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Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red eTap AXS

SRAM and Shimano's flagship electronic groupsets compared

Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 and SRAM Red eTap AXS are two of the most exciting and technologically advanced groupsets you can buy. Representing the peak of what the world's leading component makers can achieve, theirs is a rivalry played out in bike shops and WorldTour races worldwide. SRAM Red eTap AXS launched in 2019 while Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 arrived on the scene in 2021. 

The latter launch saw Shimano catch up with SRAM to offer 12-speed gearing along with a new semi-wireless operation. The update also saw Shimano definitively move away from mechanical shifting, meaning that the top of the market now belongs entirely to electronically operated groupsets.

SRAM's most recent makeover focussed on creating an enhanced range of gearing options, including the ability to run ultra-wide cassettes alongside single chainrings.

But how do the two groupsets stack up against one another? Read on to find out…

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red key features

SRAM Red eTap AXS

  • 12-speed
  • Wireless electronic shifting
  • Rim brake and disc brake options
  • 10-tooth smallest sprocket requires XDR driver freehub body
  • Orbit Fluid damper rear derailleur
  • Power meter option
  • Detachable batteries on each derailleur
  • Single chainring and wide-ratio options

Shimano Dura-Ace R9200

  • 12-speed
  • Semi-wireless electronic shifting
  • Rim brake and disc brake options
  • 11-tooth smallest sprocket and compatible with conventional freehub
  • Power meter option
  • Durable central battery powers both derailleurs

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red shifting, ergonomics and adjustability

Both groupsets provide good, dependable shifting overall but the latest generation Shimano groupset's front shifting is best-in-class. The way Dura-Ace R9200 fires the chain from one chainring to the other is a joy to behold.

 

Shimano Di2 shifters mimic their mechanical counterparts with two main buttons on each side.

The large button on Shimano's righthand shifter deals with rear derailleur upshifts, while its smaller counterpart moves you down. Moving to the left-hand side, the large button shifts into the bigger chainring, with the smaller one pops you down.

SRAM's approach might be more intuitive to some. By default, SRAM uses the right paddle for rear derailleur upshifts and the left for rear derailleur downshifts. Simultaneously pressing both paddles shifts the front derailleur. It's about as idiot-proof as shifting gets.

Both SRAM and Shimano systems allow you to customise the function of the buttons in various ways, a feature best accessed via each maker's app. You can also opt to have the groupset take care of front shifts for you.



Creating a range of sequential gears, SRAM calls this 'sequential shifting' while Shimano calls it 'synchronished shifting' or 'synchro'.

Both brands also offer a halfway-house option where the rider takes care of shifting both derailleurs, but the system adds in rear shifts to accompany the front, smoothing the progression between gears. SRAM calls this 'compensating' mode, while Shimano dubs it 'semi-synchro'.

Besides the main combined shifters, both Dura-Ace and Red groupsets offer options for remote shifting. 

SRAM calls its remote buttons Blips. These were originally wired, but the brand has since launched wireless Blips, which can be placed anywhere you like. 

Shimano's more diminutive satellite shifters are wired-only and come in 'drops' and 'tops' versions to suit different requirements.

Even if you don't choose to fit satellite shifters, Dura-Ace levers incorporate extra hidden buttons on the top of the lever body. These can assigned to perform shifting functions, or used to operate other devices such as Garmin GPS head units.

Regarding ergonomics, the latest Dura-Ace hydraulic levers have actually increased in size. Now longer, fatter, and taller, this reportedly comes at the request of Shimano's pro riders. However, the need to also fit the new wireless components and replaceable battery inside may also have something to do with it. Either way, we found the new hoods to provide a comfortable, natural hand position.

Ditto the tweaked button positions and spacing. Now easier to activate from the drops, they follow Shimano's established format by locating two paddles next to each other behind the brake lever blade.

Marginally chunkier than their competitors, SRAM's latest levers will feel very familiar to existing users. 

Both Dura-Ace and Red have lever reach and bite-point (free stroke) adjustments.

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red gearing options

Although both groupsets have now gone 12-speed, gearing choice is one area where SRAM Red and Shimano Dura-Ace diverge dramatically. While Shimano offers a relatively traditional range of ratios and configurations, SRAM has some very clever tricks.

First off, it's managed to shrink its smallest sprocket down to a minuscule ten teeth. A single tooth smaller than the smallest 11-tooth sprocket offered by Shimano, this innovation requires you to swap over to an XDR driver.

Happily, this new freehub standard will fit most existing wheels and opens up SRAM's X-Range gearing.

This series of slightly shrunken double cranksets and matching cassettes includes 50/37, 48/35, 46/33, and 43/30 options that can be paired to cassettes as wide as 10-36t. Leveraging the smaller sprocket, they provide for a broader range of gears and lighter components.

They should also allow most riders to cut down on unnecessary shifting by helping them spend more time in the big chainring.

The other big news is SRAM's range of XPLR components. These gravel-specific components allow riders to employ phenomenally wide-ratio cassettes of up to 10-44 alongside single-chainring cranksets.

Available to select when purchasing or retrofitting later, these new parts expand the groupset's appeal beyond pure road riding. Regardless of whether you opt for a standard or XPLR-type rear derailleur, you'll also benefit from SRAM's hydraulic Orbit fluid damping technology.

This clutch-like mechanism stops the derailleur arm from swinging around over rough terrain and should help keep your chain remain in place.

By comparison, Shimano's Dura-Ace groupset opts for more familiar technology with a range of 12-speed cassettes that can slip straight onto your existing freehub.

