At Eurobike 2015, SRAM unveiled its long-awaited electronic wireless drivetrain, named SRAM RED eTAP. At Interbike 2015, Cyclocross Magazine had one of the first rides on the new drivetrain. While the first test was on a Focus road bike equipped with road tires, you can be sure of one thing: I was evaluating the SRAM RED eTAP componentry on their cyclocross and gravel-worthiness. Maybe you’ve read a few words already about the group on road-oriented websites, but we sought to bring a cyclocross and gravel-dirtied lens to view the new electronic and wireless group.

The SRAM RED eTAP electronic / wireless drivetrain shares the same type of battery with the front derailleur, and controls all the pairing. Short cage only, max 28t for now. © Cyclocross Magazine The SRAM RED eTAP electronic / wireless drivetrain shares the same type of battery with the front derailleur, and controls all the pairing. Short cage only, max 28t for now. © Cyclocross Magazine

SRAM has its cyclocross-oriented Force 1 (formerly CX1) component group, and nearly all of its sponsored cyclocross athletes will remain on Force 1 this season, with a few notable exceptions, such as Wout van Aert riding with SRAM RED 22 mechanical at CrossVegas. But you can be sure that enthusiasts building their dream cyclocross or gravel bike, and racers looking to try the latest and greatest, will be anxious to test the new electronic group in the harsh elements of cyclocross and gravel riding. As CXM’s resident senior bike geek, I certainly fall into that group.

On paper, SRAM’s accomplishments are impressive, and there are a few attributes that separate it from Di2 and Campagnolo. The SRAM RED eTAP wireless system makes installation easy, quick and clean, eliminating battery or wiring placement concerns. Also, in typical SRAM fashion, the system also gives a nod to weight weenies, with a negligible weight gain over its already lightest-in-class RED 22 mechanical groupset (when you consider the weight of cables and housing with the mechanical system). It’s also more than half a pound lighter than Di2 for a full component group. See the table in our slideshow for full SRAM RED eTAP component weights.

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Before we start a debate as to whether pricey electronic components are right for off-road adventures, let’s start with a review of some of the pros and cons of any electronic drivetrains in cyclocross and gravel that we’ve learned over years playing with Shimano Di2 on multiple test bikes. If you’re already sold on electronic shifting, skip ahead to the second slide.

Electronic drivetrain’s benefits in cyclocross and gravel racing:

  • Shifters don’t get contaminated with sand/mud
  • No housing/cables to get contaminated or to replace
  • Same effort per shift, at the beginning and end of race
  • Less to do: Electronic systems eliminate the need to manually trim the front derailleur
  • More precise, by allowing slight overshift in rear derailleur movement
  • No break-in period: no cables to stretch, or ferrules/housing to seat
  • Less maintenance: Because of much of the above, there’s less to lube, adjust or replace.
  • Adjustments can be done easily while riding (equivalent of always having inline cable adjusters by the bar)
  • Shifters, with less mechanical parts, have less to break when you crash
  • Smarter, more full-proof system, since you can’t force a rear derailleur and the chain across a cassette when you’re not pedaling, or when things are jammed. That saves rear derailleurs, hangers, and chains.

Existing Electronic Drivetrain Concerns:

  • Expensive – and expensive to replace components when damaged, especially rear derailleurs
  • Batteries have to be charged, and you lose shifting on a ride if you don’t do it in time
  • Frame compatibility limitations for wiring and battery mount
  • Gearing limitations, due to limited rear derailleur options (although Shimano road/mountain can be mixed)
  • Weight penalty over mechanical system (not true with latest Dura-Ace 9070 Di2)

Keep reading on the next page for SRAM RED eTAP ride impressions and a summary of initial observations.

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