Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

SRAM hydraulic wireless brake levers

My first shift/brake levers (I cannot bring myself to call them brifters like "they" do on the Internet) were 8-spd Shimano. Then I changed to 10-spd SRAM. Both of these were obviously mechanical for rim brakes as that was the only option back then. Three years ago I changed once more, to 12-spd Campagnolo. Again with mechanical shifting but now with hydraulic braking. This was the third shifting pattern to learn, but as I always had the same shifting pattern on road and commuter bike it was easy to swap.
Now I've gone to Red AXS with its wireless shifting and hydraulic braking. After a couple of weeks of riding on it, it is time for an early review. Incidentally, this is the first time I haven't updated both race and commuter bikes at the same time. The race bike still has 12-speed mechanical Record on it. And it will forever as the frame cannot take a DUB axle and I've never seen a 12-speed Red GXP crank.
I really liked the feel and function of the Record hoods. The hydraulic master cylinder sticks up a long way above the brake lever pivot. This is a good spot to grab onto for the hands. The hoods feel quite slim, but not too slim. The hood rubber wore well, despite the big slot in the inside for the upshift lever to poke through.
The Red levers feel completely different. Without a shifting mechanism, there are no holes or gaps in the lever body so the rubber hood feels very solid. It also feels quite wide. I like it with my large hands, but I wonder if small riders don't feel like it is too much? The rubber is quite grippy and soft. The knobs and hooks on the rubber hood don't seem to lock onto the lever body quite as solidly as the Record design, but it hasn't proved a problem. The master cylinder is set lower in the lever body because there is no shift mechanism in the way, so they don't stick up quite as much as the Campagnolo ones, but enough that there is something to hang onto.
I was a tiny bit worried because so many reviews suggested that the Campag disc brakes were the best of the big three. However, I find the SRAM brakes almost identical to the Campagnolo ones in use. One finger braking is more than enough for most stops. The lever doesn't move much (it shouldn't, I'm competent at bleeding brakes after all these years) and there is good feel of how much slowing you're going to get. On the hood or on the drops, the brakes are good.
I set the levers up to flow straight out from the bar tops. One straight line in total. And the mix of these Bontrager bars and SRAM levers means the hoods are a touch higher than they would be with Campagnolo levers set up flat. Which moves the lever out from the drop a bit more. Not so much that I can't reach with my long fingers, and I can always wind the lever in a bit with the reach adjust, but usually I end up with them a little closer than I might like because of how low they are positioned on the curve of the drop.

The original 11-spd wireless Red shifting was simply e-tap (with the mechanical being called double tap, this was a cute play with words). Now 12-spd is AXS, but still e-tap. E-tap is, I believe, the shifting pattern. In the AXS world you can change the shifting pattern and even make it semi-automatic (you select up or down shift and the computer decides when to change the front and rear derailleurs), but the two lever system is preserved from 11-spd times. Default is the right lever moves the chain right at the cassette to a higher gear. The left lever moves the chain left on the cassette to a lower gear. And both levers in sync activate the front derailleur to move to the opposite chainring. With only 2 rings, it is super simple to just swap the rings. No need to tell it which way to go. I love it. Brilliant.
On installation I noticed two ports in the right lever body to add wired "blips", the remote buttons that sprinters, climbers or TT riders might want elsewhere on the bars. These are for historical reasons, mostly, because there are now wireless blips too. If you have a TT bike with only blips, you can run a wireless blip box to receive the signals and tell the derailleurs what to do. The blips can be programmed for function in the app too - whatever you want.
I'm shifting way more than I need to just because I enjoy playing with the system. I still occasionally try to flick a gear change with my thumb in the Campagnolo style - there is no button there to receive my command, but I guess I'll do this still because I have to shift that way on the racing bike.

So far, so very good.