Wireless shifting for the masses — SRAM Force eTap AXS is here

SRAM tackles Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 head-on with its new wireless 12-speed Force eTap AXS groupset

SRAM has today launched Force eTap AXS — a cheaper alternative to its premier 12-speed wireless RED eTap AXS groupset that was released a few months ago. The new groupset takes direct aim at the dominance of Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 groupset.

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SRAM Force eTap AXS | Cheaper 12 Speed Wireless Shifting Is Here

What is the difference between SRAM Red eTap AXS and SRAM Force eTap AXS?

The new Force eTap AXS groupset shares the same motors as RED, as well as the faster signal transfer and the new more powerful chipset.

To make the group more affordable, some of RED eTap AXS’s other bells and whistles have been stripped back.

The Force eTap AXS rear mech uses the same motors and chipset as RED, and performs just as well
The Force eTap AXS rear mech uses the same motors and chipset as RED, and performs just as well
SRAM

The biggest difference comes with the chainset. RED’s elaborate — and expensive — one-piece X-Dome design has been replaced by two separate rings and a more traditional spider-based connection between chainrings and cranks.

The power meter option (based on sister brand Quark’s D-Zero technology) is also spider-mounted rather than integrated into the direct-mount chainrings.

The Force chainset in both 2x and 1x has a Quarq D-Zero-based power meter option
The Force chainset in both 2x and 1x has a Quarq D-Zero-based power meter option
SRAM

The options on the Force chainset have also been reduced. For a 2x system, you get 48-35 (with a similar, but wider range than an 11-speed 52/36) and 46-33 (with a similar, but wider range than an 11-speed 50/34). RED gets the 50-37 option — closest to a 53/39.

For a 1x system, there are 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46 and an aero 48t ring options. But, as with RED eTap AXS, you can mix and match Force with SRAM’s new AXS eTap range for mountain bikes. So, if you fancy a Franken-drivetrain, that’s a real possibility.

The crank arms are similar in shape, but whereas RED features SRAM’s latest Exogram technology for superlight, hollow carbon arms, Force uses a more modest (though still light) solid carbon construction.

As with the rear, Force's front mech uses the same motor and control system as RED
As with the rear, Force’s front mech uses the same motor and control system as RED
SRAM

The front and rear mechs share the same design as RED, but the cage on the front of the Force mech is made from steel rather than lightweight aluminium. The cage at the rear is a combination of a metal back plate and LFRT (long fibre-reinforced thermoplastic) rather than carbon.

The larger X-Sync pulleys are retained but now run on stainless steel rather than ceramic bearings.

The Force hydraulic brake units use stainless steel hardware, whereas RED opts for pricier titanium
The Force hydraulic brake units use stainless steel hardware, whereas RED opts for pricier titanium
SRAM

There is one rear mech for both 1x and 2x systems and, like RED, Force features SRAM’s clever Orbit system, which means you don’t need a clutch for chain retention.

The fluid damper is in the pivot at the top jockey wheel axle and the faster it moves the more the resistance builds.

sram_force_etap_020-1554131246929-uyas6wq2n5vr-d323786
On gravel roads the mech impresses, with no chatter or bounce on rough sections

We’ve tried the Force groupset on a few long gravel rides in the short time we’ve had it and the mech really impresses, with no chatter or bounce on rough sections.

Force gets SRAM’s unique new chain with its flat-topped profile. It’s made of the same ultra-bright Hard Chrome as RED, but has solid rather than hollow pins, so it’s a little heavier (266g vs RED’s 249g for a 114 link chain).

The cassette gets a jet-black ED coating
The cassette gets a jet-black ED coating
SRAM

Force’s 12-speed cassette is also built differently, using the pin-dome technology that was developed for SRAM’s 1x mountain bike cassettes.

It may not have the high-tech elaborate machining of RED, but about 100 pins bind the sprockets together and the jet-black finish is a result of the hard electrodeposit (ED) coating.

The cassette works on the same XDR standard as RED, so you’ll need a wheel with a compatible freehub.

SRAM AXS app

The beauty of SRAM's remote blip buttons is that you can put them wherever you like. On the Open they were mounted on the bar tops under the tape and facing to the rear
The beauty of SRAM’s remote blip buttons is that you can put them wherever you like. On the Open they were mounted on the bar tops under the tape and facing to the rear
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

Force eTap can also be used with SRAM’s AXS app to check battery levels in the mechs, shifters and power meter (if you go for that option). It can also be used to assign up and down shifts to whichever button you prefer, including the optional blips.

