SRAM launched Force eTap AXS early in early 2019 — a cheaper alternative to its premier 12-speed wireless RED eTap AXS groupset that was released a few months before. Force eTap AXS takes direct aim at the dominance of Shimano’s Ultegra Di2, and since the launch of the former, we’ve put the two groupsets head-to-head.
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 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 RED’s elaborate — and expensive — one-piece X-Dome design has been replaced by two separate rings and a more traditional spider-based connection between chainrings and cranks.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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.