If you ask Slowtwitchers what component group “would offer you the best performance for your needs on your next tri bike,” two-in-three choose Shimano. Eight percent choose something on the fringe and the remainder, 26 percent, say SRAM.
That percentage may tick up a little after today. SRAM hinted at a Force-level eTap AXS when it debuted RED eTap AXS to the cycling world in January. The Force version, which I saw 2 weeks ago, will sell in the aftermarket at prices a quarter to a third lower than you'd spend on the RED version. The spec and options are pretty much the same as with RED: 12 speed cassette; 10-tooth 1st position cog, and 2 chain ring size options, each with a 13-tooth differential (48x35; 46x33).
The ergonomics of the road shift controls are just like RED, and this is my one and, really, only gripe with both groupsets: I still think the hydraulic road levers could be more comfortable to my hands, and it could be as simple as a closer look at the rubber grip that fits over them. But… small matter.
The major mechanical difference between Force and RED eTap AXS occurs in and about the crank. Remember, the Quarq power meter is built into the chain rings in RED, and the chain rings are all and only direct-mount. The Force crank is made just like RED, with an 8-bolt pattern, and this has been SRAM’s motif for the last few years. There used to be 3 Torx T25 bolts that affixed a spider (or whatever) to the drive side crankarm. The 8-bolt system replaced this (you can clearly see the 8-bolt system in the attached images). Both RED and Force eTap AXS retain this, but the only thing you could bolt onto the crankarm, in RED, was a direct mount chain ring set.
With Force, yes, you can still operate in the direct mount world. But there’s also a 4-bolt spider available, so that you can bolt chain rings onto the spider. This appears the typical Force AXS configuration (as you see from the images). But that Quarq chain ring based PM that goes on the RED system can’t work with a spider in between it and the crank. The PM for the RED groupset must be, and is only, built into the chain ring set that bolts directly onto the crankarm via that 8-bolt system.
The Quarq PM for this new Force groupset is attached directly onto the spider, as you see in the attached images. Some folks will like this better, because they think it ill-advised that Quarq’s RED PM is attached to what amounts to a consumable (a chain ring). I can understand this thinking, because bike brands have tried to save as much money on OE spec as they can, and have spec’d chain rings so soft they truly are consumables (consumed pretty quickly). Not so the chain rings on this PM. To resume…
The RED and Force crank parts are pretty well cross-compatible. There are direct mount aero (solid) chain rings for this Force groupset.
This new groupset comes in both disc and rim brake configs, and comes as 2x or 1x. This groupset is available now, or very soon. I asked about who’s spec’ing the group now, which bike makers, and the price points of those bikes, you should expect to see road bikes (at least) in the mid-$4000s spec’d with this group, which situates Force eTap AXS in the Di2 Ultegra price range.
For tri bikes, you’ll see the group with the new smaller Blip Box introduced when RED eTap AXS was debuted, and the Blip Box, Clics and Blips are not groupset specific. Also, refer to our prior coverage of AXS (links just below) about the AXS app and how to configure, customize and maintain AXS groupsets.
SRAM has been only a peripheral player in price point electronic groupsets, because it’s not had a price analog to Di2 Ultegra. Force eTap AXS now should finally get SRAM into that game. That said, this groupset is built for a breadth of use cases: road, tri and gravel, 1x or 2x.
One question triathletes will ask is whether a 48x35 set of chain rings delivers a big enough gear. This is the largest Force eTap AXS offers (RED offers a 50x37). A 48x10 calcs out to 126 gear inches. It's equivalent to a 53x11. If a 53x11 is not big enough for you, then, two things: First, you'll need to move to a different groupset, like RED, or a RED direct mount chain ring set onto a Force crank; second, if you truly need more than a 53x11, we've probably written about you in these pages already!
Late add about pricing: There's a thread on our Reader Forum about this new groupset. A couple of readers requested more specificity on pricing discounts from RED. Here are some comparisons to RED eTap AXS.
Below are aftermarket MSRPs, bearing in mind that SRAM has a min and a max recommended MSRP. I only have a single MSRP for Force (not a min and max). I'm comparing this to RED's min pricing:
2x Hydraulic Road Disc Brake: RED: $3,648: Force: $2,678. it's about 26.5 percent less if you use RED's min MSRP pricing.
2x Rim Brake: $3,488 RED: Force: $2,478. here it's around 30 percent less, 29 percent less if you use the min pricing, around 30 or 31 if you use the max pricing.
These prices assume without Quarq power meters. I know what happens to the RED prices when you add Quarq PMs, but I don't have the Force prices w/PMs yet.
Of interest, especially to gravel riders, might be the 1x hydraulic groupsets. Force eTap AXS sells in the aftermarket for $2,328 compared to RED's $3,178, a 27 percent discount. The biggest discount is on 1x rim brake, where Force is about 32 percent less than RED.