SRAM Red Review: Is it better than Shimano Dura Ace?

kuota-kredo-with-sram-red

I finally feel like I’ve ridden my SRAM Red group long enough now to give a good review, but first – the backstory.

  • I’ve been riding, seriously, for almost 3 years now.
  • I’m currently a Cat 4 roadie
  • I rode 10,000 miles last year
  • I weigh 150 lbs and my FTP is probably around 285 watts right now
  • I’ve had my Kuota Kredo for almost 2 years now.
  • It previously was all Dura Ace, with Kuota Viking bar/stem, Look Keo pedals, Fizik Arionne saddle and bottle cages from the good folks over at Arundel.
  • Before my Kredo I had a Specialized Roubaix that was all Ultegra. However, I’ve also spent considerable time on Campy Record, Chorus and Shimano 105 on rental bikes while traveling.

kuota-kredo-with-sram-red-2

Initial impressions

From an aesthetics standpoint, the group looks great on my bike. Cleaner and with a little more “bling” than my 7800 Dura Ace. It also shaved off some considerable weight – just over half a pound (since the Red groupset is only 1928 grams).  With my Dura Ace 7850SL wheels running tubeless, bottle cages and pedals, my rig now weighs right at 16.5 lbs.

The overall ride

The first thing I’ll say about Red has to do with the shifters – I love them. From an ergonomic standpoint, the Red shifters fit my hands perfectly. Compared to 7800 Dura Ace – I now feel like I sit on top of the bars instead of leaning into them (feeling I had with Dura Ace due to the size of the shifters and the saddle horn shape). I also swear that the bike feels 10 lbs lighter because of the reduced weight of the shifters and lack of exposed cables. I know it is mostly mental, but the handlebars just feel “lighter” and seem to move more freely, which gives the impression of riding a much lighter bike.

In general I feel like I am in a better “aero” position when riding Red on the hoods compared to Dura Ace.

sram-red-shifter

Shifters/Deraileurs

As mentioned above, I love the shifters. The actual shifting is very crisp (the throws to upshift with Red are incredible short and very crisp). The DoubleTap shifting becomes natural on the 2nd or 3rd ride – much shorter learning curve than I expected. I’ve heard some complaints about front shifting, but I have had no problems so far. You can only trim when in the big chain ring, but if you’re trimming in the small chainring, you should probably be shifting anyway. I also love the ability to shift from the drops. In a “race” scenario it is great to take the lever with you in the drops and then be able to change gear at will.

sram-red-brakes

Brakes

Brakes seem to be on par with Dura Ace for modulation, feel and raw stopping power. Braking also feels a little more secure with the double tap shifters since (like on Campy) the brake lever is solid and doesn’t perform double-duty as a shifting mechanism.

sram-red-crankset1

Crankset

The crankset is great. Very stiff and I swear that the ceramic bearings do feel smoother (may be placebo effect, but I’ll take it).  It’s also a great looking crankset.

sram-red-cassette

Cassette/Chain

I love the 1090 cassette. The 11-26 cassette is a perfect training cassette – offering a full range of gear ratios.  The cassette is crazy-light and the fact that it is machined from a solid piece of steel is pretty cool. Haven’t had to clean it yet, so I may not find the design not so cool at that point, but for now I like it. The chain/cassette combo is slightly noisier than Dura Ace, but not to the point of being distracting or disturbing.

Conclusion

Let’s be real. The top groups from Shimano, SRAM and Campy are all very good. None of them will be the difference between winning and losing, so it all comes down to:

  • Looks – honestly, sex appeal is a big factor for high-end bikes
  • Personal likes – I can’t stand the “thumb” shifter on Campy, but some people swear by it.
  • Value – Even when buying a top-end group, it’s nice to save money or feel like you are getting good value.

So considering the points above, in my opinion:

Is SRAM Red better than 7800 Dura Ace – YES

Is SRAM Red better than 7900 Dura Ace – TBD. I haven’t ridden 7900 DA yet, but considering the considerable price difference between the two groups right now (~$400), Red is probably still a better option.

Is SRAM Red better than Campagnolo Record – YES. I haven’t ridden the new 11 speed Super Record group yet, but considering that it is ~$700 more than Red, I can’t imagine it being worth the increase.

25 responses to “SRAM Red Review: Is it better than Shimano Dura Ace?

  1. Did you have any problems with chain rub on the front derailleur? How about strange twanging noises ? I’ve had nothing but problems with Red. I rode with someone else who has also had problems. They gave up on the front derailleur and down graded it to force. Most of their problems went away.

    The group set was great on my first ride but its pain pain pain since despite two trips to the shop for tune ups.

  2. I haven’t had the front derailleur issues (although I know people who have). The consensus seems to be that the titanium cage on the Red is “flexier” than the steel cage of the Force derailleur and doesn’t shift as crisp. So far I’ve had no issues.
    I can say that the chain/cassette combo is noisier than DA, but I don’t have a real problem with it.

