SRAM Blips, and the Future of Wireless Bar-End Shifting

A reader on our Forum wrote, about Shimano’s new Dura Ace and Ultegra launches, “For TT and tri bikes, no new remote shifter options, you have to do a firmware update to older parts and run the system fully wired?? Really?”

Yes. Really! Shimano would’ve been dumb to spend its development money on us. We haven’t earned it.

Bike Imports into the U.S. declined annually since 2012. Either by causation or correlation America lost interest in cycling the same year Lance Armstrong fell from grace. America has enjoyed 3 cycling booms in my lifetime, each spurred by a strong American on the world scene: Alexi Grewal, Greg LeMond, and Lance Armstrong.

But something changed in 2020. America didn’t fall in love with an American cyclist; it fell in love with cycling. America imported as many bikes over the last year as it did in 2012, with no signs of slowing down. But what component makers spent their money on developing were parts for road, gravel, MTB and e-bikes, because that’s where the growth has been.

Triathlon can be excused for its laggard behavior because tri bikes, like tri wetsuits, aero helmets, number belts and 6 ounce running shoes don’t sell until they're needed for a race. If there is no racing, there is no need to buy a race-specific product. Tri bikes began to sell this spring because racing resumed (though our current COVID spike has re-complicated our race schedules).

Accordingly, both SRAM and Shimano are looking at the market, and they’ll invest in tech when there’s a compelling business reason to do so. Of course, SRAM – in the form of its daughter brand Zipp – already has a wireless shifter. It’s built into a Zipp extension, I’ve used it and written about it. There are two problems with this product: First, it’s $867 for the pair. Second, you have to want these extensions. If you’re riding (say) a bike with proprietary extensions, or you want a set of the new-style full-length armrest cups like the Speedbar, this is not the ideal product.

Enter SRAM’s wireless blip for AXS 12 speed shifting (pictured here), first seen on CyclingTips. This can be attached to an extension in any number of ways available in my workshop: zip tie, 2-sided tape, epoxy. Attachment is not a problem. Like a tick, these shifters latch onto any available surface. Each blip is powered by a coin cell battery and capable of about two-years-worth of charge under fairly heavy use.

The downside of these blips is that they are not chargeable, nor are the coin cells replaceable. You would need to spend an extra $X every two years (your mileage may vary), or until that product is updated by one that has a longer lifespan. I think SRAM’s decision to bring these from a pro-only boutique manufacturing run to a for-sale product will depend on how triathletes respond to the notion of the current product, as-is. What I hope SRAM might bear in mind is that this product may for some be the key that unlocks the sale of an entire groupset.

I would buy this product, or not, depending on the price. I would want to see the status of the batteries, at least on the AXS app, and preferably on a head unit. As reported, Shimano sends wireless data for its coin cell batteries in its new 9200 and 8100 groupsets, and gives the APIs to head unit makers. It’s up to Garmin, Wahoo, Stages et al to integrate into their units fields that display the output.

Taking my Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM as an example, through the Wahoo app I can add or subtract as many pages as I want, and I’ve been noodling adding a page just for battery status: left and right coin cell, main battery or in the case of SRAM, FD and RD batteries, power meter and whatever else that’s got a battery. I can live with a unit that will eventually cease to function (as this SRAM wireless blip will), but I can't live with the Coin Cell of Damocles poised to drop on me in the middle of a ride or race. I need to know how much juice remains.

I do wonder whether the recent Right To Repair executive order might impact blips that you can’t fix. It may depend on the price of a disposable SRAM blip. But it is chicken or egg. SRAM wouldn’t know how to price a product until it has a fairly good idea how many it might sell. You all must signal your interest, but you can’t until you know the price. I’ll see if I can figure out a way to move this process along. If you want to enter the discussion there's been a thread on this since that blip was first seen in the wild.