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First Look: SRAM Apex

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The sport of triathlon is growing at an incredible rate but the cost of swim, bike and run gear is an obstacle that keeps many people away from multisport.  SRAM Apex shrinks that barrier.  It is a brand-new component group that costs hundreds less than current entry-level kits but still delivers race-worthy performance. Expect it to reduce the price of cost-sensitive bikes in the near future.  Triathlete tech editor Aaron Hersh offers his initial impressions of Apex, check the magazine later this summer for a full run-down.

Wide Gear Range

Apex offers a wider gear range than any other double-chainring groups. This allows a rider to maintain a high cadence riding up a steep hill without sacrificing top downhill speed.  Apex can accommodate a vast gear range because the rear derailleur has an extended cage that maintains chain tension in both big and little gears. The easiest gear combination is 22-percent smaller than a typical 39-25 granny gear.  Apex’s gear range is nearly as wide as a triple but, since it is a double, it can execute crisp front shifts that a triple cannot hope to match.

Price

The larger gear range is a great feature but the Apex’s real innovation is the price.  A complete kit is $800, several hundred less than Rival.

Don’t expect entry-level tri bikes to drop by that much, however, because many of these bikes are built with discount cranks and brakes that are often cheaper than Apex components.

Braking

The Apex brake calipers are stiff and sturdy and the Swiss Stop brake pads eagerly grip the rim.  They are far superior to bargain calipers that are often spec’d on entry and mid-level tri bikes.

Shifting

Rear shift performance feels nearly identical to SRAM’s more expensive Rival group.  The front shifter boasts SRAM’s Zero Loss shift technology but the rear does not.

The widely spaced cassettes require a lot of force to shift so SRAM wisely uses the same finely ramped cogs used for Rival cassettes in the Apex version.   The spacers and lock ring are the only differences between the cassettes.

Ergonomics

The Apex road shifters are shaped like all other SRAM shifters.  The hood is thicker than Shimano shifters and provides a sturdy grip surface.  SRAM understands that cyclists spend most of their time on top of the bars rather than in the drops, so they lifted the brake lever’s actuation point to increase braking leverage from the tops.

SRAM’s tri shifters and brake levers are not tied to specific component groups. An Apex tri kit will use SRAM’s entry level 500 TT Shifters and Brake Levers.

Drawbacks

Weight is the only initially apparent difference between Apex and SRAM’s more expensive Rival group. The 11-32 cassette shifts slower than options with a tighter gear range but that is due to the large jumps between cogs, not the tooth shaping.

The cost-sensitive approach to designing Apex leaves the group with little aesthetic appeal.

The verdict: The stuff works.  Apex may not be as flashy or crisp as high priced groupsets but it functions efficiently and is a great way to cut the price of triathlon.

Check the September issue of Triathlete Magazine for a look at how SRAM Apex compares to the other entry-level component options.

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