SRAM has officially unveiled its long-teased wireless, electronic shifting group. The groundbreaking system has appeared on the race bikes of SRAM's sponsored teams for more than a year, and now details are finally available. For starters, it's called eTap, and SRAM hopes to have redefined the way we shift.
The key to eTap is its simplicity. SRAM knew it couldn't just replicate the electronic drivetrains currently on the market from Shimano and Campagnolo. It had to make the system better, more intuitive. So the company treated these products as prototypes, and spent four years studying them for ways to improve electronic shifting.
They started by eliminating wires and frame-mounted batteries. eTap has no wires to connect the shifters to the derailleurs, and all batteries are self-contained in the components themselves. This means set-up is a breeze. SRAM estimates that it takes about 15 minutes to install eTap (this is perhaps generous) and less than a minute to pair the wireless components with one another.
SRAM accomplished this by including tiny accelerometers in the components that are designed to put the system to sleep when not in use. This saves battery life, allowing for smaller batteries that can hold more charge. The shifters use coin batteries that last two years, while the derailleurs use identical (and swappable) removable batteries that SRAM claims take only 45 minutes to charge. The derailleur battery charge lasts for 700 miles, or about 60 hours, of riding.
eTap's wireless configuration also allowed them to design levers from the ground up. In traditional shifting systems, the left shifter controls the front derailleur and the right shifter controls the rear derailleur. But with eTap, each lever now controls both the front and rear derailleurs. Tap the left lever to shift to an easier gear in the rear and the right lever to shift to a harder one. To switch chainrings up front, tap both levers at once. It's a new way to think about shifting, but SRAM believes it's more intuitive.
Of course, all this innovation comes at a cost: $1,660 for the shifters, derailleurs, charger, and firmware USB drive. And for triathletes, or anyone that wants to add extra shifters, SRAM's Blip remote button system ($500) gets you four buttons for your aero bars (or drop bars) and a control box that sends signals back to the derailleurs.
While eTap isn't Bluetooth or Ant+ compatible, SRAM says its proprietary wireless communication is individualized per system and more secure than most ATM machines. While you probably wouldn't worry about being hacked, it means there's no chance of someone else's shifter signals being read by your derailleurs.
The brakes included with the full eTap group remain mechanical and there's no option for hydraulic disc brakes yet. But in the end, SRAM has provided us with an electronic shifting system that appears to be, in the words of one company representative, "the antidote to complexity." SRAM Red eTap will be available in spring 2016.