By Adam Falshaw, Deers Leap Manager – A review of electronic gears from a trip to Utah, Nov 2019
As a rider and mechanic, I am often asked about my thoughts on current parts and technology, and always wanting to be honest I like to try and get my hands on the latest trending parts and be in a position to give an honest appraisal. For our annual holiday/skive/cultural learning trip to the USA I thought it would be fun to try the new SRAM AXS groupset which incorporates a 12-speed electronic Bluetooth shifter and derailleur combination.
Fitted to my bike the shifter and derailleur certainly looked the part though I had concern for the somewhat bulky derailleur which seemed like it could be prone to getting a bump from a rock on the odd narrow gap which you will navigate your way though on some of the more technical USA trails to be found in Moab and Sedona. Shifting set up was very easy, all sorted though a free app you can download. Once the rear derailleur was indexed it would never need adjusting again due to there being no cable stretch which is a nice prospect. The shifting is quicker than I had expected, brilliantly so in fact and though there is an electronic high pitch noise which is heard on each shift you do get quickly used to it.
What is it like? For me there was a definite learning curve as a long-term Shimano user that loves the rapid-fire system. Pushing up and down with my thumb made complete sense but having shifted the same way for 30 years it was never ‘just’ going to happen however, when I did finally get it I was enjoying every shift as its so precise and crisp, probably the crispest shifting I’ve ever experienced.
As a rider and mechanic my fear with electronics on bikes that take a pummelling in cold and hot and wet conditions is that they cannot survive like a traditional mechanical device can and would end up playing havoc so for me. This simply hasn’t been the case with the SRAM AXS. The battery has lasted, and I still have yet to charge it, the shifting stayed perfectly precise and it feels really cool having no wires or cables from the shifter. I did catch the derailleur a couple of times but to no ill effect.
Was it perfect? No. It’s a big ‘no’ too! In the USA where we ride it can be very technical and some of these technical bits come in the form of a very sudden steep steps up or climb. Now if you are not expecting this you can normally bungle through with a deep depression of thumb shift and you drop some gears quickly to get to the ease your way up. With the SRAM AXS you simply cannot do this, and I was caught a few times losing too much forward momentum and not being able to shift multiple gears and get myself out of trouble. This meant that I was stopped dead and had no choice but to get off the bike and walk that section. In the UK this wouldn’t be such an issue as there are few trails that would require such instant jumps of 4 gears but in the US on trails where these can be game changers, I wouldn’t want to run the AXS. In the UK I will be running this more on a lightweight XC bike where I know this groupset will be right at home. For the next USA trip, I’ll be back to running trusty Shimano.