Numerous images have been spread across the internet in recent days of Nino Schurter, and other riders, testing parts for SRAM. By all appearances, it looks like SRAM’s 12-speed Eagle group set has gone wireless, much like their eTap group sets on the road.
Having heard from a SRAM employee in late 2014 that they were telling frame designers to just build around having a derailleur hanger only – it’s not a huge surprise. And when SRAM Red eTap came out, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time until wireless shifting arrived for mountain bikers.
The photos like those above of Nino aren’t that crisp, but images came out from the Czech Republic that show very clearly, wireless shifting is being tested by SRAM. Or do they? We have also heard these are fake, with a Specialized Levo button masquerading as a shifter.
So what would the advantages be with such a system?
There are a number of benefits we can think of, namely in setup, weight – and ease of shifting.
SRAM’s Red eTap group doesn’t really have a huge weight saving, although frames can be made a little lighter if there aren’t ports for cables and outers. On a mountain bike, many bikes and riders run full-length cable outer to assist with service life. So doing away with extra outer will assist with weight saving.
But, a mountain bike shifter can essentially be a couple of buttons. And the above photos show just that (although there are patents for other designs too). So there is a very real chance that Eagle eTap could save some weight – maybe trimming the approximately 140g that Eagle XX1 gains over 11sp XX1.
Next up is setup. Bolting on a derailleur, threading a chain and pairing the rear derailleur with the shifter is pretty simple. Just about any bike shop doing high-end road builds boasts about this. Eagle’s requirements with precise chain length and B-tension remain, but the indexing should be ideal.
And what about serviceability in races? As let’s be straight up – eTap Eagle wouldn’t be cheap, it will mainly fall to sponsored riders.
As it stands, the rear derailleur is the brain of a SRAM Red eTap system. It is paired with the shifters and front derailleur. You can’t have multiple derailleurs tuned to the shifters. So while the thought of having a spare rear derailleur tuned to a shifter in the tech/feed zone is awesome, as busting one would mean removing a chain with a quick link, removing and fitting a mech and putting the chain back on (60 seconds for a pro mechanic?) the reality might not be the same. However, the derailleur firmware might be updated, and this could be a new feature.
One question that remains would be shift speed. Shimano’s XTR Di2 wins, hands down, for shift speed. You can tune the speed to suit what you want. And the wired connection, while a little fiddly the first time, is reliable and shifts the same way. Every. Time.
Users of the Magura Bluetooth dropper post say the same, the lag in time is small but noticeable. In a sport where we are managing traction, heart rate, cadence, nutrition, hydration, suspension settings and more – lag time in shifting isn’t optimal.
Some feedback from boutique road shops suggests that the speed of a SRAM Red eTap shift isn’t quite the same as a Shimano Dura Ace Di2 shift. Not bad, but not as fast. The proof will come if and when the group set comes to market. In time we will find out if the motor has been modified for the force required shifting to a 50t ring, plus with a clutch added to the mech. Battery life shouldn’t be an issue, but there could be changes there too. We feel that changes to the firmware might be the most interesting though.
One thing is for sure – images are out there, and riders are testing the equipment. We’re excited to see what actually develops and hits the market!