The Bike List

SRAM Apex Groupset £680

Tested by Ped Baker, tester for The Bike List

I'm a cycling luddite. In my view, the pinnacle of bicycle innovation was when double-butted tubing was invented by Reynolds in 1934. Just about everything since is just window dressing. Sometimes it's nice, desirable window dressing but real, genuine innovation is, in my humble opinion, pretty rare. It's not that I shun technology because I'm bloody minded, more that I've been fooled many times by expensive fads that promise much and deliver little. Perhaps, finally, aged 43, I'm getting wise to the marketing game.

The SRAM Apex's claimed innovation is it's large 10-speed 11-32T cassette. This allows a wide range of ratios with just two chain rings up front. The bottom gear is especially low. It's safe to say, with a 32-tooth rear sprocket linked to a 34 front, you'll never have to get off and walk up the steepest hills again. The two chain rings also mean it's lighter than a triple. In common with many products that come from our good friends across the pond, the Apex comes with an Acronym - WiFli. It's expansion is Wider, faster, lighter.

The inspiration for the 11-32 cassette is claimed to have come from top racer Alberto Contador during the 2008 Giro D'Italia. Contador predicted he would struggle to find grip on the Giro's very steep and poorly surfaced climbs, and he asked his mechanic to devise lower gearing. Doing this meant he could remain seated, keeping his weight over the rear wheel and maximising traction. The pair cobbled together a mountain bike cassette with modified road bike parts and the concept for the Apex was, as they say, born.

Admittedly, this isn't a scenario that many of us will find ourselves in very often. The roughly surfaced, 25% gradients found on the Giro are thankfully few and far between, but very low gearing could become useful in more real world scenarios, such as where panniers, long days and mountain passes combine.

If the last drive train components you purchased were made by Huret, you'll be very surprised to discover that 'entry level' doesn't mean cheap. The Apex is SRAM's bottom-of-the-range groupset and costs £650.

Expensive it might be, but the quality of the Apex groupset is exceptionally good. Finished in a flawless gloss black, the Aluminium levers and cranks are classy and stunning. The chain rings are anodized in a smart gun metal grey and the cassette chrome plated - it really is beautifully put together kit. The brake calipers are omitted from this review as I chose to fit TRP canti's instead.

Installation on my steel, lightweight tourer was a doddle. The instructions for each component are very clearly laid out with plenty of illustrations, torque settings and measurements. The only slight problem was the front mech clamp that is only available as a 31.8mm, 34.9mm or a braze-on option. To fit my admittedly old school, 28.6mm seat tube I had to opt for the braze-on version and buy a cheap adaptor clamp from my LBS. Fitting and setting up the double shift levers was simple and rapid and they offer two positions for the cable routing, placing them on either side or both along the front face.

SRAM's Double Tap controls feature a separate plastic shift lever behind the brake lever that changes both up and down the gears. You push the lever across (one click) and release to change down gears and push it a little further (two clicks) to change up. SRAM describe it as being like a double-click Biro. By pushing the lever even further you can change up two or even three gears in one swipe should you wish to. Changing down is strictly one gear at a time. It's an easy and intuitive system and takes just a couple of hours to be completely at home with, even if you're used to the Shimano or Campy rivals. Shifting is quick, accurate and I've yet to suffer any slips or mis-shifts, even after some deliberate mistreatment. But you do need to be positive with the levers. if you attempt to change up a gear and don't quite push the lever far enough to engage, the system will automatically go down a gear when the lever is released, a little unsettling on a steep climb. You'll also go down a gear if you try to go up when you're already on the biggest cog. Comfort on the bars is ergonomically brilliant with chunky, wide hoods to lean on. The adjustable levers are perfectly placed for rapid and fumble-free shifting either when riding on the hoods or down on the drops.

I'm sure you've already worked this out but two chain rings and a 10-speed cassette gives you 20 theoretical gears, a three ring set-up would give you 30. So while the Apex boasts a wider range of gearing than a three chain ring setup, the step between each gear is larger. You'd have to be a right fussy pants to find this a huge problem but there are options for cassettes with closer ratios in the middle to high gears that should help eleaviate the potential problem. There are ten different models of the cassette to choose from. To cope with the larger 32 tooth sprocket, and subsequent longer chain, the rear mech needs a longer cage to take up the slack. The three smaller cassette, non WiFli versions of the Apex (11-28, 11,26, 11,23) come with a short cage.

So does the Apex 11-32 WiFli qualify as genuine innovation, or just another fad we'll forget in a couple of summers?

On my lightweight tourer I can see the benefits if I were to venture up into the Alps, Dolomites or even the Lakes. The ability to trudge up a steep climb by turning the pedals at a good cadence is useful, even more so if it's the end of a long day and your bike is loaded with kit. The other obvious advantage is a reduction in weight over a triple ring. SRAM claim a reduction of 274g over some triple rings, so if weight loss is top of your list that could be a real benefit too.

If the efficiency of the shifting mechanism remains high and I don't have touch the adjustment from one week to the next, then yes, no matter where you live or ride, the triple chain ring is dead.

See all bikes with  SRAM Apex on The Bike List.

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At a glance

Verdict Sensibly priced 20-speed groupset with super low gearing. Twin chainrings keep it light while a large 11-32 tooth cassette gives the range. Ideal for touring, training and cyclocross.

SRAM says:

Wherever the road takes you. You like to climb long mountain passes, or your local hill, but don't want clumsy triple cranks on your bike? With the first 11-32 cassette for the road, and our new SRAM Apex compact crankset, you will have a wider gear range than the most popular triple combinations. A wider gear ratio means you can climb and descend more efficiently. You also get all of our unmatched technical advantages like Zero-loss, reach-adjust, and DoubleTap shifting. SRAM Apex, wherever the road takes you.

  • Rear mech (mid cage): £62.99
  • Chainset (170mm, 50-34T) with GXP bottom bracket: £129.99
  • Braze on front mech: £39.99
  • Doubletap 10 speed shifter and brake lever: £324.99
  • PG - 1050 10 Speed 11/32T cassette: £59.99
  • PC-1031 Chain (114 links): £32.99
  • Bottom bracket £29.99

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