A powerful Force

Component manufacturer SRAM has a history of innovation in the cycling industry and its latest release, an all-new SRAM Force groupset, is no exception. Improved shifting, rainbow colours and race-ready gearing, could this be the best yet?

This article was produced in associated with SRAM. 

The story goes that SRAM was born out of one bright idea and a makeshift workshop in a garage. In 1987, SRAM’s founder Stan Day decided that he was fed up with reaching down awkwardly to shift gears on the downtube of his bike. In that very moment, inspiration struck: he came up with a plan to create a twist shifter that could sit on a rider’s handlebar. Excitedly, he shared this idea with his friend and engineer, Sam Patterson, who created a prototype shifter known as Grip Shift. This was SRAM’s first ever product and it is the roots from which the industry giant we know today grew. It’s said that the best ideas come when you’re least expecting them.

Now, more than three decades after Grip Shift was invented, SRAM is a global player when it comes to groupsets and componentry. It’s a brand that regularly makes headlines for innovative new releases, be that the introduction of wireless shifting or 12-speed cassettes. For 2023, the number-one ranked WorldTour men’s team and its women’s equivalent, Jumbo-Visma, are rolling on SRAM groupsets – you can hardly ask for a better advertisement of a product’s high-performance qualities than it being used by one of the most successful teams in the sport.

But SRAM is a brand which has always offered multiple options when it comes to componentry for different rider types, catering for amateurs and pros, off-road, gravel, road riding and everything in between. Its latest release is perhaps the most exciting yet from the trailblazing company: a new SRAM Force AXS groupset. It is high-performance, elite level componentry at a palatable price point. SRAM says this is the best ever front shifting at Force level with improved shifter ergonomics and attractive aesthetics.

Although it doesn’t sit at the top of the brand’s groupset range as the second tier below the premium SRAM group, SRAM Red, the SRAM Force range has always played an important role in the brand’s identity and history. In 2006, SRAM launched its first ever Force and Rival mechanical 10-speed groupsets, with SRAM Force being introduced then as the lightest groupset on the market, designed with ergonomics and crisp shifting as a primary focus. In 2019, SRAM launched the SRAM Force eTap AXS groupset, stealing a march on its competitors by bringing wireless shifting to an even wider audience base. Gone were the days of wireless electronic shifting being reserved for superbikes and professional riders, SRAM’s trickle-down tech meant that Force eTap AXS became one of the most popular specifications that the American brand offers.

“When we launched Force AXS alongside Red AXS, it was the first time Force was electronic, so we brought two new tiers of electronic components to the market,” explains SRAM’s Road Product Manager, Dan Stefiuk. “Since then, we saw that there were opportunities to update Force. We knew we wanted to shed some weight compared to our competition, we wanted to take the challenge head-on to Shimano Ultegra and improve shifting performance. We also had demand to make Force a race-ready groupset. We have been able to take the best of our Red groupset and elements of our Rival groupset and improve upon those to deliver and elevate Force to be the best bang for your buck with performance, an elevated finish and a price point that reaches a pretty wide rider base and spec base within the market.”

There are some notable areas in which SRAM has focused its efforts to improve its Force groupset: shifter ergonomics, front shifting performance, aesthetics and more gearing options.

When it comes to the shifter shape, SRAM has moved the latest iteration of Force to a narrower grip which should reduce the risk of hand fatigue. With inspiration taken from the current SRAM Rival shifter shape, SRAM used rider feedback and numerous tests on different hand sizes in order to optimise the new shifter shape, understanding how crucial it is to get right as a major touch point on the bicycle. The shape of the hood retains the trademark, notable SRAM style, but has more clearance under the hood, to improve finger routing and eliminate zones where there was previously a risk of braking into the handlebars.

“We want a hood shape that fits nicely in the hand and caters to small hand sizes and large. I think the biggest thing is having a cockpit and a handlebar setup where you safely access the brake levers and you can dial it in to reach the position that you want,” says Stefiuk.

Comparing the old and new SRAM shifters side by side, the newer iteration has
a shorter hood reservoir which SRAM says was made possible by the removal of the pad contact adjustment that previously sat in the shifter. (Rider surveys showed that this feature wasn’t well-used by customers.) The brake levers on the new Force AXS shifters are closer to the handlebars to allow improved access and the reach of the shifters can be adjusted and customised.

Another upgrade to the new Force shifters is the removal of auxiliary ports which have been replaced with the option of adding wireless blips (satellite shifters) instead. While there was previously only one auxiliary shifter per control on SRAM Force, it is now possible to add up to six new blips per groupset which can be customised and set up to the type of riding you do through the AXS app.

“The main thing, going from prior generation Force, is that there you only have the ability to set up one. Now, if you want, you can have six,” Stefiuk explains. “You can have one specifically for the front derailleur. You can have them set up as just normal shifting, all these different things. So they’re customisable.”

