Cycling plus was one of only two British magazines (the other was our sister publication Pro Cycling) to be invited to experience the new 'generic third' 10-speed groupset to sit alongside the long established Shimano STI and Campagnolo Ergopower systems. To begin with SRAM's long awaited new groupsets will only be available on complete bikes and we expect them to be available to the aftermarket some time towards the tail end of the summer. Their range heading Force groupset uses carbon and magnesium parts and will be aimed at the high end while the Rival groupset, using more economically priced aluminium parts, will be pitched somewhere around the place occupied by Campagnolo Centaur and Shimano 105.
At the heart of the Force groupset are the Double Tap combined brake/gear levers that weigh just 305g per pair_"making them 27% lighter than Shimano Dura-Ace and a shade lighter than Campag Record. Instead of using two separate gear function levers like Shimano and Campagnolo SRAM uses a single lever using an ingenious system of inner and outer spring loaded teeth_"or more correctly pawls that work together to wind up and release a gear cog within the mechanism. A short push of the lever lifts the outer tooth within the lever and releases the cable while a long push of the lever lifts the inner pawl away and pulls the cable inwards, bringing the chain onto a larger cassette cog.
The inherently compact dimensions of the mechanism gave the design team plenty of scope to perfect the shape of the hoods. SRAM has omitted any kind of reach adjustment but as the gear components are so compact it has allowed them to bring the pivot point of the brake levers closer to where it needs to be for small hands and the lever hoods are commendably narrow at their base for a good grip.
The Force version uses magnesium and carbon fibre and on a light bike has the same sense of overall lightness that you get with a Campagnolo Record Ergopower equipped setup. While this is of little consequence to the non-competitive rider, the gear lever can be held next to the handlebars and used to shift to a larger gear with a full grip and US based pro sprinters used in the developmental stage have already noticed the benefits of this on the run up to the finish line. We found that a degree of 're-learning' was required here to shake off some of the habits accumulated using Shimano and Campagnolo Ergopower systems_"such as remembering to fully swing the lever across all the way across to perform a shift to a larger size cassette cog. As for cable routing-while the smoothest route is not used they are neatly routed under the handlebar tape Çÿ la Campagnolo.
The gear operation is smooth and the shift both instantaneous and positive. In our opinion the Force brings a level of refinement to the ride that sets a new standard.
THE GEAR MECHS
The SRAM design team discovered that frame gear hanger width has an important bearing on how smoothly a system can operate and indeed the amount of cable used to pull the rear gear mech across its range. With this in mind they found that by designing the system to pull almost the same amount of cable as the gear mech travels the gears have greater precision and stayed working smoother for longer than their competitors. During our two days and 80 km of riding with the Force components no adjustments were required to the indexing and it is certainly as smooth and positive as a well setup Shimano Dura-Ace or Campagnolo Record equipped bike.
Unlike its competitors the front mech is designed to work both with compact and normal chainsets. In use the chain ramps smoothly and quietly between the large and small chainrings with only minor incidence of chainsuck when shifting under pressure from the large to the small chainring, which we put down to a mismatch between the chain and the profile of the teeth. There is a slight delay in 'communication' between the actuation of the left-hand lever and the movement of the front mech when shifting from the large to the small chainring under extreme pressure but the shift is always consistent and smooth and at no time was the power stroke interrupted by a loss of drive between the chain and the chainrings.
THE CRANKSET AND CASSETTE
Force (carbon) and Rival (aluminium) cranks have been designed in conjuction with the Taiwanese company Truvativ and bear some resemblance to their Giga X-Pipe 2-piece design but with a slightly different spline pattern where the left hand crank attaches to the axle. We believe that this system is easier to install than Shimano's as there is no need to use a torque wrench _" simply tighten the 'key-release' bolt fully. The stepped shoulder on the axle also means there is no lateral force imposed on the bearings so they should in theory last longer. The carbon cranks use a central aluminium spine that is 'coined'-a similar process to cold forging where the structure of the grains is re-oriented for strength. This process is also used for the teeth of the chainrings to make them more durable.
While no triple chainset is available there are several options for chainring sizes including 34/50, 36/50 and 39/53 combinations.
The 10-speed cassette ratios are shared across both groupsets and include 11-23, 11-26 and 12-26 and fit straight onto a Shimano freehub body. The largest three cogs sit on an aluminium spider while the remainder slide onto the cassette body directly. The Open Glide system has a 'gap' between the teeth at one point around the circumference of the cassette that is supposed to help the chain to shift silently_"certainly there is a remarkable lack of noise when shifting even on a steep gradient under extreme pressure. The 10-speed specific chain-there're three versions to choose from right up to the 1090R that has hollow pins and sideplates-uses a PowerLock joining link that is similar to their existing interlocking links but is not re-useable.
These brake calliper arms are triangulated for stiffness and bear some resemblance to the Mavic callipers but differ significantly in using a quick release lever and a tough clear zirconium coating that is finer but not dissimilar in appearance to that used some time ago for the Shimano STX componentry. Braking performance is more linear than Shimano Dura-Ace which tends to feel more powerful as you grasp the lever but we feel that there is room for more development of the braking pad material to bring it up to the performance of Campagnolo Chorus and Record.
While the main components of the Force groupset are no lighter than those in the Campagnolo Record range, the SRAM Force offers a greater level of refinement than its rivals in all but the braking department.
If their off-road groupsets are anything to go by we expect them to undercut their competitors on price when it becomes available to the aftermarket in the autumn. For the time being though, SRAM is projecting the cost to be $1200 for Rival and $1800 for Force in USD (excluding hubs).