Ultimate SRAM Groupset Guide: Road Bike Edition

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Though younger than its major rivals Shimano and Campagnolo, SRAM has fully established itself with innovative and cost-effective bike components.

As a major player in the groupset components market, SRAM now produces a wide range of options, from the innovative professional-grade Red eTap AXS to the entry-level Apex groupset. 

With so many different options, we’ll dive into all 4 levels of SRAM’s groupset hierarchy and their upgrades, covering: 

  • What Is A Bike Groupset?
  • SRAM Groupsets: The Background
  • SRAM Entry-Level Groupsets: Apex
  • SRAM Mid-Tier Groupsets: Rival
  • SRAM Pro-Standard Groupsets: Force and Red
  • Special Mention: SRAM XPLR Groupset

Ready for the lowdown on SRAM groupset levels for road bikes?

Let’s dive in!

SRAM Groupset Guide: Title Image

What is a Bike groupset?

A bike groupset comprises the mechanical aspects of the bike, which are responsible for propelling the bike forwards (the drivetrain) and bringing the bike to a stop (the brakes).

In other words, the groupset is every component of a bike excluding the frameset, wheels, and contact points such as the saddle, pedals, and handlebars.

A road bike groupset typically includes:

Check out our Complete Guide to the Parts of a Bike here!

Soft-focus shot of the cassette of a black road bike.

SRAM Groupsets: The Background

SRAM was born in 1987 with the introduction of the “Grip Shift”, an innovative answer to the otherwise awkward reach to the downtube to switch gears back when friction shifters were standard. 

Soon after, SRAM developed its first derailleur and adapted Grip Shift for MTB use. Establishing itself as one of the major bike component manufacturers, SRAM groupsets continue to rise in popularity.  

SRAM utilizes ‘Double Tap’ technology across its groupsets, with riders only needing to use one lever to change up and down. A single shift of the gear lever moves the derailleur in one direction. If you continue to push the lever, the derailleur is actuated in the opposite direction.

SRAM pioneered wireless electronic shifting with its Red AXS, Force AXS, and now Rival AXS groupsets. AXS is a cross-compatible wireless electronic drivetrain. In recent years, SRAM has focused on electronic groupsets, with few major updates to the mechanical groupsets.

SRAM Road Bike Groupset Hierarchy

Entry-Level: SRAM Apex Groupsets

Apex SRAM Groupset: Manufacturer Image
Credit: SRAM
  • Brakes: Rim or Hydraulic Disc
  • Drivetrain: 2 x 10-Speed or 1 x 11-Speed
  • Shifting Type: Mechanical Only
  • 1x Drivetrain Variant: Yes

Apex is SRAM’s modest entry-level groupset. No broken banks, but probably no broken Strava King of the Mountain records either.

Apex is perfect for riders after easy-pedaling gear ratios and reliable shifting without breaking the bank. It’s pitched substantially higher than Shimano’s most budget-friendly groupset, Tourney, and is more comparable to its Sora and Tiagra ranges.

Apex features SRAM’s WiFli (Wider, Faster, Lighter) system. WiFli offers a wide gear range with an 11-32 option for the rear cassette. To accommodate the more comprehensive gear range, the rear derailleur has a longer cage and slight geometry variation, neither of which affect the riding feel.

SRAM Apex 1 Variant

SRAM also offers Apex with a 1 × 11 gearing option as Apex 1.

There is just one chainring at the front and 11 gears at the rear (one more than the standard Apex groupset). A one-by-chainring simplifies the mechanical aspect of a bike, but needs to be paired with a wide-ranging cassette to accommodate the loss of gearing options. They’re more popular on mountain bike groupsets, but are increasingly appearing on road bikes too.

Depending on the landscape surrounding you, Apex 1 could be a great option.

Mid-Tier: SRAM Rival Groupsets

Rival SRAM Groupset: Manufacturer Image
Credit: SRAM
  • Brakes: Rim or Hydraulic Disc
  • Cassette: 11-Speed or 12-Speed options
  • Shifting: Mechanical or Electronic (eTap AXS)
  • 1x Drivetrain Variant: Yes

Rival is SRAM’S answer to Shimano’s 105 groupset, aimed at the intermediate rider.

Rival is made from lighter materials than Apex and still offers a wide 11-speed cassette, but utilizes borrowed technology from SRAM’s upper-end groupsets.

SRAM Rival 1 Variant

Like Apex, SRAM offers its Rival groupset with a 1x chainring configuration, named Rival 1.

Unlike Apex 1, Rival 1 doesn’t gain an extra cog on the cassette through ditching the second chainring at the front, so it remains a 1 x 11 drivetrain.

SRAM Rival eTap AXS Variant

2021 saw SRAM launch an electronic-shifting variant of Rival using its eTap AXS technology.

Shimano have since introduced the 105 Di2 groupset as competition to the Rival eTap AXS. SRAM’s offering remains substantially cheaper, however, and is fully wireless – unlike Shimano’s semi-wireless set-up.

Wireless means there are no cables between the shifters and the mechs and no cables connecting components, reducing clutter and simplifying the groupset’s layout.

Rival eTap AXS uses SRAM’s app-based configuration and power meter data via a smartphone.

SRAM’s Pro-Standard Groupsets: Force and Red

SRAM Force Groupsets

Force SRAM Groupset: Manufacturer Image
Credit: SRAM
  • Brakes: Rim or Hydraulic Disc
  • Cassette: 11-Speed or 12-Speed options
  • Shifting: Mechanical or Electronic (eTap AXS)
  • 1x Drivetrain Variant: Yes

If you’re an intermediate or elite-level rider searching for a lightweight, high-performing SRAM groupset, look no further. SRAM force is comparable in performance to Shimano Ultegra, though tends to be slightly cheaper.

