Photos by Justin Steiner
Rival sits above SRAM’s entry level Apex group and below the better-known Force and Red groups. After a painful recall of the first generation hydraulic disc groups, SRAM is back on track and has expanded the hydraulic disc option (and the 11 speeds) to Rival level.
Rival is all about options. Cranks come in 165, 167.5, 170, 172.5, 175 and 177.5 mm lengths, making this a great way to fine tune fit at an affordable price. Chainring options are 52/36, 50/34 and 46/36. Pair those up with a cassette in 11-26, 11-28 or 11-32 for plenty of range, though I was hoping for a 46/34 option for a more off-road oriented adventure bike.
I suppose the 34 be could paired with the 46, but shifting may suffer. The crank is a basic forged design and is far from svelte compared to the hollow-forged or carbon cranks from Force and Red. The cassettes carry the largest three cogs on an aluminum carrier; the rest are individual and may bite into softer aluminum cassette bodies.
The Yaw front derailleur has a built-in chain keeper to prevent derailment to the inside. Yaw derailleurs move at an angle in relation to the chainrings, eliminating the need to trim and giving you access to all 22 gear combos. Once set up properly the front shifting was acceptable, but took awhile to tune out a tendency to shift past the big ring. The rear derailleur is a workhorse, setting up easily and firing off shifts without complaint.
The integrated shift and brake levers are chunky, but comfortable. There are small reach adjust bolts for the brake and shift levers; care must be taken to adjust both properly or the shift lever can hang up on the brake lever. I’ve adapted to SRAM’s DoubleTap single lever shifting, but still find Shimano’s two levers to be more intuitive. While the shifting performs well, the tactile feel at the levers isn’t as precise as I’d like, with a feel of plastic and bushings rather than metal and bearings.
The real stars of the show are the brakes. Much like SRAM’s newly released Guide mountain bike brakes, the Rival discs have an stellar feel at the lever, with excellent modulation building up to very controllable power. The caliper mounting surfaces are nicely machined and the brakes set up easily on the two bikes used for testing. Other than an odd vibration on the rear of one bike that I was never able to track down, the brakes were quiet and fade free, even after some sketchy and fast fire road descents under a bikepacking load.
While electronic shifting gets all the attention lately, personally I think hydro discs are a bigger upgrade to performance than adding batteries and servo motors to shifting. The Rival group is hugely versatile, with enough options to keep everyone except fully-loaded touring cyclists happy with the gear range and fit options. With performance that rivals (HA!) more expensive groups, particularly the brakes, Rival parts are a less expensive replacement option for the high-end groups. For rough and tumble adventure bikes, the Rival group is right at home, particularly for riders used to the power and control of modern mountain bike brakes.
- Hydraulic brakeset and shifters: $384 per wheel
- Front derailleur: $38
- Rear derailleur: $72
- Crankset: $218 BB30/$192 GXP
- Cassette: $69-$76
- Chain: $29
- Centerline rotors: $44-$55