the new Yaw derailleur. There's no question a stiffer chainring would help with snappy shifting, but how SRAM achieved it is somewhat counterintuitive. The arms are now more hollowed out than ever, as are the rings, so you're left with less material overall. But the devil is in the details, SRAM lightened the crank to maximize the stiffness to weight ratio, but by machining the rings out of 5mm thich 7075-T6 aluminum, the rings end up stronger. The upshift rivet design is borrowed from SRAM's XX groupset and precise CNC machining of each tooth shape and ramp make this work in tandem with SRAM's new Yaw front derailleur. In our experience, the crankset leaves nothing to be desired, there's no power loss felt in hard efforts whether that be cresting a hilltop or sprinting for the county sign.
Red Brake Calipers
The other major improvements to Red are the completely redesigned brake calipers. Designed with some aero advantages, the most noticeable design change is the SRAM AeroLink arm. The arm is independent of the main caliper arm, instead pivoting on it's own and is connected to the other arm by a small link, effectively multiplying the force. The result is a brake that improves both braking accuracy and control. In our experience with the brake, the new Red feathers nicely, but can still take you from fast to stop just as quickly. The new design also makes it easier to fit the new trend of wider rims, such as the case in the photo above. These Zipp Firecrest 303s were not easy to mount with the old Red calipers, but with these new calipers, the wheel clearance is improved. The pad to pad width is now a whopping 31mm allowing for 28mm tires on wide rims to fit with ease.
Red Rear Derailluer
Everything was tweaked and improved on this new groupset, including the already close to perfection rear derailleur. Exact Actuation, optimized AeroGlide pullers, ceramic bearings, and the carbon cage all get subtle updates, but the biggest change may be the addition of a WiFli option. Technology carried over from their APEX line, the mid cage now allows for up to a 32t cog in the rear. Giving you an even wider selection of gear combinations while resistant to coming out of adjustment.
XG 1090 PowerDome X cassette
Speaking of the rear shifting, the Red cassette gets improved as well. Anyone who's riden the original Red knows that the PowerDome was one great looking cassette, being machined from a single forged-steel form, but in real world riding, it caused you to be the noisiest rider in the weekend peloton. Not anymore, the new XG 1090 PowerDome X cassette features a new elastomer called StealthRing that acts like a dampener, eliminating vibration and noise when the chain engages the cog. The idea of rubber bands between the cogs sounds sort of hokey, but it works flawlessly. Red went from the noisiest drivetrain to the quietest. We've been riding this group for the better part of a year, and it's still holding up quite well.
And finally, the new Red ErgoDynamic shifters - the improvements here are slight, but still appreciated. The shifter gets a taller bump profile, longer brake lever, and some refinements in the cable routing. The shift levers still feature reach adjusts for inward or outboard tuning. The brake lever also has reach adjust, allowing you to set it closer to the bar. It's easiest to do these adjustments before dialing in the derailleurs and brakes, on new bike setups, but can be done afterwards as well. The most improved aspect of the shifters are the new ergonomics, the textured hoods and slimmer body profile, though minor, work well in our hands and made a big difference in comfort. Add to that, the throw needed to upshift is substantially less than other grouppos. This may make a huge difference to those who race.
After logging countless miles on this new grouppo, we can absolutely attest that this is not only the lightest & quietest groupset available, but it's also the best shifting mechanical groupset you can buy. We've ridden it in all sorts of conditions, from weekend rides in the hills to super fast crit racing, and it has performed flawlessly. Shifting is quick, crisp, and consistent whether seated or standing we never had to worry about a misshift or chaindrop. No longer is the front shifting the achilles heel of Red and no longer will you be chastised for running a Red cassette.
When you factor in cost and weight savings, SRAM Red has electronic groups beat. In an era when consumers are debating between mechanical and electronic, SRAM Red makes a strong argument for the mechanical groupset. You'll get near electronic performance without the weight or price penalty.
As always, SRAM has you covered with an array of configuration options, standard, compact, Quarq power meter, and WiFli just to name a few. It's an impressive offering when you think SRAM only first introduced road groups in 2006. The evolution from new comer to category leader is complete with this version of Red.
[*] Lightest Groupset period. Claimed weight - 1,739 grams (306 less than mechanical Dura-Ace)
[*] Improved brake calipers equals better modulation
[*] Yaw front derailluer is a simple concept that delivers
[*] Solid rear shifting continues in the rear
[*] Slight price increase over previous red ($2,575 vs. $2300)
[*] Installation - could be tricky, but if done properly will yield awesome results
[*] More options in cassette gearings would be nice