  3. Iread a review on roadbikereview.com. “Americandudley” says he just upgrade to SRAM derailleurs and shifters. He says that he uses the DA cassette and chain and says that this combination is “flawless”. His review is at http://www.roadbikereview.com/cat/drivetrain/groupos/sram/PRD_411384_2497crx.aspx

  4. Stumbled across this when I was looking to pick up SRAM Red setup.

    It appears as though americandudley’s setup includes the Force FD which seems to be the general concensus how to get rid of the flex if it bothers you.

    I also read on more reviews on roadbikereview that changing the cables out to Yokozuna Reaction helps with some of the other issues.

    For me, I think I’m going to get the Red setup and see if I need to downgrade etc after I get it all setup and ride it around for myself.

  5. great review, how have you found the components after a 4 to 5,000kms? (3,000 mile)

    i have recently heard, that the Sram mechanics don’t expect the average cyclist to get any more than 5,000km out of Sram red cassette!

    i have only been able to get 4,000km out of mine (2,500mile) so thats one chain for one cassette!!

    I was under the impression when i bought this groupset, that the unique Red cassette would easily out-live a DA one, due to the whole component being manufactured out of steel.

    how has yours performed?

    • I’m still on my orginal Red cassette with probably 5,000+ miles on it. However, I’m a light rider (150 lbs) and I try to regularly clean my chain and cassette.

  6. Have you had issues with noise from your cassette? I just got a red cassette and after 300 miles or so it started to make a nasty noise that sounds like my derailleur is way out of adjustment. Very annoying. The rest of the bike is Force, and I am not thrilled with that either. After 5k miles the Force rear derailleur has so much play in it that shifting is suffering and it rattles over bumps.

  7. “Let’s be real. The top groups from Shimano, SRAM and Campy are all very good. None of them will be the difference between winning and losing”.

    Try telling that to Andy Schleck!!!! Tour de France 2010.

  8. I HAVE ALSO OWNED DURA-ACE AND SRAM RED . I WOULD’NT SAY
    THERE IS NO COMPARISON, ALTHOUGH I WOULD GO WITH DURA-ACE
    OVER SRAM RED JUST FOR THE ACCURACY OF SHIFTING. MOST COMMENTS PERTAIN TO LOOKS, SO WHAT. IT IS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT TO DIAL IN SRAM-RED THEN DURA-ACE. REMEMBER
    ANDY SCHLECK DURING THE 2010 TOUR DE FRANCE, HIS MISS
    SHIFT WAS WITH SRAM RED. TO ADJUST THE THE FRONT DERAILLEUR
    NOISE OUT OF IT , IT OVER SHIFTS AND DERAILS. AND THE SHIMMING SHIFT
    ON THE FRONT DERAILLEUR IS ALMOST USELESS.

  9. I’ve been running SRAM Red for the past two years now and love it, have ridden Dura Ace and practically every other Shimano iteration (besides the low end stuff – although I haven’t ridden DI2, I’m not sure I like my ability to shift gears being dependant on a battery anyway!).
    I do run a Shimano chain as I find it shifts slightly better than the SRAM equivalent chain.
    I’ve never had any problems with Dura Ace (like most groupsets on most bikes so long as they are well maintained then they usually work fine) but I prefer the quick SRAM shifting action, plus the groupset weighs less and looks better than Dura Ace..

  10. I have had Shimano dura ace, ultegra and now Sram Red. Any of the Shimano stuff is better the the Sram, not inpressed at all. May sell this new bike I just built because i’m so frustrated with it.

    • Well, after having both of my SRAM Force rear derailleurs wear out with so few miles I’ve given up on SRAM. I switched back to Dura-Ace and I have no regrets. One bike is 7800 and the other is 7900. When I get a chance my travel bike will get 7900. I really anted to like SRAM, but having parts wear out after a few thousand miles is inexcusable.

  11. I’ve now had my SRAM RED for two years and several thousand miles. I’ve been on and off road bikes since the late 80’s; my first good road bike had downtube ratchet-shifters, and I later converted it to index myself. I’ve seen a fair amount of gear come and go. Consider me the guy who isn’t racing, but wants quality, and yet some durability too.

    To that effect, I didn’t get the whole Red group. I made these changes:

    Force front derailleur -The Force FD is a little heavier due to a steel cage rather than titanium, but steel doesn’t flex in the same way, so front shifts are more positive. Note the number of Tour riders using Force front derailleurs with their Red groups.

    Rival/Force bottom bracket – I don’t need ceramic bearings, and I can buy 4 of these bottom brackets for the price of a Red one. I bet those four would outlast a Red bottom bracket.

    Rival/Force cassette – Red cassettes are light, but have a tendency to be noisy due to their design. SRAM’s next-down cassette lasts longer, and is cheaper. Also, I have a 105 ten-speed cassette on one of my wheelsets, and will say it shifts just as well with the SRAM gear.

