SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shift/Brake Lever and Disc Caliper [Rider Review]

Our "Rider Review" article series features the honest reviews from verified purchasers of Worldwide Cyclery. They contain the photos, thoughts, feedback & overall review you are looking for.

The days are gone when your gravel or road bike couldn't benefit from both hydraulic brakes as well as SRAM's famed eTap AXS shifting. Our friend John shares his experience with the SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shift/Brake Lever and Disc Caliper set. Check it out!

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shift/Brake Lever and Disc Caliper Rider Review


For months I’ve been dreaming of one day having a SRAM AXS Mullet build on my Wilier Triestina Jena gravel bike. The build is the amalgamation of SRAM road bike and mountain bike components, aka. “Business up front and party in the back.” Recently my old cable-operated derailleur started to exhibit issues that proved to be terminal, and finally, it was time to decide: Make a major investment and upgrade my drivetrain, or slap another cable operated derailleur on the bike? Well, the appeal of fast wireless shifting, ultra-wide 520% range, perfectly indexed shifting even when the going gets muddy, and the improved ergonomics of the SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shifter/Caliper Set was just too strong to resist, so I took the plunge.

Then came the difficult task of locating the shifters. Due to the pandemic parts shortage, nobody seemed to have both left and right SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shifters in stock! After much scouring of the internet, I found the shifters at Worldwide Cyclery and purchased them on a Friday afternoon. Worldwide Cyclery offered free shipping and I thought “I’ll probably see them sometime next week in 3-5 business days.” But no, the order showed up two days later on Sunday. SUNDAY. Awesome.

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shift/Brake Lever and Disc Caliper Rider Review

The Build

I complimented the shifters with a SRAM X01 Eagle AXS Derailleur, the new monster 520% range 10-52 tooth XG-1295 Eagle Cassette, my existing SRAM Force 1 Crankset equipped with a new X-SYNC 38 tooth chainring, and an Eagle GX chain. Installation was a breeze. The most time-consuming part was running the new brake lines internally—pulling them through using the old hydraulic brake hose as a guide—trimming them and putting on new ends and bleeding. I mounted the cassette to a DT SWISS XDR Freehub body (with a 1.8mm spacer so it would work with the MTB cassette width), ran the new chain, and shortened it to the appropriate length, and positioned the shifters where I wanted them on the bars.

Then the magic: I put the battery in the derailleur, held the button until the light started flashing, held the buttons on each of the shifters until they flashed, and just like that the system was paired. I held my breath and lightly clicked the left shifter… ZIP! It instantly downshifted, and somehow was perfectly indexed. Unreal. I quickly tapped through all the gears reveling in the speed, precision, futuristic sound, and lack of effort required. Not that shifting normally is a laborious task, but my oh my the short through light touch and positive feedback of the SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shifters is an absolute joy.

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shift/Brake Lever and Disc Caliper Rider Review


Paired with a 12-speed Eagle AXS drivetrain I found the complete package to be exactly what I was hoping for.

First Ride

I live in the Pacific Northwest and there are a lot of really steep gravel climbs around here which are immediately followed by stretches of high-speed gravel and pavement. That is the primary reason I wanted such a wide-range cassette with an ultra-low bailout gear. It’s not uncommon to see gravel climbs of 20-25%! The SRAM AXS Mullet build checked all the boxes for me immediately on my first ride with the drivetrain—a meander up some MTB single track, gravel roads, and steep climbs at the popular destination of Galbraith Mountain in Bellingham, WA.

Riding on pavement for the first 5 miles l I found the 10 tooth small cog (made possible by the XD freehub) gave me noticeably more speed than the 11 tooth on my prior cassette. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is. Approximately 3-4mph more on the top end while pedaling at the same rpm as before.

Then I hit the first climb: An 8% pavement section leading to some tight technical MTB single track that dumps onto a 12-15% muddy gravel bit, followed by a short section of 18%. The first thing I noticed was that the drivetrain shifts flawlessly under load. As I clicked down through the gears I stayed on the power and it just meshed perfectly with no unhappy crunching sounds. I have a similar experience on my Eagle GX equipped hardtail, but this eTap AXS setup is even better as the shifts are so immediate and precise that the chain moves to the next cog effortlessly by comparison. The next thing I noticed was how easy it is to lightly tap to upshift and downshift from just about any position on the bars while riding the more technical bits. I caught myself out a few times having to shift down at the last second to hop over a hidden root on the trail. With zero fuss I was instantly in the right gear, even under load while trying to keep momentum. It felt like a video game! Zip zip, mash, jump over a root, go! And finally, I arrived at the 18% grade, bailed to the 52 tooth, and effortlessly (relatively) spun my way right up the hill.

SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shift/Brake Lever and Disc Caliper Rider Review

I’m a big rider at 6’ 2” and upwards of 220 pounds, and having adequate gearing for long days of steep gravel climbs is a must. What used to be ‘adequate’ turned my legs to mush after a couple of thousand feet of 10%+ average climbs. With the ultra-wide range of this new 10-52 tooth cassette I can now happily spin up such climbs, and then do it again, and again, and again. The days of standing and grinding out such a climb with a 36 or 42 tooth cog are over! Maybe the lower gearing will be slower at first, but much much faster later on when I’d otherwise be pushing my bike up the third hill! Now when I arrive home after a 20-mile ride that includes a steep 2,000-3,000 foot climb in the middle section I feel remarkably good.

Final Thoughts

The SRAM Force eTap AXS HRD Shifters are awesome. Not only is the eTap AXS system amazing, but the brake feel and performance also is excellent, the ability to adjust the contact point as well as the reach is great, and the taller more robust shape of the hoods is perfect for gravel riding and enjoying downhill technical descents with a more confident grip on the hoods. Ultra wide-range gearing, perfectly indexed fast-shifting, great brake feel, and performance, truly a do-everything drivetrain. My only performance concern was the battery life, but that fear has proven unwarranted. I’m currently at 350 miles (~35 hours) of mixed gravel, MTB single track, and pavement, and the derailleur battery is still well in the green and appears to be around a 60%+ charge. The one negative I can think of with the SRAM AXS Mullet build is the cost, but I think that if you ride a lot and can afford the upgrade it’s well worth the expense. It truly is the near perfect ‘jack of all trades’ do everything drivetrain setup. And I’m confident that the drivetrain will be migrating with me from bike to bike for many years. I highly recommend the SRAM Force eTap AXS shifters, as well as all the SRAM AXS components. And Worldwide Cyclery will surely be my first stop for all future bicycle component purchases.

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August 16, 2021

AXS › eTap › Rider Review › Shifter › SRAM ›

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