SRAM is best known for its dirt components, and its engineering and manufacturing prowess has enabled the Chicago company to enter the road market with confidence. The US$150 SRAM Force rear derailleur has a tough job, and beyond its foreman-like duties of directing the chain up and down the cassette, offers more than just meets the eye.
With the the universal acceptance of carbon fibre, it's only natural that the precious black material made its way from frame to cockpit to drivetrain. So how did the SRAM Force rear mech do after several hundred miles?
When SRAM unveiled its first product, the Grip Shift CAT-1 road shifter in 1988, the road market was transitioning from six- to seven-speed freewheels and cassettes. Chains were 7.1mm wide; today, with 10 cogs in the rear, chains are 5.5mm wide and still need to respond quickly to the flick of the fingers at the shift lever. SRAM's 178g Force rear mech relies on Exact Actuation technology, honed with the company's dirt experience. This means precise 3mm shifts all along the gear range, no easy feat with 10 cogs and a whirling metal chain trying to buzz-saw its way with every turn of the cranks.
The sculpted, forged alloy body is connected to a carbon fibre outer cage by an aluminium knuckle, further boosted by a magnesium inner link.
Once I adjusted to the Double Tap shifting, I spent several miles flicking through the gears to get used to the chain's timing before hitting big climbs. Shift response was a bit dodgy at first, and after a few cable tweaks everything smoothed out as expected. The SRAM PC-1070 10-speed chain works wonderfully, but shifting was further enhanced by an FSA SL-K chain, which thoroughly removed what little friction I felt with the SRAM chain.
Overall, the Force rear mech held up well to thousands of shifts in all weather conditions. I inadvertently mis-adjusted it after swapped the gruppo over to a different frameset, sending the chain into an unsuspecting Zipp 343 spoke, abruptly ending a near-perfect maiden voyage in late October. The mech is no worse for the wear, and continues to guide the chain dutifully over the cogs without any audible reminders of its efforts.
The US$150 Force rear mech accepts a gear range of 11-27 teeth, and costs US$130 less than the sexy Campagnolo Record carbon rear mech, while weighing nearly 10g less! The main difference between the by-gone days of seven speeds is the dedicated drivetrain compatability issues we face today. This means you must make a hard choice between Shimano, SRAM aor Campagnolo from stem to stern. From my experience, you wouldn't go wrong to have at least one nice bike dialed in with the SRAM Force gruppo, because the drivetrain performance has been top-notch.
© BikeRadar 2007