Complete Groupset (front and rear eTap derailleurs, eTap BlipBox, eTap TT shifters—4 Blips, charger, Red crankset, brakeset, brake levers, BB, chain) $2,835. RED eTap TT components (derailleurs, BlipBox, four Blips, charger) $1,580. sram.com
For a few years, as Shimano and Campagnolo enjoyed the success of their electronic groupsets, SRAM took it on the head. How long were we consumers to wait for an electronic group from America’s component brand? Hell, as triathletes, we demand technological advantage.
Finally, last year SRAM debuted its 11-speed eTap electronic groupset (and introduced it in Kona under early prototype riders Jan Frodeno and Mirinda Carfrae), but it was step beyond, justifying the wait: it was wireless.
The early returns for road groups have been positive (we tested it during the company’s launch at development HQ in Schweinfurt, Germany) but we wanted to analyze it for our use: on a tri bike, with aerobars. We chose a standardized setup with standard aerobars, and as such opted for the tried and true: a CervÃ©lo P3. SRAM’s Nate Newton came to San Diego to illustrate ease of installation on our tester.
It took less than half the time a cabled system takes: just bolt on the derailleurs, install the BlipBox (the nerve center to which the shifters are attached, and which relays wirelessly to the derailleurs) on the stem, and place up to two sets of penny-sized shift buttons (called “Blipsâ€) anywhere on the aerobars. We placed a set at the traditional spot at the end of the aerobar extensions, and a set on the base bar, at the inboard brakes. Pair the BlipBox (powered by a plain old CR2032 battery) with the derailleurs (a 15-second process), execute limit adjustments on the derailleurs and you’re done. Newton installed eTap for time on a Canyon Speedmax. Time? Five minutes, 17 seconds.
As a battery-operated system, eTap includes a wall or USB charger to recharge the batteries, each of which click audibly and firmly to the back of the front and rear derailleurs and have a claimed life of 600 miles—about six weeks of riding—or 60 hours of heavy shifting on hilly terrain. The blip box can be hidden within reason within in-frame compartments, but to prevent carbon fiber disrupting the radio wave reception, placing it in a central, innocuous place (the stem top in our case) was best.
One big concern was damage due to electricity or elements; potential degradation by heat (thermal shock), cold, water (via immersion or power washing), sand, mud, salt corrosion, chemicals; or cross talk with other units, telephone wires or magnets. SRAM was quick to note that the company tested against all situations, and the product passed with flying colors, working in salt water spray, in a walk-in freezer, and with dirt and sand introduced. It runs on its own wireless protocol called Airea, meaning there’s no danger of cross talk with other communication methods like Bluetooth or ANT+. It also has a crash feature with a clutch reset to shift position. And the whole unit is software updateable—you guessed it—wirelessly.
Shifting logic is simply intuitive. Since the blips can be set up in any configuration, we did the obvious thing: shifts on the right sent the chain down the cassette to the right (outboard), and shifts on the left sent the chain up the cassette to the left (to easier gears). Hold down a shifter and the chain glides up or down the cassette range. Front ring changes were brilliant: hit both buttons simultaneously, and the front derailleur moves the chain to the big ring. Hit them again, and the chain dumps to the small ring.
We didn’t hammer our demo eTap in Belgian toothpaste conditions, but it held up superbly to the relentless (tongue in cheek here) San Diego drizzle. As we loved with Di2, the ability to shift from the base bar is a worthy feature, making gear shifts on rolling terrain less of a straining reach. Also of note: shifting was ultra crisp, and will remain that way; not only is there no cable stretch, there are no cable kink hang-ups that the tight angles on tri bikes invariably bring. Wireless was born for tri bikes.
The biggest variance from existing electronic groups is eTap’s ergonomic minimalism. Users can install it on the aerobar extensions with the new plug-in BlipGrip, but I’m partial to just making the Blips an integrated part of the extension, taping them exactly where your thumb or index finger would naturally sit, then wrapping them with bar tape. No need to reach forward to shift; just press a button where your hands sits naturally. It’s just a simply organic experience.
It’s less expensive than Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 (by $600 as sourced online at time of print), can be had as a pared-down tri package (front and rear derailleur with batteries, BlipBox, four Blips and charger for $1,580). The greatest takeaway on eTap is it was developed the same way Steve Jobs developed the iPhone: it’s high tech, delivered in a simple package. And that’s what the best technology does: makes big advances easier to use.