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As good as it gets.

SRAM's AXS is here and it promises to be a treat. As expected, the AXS (pronounced 'access') arrived with the expected evolutionary improvements such as the move to 12 speeds all while retaining its industry first wireless shifting. Where we were pleasantly surprised though, by how much SRAM innovated in terms of the most mundane things....gear ratios.

When moving up and adding new cogs in groupsets, manufacturers typically just splice in another cog somewhere in the middle of the new cassette. While more available ratios are always welcome, what SRAM did was a rethink of WHERE  the new cog was to be placed. What they did was rather surprising in that they added a 10T cog!

This in itself isn't an overwhelmingly convincing progression but what they did next certainly is. They built their whole range around 10T cog availability and adjusted their chainrings to match! The end result is a set of gear ratios with will effectively give you a slightly better top end while delivering much needed climbing relief on the opposite end. More on this in detail towards the end.

What's new?


Okay, let's get this out of the way. I wasn't the biggest fan of the cranks in terms of looks. It looked too much like the business end of a meat grinder for my tastes. But having been exposed to it for more than a few days, the looks start growing on you. And I'm not just saying this. Some things just getting used to.... like four armed cranksets from a few years back. Remember how people reacted to those before?

Like 'em or hate 'em, they're here. And they're one good piece of machining. The rings and 'spider' are made from one piece of aluminum. Cranks are carbon and the whole this is light!


Nothing much to report on the FD, but the rear derailleurs can now accommodate the whole AXS range. If you wanted 30 or 32T in the previous eTap, you had to get an optional (expensive) WiFli RD with expanded chain capacity. Whatever limitations forced this, thankfully SRAM thought things through and now just has one RD for everything.  The batteries and chargers are backwards


The calipers are carried over from the previous eTap HRD. The rotors have been revised, with an all new aluminum center. It's surface area  is considerably larger than the previous 2-piece Centerline-X rotor it replaces. The shape is also such as to catch air in order to improve cooling. The rotor surface itself seems carried over with the usual SRAM shape.


The hoods remain the same bulky shape they had as eTap HRDs. They did gain new texture work on the contact surfaces, even on the shift buttons. I grew to like the chrome highlights almost immediately, having found them off in pictures.  We have grown to like how the shape feels in the hand though they look awkward in pictures.


12 speeds necessitate a thinner chain. The AXS chain is a cool looking number with a flat top which SRAM claims is what makes this chain stronger than the 11 speed version. Installed, it really looks great!


Unfortunately, a move to AXS necessitates a new hub format called XD-R. Having been on Zipp wheels, we were fortunate have an XDR adapter available. Aside from the cost of the group, this would probably be the other great barrier to AXS.


While not the most exciting improvement found on the group, the Gear Ratio rethink may as well be the most significant. The whole AXS range has revised gear ratios equivalent to Standard, Mid-Compact and Compact. AXS gives a ratio range which encompasses its predecessor. This means faster speeds and easier climbs. 

AXS gear options are:

1. Standard 50-37, 10-26
2. Mid-Compact 48-35, 10-28
3. Compact 46-33, 10-33

or any crank-cassette combination you can mix and match above. 

As you may have noticed, the chainrings are a few teeth less than what you may be expecting. This is SRAM leveraging on the 10T. These give a slightly heavier Big Ring-Small Cog combination (~1.2%) while improving the climbing gears anywhere from 5 to 11 percent! 


Comparing normal gear ratios vs. the AXS we have the following improvements: 

Standard (50-37,10-26) vs (53-39,11-25)

Big Ring, Smallest Cog (Speed)
AXS @ 50:10 = 1:5
Red eTap @ 53:11 = 1: 1.48
1.35% better

Small Ring Biggest Cog (Climb)
AXS @ 37:26 = 1:1.42
Red eTap @ 39:25 = 1:1.56
9% better

Mid Compact (50-37,10-28) vs (52-36,11-28)

Big Ring, Smallest Cog (Speed)
AXS @ 48:10 = 1:4.8
Red eTap @ 52:11 = 1: 4.73
1.47% better

Small Ring Biggest Cog (Climb)
AXS @ 35:28 = 1:1.25
Red eTap @ 36:32 = 1:1.12
11.6% better

Compact (46-33,10-33) vs (50-34,11-32)

Big Ring, Smallest Cog (Speed)

AXS @ 46:10 = 1:4.6 
Red eTap @ 50:11 = 1: 4.54
1.3% better

Small Ring Biggest Cog (Climb)
AXS @ 33:33 = 1:1.00
Red eTap @ 34:32 = 1.06
5.7% better


So the math and the tech are there but how does it ride?

In a word, GREAT! 

For our build, we chose the compact setup as we're a bit gravitationally challenged. 

Front shifting is the first thing we noticed.... we can describe it as Shimano-like. Shimano Di2 like! 
We're not sure if this is a result of obsessive tuning by the installation team, but shift to the big ring are effortless and accurate. Shifting to the smaller ring is as fast as my previous eTap. 

Rear shifting is similarly improved. Indeed, the smaller traverse because of the extra cog meant faster shifts. This is more than just marketing propaganda as it can really be observed (having just ridden my 11 speed eTap last week). 

The group as a whole is really silent, especially the brakes.  I'm not sure if  it's the new rotors or the tuning by the install team. Probably the latter as they spent an hour per rotor while tuning it. Flat mount brakes are notoriously hard to align but the guys at Bikezilla sure got these right. 

The hoods retain the same form factor as the HRD. Not photogenic, but still comfortable. This might be subjective but we don't mind using either the sleek Di2 hoods or these. Owing to the revised texture patters, the hoods feel much grippier. The eTap shifting experience is intact, with crisp button presses and the familiar simultaneous click for FD shifts.

What bout the ratios?

It took some getting used to. And we're still getting used to it. 

The 46T is much more accessible than the 50T rings we're accustomed to. We used the big ring more and found that our cadence spiked by around 10 rpm for the same effort. The 33T made everything easier. Again, cadences were slightly up. What really suprised us was the ease of the 33:33 ratio. Steep climbs were much easier now, albeit slower. Overall, the AXS presented us an easier, smoother ride. We will have to relearn shift points an proper cadences but it's something we'll  surely resolve after a few rides.

This groupset simply changes the game.


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