Red hot

I haven't posted in a while right? It's not for the lack of news and races as we just went through the thick of the cyclocross season with National Championships, the last few World Cups and the World Championships. I also started training a bit and plan to do a lot more than last year... it's just that I'm semi-homeless these days, staying a few days here, a few days there. The website took a hit but my facebook page gets more regular updates as does my twitter page. But, this place isn't dead and it should get back to normal gradually, starting with today's big, not really new, news:

SRAM finally let the cat out of the bag with the official launch of the 2013 Red group. A single surprise from what we had gathered... well mostly what James Huang had gathered.

We had seen the new levers with a smaller body, longer blades and textured hoods, the smaller, lighter and cam actuated brake calipers, the XX-style machined cassette with elastomer rings between cogs to dampen noise, quieter pulleys on the new rear derailleur and the front derailleur with the 'yaw' feature that eliminates the need to trim and the only surprise, a semi-integrated chaincatcher.

What do I think? I'm not sold on electronic groups like Di2 and EPS and even if they work very well, I think their pricing is waaaaay too expensive for the added benefit they provide. If I didn't have to pay for my parts (well most of the time), I might consider them but I still see mechanical groups as the best value for most. The Red group was already pretty much the lightest and cheapest of the top-end mechanical options (and worlds cheaper compared to electronic groups), the new one is even lighter, another big win, and pricing is virtually the same as before. A mechanical transmission is also dead simple, easy to understand, easy to work on, easy to setup and adjust. Electronics are super easy to setup thanks to nice programming but if the issue is in the programming, what do you do on the side of the road?

As for SRAM sticking with 10 speeds vs 11 speeds for Campagnolo and Shimano's next groups. I never felt like I needed another cog. I'm sure I'd like to have tighter gearing with the same spread though. It's one of those things that, as long as you don't try it or at least get used to it, you don't really need it. It's not a deal breaker but I think it would have been nice to make the leap to a 11 speed cassette.

As for the improvements over the old loved Red. It all looks like winners to me. I like the new lighter brakes, they're apparently more aero and more powerful. I don't see myself ditching my Cannondale Hollowgram SL cranksets anytime soon so I wont talk about the Red crankset apart that I don't really like it's look (if that matters). The lighter and more silent cassette is the smartest cassette design I have seen (as long as it's on a road bike, more below about that) and the new trimless front derailleur sounds good to me. With even Alberto Contador using Apex gearing in some races featuring very steep climbs, SRAM will also have a Red rear derailleur compatible with up to a 32 tooth big cog.

It might not look like the most striking change but the new levers are one of the things I'm the most curious about. Having more space for fingers under the hoods is something I really welcome, especially for cyclocross. The lever bodies being smaller and squarer should help too. Levers are not the most exciting parts of a bike but it's one of the interface you are 'playing' with the most directly in a groupset, having great ergonomics is very important in my book, one of the top reasons I wont touch Shimano road groups with a ten foot pole...

One thing to note though is that the new cassette, with the elastomer rings between each cogs covers most machined openings that would allow for mud to pass through in cyclocross. You can use the cassette without the rings but even then, the holes are not as big and not between each cogs unlike the XX mountain bike cassette. So I think cyclocross bikes will probably still stick with SRAM's more conventional lower-end cassettes.

Cable pull are the same compared to SRAM's current road groups so everything is pretty much mix-matchable with your current parts with one half-exception. If you were to fit a new front derailleur with the old levers, you would have useless trim positions... but the opposite wouldn't be too nice, the old derailleur would lose it's needed trim if used with the new levers. Cog and chainring spacing is unchanged and the old chain carries on so everything will be compatible there too.

Word on the streets is that Red branded hydraulic disc brakes and rim brakes (à la Magura) and matching hydraulic road levers are not yet ready but coming... maybe before year's end so as 2013 models too. The rest should start to appear this spring... I wonder if complete 2012 bikes specced with the old Red will take a hit in sales now though...

Sources: cyclingnews.com and bikerumor.com for more pictures and technical graphics.

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