SRAM Rival AXS review: This is the wireless setup you’ve been waiting for
It’s heavier than Force and Red, yes, but it arguably works even better and is way, way less expensive.
It’s heavier than Force and Red, yes, but it arguably works even better and is way, way less expensive.
SRAM has today announced the debut of its long-awaited Rival eTap AXS wireless electronic road groupset, and, as it turns out, the speculative piece we published in February was pretty much dead-on. It’s 12-speed out back, it uses the same electronic bits as Force eTap AXS and Red eTap AXS, it gains some weight, there’s a pulley cage clutch, there are wide-range 1x and 2x gearing options, and the price point is about what we expected as well.
But what we didn’t expect was a low-cost power meter option, a lever shape that’s arguably better than Force or Red, and shift performance that seems strangely faster than either of its older siblings.
Yes, Rival eTap AXS is heavier than Force or Red. Flat-out heavy, in fact. But SRAM is betting that it works so well that buyers won’t care, and it might be right.
SRAM has confirmed that all of the electronic guts of Rival AXS are wholly borrowed from its upper-end brethren — the switches, the motors, the batteries, the system controller, and so on. As a result, we’re not just talking about adapting features of more expensive groups to lower-end ones. In terms of its core functionality, Rival AXS is quite literally the same as Force and Red, with that same intuitive button operation, reassuringly tactile clicks, and reasonable run times from the removable and rechargeable Li-ion batteries.
As expected, Rival AXS also now uses the same 12-speed format. The cassette sprocket spacing is the same — and, naturally, it mounts to the same XDR driver body — the chain has the same subtly oversized roller diameter (the pitch is the same), and it’s cross-compatible with nearly everything else in the AXS wireless ecosystem. Bluetooth wireless communication is built in as with other AXS groupsets, too.
Also as expected, SRAM has distilled the broad range of gearing options that Force and Red offers into a more limited selection for Rival AXS. Although there are 1x and 2x options up front, chainring options are down to three in each: 48/35T, 46/33T, and 43/30T, and 38, 40, and 42T (and yes, it’s a proprietary BCD on the 2x crank). Out back, there are just two cassettes — 10-30T and 10-36T — both starting with the 10-tooth sprocket that’s so pivotal for SRAM’s “X-Range” gearing concept.
Rival offers an optional power meter just like Force AXS and Red eTap AXS, too, although instead of a chainring spider-based setup, Rival AXS moves to a first-for-SRAM spindle-based layout. The new Quarq DUB PWR unit offers a single-sided measurement as a result, but it promises roughly a year of run time from the replaceable lithium AAA battery for most users (common alkaline AAA batteries supposedly won’t work). It’s both ANT+ and BLE enabled, and it only adds 38 grams (battery included). Claimed accuracy is still to be confirmed, but it seems unlikely SRAM will release anything to market that doesn’t fall within the usual +/- 1.5%.
In terms of braking performance, all the critical bits are carried over to Rival AXS from its more premium stablemates, such as the lever piston and caliper diameters, pad size and compounds, and lever pivot locations. As a result, SRAM says there shouldn’t be any difference in power, control, or lever feel relative to Force AXS or Red eTap AXS.
And just to make this completely explicit, it’s worth pointing out that there is no rim brake option. Rival AXS is wireless only, hydraulic disc brake only.
As a fully fledged member of SRAM’s AXS wireless family, Rival AXS enjoys an impressive level of cross-compatibility since all of the wireless components can be configured to communicate with each other.
Wish you could run the 10-33T cassette from the Force AXS groupset? That’s easy, of course, since the 12-speed spacing is shared across the range. Want to do a 1x drivetrain? That’s a snap, too: just ditch the front derailleur, and since a front derailleur won’t be paired to the levers, the system’s “brain” won’t bother to look for one.
If you want to use the so-called “mullet” drivetrain setup that’s becoming increasingly popular in the gravel market, the procedure to pair the Rival AXS road levers with a SRAM AXS mountain bike rear derailleur is no different from usual, and it indexes perfectly with a SRAM mountain bike cassette. SRAM even just recently debuted a lower-cost GX Eagle AXS rear derailleur that sort of comes close to the standard price of a Rival AXS rear derailleur, too. Oh, but you want to add a dropper post to the mix, too? Just fire up the AXS mobile app and configure the double button press to activate a RockShox Reverb AXS seatpost. Done.
