Wireless shifting is here. But is it capable of dethroning Shimano's Di2 group?
When Shimano first introduced electronic shifting with Di2, it made huge waves in the industry. Campagnolo followed quickly with its EPS drivetrain. And for the last several years, everyone has wondered when SRAM would enter the fray. After years of waiting, speculation, and teasers, SRAM finally launched its brand new eTap platform. We had a chance to closely inspect the new group at Interbike, and this article is a broad overview of the system and our initial opinions and impressions. SRAM RED eTap will not be released to consumers until spring 2016, and we haven't had a chance to spend much time with it yet, and we plan to put some real miles on the group in the future. But there's still a lot to talk about here, so let's get to it.
At launch, SRAM RED eTap will be a 22 speed electronic road group set. The brain of the system is the rear derailleur, which manages all pairing and communications. This is smart, since it allows for the possibility of a 1x drivetrain without a front derailleur. The Shimano system, by contrast, uses its front junction as the "brain," while Campagnolo's parimary communication device is the battery. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses. Shifting, as everyone knows by now, is wireless. Shifting can be communicated either by road levers (which operate independently and each have their own battery), or by the standalone BlipBox. Both the road levers and the BlipBox have ports to attach Blips, small tactile buttons that serve as additional shifters and can be attached either to road drop bars, or used on aerobars for a TT / Tri setup. In this article, we will focus on the BlipBox and Blips. The BlipBox communicates with the front and rear derailleurs wirelessly via a proprietary communication protocol called AIREA, which SRAM developed specifically for RED eTap. For those familiar with the mechanical RED 22 group set, RED eTap will look and feel quite familiar. These two groups share chains, cassettes, cranks, and brakes, and their front and rear derailleurs function quite similarly. A RED eTap build will weigh slightly more than a RED 22 build, and cost around $800 more. But there are many subtle differences that are worth discussing in more detail, the first of which is the shifting itself.