SRAM Force has similar technology and capabilities compared to the cheaper SRAM Rival groupset. But at this price point, the Force groupset uses lightweight materials, replacing many aluminum components with carbon. The biggest difference between the two groupsets is therefore in their weight.

A traditional 53/39 setup is available, along with 52/36, 50/34, and 46/36 options.

SRAM Force 1 Variant

Like both Apex and Rival, a 1x drivetrain option is available as the Force 1.

The Force 1 groupset is extremely popular in elite cross-country mountain bike racing and cyclocross. As the top-of-the-line Red range is exclusively offered with a double chainring, Force 1 is the highest-grade SRAM groupset that still provides the benefits of a 1x drivetrain.

Force 1 is increasingly being used on more crit-specific and triathlon bikes that don’t require an extensive gear range.

SRAM Force eTap AXS Variant

SRAM added the high-performing Force eTap AXS to its line in 2019.

Force eTap AXS is a 12-speed electronic groupset with a power meter that directly challenges the Shimano Ultergra Di2.

Force eTap AXS was initially released with low gearing for a road groupset, and the lowest option originally was a 46/33t crank with a 10-33t cassette. In 2020, SRAM increased the potential of Force eTap AXS by adding wider-range gearing options.

SRAM Red Groupsets

Red SRAM Groupset: Manufacturer Image
Credit: SRAM
  • Brakes: Rim or Hydraulic Disc
  • Cassette: 11-Speed or 12-Speed options
  • Shifting: Mechanical or Electronic (eTap AXS)
  • 1x Drivetrain Variant: No

SRAM Red is a top-of-the-range elite groupset, and is a direct competitor to Shimano Dura-Ace and Campagnolo Super Record. It was built for pro-level riders and adopted by professional cycling teams and top-level triathletes.

SRAM Red is also available in a WiFli option, allowing for an ultra-wide range of gears.

SRAM Red is the lightest commercially-available groupset on the market, weighing just 1,747g. SRAM achieves this by using lightweight materials throughout the groupset, including high-grade alloys, plenty of carbon fiber, titanium, and ceramic bearings.

SRAM Red eTap AXS Variant

SRAM launched Red eTap in 2015 as an upgrade to the original SRAM Red. Shortly after the initial launch, SRAM released the superior 12-speed Red eTap AXS.

Red eTap AXS is the top-tier groupset of SRAM’s groupset range for road bikes. They are widely used in the Grand Tours, including by teams such as Trek-Segafredo and Movistar.

There are a host of upgrades from the mechanical version of the Red groupset, with whopping cassettes up to 10-36t, direct-mount chainrings, a fluid-clutch rear derailleur, and improved shift speed. There’s also an integrated power meter on the crank spindle and app-based configuration. The Orbit chain-management system has also been introduced to maintain tension in the chain.

Although the batteries are tiny in size, they still boast up to a 1,000km range with a recharge time of just 45 minutes.

Special Mention: SRAM XPLR AXS Groupset

XPLR SRAM Groupset: Manufacturer Image
  • Brakes: Hydraulic Disc
  • Cassette: 12-Speed
  • Shifting: Electronic

The XPLR groupset is designed for those looking to embark on the roads less traveled – in other words, gravel riders – in an attempt to fill the gap between SRAM’s road-specific and mountain bike groupsets.

Although not strictly a road bike groupset, there are different tiers of SRAM XPLR AXS groupsets equating to Red, Force, and Rival. Each variant of eTap AXS has a unique rear derailleur design to ensure correct gearing for each level.

It boasts 12-speed gearing in a dedicated 1× drivetrain layout, with cassettes that have a vast 10-44-tooth range. The cassette is the centerpiece, providing an extensive range of gears ready to tackle any climb.

SRAM’s XPLR groupsets are a worthy rival to Shimano‘s GRX range.

Parts of a bike groupset littered across a wooden floor.

which SRAM Groupset is best for you?

There are a lot of different options when it comes to SRAM groupsets. If you have a budget in mind, stick to it.

If you have big dreams with regard to racing in the future or taking on a big challenge, you may reach a point where your groupset is not able to keep up with you.

As you venture into the realm of higher-end groupsets, you’ll begin to get more gears, less weight, and potentially unique features. However, many groupsets share technology, so crucial areas like braking are often standardized. Once you push towards the upper-middle tiers, performance on the bike will often be largely indistinguishable.

All things equal, a good night’s rest and a belly full of pasta will probably give you a larger kick than upgrading from a SRAM Force eTap AXS to a SRAM Red eTap AXS!

Found this SRAM groupset guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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As a qualified sports massage therapist and personal trainer with eight years' experience in the field, Ben plays a leading role in BikeTips' injury and recovery content. Alongside his professional experience, Ben is an avid cyclist, splitting his time between his road and mountain bike. He is a particular fan of XC ultra-endurance biking, but nothing beats bikepacking with his mates. Ben has toured extensively throughout the United Kingdom, French Alps, and the Pyrenees ticking off as many iconic cycling mountains as he can find. He currently lives in the Picos de Europa of Spain's Asturias region, a stone's throw from the legendary Altu de 'Angliru - a spot that allows him to watch the Vuelta a España roll past his doorstep each summer.

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