Speaking of the app, it’ll provide all the analytics and customization features with Rival AXS as it does for SRAM’s other AXS groupsets, such as time spent in each gear, battery life, and component usage. Or if you don’t want to bother, that’s also fine, but it’s nice to know the information is there if you want it. Firmware updates are also done wirelessly.
Price-wise, SRAM has done a good job bringing Rival AXS down to a more palatable level. It’s still hardly inexpensive — and, notably, it costs more than Shimano’s mechanical Ultegra setup — but considering the functionality that it offers, it’ll undoubtedly be very popular at both the OEM and aftermarket levels.
Particularly impressive are the prices with the optional power meter. We’re still not quite to the point where power meters are “the new heart rate monitor” in terms of cost, but we’re certainly closer than ever, and I expect the adoption rate for Rival AXS power meter to be very high across the board, even for more casual users who are just curious to know what their numbers are.
Retail price for complete Rival AXS groupsets are as follows (UK and EU prices include VAT):
On the OEM side, Rival AXS will most likely be found on new carbon road bikes hovering around US$4,000-5,000 (and both aftermarket groupsets and components, and complete Rival AXS-equipped bikes, should be available by the time you read this). Retail prices for the individual Rival AXS components are as follows:
Given that it’s the entry-level option for SRAM’s wireless electronic groupset family, Rival AXS will be heavier than Force AXS or Red eTap AXS. Most of the weight gain is due to material changes. Where one might have otherwise found carbon fiber, for example, Rival switches to aluminum. But even where the same material is used, there will just be more of it here. In other words, where there might have been an aggressively machined bit of aluminum before, you get a chunkier block with Rival.
The biggest gain is seen at the crankset, which is now made of aluminum instead of the carbon fiber variants found in Force and Red. SRAM isn’t even using hollow-forged arms, either, instead opting for simpler solid-forged pieces with I-beam cross-sections for rigidity. The brake lever blades are also aluminum instead of carbon fiber, but those weight increases are less substantial.
Either way, it’s worth noting that SRAM’s AXS road groupsets have always been heavier than their Shimano Di2 counterparts, and by pretty sizable margins, too. Red eTap AXS is about 100 grams heavier than the current Dura-Ace Di2, and Force packs on nearly 300 g in addition.
Naturally, Rival AXS is heavier still, adding almost 200 g on top of that already sizable pile, bringing total claimed groupset weight up to a substantial 3,155 g — about 600 g heavier than Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc, and roughly 900 g heavier than a Shimano 105 mechanical disc groupset.
Here’s the weight breakdown for all three SRAM AXS road groupsets if you’re interested (claimed figures throughout):
Naturally, SRAM can’t make Rival AXS share too much with Force or Red and still hit the price point you’d expect from a third-tier groupset. So in addition to some changes in materials and some additional weight, SRAM has also omitted some features on Rival AXS that you would have found on Force or Red.
Most of those changes are found in the controls.
Both Force AXS and Red eTap AXS have expansion ports — two on each Red lever, one on Force — that allow you to plug in wired satellite controls such as remote shifters. With Rival AXS, however, you get what you get, and you don’t get upset. SRAM said the adoption rate for those plug-in accessories is well into the double-digits in terms of percentages so not having that ability here is a bit of a bummer. But in fairness to SRAM, something had to give, and the ergonomics of the eTap lever design is such that the majority of riders shouldn’t be too bothered.
Also gone from the Rival AXS levers is the adjustable travel for the brake lever (also known as the “bite point”). The static lever reach is still adjustable to accommodate different hand sizes, of course, but Rival AXS riders won’t get to fine-tune how far that lever moves before the pads start to engage.
One big upside of deleting those features, however, is that doing so allowed SRAM to reduce the overall size of the Rival AXS controls. The lever bodies have less girth than what you find on Force or Red hydraulic levers — it’s almost Shimano-like, in fact — and the peaks aren’t nearly as pronounced, either. This change should make the Rival AXS levers better suited to riders with smaller hands, and the generally trimmer form factor looks better, too.
