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The New SRAM RED AXS Ride Review: One Thing Stands Out

What is the new SRAM RED AXS actually like to ride? To review it, I installed it on an ENVE Melee road bike and put it through its paces. I'll tell you what I think is good, bad, and meh about SRAM's new flagship groupset.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Features

We got the latest SRAM RED AXS groupset last week and decided to install it on an ENVE Melee. Installation was fairly easy — which is true of pretty much every wireless SRAM AXS group. One of our master mechanics got it done in about an hour. 

According to him, there were no surprises. The new front derailleur setup tool made aligning the front derailleur a bit simpler. Bleeding the brakes with DOT fluid was as easy as it has always been. And the AXS components all paired quickly and seamlessly. Before I knew it, I was rolling around our test track giving the gears a quick run-through. Of course, a crowd gathered, and every employee in the shop had to give it a go. 

After a quick game of keep-away, I wrestled the bike back into my possession and finally took it out for some real riding. I put the new RED AXS through its paces and gathered some initial impressions…

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SRAM RED AXS Review: The Good

The Revised Hood Shape

New SRAM RED AXS Shifter brake hood reviewThe big change with RED AXS is the revised shifter/brake hood shape. Some riders didn’t like the chunkiness of the old shifter, so SRAM listened and made the hood slimmer and longer. I got along with the old hoods, but the new one is a definite improvement. It supports my palm more and I can wrap more of my stubby little fingers around the hood. It feels more comfortable and secure, and I think it looks A LOT better too. 

The Impressively Powerful Brakes

The braking power is probably what impressed me the most. The new hood shape was achieved with a revised piston and brake lever pivot point. The result is 80% more braking power in the hoods and 33% more in the drops. I scoffed at those claims when I read them, but now that I’ve used the brakes, I think they might be legit. 

The braking feel reminds me a bit of Shimano GRX but with more overall power. I have never been able to one-finger brake from the hoods of ANY road or gravel bike but with RED AXS you can perform an emergency stop from the hoods with just your index finger. There's also a lot of extra space behind the brake levers thanks to the repositioned pivot, so you can have your fingers fully wrapped around the hoods, and the lever won’t pinch them. It’s seriously good. 

The Marginally Lower Weight

RED AXS is 153g lighter than the previous generation. It’s lighter than Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9200 (​​2,389g vs 2,435g). Yes, it’s marginal, but I’m a recovering weight weenie and numbers like that make it hard not to pull out my wallet and relapse. Which brings me to my next point…

SRAM RED AXS Review: The Bad

The Wallet Busting Cost

Holy crap this groupset is expensive. If SRAM hadn’t sent us a test group, I probably wouldn’t be riding it. Of course, “affordable” is all relative, but if I’m spending my own money, it would be hard for someone like me to justify it. 

The Integrated Power Meter

SRAM RED AXS review pros and consMany hoped that the chainrings and power meter would come as separate pieces. But no, SRAM has kept them integrated to reduce weight and maximize stiffness and accuracy. Oh well. 

I do have a RED chainring/power meter on a bike that’s 4 years old with nearly 10,000 miles (with a waxed chain) and it looks barely worn, so the chainrings do last a very long time. If/when they do wear out, SRAM will recycle the unit and you can get a replacement for half off. But I like the option to change chainring sizes. Plus, it just seems a bit wasteful. 

Everyone Wants to Touch Your Bike

“Ooo is that the new RED AXS?”… “Can I touch the hoods?” … “Can I shift it?” … “Mind if I roll around the parking lot a bit?” … Seriously, all the bike geeks want to put their paws all over my beautiful bike.

I’m nice enough to let them, but how many strange butts have to touch my saddle before the hype dies? We were 15 minutes late leaving for our group ride the other day because everyone who showed up had to take my bike for a spin. 


SRAM RED AXS Review: The Meh, That's Fine…

The Shifting Performance is Slightly Better… Maybe

New SRAM RED AXS shifting review

With the front derailleur, dropping from the big ring to the little ring is definitely faster and smoother. Going from small to big… maybe it’s better? Maybe it’s the same? I can’t really tell. It’s still no Shimano front derailleur. 

Shifting feels more or less the same with the rear derailleur. I think it might feel marginally faster, but that could be because it’s still new and shiny. That’s fine though because I think AXS already shifted quite well, so I wasn’t expecting a huge change.

If you were hoping for some huge leap forward similar to SRAM’s T-Type Transmission, it won’t happen quite yet. 

The Hammerhead Karoo (3) Is Cool, but Is It Necessary To Include?

Hammerhead Karoo 2.1 review

Like the shifting, the updated Hammerhead Karoo 3 (though the marketing materials just say "Karoo" it's the third iteration) cycling computer isn’t that different from the existing Karoo 2. It has more storage, more battery life, and the shape is a bit different. There's a new companion app and host of new features too. One neat trick is that it syncs with RED AXS without you having to do anything and will immediately display your power and what gear you're in without having to set it up on the device.

Overall, it's a great head unit. I think the screen and navigation is the best I've ever used. It would be a nice upgrade, but I probably wouldn't buy it on its own if I already owned the Karoo 2 (which I do).

It is interesting that it’s included in the RED AXS upgrade kit. It’s a clever way to get more riders on a head unit in SRAM’s ecosystem. However, I bet more than a few will end up on Facebook Marketplace. 

Slightly Increased Reach (but That Won’t Matter to Some)

One potential downside to the revised lever is the slightly increased reach. The new hoods feel around 5-10mm longer. On the ENVE Melee I’m riding, I had to get a shorter stem to feel comfortable. That is a bit of a bummer because the ENVE stem on this bike is quite expensive. Fortunately, I was able to snag a stem from our inventory and didn’t have to spend my own money, but most riders won’t be so lucky. 

If you’re planning to upgrade your current bike to RED AXS, the reach increase is something worth considering. It will depend on the rider though. Many riders probably won’t even notice, while the more obsessive among us will be driven crazy. I’d suggest installing it first, THEN deciding if you need a new stem after actually riding it. 

The Bonus Buttons Aren’t Super Tactile

New SRAM RED AXS review brakes and leversThat barely-visible square above my thumb is the Bonus Button. I want it to be bigger and clickier. 

I was super excited to use the Bonus Buttons on the hoods. Right now I just have them set up to shift up and down, but I plan to connect them to the included Hammerhead Karoo head unit and use them to flip through pages while riding. It will let me easily switch between my data fields and map without taking my hands off the bars. 

I just wish they were slightly bigger and had more of a click. It’s weird that they don’t click. Sometimes, I’m not sure if I’m actually pressing them.   

SRAM RED AXS Review: Final Thoughts


Ultimately, RED AXS isn’t a huge leap forward, it's a refinement. That seems to have been the intent. SRAM has addressed and fixed many of the little complaints that riders have brought up since the original RED eTap AXS was introduced five years ago.  

So who is this group for?

Well, it’s for pro racers. And it’s for people who want the latest and greatest and can afford it.

When I send this groupset back, I’m going back to my trusty Force AXS-equipped bike. However, if I could buy one component from the new RED AXS group to upgrade my current AXS-equipped bikes, I’d choose the shifter/brake hoods. To me, this update is all about the hoods. 

You don’t even need the brake calipers. All of the braking improvements are contained in the shifter/brake hood itself. The new hood shape is excellent. But the braking power and ability to one-finger brake is the thing that has stuck with me.

It’s actually annoying that the brakes are so good because now I’m tempted to just order the new shifter/brake hoods (when they’re available) for all of my drop-bar bikes. It would be amazing on my gravel bike. 

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