When we first heard about the release of SRAM RED eTAP, we knew it was big. And sure enough, eTAP has been the source of many a conversation. During the course of our long-term review, we have been able to say one thing for sure time and again—it’s pretty damn amazing. Read on to find out why.
While many have noted that SRAM was a bit late to the electronic groupset party (Shimano released theirs several years prior), eTAP is different. It’s wireless (for the most part, but we’ll get to that later on), which is obviously a big deal and, we think, well worth the wait.
The components of eTAP talk to each other via a proprietary wireless protocol that SRAM calls AIREA. This system utilizes a 128-bit encryption, and each time an eTAP groupset is paired, a new encryption code is generated and assigned to the components in this group to ensure complete shifting security. The system also outputs an ANT+ signal for a Garmin or other cycling computer to read, giving you information on the system.
The shifting technology is executed differently for a road bike and a TT bike, which you can read more about in our First Look or our expanded article about eTap’s BlipGrips and BlipClamps. Otherwise, everything is pretty similar between a road and TT bike.
Throughout our testing process, we utilized both the standard Blips, the BlipGrips, and the newer eTap Clics.
What’s up with all these Blips? And what did we use?
BlipGrips are the shifting solution for those looking to make a direct swap from a mechanical setup to eTap. They fit on the aero extensions and can rotate a full 360 degrees, so the Blip can be located on the top, bottom, or sides of your extensions. We positioned ours on the insides of the extensions.
When they became available, we swapped our BlipGrips for a set of Clics, which are mounted directly at the end of the extensions. For us, this was a game changer. Clics allowed us to easily change gears without ever having to change our hand position. Clics fit in to the end of any extension with an inner diameter of 19mm – 21.5mm and are also the most aero.
To be honest, we were a bit worried about the chances of accidentally triggering the Blips during the course of a ride, but we were pleasantly surprised that this never really happened. The button for triggering the Blip to shift is seated deeper inside, which means you have to give it a firm press. Still easy to do, and definitely goes a long way in preventing any accidental shifts.
Remember how we mentioned that eTAP was mostly wireless? Well, the wired parts are actually the Blips themselves. For road bikes, the Blips are wired from one of the shifters. For a TT bike, the Blips are wired from the BlipBox.
With the tri kit, you get four Blips (so you can shift while aero or when you’re upright). And in our case, we swapped out two for BlipGrips, and eventually Clics. You’ll also get a few mount options for stowing that BlipBox. This was one of our few challenges with eTap—the BlipBox is larger than you’d expect. So where do you put the thing?
At first, we thought we’d be able to hide it in between the bars (underneath), but our bar shape made that pretty impossible. The top tube was also not going to work. We ended up using SRAM’s mount upside-down between our bars. There was just enough clearance between it and out BTA setup, but we’re not going to lie, it was a bit of a tight fit.
But honestly, we’re not going to complain much about that considering we’ve had literally zero issues with eTAP after riding it for about a year now. Not only that, the eTAP system itself is incredibly simple to use. Want to drop down a cog? Press the right Blip. Want to go up? Press the left Blip. Ready to change from the big ring to the small ring? Simply hold down both Blips at the same time. Doesn’t get much easier than that. And that means less miss-shifts, especially when you’re exhausted and don’t have much brain power left.
As far as shifting reliability goes, we never experienced any skipping. Every shift was nice and smooth every single ride. We did notice that it seemed to be a bit noisier. We did feel like eTap’s noise levels varied depending on what gear we were in when we executed a shift, especially when we were alone or on the trainer, but it was definitely nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. If you read other reviews on eTAP, you’ll notice that this is a common observation. But again, it never bothered us one bit. When it comes to shifting speed, we didn’t have any complaints, and we certainly don’t have a way to really tell for sure just how the speed compares to Di2 or mechanical systems. As far as we’re concerned, eTAP shifted reliably on time, every time. We can’t really expect more than that.
We were big fan’s of eTAP’s battery design. SRAM has gone with two batteries for eTAP (one per derailleur), which allows you the convenience of swapping out a dead battery for another one mid-ride. That should allow you enough battery life to get home. And yes, that did happen to us. So we were especially thankful for that option. SRAM says that the batteries should last between 50 – 60 hours. During higher-mileage months, we would typically make it a habit to charge them every month just to be on the safe side (after ending up with a dead battery mid-ride, we really didn’t want to push our luck in that department again). According to SRAM, at full charge under normal use, the system should provide one month of riding, or around 620 miles. The Blips share a single 2032 battery housed in the BlipBox – something that we have never had to change.
Speaking of battery life, shifting performance will remain unchanged despite the level of battery life. There are LED indicator lights for remaining battery life, but honestly, we never paid attention to those mid-ride (our training partners would usually see them before we did). After each shift, a light on each component turns on, cluing you in on how much battery life remains (green is good, red is running low—less than 25% remaining, and flashing red means you’re in definite need of a recharge at less than 15% remaining). Once we learned our lesson, we simply would simply make it a point to recharge monthly.
We rode eTAP for a year straight on our Shiv test bike, and as we mentioned earlier, we never experienced any issues. eTAP was with us through many long training days in the heat, cold, and wet, and it was also our faithful companion for an iron-distance race this spring. eTAP never let us down once. Summing it all up, our multi-sport editor told us that she would be hard pressed to give up eTAP. It’s been reliable, easy to learn and use, and—especially with the positioning of the Blips—customizable for her own hand position.
So, would we recommend making the upgrade? In our opinion, we think so—especially if you’re comparing against other electronic groupsets. All things compared, eTAP simply has a leg-up in a few areas. It’s wireless, a bit cheaper than DuraAce Di2, and in our opinion, easier to use and install.