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Reviewed: SRAM Force 22 shifters and drivetrain

  • By Spencer Powlison
  • Published Jan. 18, 2014
  • Updated Jul. 30, 2014 at 6:30 PM EST

Most blokes are riding at 10, and where can you go from there? Nowhere. Exactly. If you need that extra push over the cliff, you know what you do? Put it up to 11. … These shifters go to 11.

If Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel were a cyclist, he’d certainly approve of SRAM’s Force 22, which does indeed “go to 11.” But the group occupies an unusual middle ground between the no-holds-barred technology found in SRAM’s top-tier Red group and the convenient compatibility that comes with workhorse kits. It’s cheaper than old Force, and about the same weight; it’s cheaper than Shimano’s second-tier group, Ultegra, and lighter as well. And with the addition of an 11th cog, and a move to SRAM’s excellent Yaw front derailleur design, its performance-per-dollar ratio is fantastic.

Why not just make 10 better? SRAM isn’t to blame for the never-ending race to add more cogs. In fact, they’re late to the party, with 11-speed groups from Shimano and Campagnolo already on the market. It’s unlikely this article will persuade you to jump ship on your favored brand, so let’s compare Force 22 to its 10-speed predecessor.

Force 22 vs. Force 10 Speed

Shifters (pair)
• Force 22: $469/307g
• Force 10: $496/302g
Rear derailleur (standard cage)
• Force 22: $118/178g
• Force 10: $140/178g
Front derailleur (braze-on)
• Force 22: $63/79g
• Force 10: $68/88g
Cassette
• Force 22: $113/231g (11-25t)
• Force 10: $99/210g (11-23)
Chain
• Force 22: $57/256g
• Force 10: $56/264g

Puzzled yet? We were. Seems that SRAM is trying to eliminate the barrier to entry for 10-speed holdouts. With mostly comparable or lower prices and nearly equivalent weight, Force 22 is a clear winner on paper. Barring hub compatibility issues, there’s no reason not to jump to 11.

Furthermore, the new group has several features that impress right out of the box. The Force 22 shift levers have better ergonomics than the older models, and the front derailleur is equipped with Yaw geometry found in newer Red groups. That means front shifting is dramatically improved over old Force.

However, if you like to spin easy gears, you’ll be disappointed that Force 22 is not yet available with a long-cage WiFli rear derailleur. We imagine this will come soon, as a Force 22 WiFli cassette is available. In the meantime a Red 22 derailleur is available for wide range clusters, and is of course fully compatible with the Force 22 shifters.

Oh, St. Hubbins, where are the 11-speed hubs?

Unfortunately, there’s no patron saint for bicycle freehub bodies. No amount of praying makes it easy for the average rider to find wheels around the garage to accommodate 11-speed cassettes. It was even trickier for us because we tested the kit on a cyclocross bike and needed tubulars.

If you aren’t ready to part with your wheel quiver, there are a couple options.

You can upgrade freehub bodies, which requires re-dishing the wheel. Lennard Zinn also had a few creative ways to accommodate the extra cog.

We occasionally used wheels with 10-speed freehubs by removing the 11-tooth cog, adding a spacer behind the cassette and running a “10-speed.” It was an oxymoron on wheels, but it worked with a 12-tooth lock ring and properly adjusted limit screws. You just have an extra click in the shifter.

Tapping the Force for ’cross duty

Our Force 22 parts replaced an original-generation SRAM Red group, which is similar to 10-speed Force. The back-to-back comparison made the Force’s improvements apparent.

While they were serviceable, SRAM’s old lever shape wasn’t refined enough for some hands. The new ergonomics of the Force 22 parts were greatly appreciated. It was no problem to ride without gloves on even the bumpiest ’cross courses.

In addition to the improved shape, the Force 22 levers offer two reach adjustments. Those with smaller fingers can happily dial in the brake lever reach and also independently adjust the shift lever position.

Front shifting

The speed and power of a well-adjusted SRAM Yaw derailleur is also a distinct improvement over the old Force parts. Fast, reliable front shifting is crucial in cyclocross, especially when things get muddy.

But one unusual concern did arise. During the test process, we paired the derailleur with a Specialized S-Works crankset with carbon arms that are rounder than most cranks. This meant that, when adjusted per SRAM’s recommendations, the front derailleur cage rubbed the inside of the crankarm. We fiddled with the alignment to eliminate the interference, but it was a nuisance.

Rear shifting

Action and precision out back felt familiar, in a good way. We had an extra click to play with, but the 11th gear wasn’t that noticeable. The big difference relative to 10-speed is the ability to run an 11-speed 11-28 cassette with the same cog gaps as a 10-speed 11-26 cassette — meaning no big jumps in cadence as you shift around the middle of the cassette.

Compared to Red 10-speed parts we’ve been riding on the road, the Force 22’s lever feel was heavier, but not to the point of being problematic.

Unfortunately, one day of peanut-butter mud early in the ’cross season wreaked havoc on the rear derailleur, shearing the parallelogram and twisting the chain. To be fair, we’d expect this outcome with any drivetrain configuration aside from a singlespeed. The mud was more like cement on that particular day. SRAM was kind enough to provide replacement parts to carry on with the test.

Practical considerations

As David St. Hubbins would tell you, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. So, is an 11-speed gruppo with cable-actuated brakes a good idea, particularly if you’re looking to mount the group on a cyclocross bike?

Nearly all companies are trending towards disc-specific cyclocross frames. Based on our experience with mountain bikes, hydraulic is optimal. Unless you’re a diehard canti-believer (or a Belgian), you might not want to trouble yourself with an 11-speed conversion project for rim-brake bikes.

SRAM’s hydraulic brakes appeared to boast industry-leading technology before a recall of all Red hydraulic levers and calipers. They are working to remedy the problem, but for now, Force 22 plus cable-actuated discs are the only disc option available for SRAM drivetrains.

On the road, this is less of a concern. Cable-actuated rim brakes will likely continue to rule the roost for at least a few more years — and possibly forever.

Force 22 might be right for you if. …

Old-timers with a quiver of wheels for the wind’s every yaw angle can convert to 11-speed and keep their favorite tubulars rolling, if they’re willing to make the effort to swap freehub bodies.

Those on a budget may like how Force 22 provides much of SRAM Red’s great technology — almost all of it, in fact. You get the Yaw front shifting, 11-speeds, low weight, and low(ish) price. There is very little to complain about.

Much like Nigel adding to his epic guitar collection, SRAM continues to expand its variety of component groups. It’s up to you to determine whether your ax is ready to go to 11.

Pros: Fine front shifting; great hood ergonomics; cheaper than 10-speed Force.

Cons: Hub-compatibility headaches; open lever body design prone to contamination, especially in ’cross; may not be “future-proof” with the rise of hydraulic brakes.

The bottom line: If you’re a traditionalist who isn’t concerned with the drawbacks of cable-actuated brakes, Force 22 is a great way to get in with the 11-speed crowd, especially if you’re upgrading your road bike.

 

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Spencer Powlison

Spencer Powlison

When it comes to bike racing, Spencer is a jack-of-all-trades. He loves pinning on a number, whether it’s in a local criterium, a mountain bike enduro, a cyclocross national championship, or a gran fondo. Name any cycling discipline, and more likely than not, Spencer has ridden or raced it. He has been lucky enough to work in the bike industry for the majority of his adult life, from his time turning wrenches in a Vermont bike shop to his five-year tenure at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

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