SRAM Red Component Groupset Review
Primary use: Road
Brakes: Cable actuated; hydraulic disc
Red is SRAM’s shwankiest cable-actuated road bike component group. Primarily aimed at racing and endurance bikes, the components comprise the lightest, 2×11 rim-brake group available. Red features design details and technology that can now be found in each group in SRAM’s lower-priced road groups. Some of the most notable features include SRAM’s trim-free Yaw front derailleur, cranks with hidden fifth bolt, lightweight and compact single-pivot rim brakes, and revised shift-brake-lever shape and ergonomics. The Red eTap electronic shifting system shares many of the same components (cranks, caliper brakes, chains, cassettes) with mechanical Red. Overall, the group lacks some of the features and options of top groups from Shimano and Campagnolo, but it should please road riders who prize simplicity and low weight. Expect to pay between R38,000 and R101,000 for a Red-equipped bike.
SRAM launched Red (named after the company’s corporate colour) in 2007 and it has been the company’s highest-end road group ever since. SRAM’s use of ceramic bearings, adjustable reach on the brake levers and shifter paddles, and its iconic hollow cassette (machined from a single piece of steel) first debuted in the group. The current version of Red (let’s call it Red 22, with 22 being SRAM’s designation for its double-chainring road groups) was released in 2013. Compared to the version that preceded it (call that Red 10-speed, released in 2012), the biggest update was the jump to 11-speed from 10 speed, and the addition of hydraulic rim and disc brakes to the Red family.
Red 22 kicked off SRAM’s first-generation drop-bar hydraulic brakes, beating both Shimano and Campagnolo to the category. The family is called Hydro R, and it’s distinguished by the tall and angular peaks on the mechanical shift-brake-lever bodies. This same exterior shape is found in the hydraulic-brake versions of SRAM’s less expensive Force, Rival, and Apex groups, and SRAM’s S-700 non-series components.
Red: SRAM’s Lightest Road Group
Red Cassette: The majority of the cassette – all except the largest and smallest cog – is a hollow dome that is machined from a single piece of steel. The largest cog, which is pressed onto the dome, is made of aluminum and serves as the interface with the hub’s driver body. The smallest cog is also made of steel, but separate from the rest of the cassette. Rings of sound-damping elastomer reside between most of the cogs.
Red Cranks: The five-bolt Red crank is SRAM’s only carbon road option with an integrated spider. The design weighs less than SRAM’s modular cranks, which use bolt-on spiders. SRAM continues to use five-arm spiders in two bolt circles (110mm “compact” and 130mm “standard”) while Campy and Shimano have moved to a single four-arm spider for road cranks. In addition to the regular Red crank, SRAM offers an option with a built in Quarq power meter. Notably, SRAM was the first drivetrain company to include a power meter into a road group.
Red Rim Brakes: Instead of the more-common (and typically more powerful) dual-pivot design, Red brakes have a single pivot, which saves weight. To amp up power, engineers added a lever to connect the brake cable to the body, which increases the brake’s stopping force and brings it to near-dual-pivot levels. SRAM also recently added a dual-pivot-style, direct-mount brake option.
Red Hydraulic Brakes: The group uses dual-piston calipers and the pads are compatible with the Force and Rival brakes. All SRAM hydraulic brake systems use DOT hydraulic fluid, which needs to be flushed routinely or the fluid’s properties degrade.
There’s a quaint simplicity to Red components. In the pursuit of low weight, SRAM traded some features and options for basic performance. The shifting is done with one lever, which moves in one direction. A short push moves the chain one direction; a longer push moves it the other direction. Unlike like front derailleurs from Shimano and Campagnolo, which have multiple trim positions to better align the derailleur cage with the chain line to reduce noise, Red’s Yaw front derailleur has no trim positions. It works well, but only when properly set up, which can take some extra time and skill. Red cranks continue to use normal-looking spiders and five-bolt chainrings. I like that the cassette doesn’t scatter into a million pieces when it’s removed from a wheel. The group is light, simple, and works well.
Despite the simplicity of the group, or perhaps due to it, shifting feels crisp and precise. Throws are short and gear changes happen with audible and tactile signals. The paddles are well sized and easy to use from both the hoods and drops. You have to apply a bit of force to the paddles to instigate a shift, but that makes it difficult to trigger a shift by mistake.
Gear changes happen fast and smoothly. That said, the group is older than newer options from Shimano and Camp and the shifting, especially up front, lacks precision and smoothness of those groups.
Red’s rim brakes have very good power and decent modulation. They are light, which is appealing, but their performance is a step below Shimano’s latest Dura Ace and Ultegra options.
Though the levers can feel a little sluggish, the disc brakes work very well. They’re very intuitive and confidence inspiring in the rain, but they can be noisy when they get wet (swapping pads can help). While the rest of the group has clean lines, the hydraulic hoods stick out and look somewhat clunky to me. But they are large enough to provide another hand hold, which some riders like.