SRAM eTap Review
In just the first few outings this system has changed my ride as much as adopting cleated pedals or wearing lycra. Every shift is so unwaveringly quick and predictable that I no longer power through little risers or freewheel through dips. Like an F1 race car, which was stated to be one of the inspirations of the gruppo, I make many more minor gear adjustments and stay glued in my optimal power/cadence zone. As a world-weary and jaded individual this was one of the few things in recent memory that made me laugh out loud with joy on my very first ride with it.
First impressions with the kit were as good as they come. Excellent build quality. Timeless industrial design. Well engineered mix of metal and carbon fiber.
The ergonomics have soaring highlights but are not perfect. The button size, positioning and logic is definitely better than all other competing systems. The logic of switching to left-for-easy, right-for-hard, both-for-front took no time at all to adopt to. As a matter of fact, in the full summer season I’ve been riding it I’ve not once misfired on a shift. It was that natural.
That there is only one button on each side allows them to be larger in size which comes in handy when in the drops, as well as while wearing gloves.
The rubber hoods have excellent grip but the bump on the top is much smaller and less ergonomic than Shimano’s. Due to this I’ve had to adapt my hand positioning a bit as I used to love cruising on the tops of the hoods like this:
Now things are a bit…different…
Performance: Zap vs. Tick Tock
I’m coming off of mechanical Dura Ace 7800. In an effort to visually clean up the cockpit Shimano started routing the shifter cables around the handlebar through the grip tape from 7900 onward. This added noticeable friction and reduced usability and enjoyment so I skipped that ‘upgrade’ and went straight to eTap.
Compared to mechanical eTap was:
- Faster going up the cogs
- The same going down the cogs
- Front shifting is bonkers
The first thing I need to mention is front shifting which is the most dramatic improvement your bike may ever see. Thoughts like should I muscle this up into the big chainring and do I really need to risk dropping my chain for a downshift right now completely vanish and are replaced with the low effort and high speed that you usually experience with rear shifting. There is a cognitive weight lifted off your shoulders when all of your gears just become another gear, ready for instant deployment with a click.
In the rear the eTap’s carbon derailleur cage saves weight but doesn’t provide the solid ‘thunk’ that Shimano’s metal units do. Oddly, this makes it ‘feel’ a little cheaper. After a couple hundred miles you stop noticing this altogether.
There has been a lot of hand wringing over speed and reports that Di2 responds quicker. From my experience this is true. Pressing Di2 is like ‘zapping’ the derailleur to the next gear–it moves when you press the button down. SRAM’s buttons have a nice solid ‘click’ to them. Pressing them in is the ‘tick’, releasing them is the ‘tock’. You get your gear on the tock.
While the difference is noticeable, is also only milliseconds and completely irrelevant. For me the button size and logic makes my rides more enjoyable.
I was very excited to get my hands on this kit but like many others, I didn’t have the budget to buy a new bike with eTap as an OEM gruppo, or replace my entire drivetrain top-to-bottom with SRAM kit. After clearing an unnecessarily tall hurdle in a completely undocumented upgrade path from a 10sp Mavic wheel to an 11sp setup with eTap deraileur, I landed on this premium mix-n-match setup which runs like a dream:
- SRAM eTap brake levers with Ciamillo Negative G brake calipers
- SRAM eTap shifters with Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 crankset, 11sp chain and 11sp cassette
Even though the spacing and alignment is perfect, there is a little bit of growl from the top 4 titanium cogs in the rear. My current suspicion is that the Shimano gears are cut for the alignment provided by a Shimano sprung pivot derailleur instead of the yaw-angle of the SRAM derailleur. Once I wear out these cogs I may switch to SRAM to see if that makes a difference. Of course that will be quite a while as the Shimano stuff is extraordinarily durable, which is why I opted to keep it.
eTap is a tremendous feat of engineering and will materially change how every ride feels. You can mix-and-match parts and purchase only the minimum kit to save money and suffer no degradation in performance. This is what your life on eTap will look like: