SRAM's Double Tap shifter technology has gained respectability and scorn among weekend warriors, but now that the sub 2000g Red gruppo is coming, how does the Force stack up?
SRAM, the Chicago-based designer primarily known for its mountain bike products, launched its first dedicated road gruppos, Force and Rival, in late 2006. Not since the days of Mavic or SunTour has there been a challenger to Shimano and Campagnolo's road market supremacy. SRAM's Double Tap technology ushered in competition for the Japanese and Italian giants; here are my impressions of SRAM's shift levers after several hundred miles and thousands of shifts.
First, 17 years of using Shimano and Campagnolo shifting made my maiden voyage with the SRAM Force somewhat awkward. As is the case with any heavily patented concept, integrated shifting and braking can be accomplished so many different ways. But, SRAM was able to execute this by eliminating the two-paddle system of Shimano, and the two-button adjustment of Campagnolo.
SRAM's carbon and magnesium proprietary Double Tap lever works by moving the brake lever inward, just like its competitors'; short taps will give you quick upshifts, while a longer throw of the lever gets you the downshifts. It's not as intuitive as Shimano or Campagnolo, but once you get the feel of it, it's becomes second nature (just like it did 17 years ago for Andy Hampsten and his 7-Eleven teammates). Strange it may sound, but responsive and easy it certainly works.
Setting up the levers is as easy as Shimano; lever placement will again depend on which bars you use and how much angle you desire while still feeling accessible to the brakes in most hand positions.
I've liked the clean lines of Campagnolo's ErgoPower design with its hidden cables; SRAM has chosen this smart design. The ergonomics of the SRAM double Tap body are also the most natural, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, flowing as it does at the right angle of the handlebar bend toward the drops. This also provides a natural place to rest one's hands on long flats, while still offering enough meat to grab when climbing or sprinting on the hoods.
SRAM's 20-year heritage began with its first product, the Grip Shift DB/Cat. 1 twist shifter. In 1988, road racer Bob Mionske placed fourth at the Seoul summer Olympic road race, Scott Molina won the Ironman Triathlon, a Grip Shift-equipped rider won the Race Across America, and Kenny Souza won the world biathlon championships, all on the DB/CAT-1. SRAM knew the shifter market was ripe, but decided to ride the lucrative wave of dirt and urban shifting and drivetrains instead.
Yes, the SRAM way is not as easy to get used to like Shimano's was back in the day, but SRAM clearly did its homework on finding a different way to shove a chain across a 10-speed cassette with one's hands still on the brake lever. Just like I do with a new movie, I don't let other's opinions cloud my judgment of common sense approach to trying something new and different. The Force Double Tap began as subtle improvement for me on the road compared to my experiences with Shimano and Campy, then quickly surpassed all expectations within 25 miles. I can only imagine what the new SRAM Red shifters will feel like...
I've had Campy's carbon Record gruppo on my personal bike since 2003. Like the SRAM Force carbon levers, my first thoughts were `hope I don't crash and really muck up these black beauties,' but time and abuse haven't done a thing to the Campy or SRAM levers. I also found it easy to feather-brake on long descents, even with my hands on top the brake levers versus grabbing from the drops.
At 305g for the pair, the US$520 Force Double Tap levers have made a litespeed jump into the serious contender category of fine road componentry. Still, compared to Campy's US$310, 324g Record levers and Shimano's US$480, 420g Dura-Ace levers, it would be hard for some to part with the extra cash for the new kid on the shift-lever block, escpecially one that doesn't have a front derailleur trim ability. Shifting is brisk and smooth, and fairly quiet compared to Campy.
I enjoy the feel and usability of the SRAM Force brake/shifters. After several hundred miles climbing, descending, sprinting and flat-out distance riding, my hands tell me they're most comfortable with SRAM. I look forward to a few more improvements in the 2008 version.
© BikeRadar 2007