2019 SRAM Red eTap goes 12-speed

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The 2018 road racing season may be all but over, but things are heating up on the tech front. Over the last few months, there has been plenty of speculation that SRAM was headed towards a 12-speed transmission for the road, and while the company has yet to officially comment on its plans for 2019, some early samples were spotted at the Saitama Criterium in Japan over the weekend. From what we’ve seen, SRAM’s revamped 2019 Red eTap wireless road groupset will feature a new 12-speed cassette, a one-piece machined aluminum double chainring, updated lever ergonomics, a clutched rear derailleur, and even a new Quarq power meter.

12 sprockets and downsized chainrings

The biggest news by far is that SRAM is joining Campagnolo on the 12-speed cassette train. But whereas Campagnolo has concentrated on tightening up the gaps between each ratio, SRAM is going for more total range by utilizing a 10T small sprocket. One tooth may not sound like much, but it’s a big deal in terms of percentages. Whereas a current Red 11-28T cassette comprises a 255% range, the new 10-28T boosts that to 280% (which is more than what you get out of an 11-30T).

To accommodate that 10T sprocket, SRAM will finally implement on a wide basis the XDr freehub body that was quietly introduced in 2017. XDr is similar to the XD body that SRAM uses for its 12-speed Eagle mountain bike cassettes, but with a 1.8mm-wider format (Eagle’s huge inner sprockets can be cantilevered out over the driveside spoke flange, which isn’t possible with a road-sized cassette). Thankfully, the total body width is shared with other modern freehub standards, so hub compatibility shouldn’t be a big issue.

To save you the trouble of counting sprockets or teeth, SRAM has conveniently laser-etched the specs right on the back of the new 12-speed 2019 Red eTap cassette. Photo: Kei Tsuji.

Sprocket-to-sprocket spacing is unclear at this point, but given SRAM’s extensive portfolio of existing 12-speed cassettes, not to mention the company’s history of cross-platform compatibility, it seems likely that it’ll stay consistent, at least within SRAM products.

Going along with that new wide-range cassette are new chainring pairings, with both 48/35T and 50/37T combos already spotted on pro riders’ bikes. Although the 48/35T sounds small, chances are good that it’ll end up being the default for many riders, as the 48-10T high gear is virtually identical to a conventional 53-11T, and the 35-28T low gear is close enough to a 34-28T that many riders won’t have to give up the top end like they would with a conventional compact crankset.

Construction of the new cassette looks to be the same as before, with the main body machined from a single chunk of steel, and the largest sprocket milled from aluminum and pressed into place. Photo: Kei Tsuji.

That 13-14T jump between the chainrings should make for better front shift performance, too, an area where SRAM has historically lagged behind Shimano.

Just like with Rotor and Cannondale, SRAM’s new direct-mount, one-piece double chainring should save a few grams relative to a conventional spider and separate bolt-on rings — so that added range potentially might not come with any weight — and it should also be stiffer for better shift performance under load. But more importantly, the integrated design means that SRAM won’t be restricted at all in terms of available chainring sizes, either.

SRAM is using a new one-piece double chainring for the new Red eTap groupset (which will invariably be used for the mechanical version as well). This one is a 50/37T combo, but we’ve seen a 48/35T as well. Photo: Kei Tsuji.

Will we see smaller 2x tooth counts for gravel and adventure bikes? And what about dedicated single rings for a long-awaited 1x version of Red eTap? What about even-wider cassettes with 10-30T, 10-32T, or even 10-36T spreads?

I’d bet yes to all of the above.

A clutched rear derailleur

One feature SRAM has never incorporated into its 2x road groups is a clutched pulley cage on its rear derailleurs. It’s considered a necessity on 1x systems to keep the chain from dropping off the chainring, but the reality is that 2x riders can benefit from additional chain security as well — and based on the new Red eTap rear derailleur’s chunkier lower knuckle and narrow-wide lower pulley, it appears that SRAM might finally be making a clutch standard across the board.

The rear derailleur gets revised geometry to accommodate the added cassette width. The bulkier lower knuckle suggests the presence of a clutched pulley cage, too. Photo: Kei Tsuji.

