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by Matt Wikstrom
February 5, 2016
Photography by Derek Yarra
In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, we feature three custom builds put together by Above Category with SRAM’s new wireless Red eTap groupset.
For those that are unfamiliar with Above Category, it is a shop located in Sausalito, near San Francisco in California. Chad Nordwall is the owner and he has built his business around a passion for the sport and its equipment. His devotion has shaped the shop’s reputation for high-end builds that always attend to the minor details with class and flair.
The AC team started working on these special eTap builds shortly after the groupset was unveiled in Germany last year. From the outset, it was important that the frames suit the wireless shift system, so two “un-holey” custom-built frames were commissioned, a Baum Corretto and a Mosaic RT-1, while Orbea supplied the third, a new un-holey version of the Orca.
“At Above Category,” said Nate King, “we’ve long been luddites about electronic groups because they look a bit ‘tacked-on’ with the mess of wires, junction boxes, and until recently, batteries. eTap definitely cleans up the bike. The simplicity of the wireless system is graceful, elegant, and very reminiscent of an externally-routed mechanical bike.”
“Looking at the bikes, they’re not particularly groundbreaking from an aesthetic perspective,” said King, “but there’s something that really draws me in. It takes a minute to realise that I’m in awe of what isn’t there, instead of what is. It’s definitely going to change the way we build bikes.”
Above Category works as Baum’s U.S. agent, so they were an obvious pick for building an eTap-specific Corretto frameset.
The guys at Baum were quick to see the benefits for the new groupset, so they didn’t need much urging from AC to get involved. “This was an exciting project,” said Ryan Moody, “as it really does move bikes into a new era.”
“When we make a bike,” explained Moody, “we select a single cable routing style based on the groupset that the customer is selecting. Having a multitude of routing options on the same bike is typically a compromise and doesn’t look clean. Now with eTap, it’s super clean.”
“The other benefit,” said Ryan, “is not having to machine (Di2/EPS) or weld (mechanical) cable routing onto the frame. Even though our Di2 holes have been strategically placed in a minimal loading area, not having a port is better for the tube strength, and of course it can never let water, dirt etc into the tube.”
Mosaic Cycles is based in Boulder, Colorado. The RT-1 is the company’s premium titanium race bike.
SRAM’s first release for eTap is built around the Red22 groupset. The front derailleur has the same metal cage and Yaw shifting action as the mechanical version, while the groupset continues to utilise carbon fibre for the crank arms, lever blades and rear derailleur cage. At present, the rear cassette is limited to a maximum of 28 teeth until SRAM starts producing an eTap derailleur with a longer cage.
Each of AC’s custom builds was finished with wheels from Zipp and seating and cockpit components from Fizik or 3T. Rather than consign the bikes to the showroom floor, AC’s team riders have been testing the performance of the new groupset.
“It’s a lot quicker than I was anticipating,” said King. “Not quite on par with Di2 or EPS, but it’s very close, almost imperceptibly so. The F1-style paddle mechanism is actually really, really intuitive. So intuitive that it made going back to a ‘standard’ shifting system (with the right shifter operating only the rear derailleur) a little tricky.”
Orbea has been quick to create an eTap-specific version of its Orca frameset that will be available to buyers in 2016.
With over 1,000km already logged on the Orca and another 250km on the Baum, none of Above Category’s team riders have experienced any faults or shortcomings with eTap. The relatively short charge life (~1,000km) seems to be a small blessing since the riders have been more diligent about keeping the batteries charged.
“I’ve more than once found myself out on a ride (or worse, a race) with a dead Di2 battery because of my own ineptitude,” said King. “The upside to eTap’s two-battery system is that you can easily swap them in a pinch instead of dealing with limp mode in the little ring, like Di2.”
Buyers that are enthusiastic about making the shift to wireless technology will have to contend with limited supply of Red eTap groupsets for at least the first half of the year (Baum already has a few customers that are delaying their bikes until the groupset is available). After that, it will be interesting to see how the system is refined (or hacked).