SRAM 2012 Red test ride

Not long ago, I had opportunity to put a few miles on a SRAM 2012 Red equipped bike.

Alessandro Vanotti Liquigas w/ SRAM 2012 Red
Alessandro Vanotti of Liquigas-Cannondale with SRAM 2012 Red at the 2012 Tour of California.

I’ve seen several battery packs on the bikes used for the 2012 Amgen Tour of California, but Liquigas Cannondale, Omega Pharma-Quick-Step and United Healthcare teams have non-electroic SRAM Red. So far, SRAM 2012 Red has been the winningest group during the 2012 Tour of California, with Peter Sagan riding Red to four consecutive stage victories this week. Kristin Armstrong also achieved victory on Thursday using 2012 Red at the women’s time trial in Bakersfield.

SRAM introduced their Red road group to much fanfare in 2007 to compete directly with Shimano Dura Ace and Campagnolo Super Record, and the pro peloton were quick to adopt the new, lightweight shifters and brakes from the Chicago-based company. Reports of chainsuck on this group came to the forefront, unfortunately, when Andy Schleck lost his chain during the 2010 Tour de France.

SRAM mechanical designers were quick to engineer improvements in 2011, and for 2012 we see more changes to Red. Among them — an integrated chain catcher to eliminate chainsuck, more powerful braking, and extremely precise no-trim shiftin. The result has been several deliveries to the podium on SRAM Red equipped bikes since 2012 Red was introduced in February.

Improved braking, no trim, and “yaw”

The first thing I noticed about 2012 Red was the absolutely solid braking performance from SRAM’s fancy new ‘Force Multiplier Link’ brakes, which reduces weight while improving braking performance with plenty of rim clearance. I’m not a mechanical guy, but SRAM replaced their conventional dual pivot brake with a cam linkage that reduces the brake’s aerodynamic profile while improving the throw. I touched the brake levers and -pow- I’ve locked my wheels. I had to remind myself to gently feather the brakes. The strong braking came in very handy when a member of the Kamikaze Squirrel Brigade tried to take me out on a long, fast descent. Instead of grabbing a handful of brake, I gave them a quick squeeze and I was at a dead stop inches from the startled squirrel, who continued spazzing as he couldn’t decide to go right or left before deciding my leg was not a tree.

SRAM retained their “DoubleTap” shifting, which is their stupidly simple single lever shifting. Shifting front and rear was flawless. There’s no way to trim the gears, but SRAM’s product guy invited me to cross the chains (small front to small rear and big front to big rear). There was absolutely no chain rub on the derailleur cage. SRAM accomplished this with something they call “yaw,” which completely eliminates the need for trim. With most shifters, front derailleur cage is normally parallel to the bike’s direction of travel, but SRAM’s front derailleur cage pivots. While the front of the cage throws the chain up or down on the two chainrings, the rear of the cage angles left or right to the actual direction the chain is going toward the back of the bike. It’s a blindingly obvious idea once you see it, but SRAM thought of it and patented this puppy.

Old and New

SRAM 2012 Red brake lever adjust

While Campy and Shimano have moved to 11 speed and electronic shifting, SRAM decided to stay with 10 speed manual shifting to add value in other areas such as precision shifting, braking performance, aerodynamic design, light weight, and other niceties. Front and rear shifting are whisper quiet, which SRAM says is achieved with precision machining and elastomer bands between each cog.

Another nifty feature many people will like: the levers are easily adjustable for almost any hand size. I have ‘normal’ size hands with somewhat long fingers, so lever reach has never been an issue for me. Some of my small-handed friends, however, have complained about lever size. On 2012 Red, however, brake and shifter levers are independently adjustable — you can move them in and out from the drop portion of the handlebars. Adjustment is likely a one time deal, but still SRAM made this super easy with a simple Allen key.

Note my impressions are based on a two hour ride in mountainous terrain on an S-Works road bike. The components were expertly tuned by SRAM mechanics immediately before the ride. The average weekend warrior like you and I don’t have teams of professional wrenches to tweak our mechs before every ride. I know Thien at Road Bike Review got a 2012 Red for a long term evaluation, so watch his site for his longer-term experience with SRAM 2012 Red.

A full SRAM 2012 Red group will run you somewhere around $2500. Fully equipped bicycles built up with SRAM Red run about $400 less than the identical bike built up with DA.

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