You can assign the groupset to work in one of two semi-automated ways;

  1. Sequential — when you activate the next available gear in either direction, it will automatically actuate the front derailleur to keep the ratio increase or decrease even between shifts and your cadence steady (though it can be overridden to front shift)
  2. Compensating — smooths out gear shifts, so when you change the front ring (either up or down) it compensates at the rear derailleur, moving either one or two cogs to keep your gear progression even and your cadence steady.
As well as the wider range, AXS has smoother progression between gears, than the competition, with more single tooth jumps across all cassette blocks
As well as the wider range, AXS has smoother progression between gears, than the competition, with more single tooth jumps across all cassette blocks
Tristan Cardew

It’s smart stuff and once you’ve assigned your system to one of these you can switch it on or off while riding by pressing the small LED button on the back of the shifter lever.

Force uses the same DUB (Durable Unifying bottom bracket) system as RED.

As the name suggests, it isn’t a new standard but something that works across the myriad press-fit standards and traditional designs (BB30, PF30, BBright, PF30a, 386, PF86.5, GXP and BSA).

The Force levers look similar to RED, but the lever is LFRT (long fibre-reinforced thermoplastic) rather than carbon and they have single blip ports compared to RED's twin ports
The Force levers look similar to RED, but the lever is LFRT (long fibre-reinforced thermoplastic) rather than carbon and they have single blip ports compared to RED’s twin ports
SRAM

The design of the shifter unit is much the same as RED too, although, like the cage plates, the levers are made of LFRT and there is a single blip (eTap’s remote shifter button) on each lever rather than the two offered by the RED.

The feel of the Force lever is pretty much identical to  RED and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference — although, as expected, RED saves you a few grams.

SRAM’s 12-speed philosophy

We covered SRAM’s 12-speed philosophy in our RED eTap AXS review, but it’s worth repeating in case you missed it.

SRAM developed a new type of freehub body — the XD Driver — for the dirt, which introduced 12-speed gearing to its flagship Eagle groupset, and has cleared the path for use on the road too.

The XD driver had been adapted for the road, with the XDR driver, which is ever so slightly wider than its off-road equivalent, allowing for a smaller 10-tooth sprocket. This opens a whole new set of numbers to achieve even bigger gear ranges.

With 12-speed Force you can forget the established chainring pairing of 52/36 and 50/34, and cassettes such as 11-25, 11-28 and 11-32.

Force eTap AXS gear numbers

The new gear numbers look like this:

X-Range Traditional X-Range Traditional
48/35 52/36 46/33 50/34
10-28 11-28 10-33 11-32

The chainring sizes are reduced and the cassettes look broadly similar, but what you get is harder and easier gears at both ends of the spectrum, across all combinations.

It’s not just the wider range where AXS seems to have an advantage on the competition, but in smoother progression between gears, with more single tooth jumps across all cassette blocks.

At the rear, the 10-28 (equivalent to an 11-28) has seven sprockets with single-tooth jumps from the 10 to the 17, compared to an 11-28 which has just four (11-15).

Up front, the chainring sizes are smaller — 48/35 and 46/33 — so, the tooth difference is reduced to 13, compared to 16 on the traditional equivalents (52/36 and 50/34).

Gear ratios compared
Gear ratio combinations
SRAM
SRAM AXS compared to its competitors
Competitor comparisons
SRAM

The differences between the Force and the RED eTap AXS have little impact on its functionality, though.

We’ve only been using the Force for a short time but first impressions suggest it feels, shifts and brakes as impressively as its premium-priced sibling.

We’ve now got our hands on a bike for some long-term testing, so we can report back on how it performs.

SRAM is cagey about revealing too much about its plans for its road groups, but if it can continue this type of smart thinking it could well be able to disrupt Shimano’s near monopoly on road bike drivetrains.

What bikes are available with SRAM Force eTap AXS?

SRAM’s Force eTap AXS will be available on a whole host of bikes with brands such as Specialized, Trek, Canyon, Orbea, BMC, Giant, Liv, Scott, Lapierre, Cannondale, Cervelo, 3T, Open, Rose, Parlee and Koga all confirmed.

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While these should be able to compete with Ultegra Di2-equipped bikes on price, because Force is 12-speed, there isn’t the option to save money on complete builds by choosing cheaper Ultegra substitutes, such as 105 cassettes and chains, or non-Shimano chainsets.

The Force chain is the same flat-top design as on RED's 12-speed but a little more cost effective with its use of solid pins
The Force chain is the same flat-top design as on RED’s 12-speed but a little more cost effective with its use of solid pins
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

The differences between the Force and RED eTap AXS

SRAM RED eTap AXS SRAM Force eTap AXS
2x chainring combos 50-37 / 48-35 / 46-33 48-35 / 46-33
2x chainrings one piece machined Separate
1x chainring 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46T 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46T
Aero: 48, 50t Aero: 48t
Power meter Integrated with direct mount chainrings for 2x and 1x Aero Spider-based power meter for 1x non-aero Spider-based power meter for 2x and 1x non-aeropower meter is integrated with direct mount chainrings for 1x Aero
Front derailleur Aluminium cage Steel cage
Rear derailleur Ceramic pulley bearings Steel pulley bearings
Disc-brake caliper Flat mount and post mount, ti body bolts Flat mount only. Stainless body bolts
Rim-brake caliper Aerolink (fits 28mm tyres) Dual Pivot (fits 28mm tyres)
Shift-brake lever 2 aux ports/side, material differences 1 aux port/side, material differences
Cassette One piece machined+ StealthRing elastomers Minicluster and pindome
Chain Hollowpin Solid pin
Crank arm Exogram Carbon