My guess is that SRAM is using a simplified version of the “Type 3” clutch currently found on its road and MTB 1x rear derailleurs in order to save some weight, and the clutch tension might also be lighter to save some battery power.

But what about drivetrain friction, you ask? Doesn’t a clutch add resistance over a more freely-moving pulley cage? I’ve got a more detailed tech feature coming on that subject, but the surprising short answer is no.

The front derailleur, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to receive many changes aside from cosmetics. Nevertheless, I’m crossing my fingers that SRAM has at least altered the mounting position of the removable and rechargeable Li-ion battery to provide more tire clearance. The battery itself appears to be carried over from the current eTap version.

The front derailleur appears to be mostly unchanged, aside from some cosmetic updates. The rechargeable batteries look the same as before, too. Photo: Kei Tsuji.

Updated lever ergonomics

The current SRAM Red eTap is already highly evolved in terms of ergonomics, with a comfy body shape, ample adjustability, and shift paddles that are easy to reach from both the hoods and drops.

It’s not surprising, then, that the new one isn’t all that different.

The levers are still fairly bulbous up top, but the bodies seem to be slightly slimmed-down. There’s also more texturing on the rubber hood cover and shift paddle. Photo: Kei Tsuji.

SRAM still appears to have slimmed down the body to better accommodate smaller hands, though, and more pronounced textures on both the rubber hoods and shift paddles should improve grip all around.

An asymmetrical chain and a new bottom bracket size

SRAM seems to be leaving no stone unturned here, as almost no aspect of the current Red eTap groupset appears to be carried over.

Also new is an asymmetrical chain, with only the inward-facing edges of the inner and outer plates scalloped as usual; the outer edge forms a unbroken, straight line.

The matching Quarq power meter looks far sleeker than in years past.

SRAM is bringing its new DUB bottom bracket design over to the road, too. First introduced on the company’s mountain bike range last year, the 28.99mm-diameter (yes, really) aluminum spindle is intended to provide nearly identical stiffness to 30mm-diameter designs, but with better bearing durability since the balls inside each cartridge can be made slightly bigger.

SRAM claims an improvement in terms of frame compatibility, too, although in reality, DUB doesn’t fit anything that isn’t already compatible with wide-format 30mm systems (such as from Easton, Rotor, and Praxis). And similarly, DUB doesn’t fit Trek’s proprietary BB90 and BB95 frames, either.

Say hello to the AXS wireless ecosystem?

One uncertainty is the “AXS” badging seen on the more streamlined Quarq power meter and new rear derailleur. A look at SRAM’s trademark filing suggests that it’s a new wireless ecosystem that incorporates seatposts and suspension components, not just the shifters and derailleurs.

Might SRAM have integrated controls for the new RockShox wireless Reverb dropper seatpost (already revealed on Jolanda Neff’s new Trek, see below) into the updated Red eTap levers? Or will the new wireless XX1 Eagle eTap wireless MTB group have electronic controls for suspension lockouts? Could a power signal from the Quarq power meter be incorporated into some sort of auto-shifting function?

Nothing seems off the table here.


Trickle-down effect?

Another big question left unanswered concerns the debut of Force eTap to accompany the flagship offering. Historically, SRAM has built its entire road platform on shared features and compatibility, and so it’s been a surprise that eTap has been reserved solely for the Red level up until now. Hopefully, this next-generation Red eTap groupset will be accompanied by a Force version. Red eTap has been wildly popular despite its cost, but if SRAM were to bring the technology downstream, it’d undoubtedly be a huge sales success.

Wait and see

It’s worth mentioning at this point that SRAM has not officially confirmed nor denied any of this, and all of the above is wholly based on what can be gleaned from available images of sponsored riders’ bikes out in the wild.

How much of this is correct, and how much is flat-out wrong? We’re scheduled to attend a SRAM event in California in January, and all questions should be answered there.

In the meantime, speculate away — and if you think I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments below.

Even if I’m only partially right, though, this new groupset looks awesome.

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