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When I attended Interbike last fall, I was eager to play with SRAM’s eTap groupset. The much anticipated technology had been well featured since Eurobike and after seeing so many images, videos and article on it I wanted to see what all the fuss was about myself.
So there I was at the SRAM booth playing with SRAM’s little eTap aquarium games when a male bikeshop owner walked up to me. I guess I hadn’t realized that I was the only woman in the booth at the time.
“Huh,” he said as a way of opening the conversation. “As a woman, you’d be interested in eTap?”
Well of course I would be! As an avid cyclist I was just as eager as anyone else to test wireless shifting, and there are plenty of reasons why you should be, too.
It’s a product four years in the making and after Di2 revolutionized the market, wireless makes electronic shifting even cleaner, easier to install and incredibly intuitive.
Now it’s several months later and I have been riding eTap and putting it through the wringer for quite a while now. Steep, punchy hills; heavy gear gravel riding; wicked fast descents; rollers; crits – I tried it all and am ready to tell you how eTap fared.
Tested: SRAM Red eTap
eTAP Road Groupet: US$2,758, € 2,691, £2,059, AU$4,500.
No Wires = clean look, easy installation
Wireless shifting offers plenty of benefits and, of course, a few drawbacks as well.
No wires, no mess: Aesthetically, eTap is the cleanest, stealthiest looking groupset on the market. The industry has been trying to hide or integrate the cables with internal routing for years, and this just makes it that much easier.
Additionally, the installation is incredibly easy, even for the most basic home mechanic. Di2 users have griped about the occasional battery wire coming undone (which to Shimano’s defense is usually a mistake in installation) but that’s impossible with eTap. There are no wires to come undone and the batteries are securely clicked in. The compatibility with so many frames is a major bonus too, although what to do with the holes?
The shifting: the most intuitive yet
The very first thing I noticed about eTap on the first ride was how comfortable the hoods are. For someone with small hands, many hoods can feel bulky and the levers need adjusting nine out of ten times, but not with these. The hoods are narrow and the levers are within reach.
The shifting itself is a big departure from SRAM signature ‘double tap” on its mechanical groupsets. I didn’t mind the double tap but wow, this new shifting is so intuitive! It took only one ride to get used to, but be warned, reverting to mechanical shifting is quite difficult (and you’ll find yourself shifting the front ring every time you intend to shift into an easier gear on the rear).
For those who haven’t tried eTap yet, the shifting goes as follows: press the right lever for a harder gear, left lever for an easier gear, and both levers to shift the big ring up or down. Hold a single button down to shift multiple gears.
The motion is so intuitive. Why haven’t we been shifting like this all along?
Another big plus is the fact that, unlike Di2, there is just one lever or button to push. Di2 on the other hand features two shifter buttons side-by-side, which I have found to be difficult to distinguish when riding with long fingered gloves.
Mechanical shifting dates back to the 1870s, as before that riders had to manually switch cogs to change gears. This means it’s tried and true. Plus, you can see exactly how it works and when it fails. Wireless communications adds a whole other level of complexity. It also adds additional ways it can fail.
Batteries create room for user error
Like any other electronic shifting, it requires batteries. And batteries require charging and some thoughtfulness from the user.
The whole groupset is powered by four batteries: a lithium-ion, rechargeable battery on each derailleur and a CR2032 battery for each shifter. SRAM tells me that the batteries in the shifters will last around two years. The derailleur batteries, however, need recharging around every 60 hours of use.
There are battery life indicators on the derailleur to warn you when the batteries are getting close to needing a recharge. Using the provided charger, the batteries take about 45 minutes each to recharge. A nice thing about the derailleur batteries is that they’re interchangeable. The removal of the batteries is super easy and straight forward and I have had zero problems with how the batteries are secured. For those paranoid about running out of battery, you could, of course, buy and charge and extra set of batteries and carry those with you.
Mechanical or communication failures
The other problem with a system without cables is that if it fails, it truly fails. The mechanism will be stuck in whatever position it was in and that’s what you’ll have to deal with. I had this happen early on in my testing process. The front derailleur – while lighting up and communicating well with the shifters – failed to move. The communication was there but the mechanism wasn’t moving.
SRAM concluded that it was an issue with my pre-production groupset and rushed to my aid, replacing the derailleur within 24 hours of me noticing the issue. The customer service was certainly on point. After analyzing the derailleur, the official conclusion was that it had been the motor driver (not the motor itself) that failed during a significant voltage surge. Again, I have been using a pre-production set and SRAM ensures me that there is currently a running change in production to eliminate this potential issue.
Aside from this mishap there have been no issues with the groupset. I do know that many are concerned about communication issues or interference between the components but I haven’t experienced any of those problems.
Rear cassette shifting seems a tad slower than Di2, especially when shifting multiple gears at once.
All in all, I’m a fan of the SRAM Red eTAP. It’s an excellent groupset and a joy to ride. The intuitive shifting and ease of installation far outweigh any drawbacks (aside from complete failure, of course). If you are in the market for electronic shifting, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to go wireless.