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by James Huang
June 1, 2016
Photography by SRAM
On Tuesday, SRAM announced a hydraulic disc-brake version of its groundbreaking Red eTap wireless road group, which will be available in October. Key details such as weights and pricing won’t be revealed until August, but certain technical aspects still provide clues on what we may see on other SRAM road groupsets to come.
SRAM’s upcoming Red eTap HydroHC wireless groupset will consist of two new main components: a set of eTap levers specifically for use with hydraulic brakes, and two different types of disc brake calipers. Otherwise, the rest of the groupset is shared with the standard Red eTap version, including the battery-powered wireless front and rear derailleurs, crankset, cassette, and chain.
While the addition of a hydraulic disc-compatible version of Red eTap is noteworthy on its own, the fresh design of the levers themselves is arguably even bigger news. As compared to the current hydraulic disc-compatible Red 22 HRD levers for mechanical drivetrains, the wireless Red eTap HydroHC is far more elegant. The slimmer body should fit better in most riders’ hands, the more curved shape is generally more aesthetically pleasing, and the extension up top that houses the hydraulic guts is less obtrusive. Overall, it’s not only much more elegant, but it should be more ergonomically friendly, too.
The new levers aren’t just about new shapes and appearances. As before, SRAM has incorporated adjustable brake-lever reach, but that has finally now been paired with a feature that was conspicuously absent from the first generation: adjustable pad contact point. Unlike reach adjustment, this doesn’t affect the starting position of the lever itself, nor does it change the clearance between the pads and rotor (which is set in stone based on the caliper design). Instead, this dictates how far the lever travels in total before the pads clamp on the rotor.
The new levers look far more elegant than any hydraulic road lever SRAM has produced to date.
Adjustable pad contact may seem like a trivial detail, but it’s a critical tuning parameter that has been standard on high-end mountain-bike disc brakes for over a decade — including the benchmark Avid Juicy range that SRAM launched in 2003. In addition to allowing for more customization in general, this long overdue feature will now allow users to combine a short lever reach (for easier access to controls) with a short lever throw without risk of squishing your fingers under hard braking.
Otherwise, the new Red eTap HydroHC levers look to use the same eTap electronics as the current versions, the same excellent shift paddle ergonomics, and the same Blip remote shifter compatibility.
The outward cant of the brake lever blades carries through once again.
Those Red eTap HydroHC levers will be paired with new disc brake calipers in post-mount and flat-mount formats, both of which will be made from forged aluminum like SRAM’s current road discs, but with a sleeker (and presumably, lighter) one-piece body design.
As with the new levers, SRAM has yet to divulge any technical details, but by inspection, these new brakes will use conventional two-piston layouts, big flow-through ventilation windows for cooling, and the company’s so-called “Bleeding Edge” architecture, which uses a handy snap-on hydraulic fitting and more straightforward internal fluid paths for easier and more consistent bleeds.
SRAM has yet to announce official weights for Red eTap HydroHC, but based on differences between the standard Red 22 group and the hydraulic Red 22 HRD version, a total increase of around 450g should be reasonable. That would put the total weight at around 2,450-2,550g, depending on configuration.
SRAM will offer new one-piece forged aluminum disc brake calipers for the Red eTap HydroHC groupset, in both flat-mount (left) and post-mount varieties.
It’s still too early to speculate what SRAM plans to do with its other road groupsets at this point, particularly with Red eTap still only barely trickling out into the wild. That said, SRAM has a strong and consistent track record of bringing top-end technologies downstream, so this latest announcement offers some possible clues to what we’ll see in the near future.
It’s expected that SRAM’s wireless eTap drivetrain design will eventually make its way to Force, and maybe even Rival, along with the heavier materials and less-refined finishes that have typically incorporated into its second- and third-tier groupsets. It stands to reason that SRAM would want to compete directly with Shimano’s popular Ultegra Di2 group as well as head off the hotly anticipated debut of 105 Di2. Expanding the range of eTap offerings would also serve to amortize that technology’s development costs.
The slimmed-down body and more curvaceous shape of the new SRAM Red eTap HydroHC levers looks far more in keeping with modern carbon frames. It should also feel better in riders’ hands, too.
Even if that doesn’t happen, however, it seems a safe bet that the slimmed-down design of this new Red eTap HydroHC lever will make its way to its mechanical drivetrain analogues. While perfectly functional, the current Red, Force, and Rival HRD levers have long been criticized for their girth and overly squared-off shape, and the compact form factor of SRAM’s DoubleTap mechanical shift mechanical would naturally lend itself to a smaller package. Fingers are crossed that Red eTap HydroHC’s adjustable pad contact point will land elsewhere, too, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer to know for certain.