SRAM Open The Road Tour (Austin Texas 2018)
Yesterday I got to checkout a SRAM Open The Road Tour held here in Austin, Texas at Bicycle Sport Shop. Team SRAM provided a free continental style breakfast with coffee and pastries and free trial bikes fully decked out with their latest offerings including 2018 SRAM Red eTap HRD system, Zipp wheels and water bottles.
Once everyone was setup properly on their bikes, Team SRAM took us out for a 2 hour spin. The group ride was designed to accommodate riders of various abilities and so it was setup as a more leisurely pace ride with speeds falling somewhere between 15-17 mph.
The bike I chose was a 51cm Felt VR1. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of it, but the frame looked like the one below.
Felt VR1 Bike
The VR1 was really nimble and climbed extremely well. The way the frame is designed the top tube has a pretty aggressive slope down towards the rear wheel. The frame reminded me more of a mountain bike than a road bike as far as the top tube was concerned. The stand over height was much lower than a bike with a traditional level top tube and made it much easier to mount.
Zipp 454 Wheelset
The bike came furnished with a brand new set of Zipp 454s. These are Zipps latest sawtooth configuration racing wheels and are designed to achieve a higher degree of efficiency and control, even in crosswinds.
As one who who has raced with Zipp 404s in the past, the Zipp 454s are lighter and more aero dynamic than the 404’s I used. The sawtooth design is supposed to achieve a more stable ride in crosswinds over it’s 404 counterpart.
On the route that SRAM took us on, we had an opportunity to get a feel for various wind conditions from headwinds, to tailwinds to the dreaded crosswinds. From my perspective the wheels performed flawlessly and lived up to the hype of being super fast.
SRAM Red eTap HRD – HydroHC Road Hydraulic Disc Brakes
What made the experience a bit different for me, beyond riding a killer bike and wheel set had to do with the braking and the shifting system. Instead of a traditional caliper braking system, all the bikes were equipped with SRAM Red eTap HRDs. In layman’s terms, the bikes were all equipped with disc brakes and electronic shifters.
Back in 2017 SRAM introduced HyrdroHC Road Hydraulic disc brakes. Disc brakes have been traditional used in the mountain bike scene and it took a while for them to go mainstream on road bikes. My guess is most of the delay had to do with weight and manufacturer acceptance and also acceptance in racing like the Tour De France.
The governing body for cycling UCI (Union Cyclist International) initially allowed Disc brakes, but then prohibited their use due to potential disc brake injuries. For 2018 disc brakes are allowed, but on a trial basis and as long as the disc adhere to the following.
Rotors with ‘smoothed or chamfered edges’ are to be used, with no 90-degree edges allowed on the perimeter edge of the brake rotor following a detailed safety report by the UCI in October 2016.
The advantages of a disc brake system over its rim brake counterparts include
- Stopping Power
- Modulation (control)
- All Weather Reliability
Using the SRAM Red eTap HRDs was my first venture into the world of disc brakes on a road bike and I am a total convert. The braking power is awesome and it felt very natural. I did notice, at least on the bike I was riding, that the brake hoods sat a bit higher than on my road bike. I am not sure if this is how the system is design or if they could be lowered. In any case, I really liked how they performed.
SRAM eTap Electronic Shifters
Stupid quiet. Yes I said it. If I could get electronic shifters today I would get them and SRAM’s eTap seem like the perfect choice. The difference between traditional shifting and electronic shifting is like comparing older car windows that you have to manually roll up or down verses electronic car windows where you simply flip a button. Well maybe not that dramatic, but certainly close.
With eTap shifters, gear changes are almost instantaneous with no perceivable delay and felt super crisp. By simply tapping the gear shifter, the magic happens with minimal noise. There were times on the ride where I wasn’t even certain I shifted because I couldn’t hear or feel it happening. It was crazy how smooth it was and realistically I was rather blown away. Even on climbs where shifting under load can be problematic, SRAM’s eTap did it with ease.
Clicking the left paddle downshifts, clicking the right paddle upshifts and clicking both at the same time changes the front derailleur. An issue that commonly plagues non electronic gear systems is the potential for chain drop. Usually this occurs when the front derailleur isn’t setup properly and the chain drops when switching between the large chainring to the small chainring. This has happened to me on several occasions and usually requires you to dismount and fix. Electronic shifters don’t seem to have this issue, which makes them even better.
Now since this was my first real experience with electronic shifters, I don’t have any history with them to say what I like and don’t like about the system beyond possibly a system failure due to battery life.
I was told that both the front and rear derailleur have batteries and if the rear derailleur battery dies, a pro tip is to switch out the front battery for the rear one. By doing so, it gives you more gears to use for the ride back.
After 2 hours of riding we were back where we started with tocos, drinks and cookies waiting for us. The group ride was totally worth it, especially since we got to test out some top of the line offerings from SRAM.
If the SRAM Open The Road Tour is coming to your town, it’s a must attend event and you will be happy you did.