Nope I’m not talking about the new Lego Star Wars game; however that is awesome and I will be putting some form of wording together for it later. I’m talking about the new Sram road groupset; Force. Sram have long been a competitor to Shimano in the the world of MTB gearing. The X0 groupset being in my mind one of the best looking bits of kit available. But so far they only concentrated their efforts on the off road scene. There have been rumors of a road groupset from Sram for a while know and last year it came into the light. The word was of a new technology; Double Tap, were the rider had only one lever to move and the level of movement dictated the if the gear was higher or lower. Of course there was going to be the usual mix of carbon and high grade aluminum and steel in the construction of the parts and if the previous components were any thing to go by they would look stunning. Months went past and slowly the internet started filling up with news and red frogs. Leap as he is now know is the mascot for Sram and the star of their website. At first we were just asked if we would “make the leap”. Then the news of a US press release were in the works. and finally some details of the new range became apparent. It turned out there would be two sets of road gear; the Force and the Rival. The Force groupset is the flagship range, aimed directly at the DuraAce and Record market. Made from everything shiny and good it shaves grams of the competition. If your budget can not quite reach the limits of the Force range then consider the Rival. Aimed more towards the 105 competition it will be more cost effective. However given the weight of these not so carbon infused items the overall weight is more geared towards an Ultegra competitor.
On one of my regular visits to Rob’s shop I noticed a box of gear on the floor. On closer inspection it was as suspected a full Sram road gear set. Now you have got to bear in mind that at present this gear is like a Unicorn, you have heard about them but you have never seen one! Turns out this set is one of only 100 sets in the UK. So what is it doing in a box! Put it on a bike and let me play! The last time Rob was contacted my Sram I ended up missing out, this time I can physically see the goods and even got to give them a once over, now all we need is a test rig which Rob tells me is on the cards. If you fancy taking a closer look then give him a shout, you might even get a ride on the demo rig; once the frame is decided!
The whole idea behind the double tap levers are a simple one; why use two levers when one will do? As with most ergo levers or STI style gears you have one lever to produce the down shift movement and tension the gear cable and a second lever to release the tension and produce the up shift. Sram have turned this on the head and replaced the two standard levers with just one lever. Now the lever of movement you put on the lever will correspond to if you are shifting up or down. The lever sits in the standard position, just behind the brake lever, like with the Campy Record ergo levers you can move the lever on a pivot and hold them against the bars for extra comfort if your on the drops and sprinting. But the real clever part comes when you move the lever inward to shift. As you push the lever inwards it hits a decision making limit or ‘click’, at this point the mech has not moved and only when you make the next movement will you change gear. If you release the lever and it returns to the netural position then mechanism knows it is only a short movement and the cable is released making a up shift; chain goes down the cassette. If however you want to move up the cassette then from that initial click you proceed to push the lever further you engage the cable tensioner and the chain jumps up a cog. As with most other brands you can shift three gears at a time by pushing the lever over three further clicks. Thats the idea behind the design and the feed back is good. People who have ridden them claim that after the first stage of getting used to the difference it does feel very natural and there is not that confusion in shifting.
The levers themselves are very well made. The Force levers have carbon blades, the Rival has a cost effective plastic version but word is that you can upgrade to a carbon option at a later date. In essence there is no real difference between the two lines except weight and a whole wad of cash.
The Force rear mech follows on from the high end MTB designs; lots of carbon fibre. In fact a sickenly large amount of the stuff. Personally I’m not too keen on the location of the adjustment screws, they spoil the clean look of the mech body but the slightly bronzed looking aluminum makes up for this. The Rival version does not have any carbon and is made from a classic silver ally but still looks the part. As with all other Sram gear both the Force and the Rival operate on a 1:1 actuation, which means if you move the cable 1mm the mech moves 1mm, making for a more precise gear change. The front mechs are much the same story, high grade metals and precision engineering. Not the most interesting to look at compared to the likes of a Campagnolo Record shifter. Still it does the job and thanks to that 1:1 ratio it the job well!
Nearly all the main manufacturers have gone down the external bearing route and Sram are no different. The inherit benefits of longer bearing life, higher loads and more stable construction have all played a part in this decision. Add some sick looking carbon crank arms and you have one nice looking set up. There is no news on bearing cross compatibility just yet but as Sram are used to the dirt and grit expect these road versions to be built to last.
Of course all this gadgetry must be coupled with a good transmission to get the power down. Sram have not scooped on this either. The chain is of course on of their best products, so many people run MTB’s on Sram chains that they must be doing something right. The road chains run a hollow pin version using the hyperglide technology to improve shifting. Cassette wise expect to see a 10speed version with some clever teeth shaving on the lower sprockets. The idea is that certain teeth have been reduced to improve the shifting and ensure a clean change in all conditions and loads.
Right so far have some pretty trick equipment to get you going but what about stopping? Enter the Sram Force brake set. The design is a clean dual pivot one with some fancy hollow sections. Ok so they are there to save weight but for me they also look pretty good! Brake adjustment is done using a standard barrel adjusted and to release them there is a release arm similar to the Shimano style. All in they look very nice, that bronzed look for the Force range is continued here, and with a weight of only 279grams they are sure to go down well.
Time to ride…
So far I’m yet to ride these but if the news is any where near as good as the looks no doubt this will be some clever stuff. Whilst these are not the cheapest out there, they will set you back more than a DuraAce setup, they will certainly be the talk for quite some time. The biggest let down so far is the fact that there is no cross compatibly with any other groupsets. Force will work with Rival and the cassettes and chains can be used on Shimano set ups but only Sram levers will work with Sram mechanisms; yet not the MTB range! Of course this is all a lot of speculation, they have really got to be tried and tested and proven out on the road. In the mean time admire the photo’s