SRAM Red eTap HRD first ride review£1,707.00

Wireless shifting paired with hydraulic disc brakes

SRAM’s wireless electronic eTap groupset has been praised for its clean looks, easy setup and overall impressive shift performance. The missing piece of this wireless-shifting puzzle was a hydraulic disc brake version.

Now that hole has been plugged: the new RED eTap HRD group combines SRAM’s wireless shifting with updated hydraulic brakes.

SRAM Red eTap HRD details

  • Same wireless protocol
  • Refined hood shape
  • Reach adjust as well as contact point adjustments
  • Redesigned brake calipers
  • Improved serviceability over SRAM HydroR groups
  • Available in early 2017

Same shifting

The wireless shift technology carries over unchanged from the rim (and cable-actuated disc) version of eTap to this new group.

(Click here to read our long-term review of SRAM’s rim-brake eTap group. )

Braking, however, is improved over SRAM’s existing HydroR groups in terms of lever feel, heat management and serviceability.

Improved ergonomics

The new Red eTap HRD lever in comparison to SRAM's hydraulic lever with mechanical shifting
The new Red eTap HRD lever in comparison to SRAM's hydraulic lever with mechanical shifting

The first change riders familiar with SRAM’s other road disc brake groups will notice is the revised hood shape.

While many riders thought the HydroR levers felt fine in the hand, they had their aesthetic detractors. “The internet was less than gentle to the overall look,” mused Paul Kantor, SRAM’s brake category manager.

The lack of mechanical shifting meant SRAM was able to make the hoods slimmer and less angular
The lack of mechanical shifting meant SRAM was able to make the hoods slimmer and less angular

SRAM took advantage of the lack of a mechanical shift mechanism in eTap to refine the lever design. The new shape is shorter, less square-edged and slightly narrower, making it easier to wrap up to three fingers around the hoods.

Tactile feedback from the brake levers has also been improved. The Red eTap HRD levers have a lighter feel and quicker return than the brakes in SRAM’s HydroR platform. 

Better braking

Note the threads in this cutaway of the master cylinder – they are part of the contact point adjustment system used to increase or decrease lever throw before the brake engages
Note the threads in this cutaway of the master cylinder – they are part of the contact point adjustment system used to increase or decrease lever throw before the brake engages

The most notable changes to SRAM’s road disc brakes via from a trickledown of technologies developed for the company’s Guide line of mountain bike brakes.

Like SRAM’s existing HydroR systems, RED eTap HRD features reach adjust via a 2.5mm Allen screw behind the lever. New for this group is a contact point adjustment — a feature our testers felt was sorely lacking from other hydraulic road disc brake systems.

A 5mm screw on the top of each hood is used to change the distance from the timing port to the master cylinder. The closer the cylinder is to the port, the less dead stroke there will be before the brakes engage.

It’s worth noting that the contact point adjustment has no impact on the position of the brake pads relative to the rotor. Distance between the pads to the rotors remains at approximately .4mm regardless of reach or contact point adjustments.

To get the most from these adjustments, SRAM recommends adjusting the contact point adjustment before dialing in your preferred reach.

A 5mm hex wrench is used to increase or decrease the contact point adjustment
A 5mm hex wrench is used to increase or decrease the contact point adjustment

Moving from the lever to the hose, SRAM has incorporated its Stealth-a-Majig connectors into the levers to make it easier to install or to shorten the hydraulic lines on frames with internal routing. The rider simply routes the line from the caliper through the frame (or fork) before installing the olive and barb at the lever.

The Stealth-a-Majig connector prevents air from getting in the master cylinder if the rider simply needs to shorten the hose length.

The integrated Stealth-a-Majig connector keeps air out of the master cylinder when cutting hydraulic lines
The integrated Stealth-a-Majig connector keeps air out of the master cylinder when cutting hydraulic lines

When it comes time for a full bleed, SRAM has added its Bleeding Edge connectors to make it easy to attach and remove syringes with no loss of fluid or risk of air contamination. The orientation of the bleed port on the back of the caliper makes it easier to flush air through the system, which should result in more consistent bleeds. 

