SRAM Red 2012 – Full details

By James Huang, tech ed, in Palma, Mallorca | Wednesday, February 1, 2012 10.00am

SRAM have bucked the trend of 11-speed cassettes and electronic shifting for their wholly revamped SRAM Red 2012 group (although officially it's Model Year 2013) preferring instead to stick with 10 rear cogs and conventional cable actuation.

The new 1,739g claimed weight lops around 100g off of what was already a superlight package and major improvements to the brakes, derailleurs and drivetrain provide better stopping power, smoother front shifts and quieter running to accompany the updated ergonomics.

Trim-free and positive front shifting at last

The rear derailleur receives new shaping, a lower-profile mounting bolt and inner carbon fiber pulley plate, new pulleys that again rotate on hybrid ceramic bearings, and a longer upper knuckle that now clears 28-tooth cogs. It's otherwise functionally identical to the current Red – which is just fine since SRAM's Exact Actuation geometry is already highly precise and impressively tolerant of hanger variances. Coming in May is a new 32t-compatible WiFli version as well.

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Video: SRAM Red 2012

The front derailleur, however, is an entirely new design and a huge improvement over the existing version. Gone is the flexy titanium cage in favor of an aluminum-and-steel piece that's far stiffer for more positive shifts, particularly under power. Ingeniously, the parallelogram pivots aren't actually parallel to each other, either – a design SRAM call 'Yaw' – so that the cage doesn't just swing in and out as usual but also rotates slightly on a vertical axis as it moves back and forth.

In other words, the tail of the cage points slightly inward when the chain is on the outer chainring but slightly outward when situated over the inner ring. Even extreme cross-gear combinations produce no rub and as a result, the new Red does away completely with trim positions. SRAM anticipated that setup of such a variable-angle cage can be tricky so the front and rear cage edges are etched to help with alignment.

The parallelogram pivots in the new front derailleur aren't actually parallel. by angling them relative to each other, sram engineers were able to tune in a bit of rotational movement as the cage moves through its range to help eliminate chain rub: the parallelogram pivots in the new front derailleur aren't actually parallel. by angling them relative to each other, sram engineers were able to tune in a bit of rotational movement as the cage moves through its range to help eliminate chain rub

The parallelogram pivots in the new SRAM Red front derailleur aren't actually parallel. By angling them relative to each other, SRAM engineers were able to tune in a bit of rotational movement as the cage moves through its range to help eliminate chain rub

SRAM have also cleverly built a chain catcher into the braze-on front derailleur mounting hardware as standard equipment. Most catchers simply bolt on top of a standard concave mounting washer and rely solely on friction to avoid getting pushed out of the way when you drop a chain. SRAM's version mechanically locks the catcher in place with specific front derailleur mounting hardware and a neatly integrated adjustment screw. It's easy to set up and holds its position firm even under moderate loads. In addition, clamp-on derailleur variants are built with the chain catcher mounting base.

Updated lever ergonomics

SRAM have kept the best features of the old Red DoubleTap lever design but refinements to the shape give it a more natural feel in your hands. The lever bodies are slightly smaller in girth and offer a smoother transition from bar to hood but retain the same overall 'pistol grip' shape that so many SRAM users enjoy. There's even more room on the underside of the hood for your fingers.

The sharp corner on the outer, upper edge has been eliminated, too, while still retaining dual derailleur housing routing options. The new rubber hoods are textured for a surer grip and lightly padded, and the knob up top is bigger for a more comfortable place to rest your hands when you've got your arms stretched forward. Shift action is highly tactile and mechanical-feeling, as before, with firm springs in the levers and loud clicks – there's simply no mistaking when you make a shift.

As before, the carbon fiber brake and shift levers are independently reach-adjustable for a customizable fit that should accommodate most hand sizes and bar shapes. Tweaking the brake levers – which are now a few millimeters longer and more hooked at the ends – is again done via a handy Allen head bolt hidden beneath the hoods but thankfully, you now need a common 2.5mm hex key to set the shift paddle reach instead of searching for a sharp pick like on the old Red.

The heavily relieved lever body helps trim weight down to 260g a pair - down 58g from the current version:

The heavily relieved lever body helps trim weight down to 260g a pair  down 58g from the current version

True hollow carbon fiber cranks, XX-like cassette, but quieter

The thoroughly overhauled crankset ditches the old foam core methods for true hollow carbon fiber construction for both the arms and spider tabs. Additionally, the BB30-specific non-driveside arm uses a co-molded spindle. Combined with the entirely new shape, the 2012 crankset is a fair bit lighter but more importantly, much more rigid than before – in fact, SRAM claim it to have a higher stiffness-to-weight ratio than Shimano's benchmark Dura-Ace chainset.

SRAM stick with a standard 130mm bolt circle diameter (110mm BCD compact will be available, too) but now integrate one of the chainring mounting bolts into the back of the arm itself, and both the base of the arm and each of the spider tabs sport impressively deep cross-sections. Add in the revamped X-GlideR chainrings with XX-derived ramping and solid outer skins – similar to SRAM's current TT-specific rings – and the end result is decreased flex for a much needed boost in front shift performance.

Standard cranks will rotate on SRAM's familiar GXP bottom bracket with hybrid ceramic bearings and of course, there's a BB/PF30-specific option as well.  Thanks to the recently added Gutter seal system, both bottom brackets are now actually reasonably durable and spin with much less friction.

