SRAM was founded in Chicago in 1987 as a distributor for Sachs hubs and freewheels. In 1988 SRAM introduced the Grip Shift MTB shifter and they slowly build a repuation as builder of fine MTB products offering an alternative to Shimano. In 1994 SRAM built the first hydraulic braking system. In 1997 they became the sole owner of Sachs. In 2002 they purchased Rox Shox.
They have always had a small niche in the road world with their involvement with Sachs, making fine Shimano compatible cassettes and chains, however this year, they dove headfirst into the road bike component world with the introduction of the Force and Rival groups. Let's break it down.
The truly innovative component in the line is the Double tap shift/brake levers. It is similar to Campy in that the brake lever is non-rotatating, and the cables are hidden, but their are plenty of differences as well. The hightlight of the Double tap shifter is the single pivot paddle that when fully pressed will shift the chain to the larger cog or chain ring. A half shift or "tap", will have an opposite effect, shifting into the smaller cogs. I haven't tried it, but folks who have says it only takes a few minutes to get used to it. It is praised as being quick and easy, plus the floating paddle allows one to easily shift from the drops which is a complaint of Campy users or small-handed Shimano users. The brake levers are Carbon on the Force model (nice touch), and the paddle is magnesium. The levers weigh a scant 305 grams a pair which is slighgtly lighter than Campy Record (316 gm). The price? $539!!! which is $240 more than Record, ouch. The remaining components, are less than Campy Record but the full kit is right there with Dura Ace 10 and Record in price.
The crankset is a carbon fiber spider model with hard anondized chainrings designed for smooth action and durability. SRAM is the owner of Truvativ and the crank/bb uses the same outboard bearing hollow pipe design that Truvativ has offered for the past couple seasons. Total weight of the Force with bb 665 grams, which is light by any standard.
The Force derailleurs use an alloy body with carbon cage (on the rear). The front derailleur is trim-able with the lever just like campy and can be used with either a standard or compact crankset. The rear is designed to work with the light action of the double tap levers and although it looks like a combination of Dura Ace and Record, early reports is that it performs quite well.
The brake calipers use a skeletonized dual pivot design with cold forged alloy arms and ti hardware. Similar to Shimano, the release lever is on the caliper, which gives a nice tune-on-the-fly functionality that Shimano users have always enjoyed.
SRAM has sponsered a few teams this year, most notably the domestic KodakGallery.com/Sierra Nevada squad. Early returns from the racers have been favorable.
Is there room for a third entry in the road group world? Are the shifters alone worth the switch? I must say the line looks pretty nice.
But with out a real cost savings will local club riders and bike shops make the leap?
I welcome all comments of those who have seen or tried this group. FWIW, Pinarello is offering the rival group as standard equipmnent on their Opera Leonardo model.