Just a little under a year after Shimano launched 105 Di2, the electronic-shifting shifting version of its third-rung groupset, SRAM has raised - or rather lowered - the bar by electrifying Apex, the fourth groupset in its hierarchy, and upping the sprocket count.
Alongside the new 12-speed Apex AXS groupset SRAM is offering a 1x12 Apex mechanical groupset with hydraulic disc brakes.
SRAM has scrapped the old 2x10 Apex that was starting to look a little long in the (non-Narrow Wide) tooth and now it’s 1x12 or nothing, pointing to a move away from traditional road setups for the simpler, lower-end component range. By contrast Red, Force and Rival AXS are all principally double chainring, with 1x ‘XPLR’ (pronounced ‘explore’) gravel-specific components available for each level.
But for the new Apex, the emphasis is now on accessibility and versatility, and while flat-bar bikes are welcome, front derailleurs are not invited.
SRAM says Apex is for “gravel, groceries and everything else” - and includes a flat-bar compatible shifter option so that users can “keep the focus on what matters most - finding the fun”.
For those who might want to measure how many watts they produce while hauling the groceries, there’s a spindle-based power meter upgrade offered.
Apex AXS is now the most affordable electronic groupset from the ‘big three’ - Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo - at £1,262 (standard version without the power meter). At the time of its launch last June, Shimano 105 Di2 had a price tag of £1,730.
The mechanical version of the new SRAM Apex 1x12 groupset costs £1,060.
As for weights, SRAM lists 2,890g for standard electronic and 2.872g for standard mechanical.
Apex AXS’s shifters have the same hood shape as Force and Rival - plenty of surface area for security with good scope for aero handholds and a squared-off, boxy front.
The shifting works the same as for all the other SRAM electronic shifters - one side for a higher gear and the other for lower. Conventionally it’s the right side to change up and left to change down but, as with the other groupsets, you can reconfigure shifting buttons via the app.
They work wirelessly like other SRAM shifters, taking CR2032 batteries that SRAM says can last up to two years.
Reach adjustment is also possible to cater for smaller hands.
The mechanical Apex shifters have the same hood shape - housing the hydraulic fluid reservoirs - and look identical at a glance.
The DoubleTap shifting system is as it’s always been (right hand shifter only of course).
The electronic Apex AXS XPLR derailleur is designed specifically for 1x and SRAM says it will work with 11-44, 10-44 and 10-46 cassettes only. As already mentioned, there’s only a 1x XPLR gravel version on offer with new Apex.
For even more extreme off-road terrain you could opt for the Apex AXS Eagle rear derailleur, which can climb up to a large cog of 52 teeth for a ‘mullet’ setup.
Meanwhile the mechanical Apex XPLR 1x rear derailleur will accommodate a maximum 44T bottom gear, while the mechanical Apex Eagle option (again, for more extreme terrain) can go to 52T.
The new Apex derailleurs, including mechanical, have a more basic spring clutch mechanism like Rival, rather than the more expensive Orbit fluid type as used by Red and Force.
The new Apex electronic rear derailleurs do, however, use the same removable batteries as all SRAM derailleurs.
The new Apex chainset is obviously the same regardless of electronic or mechanical shifting. The cranks are forged aluminium rather than the lighter carbon ones that come with Red and Force. The chainset is 1x only, with a choice of 38T, 40T and 42T direct-mount-style chainrings offered.
Apex has its own 12-speed flattop chain with a PowerLock link, which SRAM says shares the same construction of the Force and Rival chains except it comes with a matt grey finish.
And finally, Apex gets its own flat-mount disc brakes, compatible with DOT 5.1 brake fluid. There are no mechanical disc brakes and rim brakes don’t even get a passing mention in SRAM’s launch material.
With this new Apex groupset it looks like SRAM has everything well covered for the modern electronic-geared, disc-braked bike that can do anything and go anywhere without costing the extreme amounts we’ve been starting to see in the last few years - and it could set a new standard for affordable, versatile yet high-performance groupsets.
Retail availability for electronic SRAM Apex AXS is June 2023, and for Apex mechanical, September 2023.