SRAM Rival eTap AXS Review: Premium Electronic Wireless Shifting Trickles Down

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Our head-to-head comparison between SRAMs Premium RED and the new Rival eTap AXS groupsets in the middle class yielded surprising results.

The American bicycle component brand SRAM today announced the Rival eTap AXS component range for road and gravel bicycles. This group brings the price of wireless electronic shifting to bikes, which start at $ 3,500 to $ 4,000, and significantly lowers the barrier to entry.

With the Rival eTap AXS, many more cycling enthusiasts can enjoy and benefit from modern electronic shifting. This makes one of the most important developments in cycling accessible to more than just the elite.

In our early tests, the SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupset’s performance was found to be largely indistinguishable from that of the premium RED eTap AXS groupset, but it lowers the entry point to less than half the price of many RED-equipped road and gravel bikes. While cycling is still expensive, this new version of SRAM makes the undeniable benefits of electronic shifting much more affordable.

How we tested SRAM eTap AXS

At one of the best product launches (and I’ve been to many of them), SRAM surprisingly delivered a Rival eTap AXS-equipped Open Cycles UP bike to my door – while I received phone calls about the launch. I live for miles on a dirt road in a nature reserve, which makes SRAM’s logistical efforts even more impressive.

And my location turned out to be an ideal testing ground for this particular bike. Since this is an all-road bike, I can cover the terrain suitable for my gravel bike and stay efficient on paved roads when I want to connect distant strips of dirt. That exactly describes my neighborhood.

First impression: SRAM eTap AXS review

I can see the headlines now

Granted I am a Bicycle equipment snob. I’ve been fortunate to have been driving top-notch components since college, largely due to the generosity of racing and industry enthusiasts. In short: I’m a spoiled brat when it comes to bicycles and cycling equipment.

I therefore assumed that I would immediately notice significant differences in the performance characteristics of the individual Rival components compared to the SRAM RED eTap AXS on my gravel machine. I made headlines when I drove up my steep gravel driveway for the first time: “Where Rival eTap AXS is not a rival …”

But just a few miles down my local country lanes the headlines were starting to change. Shifting was quick, precise, effortless, and almost telepathic, just like on my RED equipped machine. Braking was solid and predictable which mattered on the steep hills and dusty hardpack.

The miles went by and I found it difficult to write my headline as a bike snob. I couldn’t turn my nose up with this much cheaper group. Sure, I told myself, I will notice the deficits in the weeks to come, and the rough sections of my home filth nirvana will expose the weaknesses.

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Continuation of the tests

Apart from mountain biking, I have only ridden the Open Cycles UP equipped with SRAM Rival eTap AXS for the last 3 weeks. And each time I expected to come home with a few words explaining why top-notch groups cost what they do. I wanted to beat all the RED haters and justify my investment in flagship bike parts.

However, the functionality of each part was largely indistinguishable from its more expensive RED counterpart. All of the things I love about RED also agreed with Rival. The app-programmable shift modes, hard braking at the foot of hills or careful scrubbing on dusty gravel turns, chain management and ergonomics – all of this was almost the same as the custom gravel bike that hung in my shop.

This bike costs three times the power of some Rival eTap AXS motorcycles.

I didn’t have a missed shift, dropped chain, or mechanical problem during the trial period. And I purposely turned into the roughest stretches of rock-lined caliche streets, drove through mud, rain, extreme dust, and didn’t even clean or lubricate the flat top chain (sorry, SRAM).

But there were differences – albeit minor ones.

Rival eTap AXS vs. RED eTap AXS

SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupPhoto courtesy of SRAM

The first thing I noticed was the brake hoods as they are smaller than RED. Most of the drivers I know spend most of their time on the hoods so it’s not an insignificant issue, but I think it’s a personal problem. I have small hands for someone my size to fit nicely, but also those on RED.

The first time I took the test bike up my very steep driveway, I was sitting and it felt so much easier. The Rival eTap AXS rear derailleur has room for up to 36 teeth, and the 10 to 36 tooth cassette in combination with the 43/30 chainrings gave me a much lower gear ratio than I can get with my RED setup.

I was mad! I may have to jump in for the 36T RED rear derailleur that SRAM recently released.

The Rival eTap AXS rear derailleur uses a spring clutch for chain management instead of the liquid-damped Orbit system, a big selling point for RED in the gravel sector. But I never missed a shift or dropped my chain during a shift with Rival, nor did I hear a chain hit.

On a particularly steep and rocky section of my “driveway” I visually compared the chain behavior on the descent. There was a visual difference in how the derailleurs handled chain slack, but there was never a functional difference.

Eventually there was a difference in the width of the crank spindle. SRAM offers a “wide” version of the single and double Rival eTap AXS cranks, as well as a matching wide derailleur. This option allows all-road and gravel frame builders to use a wider bottom bracket to make room for wider tires while keeping the proper chainline intact.

Uhhh. The weight. All weenies (like me) are waiting for this spec. A double chainring RED eTap AXS kit weighed around 2,549 g. The Rival version is now available at 3,202 g – a difference of 653 g or just under 1.5 pounds.

Bike freaks can search the SRAM Rival eTap AXS site to examine all of the nuanced differences between Rival and SRAM’s RED and Second Tier Force groups. However, these are the main ones that were noticed during the trial period.

Back to the price

By far the most important difference between SRAM Rival eTap AXS and RED eTap AXS is the price. This applies not only to the purchase of entire bicycles (in many cases at half the price or less), but also to repairs and maintenance.

The parts that I’ve destroyed the most when my talent runs out are shift brake levers and derailleurs. A quick scan of the SRAM MSRP lists shows that a pair of RED eTap shift brake levers cost $ 430. But for $ 400 you can get a pair of Rival shift brake levers that come assembled with the front and rear calipers and all of the hoses. The RED eTap AXS costs $ 710 for the rear derailleur, and the Rival version costs $ 255.

Similar pricing strategies also apply to maintenance items. A RED chain is $ 70 while the counterpart is $ 30. A RED cartridge costs $ 350 while the Rival version costs $ 125.

And if you want to improve performance, hold on to your seat! The reliable accuracy of Quarq power meters is available for Rival eTap AXS cranks. This non-drive-side measurement performance has an MSRP of $ 249! The RED version? Cool $ 1,200.

SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupPhoto courtesy of SRAM

The verdict on SRAM Rival eTap AXS

If you’ve longed for electronic shifting but didn’t want to haggle for your car, your day has come! I’ve tried very hard to confirm my bike snobbery and write a headline that supports my compulsion to ride “the best”. But unfortunately it is not possible. The SRAM Rival eTap AXS works as advertised, bringing the functionality of SRAM’s more expensive options within reach for many.

Yes, it weighs more, but it’s easier and cheaper for me to lose 1.5 pounds than paying for RED at full retail. And I could drive around and pay close attention to each nerve end to clear up tiny differences in performance, but I’d rather just enjoy the excellence.

If you want to do the same, we encourage you to visit your local bike shop or your preferred online retailer as soon as possible. I have a strong feeling that motorcycles equipped with SRAM Rival eTap AXS will sell out quickly. Half the price is half the price.

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