    Everything else is Red. As long as you know how to keep it adjusted, it’s a great group. Front shifting from big to small ring could use a little more precision, but once again, if kept in tune, it can go head-to-head with Shimano and Campy’s best. Now that the second generation of SRAM Force is out, I think it’s very nearly as good –the only advantage of Red for someone of my limited capabilities is the availability of the 177.5mm crankset, as I’m a tall guy with long legs.

    To Kent: Analysts have said Andy would likely have missed that shift, SRAM or otherwise, due to the way he made it.

  12. Supposedly Andy was running a 53-38 chainrings which was was also not reccommended, so who’s to say the real reason behind the infamous dropped shift……

  13. Hello, I’m in need of a crankset upgrade and I’m thinking of getting a Sram Red crank (specially because of its price) with ceramic BB, I’m running DA 7800 derailleurs but my crank is not DA, it’s FSA ISIS BB. Do you think it’s a good choice? Let’s just say I wouldn’t change the whole groupset, only the crank. What do you think?

  14. From Americandudley:
    I now have 4 bikes equipped with Sram’s Red/Force/Rival lines and am still very happy. I do use Force FD and DA 7800 chains on all 4 but have Red cassettes and Gore Ride On cables on the other 3. Yokozuna cables are superior but it is not as dramatic as I had thought. Both work really well!
    No problems with shifting and set up, includind one with integrated cables and no down tube adjusters. The groupset does make more noise than others but that is because the Red cassette is basically a bowl. I kinda like the noise and the South dakota wind always drowns it out anyway…
    The only thing that I haven’t figured out is that the rivets on the inside of the large chainring catch when riging in the small chainring and the small cog under hard pedalling. This is consistent on Fulcrum, Red GXP+BB30, and Force cranks. Since no one ever uses that gearing and Sram small ring FD chain rub is so prevalent, I figured it’s all part of a design compromise. Look at how heavily machined the angles are inside of Red’s large chainring compared to other brands. I believe they did all they could but in the end it really isn’t an issue…
    As far as shifting set up; all I really do is follow directions. I’ve never had shifting issues. Just make sure to properly set your FD limit screws, since Sram tens to fly off chainrings more than other groups!

  15. The classic debate between 6 and 1/2 dozen.

  16. Awesome review, good honest opinion.

  17. Ben,
    Now that you have even more miles on your red setup, what do you think? still the way to go? I’m in the same position you were. Had 7800 DA and I cannot afford 7900 on my second to-be-built bike. Interested in particular on your thoughts of the front derailleur. Last thing, do you know if the 2012 version of red is any different? I’d think so but don’t know. Thanks

    • So here are my thoughts.
      1. Still love Red.
      2. However, I would go with a Force FD (which is what I have now). The minor weight penalty is worth it for the increased shift performance.
      3. 2012 Red is supposed to be dramatically different. Better front shifting, down to 1,850 grams for the whole group and a MSRP of $2,500.

      All of the above being said, there is a good chance that my next bike will have electronic shifting (maybe Ui2).

  18. Thanks for your comment. I wil be getting the red.

    Thanks

  19. I have a Cervelo R3 with that had a complete SRAM Red gruppo. I loved the ergonomics, the looks, and the 500gm weight savings over the DuraAce. Sadly, the R3 and SRAM Red are a poor match. Apparently there is so much flex in the attachment of the front derailleur at the downtube that front shifting is a problem. After 2000 miles and 15 trips to my shop for adjustment, changing out the titanium cage to steel etc, it still did not shift consistently and the chain derailled at least once on every ride. I finally gave up and put on the new Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shifter and gruppo. Flawless shifts every time, but at a small but significant weight penalty.

  20. to me, red is like a finniky ferrari, and dura ace is like a smooth caddy. red is noisy, quick, snappier and needs attention and tweeks. dura ace is smooth, softer, more reliable, and once set, ride and forget. i set my DA and have not adjusted for 2 years (15,000 miles per year and of course replacing cassettes and chains). until the cable broke inside the shifter. red on the other hand, it seems every couple of months, i have to adjust a barrell or tighten the cassette, or align something…but when their both running at their best, both are awesome. riding a crit, i would choose red, riding accross the country, i would choose DA.

  21. Got 7800 DA and found it to be tempremental. Going to 2011 Red for ‘something different’ as I have never been able to get myself to spend the extra dollars on Campag.

  22. Hi i have only ridden shimano ultegra and now i have the Dura Ace DI2 electrics for the person that says he would not like to depend on a battery for shifting. That is not a problem at all i have ridden for over 7000klms in less than a year and i have only charge the battery about three times not because it was warning to be re-charged but because of me asking myself when was it going to run out. Excellent shifting whilst climbing both going up or down on gears. The changing of the front chain rings a problem from the past excellent.

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