As rumours swirled over the winter about a new release from componentry giant SRAM, few expected it to be an upgrade to their second-tier offering in the form of a new Force groupset. The American company has today unveiled the details behind its latest SRAM Force AXS groupset, releasing it with the aim of elevating the groupset’s finish and technology to make it performance-ready and attainable for everyday cyclists.
Despite it not sitting at the top of the SRAM's groupset offerings, SRAM Force 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.
As cycling has developed in recent years with the modern rider becoming more demanding of the terrain their equipment can handle, SRAM has developed its Force groupset to have more capabilities for high-performance road cycling, but also all-road and gravel riding. The most-recent Force AXS groupset (SRAM has dropped the ‘eTap’ part of the name), sees upgrades to Force shifter ergonomics, the front shifting system, the AXS app, the addition of a third chainring size combination and spindle-based power meter, as well as a complete overhaul of the usual Force aesthetics with some snazzy logos and graphics.
Improved shifter ergonomics
One of the key features of the new SRAM Force AXS groupset is the changed hood shape. It seems like SRAM has heard the cries of many complaining about the wide and chunky previous Force shifters, changing the latest iteration to a narrower grip which should reduce the risk of hand fatigue. With inspiration taken from the current SRAM Rival shifter shape, SRAM says it 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 a notable SRAM style, but has more clearance under the hood and to improve finger routing and eliminate zones where there was previously a risk of pulling the brake lever into the handlebars.
Comparing the old and new SRAM Force shifters side by side, the newer iteration has a shorter hood reservoir which SRAM says was possible to achieve by the removal of the pad contact adjustment feature that previously sat in the shifter (rider surveys showed that this 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 using a 2.5mm allen key.
Another upgrade to the new Force shifters is the removal of the auxiliary ports which have been replaced with the option of adding wireless blips. While there was previously only one auxiliary shifter per control on SRAM Force, it is now possible to add up to six new satellite shifters (blips) per groupset which can be customised and set up to the type of riding you do through the AXS app.
Upgraded chainrings and more gearing options
SRAM claims that the improvements to the front shifting system on the Force AXS groupset has led to the best ever front shifting at Force level. The new, integrated style, fully-machined chainrings are similar to the SRAM Red chainrings said to improve stiffness, speed and accuracy of the front shifting. The power meter version of the crankset has a power unit integrated into the chainrings, which SRAM says gives the chainset an overall lighter weight than it would have with an external power meter and assurance power readings that aren’t affected by temperature. This does mean that when the chainrings wear out, it is an expensive job to replace the integrated chainrings and power meter, but SRAM says the unique chainring shapes and DUB bottom bracket make the Force AXS power meter crankset more durable.
With the new Force AXS groupset also comes a wide array of gearing options which can be used with two different rear derailleurs. The Force AXS 36T Max derailleur is compatible both in 2x and 1x with cassettes from 10-28T to 10-36T. The Force XPLR AXS rear derailleur is designed specifically for a 1x setup and works with 10-36T and 10-44T cassettes. Force AXS cranksets come with integrated double chainrings in a new chainring combination of 50/37T as well as the previous 48/35, and 46/33 ring combinations. There is also a 2x Wide spindle version 43/30 ring set, with non-integrated chainrings on a 94mm BCD spider.
For those partial to a 1x setup, SRAM has plenty of options with the new Force AXS groupset too, offering direct mount style chainrings in 36T, 38T, 40T, 42T, 44T, and 46T and 1x Aero direct mount in 48T and 50T. The brand says that it wants to give riders options and choice, be that for crit racing, gravel riding or all-road riding. SRAM also explains 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 to the range which can be easily added to any bike. For extreme terrain, the new Force AXS groupset and 1x cranksets can be paired with an Eagle AXS rear derailleur, Eagle 10-50T or 10-52T cassette and Eagle chain for a super wide 1x gearing which SRAM calls a “Mullet” configuration.
SRAM claims that the new Force groupset gives riding a weight saving of 94-104 grams depending on specification choices, with 85 grams of weight being saved in the new integrated chainring style, as well as lighter controls.
The new Force AXS groupset offers two rear derailleur options, the first is a standard single cage length which is compatible with both 1x and 2x drivetrains and can be used for road, cyclo-cross or gravel, and the second is a specific gravel XPLR AXS rear derailleur. The standard derailleur features SRAM’s Orbit fluid damper which aims to keep the chain in control and the drivetrain quiet and secure. The SRAM Force AXS XPLR rear derailleur is 1x specific for use with 10-44T XPLR and 10-36T cassettes.
SRAM AXS app upgrades and four-way battery charger
When SRAM first introduced AXS in 2019, it came with an app that allowed users to customise their groupsets to align with personal preference. SRAM says that it has been steadily improving the app since then, including a faster start up time and better user interface. On the AXS app, riders can create bike profiles, look at battery status and customise components. For example, it can be used to adjust and trim the derailleur when it is still in the bike stand. Wireless blips and controls can be assigned via the app, and it can be linked to a Hammerhead unit (a company which was recently acquired by SRAM). Post-ride, if riders have a head unit which has been paired with a rear derailleur, the app allows riders to look at ride diagnostics including power, a heat map and see what gear they have spent the most time in, meaning they can then decide on the optimum chainring and cassette size.
While the app allows riders to see how much battery life is left, SRAM has also introduced a new solution for charging batteries with a four-way charger. This is a USB-C powered charger that fits four batteries in a single charger at the same time with especially fast charging time, something that will be useful to those of us who can forget to charge batteries before a big ride.
While the performance of a groupset is what most of us look for when we’re wondering what to spend our money on, aesthetics play a small role too. This has been a focus for SRAM during the development of the new Force AXS groupset as they have created fresh new graphics and colourways. SRAM explains that its Taiwan development team helped create the groupsets ‘unicorn grey’ colourway which gives a pop of colour in the sun.
For those wanting to go even further with these rainbow colours SRAM is also, for the first time, offering a rainbow cassette and chain for customers as part of its road groupset. This was first launched on the MTB side and has only been especially created for world champions on the road in the past, but it can now be purchased by anyone looking to upgrade their groupset. The rainbow colourway will come as a SRAM Red level chain and cassette in 10-28 and 10-33, with SRAM explaining that it is at Red level because this cassette is machined in a way that makes it easier to apply the rainbow finish.
The MSRP for a Force AXS disc-brake groupset is:
- 2x with power meter: £2228
- 2x WIDE gearing with power meter: £1859
- 1x with power meter: £1803
- 2x no power meter: £1751
- 1x no power meter: £1533