Sram HRD Etap First Ride

Olly Words By The Velo House | 26/06/2017 12:29:55

I am the first to admit I am currently on the fence when it comes to the subject of Disc brakes on road bikes. I have had moments of epiphany like when descending the Col De Colombiere last year on a Focus Izalco Max with Sram Red discs. Despite seeing melted tarmac on the way up I felt so much more confident carrying speed into every corner of the 16km descent, safe in the knowledge I could scrub off speed with ease. I have also had bad experiences where the extra weight, cost and ugly uncomfortable levers did not make any sense.

IMG_2759

The first generation of road disc brakes from both Sram and Shimano were essentially adapted mountain bike brakes with the hydraulic reservoir stuck on top of the lever. The levers provided a good solid hold but made it difficult to stretch out your hands over the levers for the classic flat back Rouleur position I am constantly striving for (gut allowing). The feel of the brake was also a personal gripe with a small delay after pulling the lever till the pads bite with the rotors and no means of adjusting this.

Last year we saw Sram announce a new Hydraulic brake version of their brilliant Etap groupset and Shimano launch their first Dura ace level hydraulic brakes for both Di2 and mechanical groups. Unfortunately long delays in production have frustrated many customers and Shimano has still not delivered any new hydraulic brakes to market.

It was with great excitement and more than a little relief (lots of customers orders waiting) that we received our first shipment of Sram’s new HRD Etap brake/gear set. Having been wowed by the beautiful presentation box that the original Sram Etap arrived in we were a little underwhelmed by the brown box that the HRD arrived in. It did have a nice Red inner lining and all the parts are individually boxed and nestled in thick foam so still a quality package. Mike’s (of the mechanics fame) eyes lit up when he saw the levers were already bleed and the new valve system meant you could route the cables. The calipers are small neat and shiny silver making them a perfect match for the custom painted Parlee Altum Disc I was using as a test bike. Sram recommend using 160mm front and rear for general road riding with 140mm kept for cyclo cross and closed circuit racing where longer periods of braking are not required. While some people prefer the aesthetics of the smaller 140mm rotors I was happy to follow Sram’s recommendation and I opted for some Shimano Icetech 160mm rotors as the DT Swiss RR23 wheels I was using for the test were centre lock.

IMG_2764IMG_2762IMG_2724

Mike said the build was a dream. No gear cables not internal batteries, wiring or junction box and with pre bled cable hoses the whole thing went together very easily. You can adjust the reach of the brake lever with a small allen bolt underneath the main body of the lever and the adjustment for the engagement of the brake is on the top of the hood making it easy to reach. The shape of previous hydraulic brake levers has been one of the things that put me off previously. After an hour or more I found the shape of both the Shimano and Sram levers hurt my hands and I couldn’t get comfortable. The new Sram HRD levers were a revelation. They are larger and wider than standard etap levers but in a good way. There is something to grab hold off at the front of the hood like a Shimano Di2 lever but it is flat enough for me to rest my hands over them and get the flat back Rouleur position.

With reasonably large non Trump like hands I didn’t need to adjust the reach of the brake lever and found them really easy to use from both the hoods and the drops. As with all new Disc brakes you need to bed in the pads and rotors so there was lots of sharp breaking as I left through town.

Normally we recommend you take a new bike out on a short ride first to check everything works before embarking on any long rides. In the finest tradition of “Do as I say not as I do” I was testing the new Sram Etap HRD on a 200km Tour of the Seaside. A beautiful jaunt down to Rye Harbour then follow the coast over the hills of Fairlight into Hastings, through Bexhill and Pevensey to Eastbourne. Climbing over Beachy Head and then along the coast taking in some Gravel roads on the national cycle Route 2 through Newhaven and Seaford to Brighton them home via Lewes and across the Ashdown Forest. I’d done the Route to Eastbourne a few times before but inspired by Ralph’s epic 540km in Norway at the weekend I thought I needed to extend the distance and enjoy the searing 30 degree temperatures for a little longer.

I had already ear marked some steeper descents on the ride to test the new brakes on. Places where I normally start braking early on the hill because I know a steep corner or narrowing is coming up. With discs my experience is that you can afford to carry more speed into these sections and then scrub off speed quickly but with control. They give you the confidence that you can deal with the unknown and this improves descending in my experience. This was certainly true on this ride as a combination of that confidence and the grip of the 28mm Maxxis Tubeless tyres set to 85psi meant I could enjoy descending all day.

I have not ridden Sram Etap gears for a few months now after doing a long term test when they first came out early last year. The simple shift logic only takes a short ride to get used to and I found after 40km I didn’t need to think about it anymore. Being left handed I normally find shifting at the rear while drinking ok but with Etap I needed to pre-empt any hills while drinking as the left hand easy shift wasn’t an option. I did consider swapping some blip shifters on the tops of the bars so you can get around this and shift up or down when one hand is occupied.

I love the positive click of the Etap gear lever and the simplicity of the single button. This makes it as easy to use as Di2 but with the tactile feedback of a mechanical shift. Front shifting was powerful and quick and the yaw angle front mech allows you to use all 22 gears although this will accelerate chain wear over time. When gear shifting is this easy you definitely shift more often and keep it in a more efficient gear more of the time rather than pushing on in too large a gear.

IMG_2740

After a bit of trial and error we have discovered that the Sram Red 1190 cassettes are very light but don’t have the shift ramps of the lower 1170 cassette. We have also experimented with using Shimano Ultegra cassettes ,which are fully compatible, and this seems to improve shifting further. As a test bike we used what parts were going spare so we had an older Dura ace 9000 chainset with Compact 50-34 rings and this shifted perfectly at the front. A Wifli rear mech allowed an 11-32 cassette at the rear so 90% of the time was spent in the big rings with only the steep hills to Fairlight necessitating the inner ring.

Conclusion

The Sram Etap HRD brakes and gears are clearly an improvement on the first generation of road bike Discs and I can highly recommend them after this long range first ride. The levers both in terms of ergonomics and function are the best I have used.

Am I converted to disc road bikes? Maybe. I liked the extra confidence they give you on descents and the freedom to use larger tyres. I still get annoyed with a little disc ping after hard braking although this is easily fixed with a short squeeze of the lever. I didn’t notice the extra 500g that the discs and rotors add to the bike compared to the rim brake version but lighter riders might feel this more. The real test will be when I get back on my old Parlee with Rim brakes and feel the difference. The only problem is that I am enjoying the new Disc Altum too much to do that.