SRAM says that it’s going to tell us more in April, but what might a Force-level eTap groupset bring?
When was the last time you saw a new bike equipped with SRAM Force 2×11 speed? SRAM’s second tier groupset hasn’t received an update in some time, so we reckon SRAM will look to go head-to-head with Ultegra Di2 when it launches Force eTap later this year (more on Force 1 below).
One option would be to re-badge the outgoing Red eTap 11-speed as Force eTap. We don’t reckon SRAM will do that, as it will want to provide a compelling reason for users and manufacturers to choose Force eTap over Ultegra Di2 and to build on the advantages promoted for 12-speed Red eTap AXS.
So we think that Force eTap will be 12-speed and use SRAM’s AXS tech.
Less exotic materials
With Ultegra Di2 Disc retailing full price at around £2000, SRAM will want to match or better that. Red eTap AXS comes in at £3350, so that’s a lot of savings to find. Substituting alloy for carbon and steel for titanium should help with that, but SRAM will have to find other savings too.
Off the shelf motor
Shimano brought down the price of Ultegra relative to Dura-Ace by using less expensive actuation motors rather than custom units. That’s an option for Force eTap to lower the price, but might be complex to integrate with SRAM’s wireless and battery tech. It’s possible that a cheaper motor might lead to slightly slower shifting though.
We reckon that SRAM will want to keep its autonomous batteries and use the same battery format as Red eTap AXS. So although a single wired battery might be cheaper to produce, we don’t think SRAM will go that route.
Red and Eagle AXS compatibility
It would make sense for SRAM to use the same protocols for Force eTap as for its premium groupsets. That would allow users to mix and match and provide an upgrade path if they want to up-spec. It would also offer the app-based customisation of SRAM’s premium eTap groupsets, matching Shimano Di2’s functionality.
The fluid damper in Red eTap is likely to be expensive to produce. So SRAM might look to reduce manufacturing cost by omitting it in Force eTap. Will that affect the shift quality? If it does slightly, it might not be a big issue, but could encourage potential buyers to upgrade to Red AXS.
The SRAM Red eTap AXS cassette is machined from a single piece of steel and costs over £300. It’s an obvious place to save costs by using a less complex design. So we’d expect Force eTap to use a more conventional multi-piece cassette.
It’s likely to remain compatible with XD-R freehubs only though, so that SRAM’s extended range 10-speed smallest ring can be offered. Most wheel brands already offer an XD-R freehub as an option on their wheels, so it’s not a showstopper to have to change from a standard Shimano/SRAM unit.
A cheaper power meter
Many riders at this level will be looking for a power meter option. In Red eTap AXS, the power meter is built into the single piece double chainring. That means that when your rings wear out, you need to replace the two rings and the power meter as one item – an expensive prospect.
So we think that SRAM will look to decouple the power meter from the rings, and that the rings themselves will come as two separate items. That’s likely to be cheaper to manufacture as well as easier for the purchaser to stomach.
Rim brake option
There are plenty of potential users and manufacturers who still want rim brakes. So we reckon that SRAM will want to offer rim brakes as well as discs as an option, as with the new Red AXS.
A separate single ring offering
The new Red eTap AXS single ring groupset uses the same rear mech as the two ring offering. Its largest cassette is currently 10-33. That’s fine for the likes of Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock. But the Sunday morning cyclocross racer and the weekend gravel rider are likely to miss the larger range of the current Force 1 mechanical 10-42 cassette option.
Red eTap AXS’s compatibility with Eagle AXS means that you can sub in an Eagle MTB rear mech and cassette. But Eagle only offers a 10-50 cassette option, which is likely to be too much range for most drop bar riders.
Force 1, Rival 1 and Apex 1 mechanical have proved wildly popular with mixed terrain riders and it would be crazy for SRAM to cut out this segment. So we reckon that SRAM will look to plug this gap by selling Force 1 eTap with a 10-42 cassette option. That probably means a separate, longer cage, clutched rear mech.
What do we know from SRAM?
So that’s what we reckon that Force 1 eTap might bring. But what does SRAM say? According to its site: “SRAM has historically delivered our technologies to various price points and we see our system options ultimately expanding. More information to follow.”
So that’s our best guess until SRAM tells us more in April. But a quality, well priced Force eTap offering would be likely to prove popular with upgraders and bike brands for is ease of set-up and time saving over a wired electronic groupset.