Speaking of the brakes, while the important parts in terms of braking performance are borrowed from Force and Red, the Rival AXS calipers do without SRAM’s fancier Bleeding Edge quick-connect bleed port, instead using a more conventional removable cap and threaded fittings. This isn’t a functional loss, but rather just one of convenience. However, bleeds don’t have to be done all that often, anyway, and given that the Rival AXS caliper essentially just uses the same setup now as Shimano and Campagnolo, it’s really no big deal at all.
As already mentioned, Rival AXS is offered with hydraulic disc brakes exclusively, but it’s also only available with flat-mount disc calipers. The levers are compatible with other SRAM’s other road disc-brake calipers, though, so if you’re looking to upgrade an older bike that’s equipped with post-mount or IS tabs, you at least have some options if you’re ok with mixing the finishes.
That level of compatibility lessens the sting of Rival’s somewhat more limited gearing choices, too.
Force AXS and Red eTap AXS are offered in both standard and “Max” rear derailleur configurations, with the former designed for more traditional road racing gearing (up to a 33T cassette sprocket) and the Max version accommodating up to a 36T one. To keep the number of configurations to a minimum, SRAM is only making the Rival AXS rear derailleur in the Max flavor, with a longer upper knuckle that drops the whole derailleur slightly further downward. While that makes it work with more climbing-friendly sprockets at the low end, though, SRAM says it shouldn’t be paired with any cassette with a largest sprocket smaller than 28T.
That will likely only impact budget-minded racers, but even then, at least there’s the option of using the standard Force AXS rear derailleur if you want a smaller total range and tighter gaps throughout.
If you’re really after easier gears, there’s that ultra-low 43/30T chainring combo with the 10-36T cassette, which yields a climbing gear well, well below the critical one-to-one threshold. This setup is similar to the Wide configuration in Force AXS, with a 5 mm-longer bottom bracket spindle (and wider pedal stance width), a 2.5 mm outward change in the chainline, and a dedicated front derailleur that’s offset the same amount from the seat tube.
In addition to providing super-low climbing gears, this Wide setup also squeezes out a little more rear tire clearance. SRAM says the biggest 700c tire that will fit behind the standard front derailleur is 42 mm, but it goes up to at least 45 mm with the alternative front derailleur and crankset.
Out back, the Rival AXS rear derailleur doesn’t look all that different from the Force AXS one, but when you look at the weight breakdown, there’s clearly some more going on under the hood.
SRAM outfits the Red eTap AXS and Force AXS rear derailleurs with its Orbit hydraulic pulley cage clutch to provide better chain control and security when riding on rough terrain. The Rival AXS rear derailleur also has built-in chain control, but it’s a spring-based mechanical setup similar to what SRAM uses on its mountain bike components. I’m honestly not sure which one works better, or which one will hold up better, although prior experience with older SRAM clutch-equipped mountain bike derailleurs suggest the Orbit units will stay more consistent long-term.
As for the chain, it incorporates the same proprietary oversized roller diameters and distinctive “Flattop” plate shaping as other AXS road groupsets. However, where the Force chain gets ultra-durable hard chrome plating on the rollers, pins, and inner plates, the Rival AXS chain only gets it on the rollers and pins. The (officially) single-use PowerLock master link is unchanged.
As is the case with all of SRAM’s 12-speed AXS road drivetrains, that oversized chain roller greatly limits the amount of drivetrain component mixing you can do. However, while the chain, cassette, and rear derailleur always have to be matched together (i.e. road with road, MTB with MTB), there’s still an exception. Since the chain pitch — the distance from pin to pin — is the same as usual, Rival AXS’s direct-mount single chainrings will work with either a road-specific Flattop chain or a SRAM Eagle 12-speed mountain bike chain.
Ok, so now the most important question: how well does Rival AXS work on the road?
Short answer: it’s excellent. Maybe even fantastic.