SRAM's Bleeding Edge connects make it much easier — and far less messy — to bleed hydralic disc brakes
SRAM's Bleeding Edge connects make it much easier — and far less messy — to bleed hydralic disc brakes

The HRD calipers use a trio of technologies to reduce the build-up of heat. There’s a large pad pocket to increase airflow over the brake pads and rotor, a stainless steel heat shield to block heat from the caliper from creeping into to fluid in the hydraulic lines and phenolic plastic covers on the aluminum pistons that also resist heat transfer.

The pad pocket on the HRD calipers is large to increase airflow over the rotor and pads to aid in cooling
The pad pocket on the HRD calipers is large to increase airflow over the rotor and pads to aid in cooling

If the brake caliper looks familiar, it’s because it is the same one SRAM uses on its Level line of cross-country brakes. According to Kantor, it was originally developed for road use and found to be suitable for lightweight off-road applications as well.

We expect to see these calipers used throughout SRAM’s road hydraulic groups in the near future.

SRAM Red eTap HRD uses the same lightweight calipers as the company's Level mountain bike brakes
SRAM Red eTap HRD uses the same lightweight calipers as the company's Level mountain bike brakes

Early impressions

My brief first ride on SRAM's Red Etap HRD group was positive. Wireless shifting is nice, but it's the improvements to SRAM's hydraulic braking that stand out
My brief first ride on SRAM's Red Etap HRD group was positive. Wireless shifting is nice, but it's the improvements to SRAM's hydraulic braking that stand out

I logged 38 miles on this new road group on rolling terrain with a handful of switchback descents. Since the functionality of eTap is unchanged, I’ll focus on the fit and feel of the new brakes.

The contact point adjustment is welcome addition, as in the more contoured hood shape, which I found to be a better fit for my medium-sized hands than the larger, more angular levers used on the disc brake versions of SRAM’s Red, Force, Rival and Apex groups.

As a rider with a strong mountain bike background, I place a premium on powerful braking with controlled modulation.

The modulation of the HRD system is better than the HydroR platform, but not by leaps and bounds — the envelope between a gentle feathering of the brake and locking up the wheels is slightly wider, power comes on slow at first but quickly ramps up as pressure is applied. Even when mashing out of the saddle on climbs, brake rub was never an issue on my Cannondale SuperSix EVO Hi-Mod Disc test bike. However, there was a persistent squeal from the front rotor under hard braking.

Stay tuned for a full review once we log more time on this new group. 

Weights, pricing and availability

The claimed weight for the SRAM Red eTap HRD kit is 960g, which makes it just 285g heavier than SRAM’s Red eTap group with mechanical braking.

This weight includes both shift/brake levers, front and rear derailleurs with batteries, brake hoses, calipers and a pair of 160mm Centerline rotors.

Red eTap HRD is only intended to be paired with SRAM’s 11-speed cranksets, chains and road cassettes, which are not included in the weight or kit.

Gram counters could save 10g per rotor by downsizing to the 140mm versions, however SRAM is adamant that 160mm is the preferred size for the majority of road riders. Kantor noted that cyclocross and criterium racing are the only disciplines where the company feels 140mm rotors are warranted, because riders are on a well-known, closed course where they don’t necessarily need additional braking power for surprise twists and turns.

The Red eTap HRD kit will retail for $2,204 / £1,707. If you add in a Red crankset, bottom bracket, chain and cassette the total price for the group rises to $2,940 / £2,370. 

SRAM hasn't given a definitive release date yet, only stating that Red eTap HRD will be available in early 2017.

Josh Patterson

Tech Editor, US
Josh has been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1998. Being stubborn, endurance racing was a natural fit. Josh bankrolled his two-wheeled addiction by wrenching at various bike shops across the US for 10 years and even tried his hand at frame building. These days Josh spends most of his time riding the trails around his home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Age: 34
  • Height: 170cm / 5'7"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 72cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Mountain, cyclocross, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Anywhere with rock- and root-infested technical singletrack. He also enjoys unnecessarily long gravel races.
  • Current Bikes: Trek Remedy 29 9.9, Yeti ASRc, Specialized CruX, Spot singlespeed, Trek District 9
  • Dream Bike: Evil The Following, a custom Moots 27.5+ for bikepacking adventures
  • Beer of Choice: PBR
  • Location: Fort Collins, CO, USA

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