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Notes on SRAM Red vs Shimano DuraAce

2011-12-25 updated 2012-01-17 • SEND FEEDBACK
Related: gear, Moots, Road Bikes, Shimano

See the review of the SRAM Red 2012 SG1090 cassette.

Comments below refer to SRAM Red as of 2011. MIGHT NOT BE APPLICABLE to 2012 SRAM Red, which has been upgraded and improved.

I’ve test-ridden three bikes with SRAM Red to date:

In each case, I came away disappointed with SRAM Red, as compared to Shimano DuraAce Di2.

To put it nicely, SRAM Red is less than ideal for any high performance bike. Anyone claiming otherwise has not ridden properly configured Shimano DuraAce Di2, or is not being objective, or has some oddball priorities.

Some riders are buying $4K to $6K frames and then opting for SRAM Red. You get what you pay for. This was obvious when I test-rode the Look 695 SR with SRAM Red— great bike, but the inferior shifting drove me nuts and I felt it really degraded the experience. SRAM Red works well enough at moderate cost, and that is its only justification.

There is one plus to SRAM Red: with winter gloves, it is easier to shift than with mechanical Shimano DuraAce 7900 (both are much more problematic with gloves than DuraAce Di2).

Issues with SRAM Red

I strongly favor Shimano DuraAce Di2 electronic shifting. SRAM Red has some issues that I cannot live with.

The hands hurt

The brake hoods are designed to put a hard lump into precisely the wrong place on my hand— try that for a few hours on the bike— fundamentally poor ergonomic design. I am not the first or only person to feel this way.

Want one more gear? Sorry, you lose.

So you’re tired, you’ve been slogging way, and you try for more more rear gear.

What happens? SRAM Red shifts into the next harder gear, the opposite of the goal. After a few hundred times, this gets really old. One can adapt and program the brain to shift in a certain way to minimize the chances of this happening, but it’s just bad design.

Unidirectional shifting

The chain moves over the cogs left and right. The manual shifters on my car goes up down or left/right. My cameras have dials that have left/right/up/down controls.

But SRAM sees fit to violate this commonplace paradigm: SRAM Red shifts in only one direction; it's the amount of push one gives that determines which way the shift goes. With Shimano, shifting is bidirectional, as it ought to be.

Stops shifting well

After 8000 miles, my Shimano DuraAce Di2 still shifts as instantly and accurately as day one. I've had 2 or 3 mis-shifts in 8000 miles (no kidding), and those were when new, when things weren’t adjusted quite right.

But with every SRAM Red bike I’ve ridden, I had shifting problem every time I rode the bikes. There is no comparison here, we are talking a factor of 100 times worse on shifting reliability, at least.

Shifts are slower

Want to sprint suddenly, grabbing the big ring or a few cogs? Di2 does it instantly. Mechanical shifters cannot shift as fast or accurately, even when optimally adjusted.

Reader comments

Charles J writes:

I have always been curious if the Shimano Di2 shifting does an automatic trim of the front derailleur based on the gear in the rear derailleur. Second question is about the 44 mm head tube on the Vamoots - I am totally confused about what that is for. I thought I knew a bit about bike geometry - but apparently there are always a couple more levels of complexity to every subject.

You are very correct about the SRAM red shifting. I have it on my bike and even with over 3000 miles of experience, there are more missed shifts than with any system since my Sturmey-Archer 3 speed internal-hub. The best explanation I heard for this was that there is an audible or tactile click that occurs before the shift is complete and this is what fools you into releasing too early. I get the feeling that this indeed is the case. I think there is an emphatic 1st click which is a shift to a smaller cog, then a second subtle stop where no shift occurs (this is where the mechanism make the change in direction). Very close to this is the click that moves to a larger cog, and then there is another click to move up 2 larger cogs. It doesn't seem to bother a lot of people other than you and me. Perhaps we have very sensitive index fingers due to our expertise in mastering the "half-press" for exposure and/or focus lock on all those fancy cameras!

WIND: Shimano DuraAce Di2 has auto-trim. I never even think about trim any more.

The 44mm head tube is really about stiffening up the front end, better handling in theory, though some knowledgeable people remain skeptical of the need. It also allows running a tapered fork, but that changes the geometry, so one has to plan ahead and do custom head tube length if that route is planned.

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