Controlling your gears through shifters and satellite shifters is one thing, but shifting performance is also an area on which groupset manufacturers place a huge focus. SRAM’s Force AXS groupset features some striking looking, integrated style, fully machined chainrings which are similar to the SRAM Red chainrings. They aim to improve stiffness, speed and the accuracy of the front shifting. Not only this, they are said to be more durable alongside a DUB bottom bracket. For many riders, post-ride data analysis can be as much fun as the ride itself, so SRAM also offers a power unit integrated into these chainrings which is said to be more accurate and lighter than its competitors, as well as being unaffected by temperature changes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a brand with innovation at its core, SRAM is constantly looking for ways to cater its new releases to the demands of the modern cyclist. While Force is a performance road groupset, with gravel riding and all-road riding rising exponentially in popularity, SRAM, like others, has recognised the desire for more versatile equipment that can handle a wider range of terrain. Being able to take a bike off the beaten path and not be worried about whether it will withstand the rough stuff is a dream scenario for bike riders today, and SRAM has done well to make it a reality with SRAM Force AXS.

The new Force AXS groupset offers two rear derailleur options: one standard single cage length which is compatible with both 1x and 2x drivetrains and can be used for road, cyclo-cross or gravel, and a specific gravel XPLR AXS rear derailleur. They feature SRAM’s Orbit fluid damper which aims to keep the chain in control and the drivetrain quiet and secure. In addition, SRAM also says that it wants to make measuring power as easy as possible for all riders, so has introduced a SRAM Force AXS crank arm power meter option to the range which can be easily added to any bike.

Unlike its competitors, SRAM doesn’t offer any specific gravel components apart from its XPLR AXS rear derailleur and cassette. With this, its offerings are simpler and can be easily interchangeable across different bikes.

“We feel that our ergonomics have enough range, they can cover both use cases [road and gravel] really well. I know our competition has a different approach to it. Our sense is that it works well in both situations; there’s no need to confuse things. Consistency is another great point,” explains Stefiuk. The brand says that it wants to give riders options and choice, be that for crit racing, gravel riding or all-road riding, as well as offering a consistent shifter shape and ride feel if a rider uses a SRAM Force groupset on multiple different bikes.

The improvements that have been made to SRAM Force extend further than the groupset’s hardware, too. The SRAM AXS app has always been an integral part of what a customer gets when they purchase a groupset from the company, with it offering multiple features and functionalities to improve riding experience.

On the AXS app, riders can create bike profiles, look at battery status and customise components that are on the bike. For example, it can be used to adjust and trim the derailleur when the bike is still on the bike stand. Wireless blips and controls can be assigned via the app and post-ride, if riders have a head unit which has been paired with a rear derailleur, the app allows a rider to look at ride diagnostics, including power and a heat map. They can also see what gear they have spent the most time in, meaning they can then decide on the optimum chainring and cassette size.

“Our ethos has always been to remove barriers and bring our shift logic, ease of setup and customisable features on the app down to different price points throughout our product line. The performance and a lot of the features that you get at the Red level are experienced throughout Force and Rival as well. That’s our approach. That’s what AXS is: connected components,” says Stefiuk.

It’s fair to say that SRAM has got the performance elements of the new Force groupset covered, but aesthetics have played an important part in the development of the new release, too. No riders want to ruin their favourite frame with unattractive components, so improving the overall look of SRAM Force was also a focus for the company. Smaller logos with multicoloured, iridescent graphics adorn the shifters, cranks and rear derailleur, with SRAM explaining that its Taiwan development team helped create a ‘unicorn grey’ colourway which gives off a pop of colour in the sun.

So the question remains, if SRAM Force is so good, how can it be beaten by SRAM Red, the groupset that remains the most expensive in the SRAM line-up? It’s an answer SRAM weren’t afraid to give when asked, explaining that the main benefit of using SRAM Red as opposed to Force is the lower weight of the Red groupset. “Although we shed about 100 grammes from the Force groupset, which is significant because it’s hard to pull weight out, Red is lighter. When riders are seeking the small advantages, weight is an advantage,” explains Stefiuk.

Otherwise, SRAM Force is made to be a performance, race-ready groupset that’s suitable for professional and amateur cyclists alike. Whether it will take you deep into the final throes of a road or gravel race, or on multi-day adventures, it’s a groupset that’s designed to be flexible, customisable and versatile enough to do it all. With more comfortable shifter shapes, improved front shifting, better aesthetics and even more gearing options, SRAM has left no stone unturned with Force. When it comes to choosing between Force and Red, there’s becoming less and less to sway a buyer to the more expensive option, but this isn’t a problem for SRAM themselves. “To be honest, that’s a dilemma we’re actually willing to accept,” says Stefiuk. “We want Force to be what riders need.” 

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