Given how all of the core electronic bits are wholly shared with the other road AXS groupsets, it’s no surprise to discover that the shifting performance of Rival AXS easily, well, rivals that of Force and Red. Rear shifts are precise and consistent with the same tactile button feel I’ve grown accustomed to, and while the front shifts aren’t quite as positive as Shimano — particularly under full power — they’re still quite good. And as always, the eTap button operation is still the most intuitive of the big three: push the right button for harder gears, the left one for easier ones, and both buttons to shift up front. It just doesn’t get any easier, and no one else to date exploits the ergonomic potential of electronic controls like SRAM.
As a nice bonus, the whole drivetrain runs admirably quietly, which perhaps also shouldn’t come as a surprise, either. It’s always been the case that SRAM’s stamped cassettes run smoother than its machined ones, and while the Rival AXS XG-1250 cluster might not be exactly feathery, the more rounded sprocket edges are less apt to make noise.
Interestingly enough, I felt like rear shifts were ever-so-slightly faster to switch from sprocket to sprocket on Rival AXS relative to Force or Red — a perception that was independently noticed by Bicycling magazine’s senior test editor, Matt Phillips. When I asked SRAM about it, though, they didn’t have an explanation, so maybe we’re both nuts.
Brake performance is also indistinguishable from those higher-end SRAM road groupsets. There’s power in spades, as well as excellent control and feel. Pad rub is almost non-existent save for in certain circumstances (like right after finishing a long descent, for example), and rotor clearance is about average for what I’ve seen from SRAM, which is to say that it’s pretty good.
My larger hands have always gotten along just fine with SRAM’s hydraulic levers, but it was nevertheless refreshing to rest my mitts on these new downsized Rival AXS ones. They’re not quite as small as Shimano Di2 levers, but it’s still a little easier to wrap my fingers around them, and they do look more svelte. I often rest the pocket of my palms on the tall peak of those other SRAM hydraulic levers, though, and I found myself eventually missing the way I could more comfortably settle into that hand position. Either way, opinions on the Rival AXS lever shape will invariably vary from person to person.
I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to test the power meter option; my guess is that SRAM didn’t have enough of them to go around pre-launch. But assuming the claimed specs are true, the price point certainly makes it very appealing. Stay tuned for this one (assuming I get a longer-term sample later).
Ok, so we’ve already established that Rival AXS isn’t exactly a featherweight. But that said, it’s worth noting that the biggest chunks of that considerable mass — the crankset, cassette, and rear derailleur — are situated down low where it’s a lot less noticeable than when it’s positioned up high. Remember how heavy earlier hydraulic/mechanical brake/shift levers felt? SRAM was admittedly also wise to provide a test bike built around Specialized’s ultralight Aethos Comp with its wispy 700 g claimed frame weight, which yields a total bike weight of just 7.78 kg (17.16 lb) without pedals or accessories in my 52 cm size.
That’s almost 2 kg heavier than the ultra-premium S-Works edition I tested a few months ago, and to be fair, nowhere near all of that increase comes from the change in groupset alone. Either way, I’d be lying if I said this bike felt that much heavier out on the road.
Last, but not least, I have to tip my hat to SRAM for putting in the effort to make Rival AXS look good with its polished and black anodized finish. And while that black plastic cover on the outer chainring is admittedly kind of cheesy, it’s at least profiled to match nicely with the integrated four-arm spider. Overall, I’d say Rival AXS looks elegant and classy, and I’d even argue that it has a more premium appearance than Force AXS.
SRAM has taken a gamble with Rival AXS that modern road riders are more interested in functionality and features than weight. Are potential bike buyers still impressed by how a bike feels when they pick it up on the showroom floor, or are they more enamored by the idea of shifters that operate wirelessly via 1s and 0s, accompanied by that telltale “BZZZZT, BZZZZT” sound, instead of wound steel cables?
Clearly SRAM is going with the latter, and as much as I’m still a recovering weight-weenie — and as much as it’s my job to poke holes in things — I have a hard time betting against the company’s position here. I love good old-school mechanical shifting, but I’d be lying if I said electronic shifting wasn’t addictive.
My guess? Given how seemingly every major brand (and probably a ton of smaller ones) already has a Rival AXS-equipped bike in the pipeline, you’re certainly about to see an awful lot of this stuff out in the wild. And you know what? That’s perfectly ok with me. This stuff is good, and I’m not afraid to say so.
For more information, visit www.sram.com.