Red will get its first branded power meter this time around, too, using a similarly styled Quarq spider with an integrated LED indicator for battery life and setting the offset. Aside from the aesthetics and the same revamped chainrings, it's essentially just an updated S900 crankset, with arms that arms carry over the old foam core construction methods – at least for now.

The standard sram red crankarms feature marginally lighter weights but a much stiffer spider for reduced chainring flex: the standard sram red crankarms feature marginally lighter weights but a much stiffer spider for reduced chainring flex

The standard SRAM Red crankarms feature marginally lighter weights but a much stiffer spider for reduced chainring flex

Out back, the new cassette borrows its design from SRAM's XX group, with similar machined-from-steel billet construction, new weight-saving cutouts in between the largest cogs and a pressed-on aluminum innermost cog. Those cutouts aren't obvious at first glance as each trough is now cut a bit deeper and is wrapped in an elastomer ring that's said to reduce drivetrain noise by absorbing vibration and directly damping the impact between the chain and cassette when shifting.

Chains are carried over from the previous Red so riders can expect the same familiar options.

No more dual pivots

Perhaps the most radical change on the new Red is a move from conventional dual-pivot brake calipers to a new cam-actuated rim design. It's certainly lighter but the biggest claimed benefit is increased power, along with much more generous rim clearance. The pads contact the rim quickly when you pull the lever but the variable geometry then provides greater mechanical advantage to amplify the power.

Cams are nothing new but SRAM have adopted a robust looking setup for their mass-produced Red brakes. The 'AeroLink' linkage (aero only in the sense that the new caliper has less frontal area than the old one) is a reassuringly stout piece of aluminum and rotates about a smooth and fairly sizeable pivot for longevity. Well hidden inside the mechanism is another shorter steel link that connects everything together.

SRAM move away from a traditional dual pivot layout in favor of a cam-actuated design for the new red brakes:

SRAM move away from a traditional dual pivot layout in favor of a cam-actuated design for the new Red brakes

Cam-enhanced single pivot brakes like this can often be finicky to center but SRAM have addressed that as well. Each side is independently adjustable for spring tension so you just need to get it close when you secure the mounting nut then fine-tune the positioning as needed with SRAM's now trademark 2.5mm hex key.

Capping off the brakes are aggressively machined cartridge-style pad holders with ball-joint mounting hardware and SwissStop blocks. The one visual disappointment is the four-position quick-release mechanism. It's integrated into the barrel adjuster and seems to work well but it isn't particularly elegant in either design or aesthetics.

As for hydraulic brakes (both disc and rim), SRAM admit they're not quite ready yet but prototypes are already undergoing testing. Release is scheduled for this autumn and Zipp will also debut disc-compatible road wheels. It's a similar story for TT-specific integrated brake designs, too.

Only 10 cogs and no motors but a lot less weight

SRAM had already nailed the lightweight target with the current Red group but as expected, the new version is substantially lighter, making it an obvious target for weight-conscious riders who care more about shedding grams and easy-to-maintain mechanical systems than whirring motors. 

The milled-out aluminum pad holders are lightweight. swissstop pads will come as standard equipment: the milled-out aluminum pad holders are lightweight. swissstop pads will come as standard equipment

The milled-out aluminum pad holders are lightweight. SwissStop pads will come as standard equipment

Some techies might decry the lack of an eleventh cog but given what Shimano have to do to fit in that extra gear, SRAM are smart not to rock that boat – Campagnolo's upper-end roads are superb but few people buy them specifically because they have 11 rear cogs and not 10.

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In fact, SRAM might ironically actually be setting themselves apart from their competitors by sticking to the status quo. There's a surprisingly prudent mix of forged aluminum and carbon fiber on tap, nearly every bolt is either titanium or aluminum, and at least on first inspection, nothing appears grossly underbuilt. It's characteristically mechanical and somewhat raw feeling, and the aesthetics are bold and edgy – which is precisely what many fans like about SRAM in the first place.

Pricing for the new Red does go up but at least it's not by an exorbitant amount – and in terms of weight, it'll remain an enticing option. Even better, SRAM says the new Red bits will begin arriving in stores starting March 1. We'll be riding the new Red at the company's launch event here on the Spanish island of Mallorca so stay tuned for a first ride review soon.

Full specs

2012 SRAM Red DoubleTap shift/brake levers 280g US$639/£529.99
2012 SRAM Red rear derailleur 145g $358/£296.99
2012 SRAM Red front derailleur 74g $137/£114.99
2012 SRAM Red crankset, GXP, w/o bottom bracket 609g $451/£379.99
2012 SRAM Red crankset, BB30, w/o bottom bracket 557g $494/£409.99
2012 SRAM Red power meter, GXP 778g $1,995/TBA
2012 SRAM Red XG-1090 cassette, 11-23T 135g $335/£264.99
2012 SRAM PC-1091R chain, 116 links 255g $84/£69.99
2012 SRAM Red GXP bottom bracket 105g $220/£184.99
2012 SRAM Red BB30 bottom bracket 53g $236/£199.99
2012 SRAM Red brake calipers, pair 245g $351/£289.99
Total: 1,739g (BB30)

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