“In the new era, thought itself will be transmitted by radio.” -Guglielmo Marconi
Minimalism. Simplicity. Elegance. Tenets of how we build bikes, aesthetic considerations that lend themselves to supreme function. The industry trend towards routing mechanical shifting into the frame is one we regard with about as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist. Wired electronic shifting, with its mess of wires, boxes, and complexity can be as archaic as early automobile satellite navigation systems. Given our druthers, we’re luddites who prefer to keep from stuffing junction boxes into awkward nooks in frames, from ugly cables running in awkward angles to derailleurs, and from troubleshooting weird drivetrain noise caused by a shift cable friction point somewhere deep inside the carbon layup. Give us cable stops, or give us death.
Enter the high-end road market’s proverbial whipping boy: SRAM. Arriving full-force on the road scene in 2006 like the brash American 7-Eleven cycling team hitting Europe in the mid-1980s, the landing was less than graceful. Teething issues, controversial NASCAR-esque aesthetics, a disc brake SNAFU, and being six years late to the electronic shifting party all contributed to SRAM being the butt of many a joke not only in retailers, but in the pro peloton and amongst bike manufacturers. Ghosts of the past still linger, even as the company turns out road groups and innovations that have been standout performers, going toe-to-toe with the competition.
All of that changes now. SRAM’s long-awaited venture into electronic shifting has arrived: Red eTap. If you haven’t perused the litany of articles that have been floating around since the summer, the short story: It’s wireless. It’s been under development for a long time. And it’s actually really, really, really…good.
We’ve been fortunate enough to be one of the only entities outside of pro teams and SRAM employees to have the group in our grubby hands and on a few special bikes for the past few weeks. We got together with a few of our partner frame manufacturers and produced some eTap-specific, Above Category-exclusive framesets to give the bits a good run-through on. Our ask? No holes. No guides. Baum Cycles, Orbea Bicycles, and Mosaic Cycles were all happy to oblige in titanium, carbon, and titanium, respectively.
And ride it, we have. It’s not remarkably different from the other ways you can shift a bike now, yes, but it has those things we prize so dearly: Minimalism. Simplicity. Elegance. Gone are the garish logos that might not look out of place at Daytona, replaced with stealthy black-on-black and sedate red highlights (a treatment trickling to mechanical Red, we’re told). There are no wires. No junction boxes dangling off stems. No convoluted frame routing. Even the shifting has a certain grace to it. Instead of the typical right shifter/rear derailleur and left shifter/front derailleur setup we’re accustomed to, eTap uses both shifters to actuate both derailleurs. Bump the right paddle to shift the rear derailleur down into a smaller (harder) cog, bump the left to go up to a bigger (easier) gear. Hit them both at the same time to shift the front derailleur. The first couple of shifts were the extent of our learning curve, and it’s one that we daresay might feel more natural than the more conventional method. The tactile feel of the shift paddle is much more pronounced than Shimano’s Di2 system that’s almost mouse-clickey, but still easy enough to depress with our pinkies (a favored method).
Our only complaints after 500 miles, wet roads, muddy trails, and the dunk tank of a Marin County El Niño winter? The system is a hair slower than Di2 and EPS. A hair. And, much like SRAM’s mechanical groups, the gear changes are a little harsher than the Italian and Japanese competition. Durability issues? Zero. We haven’t even had to adjust the derailleur on-ride from initial installs. The battery charge interval is shorter, about 60 hours of ride time, which we actually don’t mind. How often have we been on rides when a member of the group has a dead battery, haven forgotten to plug in their electronic bike because the charge interval is several months long?
Our AC-exclusive Orbea Orca might be one of the only production carbon bikes available without shift routing.
Still, there’s something about Mosaic’s demure raw titanium that works so well with the minimalism of the SRAM wireless changers.
Baum’s exquisite paintwork was kept lower-key – on purpose. The Arctic Silver base coat is almost a pearlescent shade of titanium, giving more space to what isn’t going on elsewhere on the bike, rather than what is.
Will wireless change the way we ride bikes? No. Will it change the way bikes are designed and built? Absolutely.
On offer are the above three models from Baum, Orbea, and Mosaic as our initial preorder foray into SRAM eTap. Groups are slated for a late February delivery with extremely limited availability. All frames are wireless-specific and exclusive to Above Category. Spec includes a Zipp carbon wheelset (202, 303, or 404), a SRAM Red Quarq powermeter, and a fi’zi:k R1 carbon cockpit.
Baum Corretto eTap – Early April
Mosaic RT-1 eTap – Late February
Orbea Orca OMR eTap – Late February
Give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415)339-9250 to put an eTap bike on order. Quantities are very limited.