Tuesday night we got our first good look at SRAM Red eTAP, and the team was giddy to get a chance to play with it. Would it be natural to use? Or would we long for the more button-centric Di2 approach. Only a bit of hands-on time would tell.
SRAM Red eTAP
For those who didn’t catch our First Look a few weeks ago, lets quickly recap eTAP. eTAP is SRAM’s new electronic wireless groupset. Red eTAP is 11 speed and can be used for both standard road and aero road applications. The components of eTAP talk to each other over a proprietary wireless protocol that SRAM calls AIREA. eTAP also makes use of an ANT+ broadcast to display the current gear being used to any paired ANT+ devices.
Individual batteries run each of the components themselves. The derailleurs get rechargeable battery packs that are interchangeable between front and rear derailleurs and are easily removed from the bike. With a 1,000-plus kilometer range, the batteries can recharge in 45 minutes. Standard CR2032 batteries that are easily accessible under the hoods of the standard road shifters power the shifters.
SRAM’S solution for TT and Tri (as well as sprint \ climbing) setups are Blips. Blips are small (weighing as little as 6g) wired buttons that can be mounted anywhere on the cockpit. Blips are available in three lengths: 150mm (6g), 450mm (8g), and 650mm (9g).
On road bikes, two Blips can be attached to each drop bar shifter, giving you a maximum of six shift positions. On TT \ Tri setups you’ll need a Blipbox. The Blipbox weighs in at 31g and allows you to connect up to four Blips, giving you extension and pursuit shifting. Like the road shifters, the Blipbox operates on a single 2032 battery.
SRAM lifted its shifting logic straight from the track (we are talking cars this time, not bikes). Want to drop down a cog? Press the right shifter. To go up, press the left. Want to change from the big ring to the small ring? Just press both shifters at the same time. It is easy, straightforward, and should result in less miss-shifts.
The Media Night First Look
SRAM brought two bikes to media night. The first was set up with a standard road setup, and the second was Mirinda Carfrae’s very own Felt IA. This gave us a chance to play with eTAP from both a road and tri setup. The road setup was very natural. Similar to mechanical SRAM Red, there is only a single lever on each of the hoods to shift with. The right lever drops a gear and the left goes up one. When you press them at the same time, you get a front ring change. What we noticed immediately is that the double lever tap didn’t have to be perfectly timed – if you were off by half a second, the system still knew what you were doing.
On the triathlon side, we loved the blip concept, but at first look we were a little underwhelmed with the execution. Similar to the road setup, you can drop a gear with a single button and go up a gear with the opposite button. The blips could be mounted anywhere on both the extensions and the pursuits. Rinny chose to have hers above the bar tape, but you could just as easily mount them under the tape. And for those who want them mounted on the ends of the bars, you can do that just as easily as any other location.
What underwhelmed us was the size of the blips and the blipbox. We felt both could (and hopefully one day will) be a bit smaller. The blips seem a bit large for just being simple trigger switches. We would have liked to see them be a touch smaller. Though we admit that since we couldn’t take Rinny’s bike out for a test ride, we might find the size of the buttons to be less a factor on the road than in the Media Night room. The blipbox is also on the large side. As it is designed now, we feel like it will be tough to find an out-of-the-way location for it. SRAM incorporated a 1/4 turn mount into the blipbox, so they want (and expect) it to be in a fairly easy-to-access location. But for those looking for the completely minimalist package, you may need to get a little on the creative side.
One other item we noticed was that most aero extensions anticipate that you are using some sort of lever or button at the end of the extension, which extends it. With the blips, you no longer need or have that extra extension, so simply removing your current mechanical levers and dropping on blips may leave your extensions a bit on the short side. Somewhat coincidentally, however, Zipp (a member of the SRAM family… so maybe not that coincidentally) does make extensions that are a bit on the longer side. So you may want to consider that when upgrading.
A few minutes at a media event was not nearly enough time to get a serious look and understanding of the Red eTAP system. But it was enough to wet our appetite even more. The system seemed incredibly easy to transition to. And by being wireless, it’s something any home mechanic can install. While we did see a few short comings, they didn’t distract us from the fact that this system will be our most anticipated review of 2016. Stay tuned for an in-depth look early next year, including an answer to the question: “where exactly do we want our blips?”