by Stan Purdum
eTap is the name of SRAM’s proprietary electronic drivetrain for bicycles — the first truly wireless electronic shifting system and the heart of its RED eTap road group. Shift signals are transmitted and received via SRAM’s fully wireless protocol known as Airea.
The system, brought to market by SRAM in 2015 and used in a stage win that year in the Tour de France, is now available on several higher-end consumer bikes and, will, we suspect, eventually be used on less expensive models as well.
SRAM’s eTap system offers many welcome features, one being that it’s easy to install and tidy on the bike due to the absence of wires and cables. Better yet, buttons on the shift levers permit riders to make micro-adjustments to chain positions on the fly. Additionally, eTap allows the placement of small satellite shifter buttons called Blips anywhere on the handlebars or aero bars. There’s even a remote shifter called a BlipBox available that permits shifting both derailleurs in both directions with one hand.
What’s more, eTap’s front derailleur functionally can best be described as “smart.” As SRAM explains it, “Depending on which gear you’ve selected on the rear derailleur, the eTap front derailleur will vary how far it initially moves the chain before settling in a moment later to its final position relative to the chainring selected.”
Early on, some cyclists were concerned that other transmissions in the rider’s area might interfere with wireless shift systems (a problem that did affect the first couple of wireless computers I purchased), or that shifting could even be hijacked by miscreants. SRAM, however, extensively tested the system using hired hackers who were unable to take control of it. And eTap performed just fine at the Tour de France, where the surrounding broadcasting equipment had no impact on the system’s functioning.
SRAM also offers a hydraulic disc-brake version called SRAM RED eTap HRD. Its brakes make use of a hydraulic lever design with both lever reach adjustment and lever contact point adjustment, which is a first for road disc brakes. That group, purchased aftermarket to install on your existing bike, will set you back nearly $3,000. Without the hydraulic brakes, expect to spend about $2700 for the groupset.
Since 2016, RED eTap road groups have been available as standard components on some high-end bikes from several manufacturers, and we offer a sampling below. All have 11-speed rear cogs and 2 chainrings. To keep the comparisons somewhat comparable, all the models we looked at have rim brakes rather than disc brakes. (For that reason, we did not include the Trek Madone, which apparently puts only disc brakes on its current models that use eTap.)
There’s a lot to like about these bikes except for one really big sticking point — the price. But even if you don’t want to drain your bank account and buy one, it’s sure nice to look at them and dream, isn’t it?
BMC Teammachine SLR01 One
Swiss bicycle maker BMC says that one reason this ultra-lightweight premium carbon machine is so fast is its use of asymmetrical tube shapes that deliver a superior ride experience and a competitive advantage. It features TRP T980 direct mount brakes and a DT Swiss PRC 1400 SPLINE 35 carbon wheelset. If you’re racing on the Teammachine and not leading the pack, it’s not the bike’s fault. It can be yours for about $9,000.
Cannondale SuperSix EVO Hi-MOD RED eTap
Available for about $8000, this U.S.-branded, race-proven bike is lightweight, stiff and aerodynamic. Made from BallisTec Hi-MOD full carbon, the SuperSix is designed to maximize your power and speed in every race.
Canyon Ultimate CF EVO 10.0 LTD
This bicycle’s German maker describes the Ultimate CF EVO 10.0 LTD as “a bike with no compromises,” and it brags about it being both super light and durable. “This isn’t the first bike ever produced to hit these sorts of lightweight numbers,” its maker says, “but it’s the first you’ll be able to feel confident won’t break the very first time you skid out on a sandy corner or pack it for a vacation in the mountains.” That said, its pedigree is racing, and it’s intended to be a competitor. Sells for about $8,500.
Bianchi Oltre XR4 CV Red eTap 2018
Bianchi’s patented CounterVail frame technology — an integrated vibration cancelling system that’s imbedded within the layup of this high-performance bike — is arguably the most advanced comfort enhancement in carbon-fiber frames, giving it excellent stability at high speeds, mountain descents, and fast corners. Bianchi says the CounterVail construction reduces muscle fatigue; allowing the rider to hold an aero position during long periods of time. Used by the Dutch team at the Tour de France, this bike typically sells for about $10,800.
Specialized S-Works Tarmac eTap
This all-around race bike has been proven in Grand Tours and World Championships. Specialized, a U.S. manufacturer, uses its trademarked Rider-First Engineered design that applies specificity to every tube size and carbon layup for every frame size, thus creating the optimal balance of rigidity, weight, and responsiveness, so every frame, regardless of size, performs just as intended. The full carbon fork with tapered construction provides front end stiffness and steering response for instantaneous accelerations and high-speed descents. Sells for about $12,000.
Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Red Etap Road Bike
As far as rim-braked models go, Giant offers two with RED eTap in its 2018 line up: this TCR Advanced SL 0 and the Liv Langma Advanced SL 0, which is essentially the same bike but in a women-specific configuration. Built on the lightest road frameset ever produced by Giant, the SLs boast what the company describes and an “unrivaled” stiffness-to-weight ratio for pure speed and efficiency. Both models include SRAM’s Quark crank power meter. Available for $9,900. Giant also offers disc brake models with RED eTap.
Orbea Orca M11i Pro Red eTap
Ha! Spanish bikemaker Orbea says the Orca is “designed for the guy who has already ridden 6000 kms in February and can somehow sustain 500 watts in the middle of winter … professionals, hardmen, hardwomen and dedicated weirdos that have never even considered quitting early.” You could invite Orca riders to your party, but they wouldn’t come because it’s past their bedtime. Orca isn’t for everyone, only those who want to go fast and hard. Full carbon. Lists for about $6,000 but we found one new online for $4,800.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, and Methodist minister, lives in New Jersey. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.