SRAM Red 22 - First Impressions

Late last season, we got a chance to take a spin on SRAM Red 22. Introduced in the spring along with Force 22, the new groupsets represented SRAM "making the leap" (to use their marketing speak) to 11-speed drivetrains.  The release was somewhat surprising, given that it came on the heels of an all-new SRAM Red (dubbed Red 2012) only a season ago, which goes against long established industry practice of steady, deliberate evolution that updates every four years or so.

It could be that SRAM underestimated the demand for 11-speed drivetrains, and when the Red 2012 sales underperformed, they decided to push their plans up in order to stay competitive. Or maybe, their 11-speed development was quicker than they expected. Alternatively, they could be following the ethos of their high end wheel company, Zipp, which is to constantly make improvements to their models whenever they can. Whatever the reason, I am certain that the SRAM faithful who jumped to purchase Red 2012 were not very pleased to find their new purchases lose their seat at the top so quickly. Not to say that the presence of Red 22 suddenly makes Red 2012 perform poorly, but for those who must have the latest and greatest, it has to sting.

Regardless of the circumstance, Red 22 is the new king-of-the-hill for SRAM road components. This review is a collection of notes that we had after riding the group. Given that neither of us had the oportunity to ride the previous iteration of Red, our comments are how the group performs in relation to the other top end groups: Dura Ace 9000 and Campagnolo Record (note:we consider Super Record and Record to be functionally equivalent.)

Thoughts:

  • Double Tap shifting is quite intuitive. We both easily went from Shimano dual lever design to SRAM and back again, with hardly any hiccups.
  • Very positive feel at the shifters, more so than 9000. That is, a distinct auditory and tactile response when a shift is made. Crisp would be an accurate descriptor.
  • Shift effort is noticeably higher than 9000. Do not know how much of that is a result of the levers and how much is the cables. Shimano claims much of their reduced effort is the result of their new cables and housing. Would different cables reduce the effort on Red? Would that even be desirable?
  • There is more noise overall during shifting, both at the shifter and derailleur. It is pretty much silent when riding.
  • Yaw front derailleur works as advertised, great front shifting throughout the cassette range.
  • Hard to comment on crank stiffness. The feel is as much the frame as it is the crank. Will have to wait for Madcow at Fairwheel to update the crank shootout for objective data. The previous generation was the stiffest of the test.
  • The hood shape and comfort was good. However, I am not picky and have never had much of an issue with any of the brands. Matter of personal preference for most people. 
  • Braking was pretty good, but  not great. 9000 is still better.

Ultimately, Red 22 deserves its billing as a top end groupset. All of the differences compared to its competitors are quite small and are usually matters of personal preference rather than performance. For example, I could see how someone could prefer Red's distinct 'click' shift over the light action of 9000, or perhaps the hood shape agrees with them more.

One thing is certain, however, and that Red is the weight weenie's choice. It is the lightest group on the market: ~170g less than DA 9000, ~90g Less than Super Record, and ~200g less than Record. The look of the new Red is a bit more refined, but is still probably too flashy for some people.  It has a nice industrial aesthetic, very functional looking.

Note: We did try the hydroulic Red 22, both the rim brakes and the discs. Given the recall, we thought we would wait until they return to market and we can test the changes before we post any thoughts.