SRAM Force eTap AXS weights (without power meter)

SRAM RED eTap AXS SRAM Force eTap AXS
1x (48t) rim-brake 1,917g 2,213g
2x (48t) rim-brake 2,101g 2,453g
1x HRD 2,334g 2,572g
2x HRD 2,518g 2,812g

SRAM Force eTap AXS MSRPs (without power meter)

SRAM RED eTap AXS SRAM Force eTap AXS
1x rim-brake £2,759 / $3,038 / €3,068 £1,814 / $2,078 / €2,058
2x rim-brake £3,159 / $3,488 / €3,518 £2,164 / $2,478/ €2,408
1x HRD £2,849 / $3,198/ €3,168 £1,924 / $2,328/ €2,148
2x HRD £3,349 / $3,648 / €3,618 $2,678 / €2,548 / £2,274

SRAM Force eTap AXS component weight comparison (in grams)

SRAM Force eTap AXS cassette weights vs RED

 SRAM RED eTap AXS Weight (g)
Red 10-26 178
Red 10-28 181
Red 10-33 210
SRAM Force eTap AXS Weight (g)
Force 10-26 223
Force 10-28 232
Force 10-33 267

SRAM Force eTap AXS bottom bracket weights vs RED

SRAM RED eTap AXS Weight (g)
DUB BB30 80
DUB PF30 88
DUB PF86.5 69
DUB BSA 76
DUB BB386 69
SRAM Force eTap AXS Weight (g)
DUB PF30 79-A 78
DUB BB30-73-A 80
DUB PF30-73-A 86
DUB PF30-83-A 86

SRAM Force eTap AXS chainset weights vs RED

SRAM RED eTap AXS Weight (g)
Red 175 Red 1x Aero PM 48 587
Red 175 Red 1x Aero PM 50 595
Red 175 Red 1x Aero w/o PM 48 558
Red 175 Red w/o PM 48-35 572
Red 175 Red w/o PM 50-37 583
SRAM Force eTap AXS  Weight (g)
Force 175 Force 1x Aero 48 695
Force 175 Force 46-33 741
Force 175 Force 48-35 587

SRAM Force eTap AXS derailleur weights vs RED

SRAM RED eTap AXS Weight (g)
(R) Red 303
(F) Red 170
(F) Red w/ 34.9 clamp adapter 190
(F) Red w/ 31.8 clamp adapter 190
SRAM Force eTap AXS Weight (g)
 (R) Force 322
(F) Force 180
(F) Force w/ 34.9 clamp adapter 200
(F) Force w/ 31.8 clamp adapter 200

SRAM Force eTap AXS brake weights vs RED

SRAM RED eTap AXS Weight (g)
Red Disc 736
Red Rim 283
SRAM Force eTap AXS  Weight (g)
Force Disc  751
Force Rim 311

SRAM Force eTap AXS chain weights vs RED

SRAM RED eTap AXS Weight (g)
Red 114 links 249
SRAM Force eTap AXS Weight (g)
Force 114 links 266

SRAM Force eTap AXS rim brake weights

Weight (g)
Red Aerolink 267
S900 Direct Mount 326
Force Rim 311

SRAM Force eTap AXS disc brake weights (TT)

Weight (g)
S900 TT HRD set 480

SRAM Force eTap AXS time Trial component weights

Weight (g)
Doppio BlipBox 25
Blips (Pair) 36
Clics (Pair) 20

SRAM Force eTap AXS rotor weights (160mm)

Weight (g)
Centerline 6 bolt 250
Centerline X 6 bolt 230
Centerline X-Road 6 bolt 254
Centerline X Centre-lock 240
Centerline X Road Centre-lock 262

SRAM Force eTap AXS Complete group weights vs RED eTap AXS

Road

 SRAM RED eTap AXS 2x – Weight (g) 1x Aero – Weight (g)
RED Disc 2,518 2,334
RED Rim 2,101 1,917
SRAM Force eTap AXS 2x – Weight (g) 1x Aero – Weight (g)
Force HRD 2,812 2,572
Force HRD 2,453 2,213

TT

SRAM RED eTap AXS 2x – Weight (g 1x Aero – Weight (g)
RED Disc 2,343 2,159
RED Rim 1,899 1,715
SRAM Force eTap AXS 2x – Weight (g) 1x Aero – Weight (g) 
Force HRD 3,373 3,133
Force HRD 2,223 1,983