It's been a number of days since my last "real" post. It's been busy around the office and in life, so the posting has been pretty lilght. Well, I don't know when that is going to change significantly, but I'm going to do my best to keep the content worthwhile. Please bear with me and as always, thank you for your patience and loyalty.
So this week I have been riding a prototype carbon frame (can't tell you more than that yet) that I built up with a SRAM Rival group. Rival is SRAM's Ultegra level group. I'll try to get some pictures to post up here soon. Anyway, it's been my first chance to spend some quality time with the SRAM stuff. As you may have already seen on the company website, we are spec'ing the Rival group on the new Gran Criterium. Until this week though, I hadn't spent any real time on the stuff. Now I am getting a much better feel for the product and can give a little more thorough feedback.
Set up/ installation-
As we all know, I'm a mediocre (crappy) mechanic at best. That said, the parts bolt on easy and are equally easy to adjust. No different from the Shimano or Campy groups. Since the cable routing of the shifter cable is a little more complex/ unique, SRAM ships the cable already installed into the shifters. You still have to run the housing and the brake cables and housing, but it is a nice touch. I hate to say it (for Shimano's sake), but the SRAM chains assemble really well with the Power Link chain link. I like the link better than the Shimano pins, just because from a home mechanic view, it's harder to screw up. Otherwise, assembly is no different than with other groups.
The power and cosmetics of the brake calipers is really wonderful. The brake calipers are just beautiful and the braking power of the Rival caliper is on par with Dura Ace. I don't know if it is the pad compund or the calipers, but the braking is great. I am going to pull the pads out and put them on some different calipers and see what happens. Outside of that, they are brakes. Not too much else to say- though again, they are very pretty.
Crankset and bottom bracket-
Very pretty stuff. It's clear that cosmetics were important to SRAM when they designed the group. The crankset is really beautiful with a nice polished look to the arms and a satin finish to the rings. The BB installed with no problems, but the bearings just feel a little tight. I'm told it is the seals and that they will break in, but the crankset will barely spin more than a few revolutions- even if you don't tighten the crankarms down all the way. I'll be watching this...
The front derailleur is also very attractive. It's got easy to use adjuster screws and the cable mounts easily and securely.
I love the rear derailleur. The cable routes in a unique way (you'll have to trust me until I can get a picture) that gives great cable pull. It's a good looking piece too. My only quibble was with the feel of the derailleur before it is mounted and cabled up- it has some looseness or play in it that makes it feel a little "cheap". So far, this has meant nothing for performance of the thing, it was just something I noticed when setting it up.
It's got gears and mounts to the wheel. What else can you really say? Other than the look of the Open Glide cogs, they look like any other cassette. The Open Glide is what looks like a missing tooth from the cassette. This is designed to create a gateway for the chain to move up or down the cassette more rapidly... and it seems to work.
As I mnetioned, the chain is nice. It feels sturdy and stiff, even with the hollow connector pins. Being a big lard ass sprinter, I've gone through lots of chains in my time. I can usually tell when a chain isn't going to last too long. This chain feels robust and solid. That's a great first impression to me.
This is the heart and soul of the group of course. The whole story is about the leapfrogging mechanism that accomplishes both the up and down shifts with one shifting paddle. The other story of the shifters, for me, is the shifter body and hoods. I have some big, long hands. The SRAM shifter, with the way it is shaped and the way it is supposed to be mounted on the bar, provides a perfect place for my hands to rest. When mounted as suggested, the bar top blends smoothly into the shifter, creating one really big perch for my big hands. The shifter paddle has a nice big... paddle for you to poke at. Since it moves independently of the brake lever, you can pull it against the bar and not worry about the brake lever. I end up holding it against the bar so I can down shift when sprinting or accelerating on the flats. It's pretty cool how easy it is. My only negative comment about the shifters is the look of the shifter where the lever and body meet (trust me until I get you a picture). Something about it seems "clunky" compared to Campy or Shimano. It's a tiny little thing and really doesn't mean anything, but for some folks it might mean something.
Performance on the road-
Well, I've been talking about this group for close to a year or more I guess. You'd think I'd pee myself when I finally got to ride with the stuff. Well, I came close. The rear shifting is incredibly smooth. Going up or down the cassette is flawless. The rear derailleur adjusts easily and shifts very smoothly with the 1 to 1 ratio. Shifting up the cog set requires the longer throw of the lever, which takes a few shifts to get used to, but once you do it becomes pretty darned easy. The chain is quiet and glides along on the cassette and chain rings perfectly. Braking is solid and fast and feels very smooth at the lever. Being on the hoods is really comfortable with the group and I find myself being camped out on the hoods every time I ride with the group. It is just that comfortable. I mounted the levers to a set of Ritchey Pro alloy bars with ergo bend that isn't ideal for the shifters (you have to turn the bars way up to get the flat transition to the hoods right), so you have very little use of the drops. Still, with how comfortable the hoods are, I don't know if I'd use the drops for much more than sprinting anyway.
Here's the rub- if there is a flaw to the group, a weak spot, it is the front shifting. I am not sure if it is the "fault" of the shifter or the derailleur, but my theory is the shifter. Here's the thing- there is no trimming the front derailleur with the shifter, so chain rub issues might be a factor for some folks. Also, the effort required to execute the shift isn't as light as either Shimano or Campy. That said, the shifting has always been spot on- no missed shifts or anything like that. it just feels like you have to "push" a little harder to get the shifts you want. Maybe this is more noticable because the rear shifting is so flawless... I dunno.
Anyway, that's my first impressions after a couple of 1 hour rides during my lunch rides. I want to spend some time on longer rides and see if the hoods stay as comfortable and also what the break-in is like with the rest of the group. Stay tuned for more in-depth feedback (and pictures to come).