With just two 11-30 and 11-34 cassette options supported by a single rear derailleur, this simplified range still offers much more consumer-friendly gearing than previous versions of the groupset.

For example, twin the largest of the two cassettes to a 50/34 compact crankset, and you'll get a very low and free-spinning 1:1 ratio, meaning you won't need pro-level fitness to make it over the mountains.

At the other end of the spectrum, Shimano has introduced a new 54/40 chainring combination. Replacing the 53/39 setup traditionally favoured by racers, it provides enormous gears and should be a hit with pros and aspiring pros alike.

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red braking

While both SRAM Red and Shimano Dura-Ace groupsets still offer traditional rim brakes, most riders are now likely to be using disc brakes. (Evidence of this includes the fact that Shimano's cable operated 12-speed levers are just a rehash of the old 11-speed units rather than a totally new product like its disc brake compatible models).

You won't find stopping power lacking with either brand, but they do dole out their braking force somewhat differently.

Shimano brakes tend to have more of a defined bite point while SRAM's come on more subtly. Both are easily powerful enough to stop the bike regardless of the conditions and the choice comes down to personal taste.

However, for keen home mechanics, Shimano might have the edge, if only because its mineral oil braking fluid is less corrosive and better for the environment than the DOT fluid used by SRAM. 

Another small point of difference is that, with the pistons retracted, pad clearance is slightly greater with Shimano brakes than it is with SRAM, mean disc rub is marginally less likely if you have a slightly bent rotor, or filth gets into a caliper.

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red looks and design

Primarily down to personal preference, it's hard to think either groupset looks anything other than lovely. With its super compact cranksets, distinctive flattop chain, and chunky derailleurs, SRAM's is undoubtedly the more radical stylistically.

By comparison, Shimano's Dura-Ace could almost be mistaken for a mechanical groupset, particularly given you still need to wire the derailleurs to the central battery.

The reduction in wiring up front does mean the system is now a bit slicker than its predecessor was, however.

Aesthetically, both groupsets are pretty angular. On Shimano's components, finishing is more universally glossy, while SRAM opts for a pleasant mix of polished and matte finishes.

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red battery life, apps and everyday practicality

Another critical point of difference between the systems is how they're powered. In opting for a completely wireless system, SRAM prioritises ease of installation.

Its design sees both the front and rear derailleurs powered by their own batteries, each of which clips directly onto the back of the derailleur itself. These power packs should then be good for around 60 hours of riding before needing to be recharged. 

Detaching easily from the parts they power, this makes them straightforward to bring indoors for charging, and if one derailleur goes flat before the other, you can swap the batteries around to eke out a few more shifts. The coin cells in the levers meanwhile should last for around 2 years of riding.

By comparison, Shimano uses one central battery to power both derailleurs, with wiring running through the frame to the battery mounted in the seatpost.

Charging is via a port on the rear derailleur and you'll need to bring the entire bike inside to replenish its battery.

Shimano reckons you'll get around 1,000km of riding from the central battery, while the coin cells in the levers should last 1.5 to 2 years, numbers that are pretty similar to SRAM's.

Shimano users keen to boost their run times further can also opt to wire the shifters directly to the battery unit. Shimano claims doing so will increase run time by 50%, making it a good option for forgetful people or those going on long tours.

For a long time, SRAM has been ahead of Shimano regarding connectivity. The latest Dura-Ace groupset remedies this by now connecting directly with your phone without requiring additional hardware. Letting you assign buttons and check on other aspects of performance, SRAM's AXS app does the same thing for its parts and features slightly better graphics. Both apps are compatible with iOS and Android.

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red weight

There's no standard method for weighing groupsets so it's difficult to offer a true apples to apples comparison between Red eTap AXS and Dura-Ace R9200, particularly given their differing options for gearing and accessories.

However, manufacturers have got better at providing meaningful numbers, and both Shimano and SRAM have a fairly good track record of providing accurate weights. 

Going by the brand's own numbers for ostensibly very similar setups, a complete Shimano R9200 disc groupset without a power meter weighs 2439g, while a complete SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset is 2,518g.

Interestingly, the two manufacturers divvy up the weight differently, with SRAM's carbon crankset being lighter than Shimano's aluminium model but Shimano's shifters being lighter than SRAM's. Unsurprisingly, both groupsets represent the most lightweight parts each manufacturer makes.

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red price and running costs

In launching their respective groupsets, SRAM and Shimano expected to test the maximum people were prepared to pay. After all, both represent the pinnacle of the market.

Then along came a global pandemic, supply chain shortages, inflation, and massive currency fluctuations. Now they're not just expensive; they're really expensive.

This might be the reason that both brands have hedged their bets by including almost exactly the same technology on their second-tier Force and Ultegra groupsets, both of which have more sensible price tags.

However, if you must have the finest components available to humanity, the current cost of SRAM's Red AXS groupset in a twin-chainring format with disc brakes is £3,632 (excluding BB). When it launched in the UK, the equivalent Dura-Ace set-up from Shimano was listed as £3,513.

However, even once you've saved up your pennies, you may discover there's currently little to no aftermarket availability for most Dura-Ace R9200 series components. This means the only way to get your hands on the parts is if they come fitted to a new bicycle.

Assuming you're reading this at some time in the future, let's move on to ongoing servicing costs.

Here, both groupsets are relatively similar. A SRAM Red 12-speed cassette costs £339.99, just a tenner more than Shimano's at £329.99. Chains come in at £60 for Shimano and £68 for SRAM. However, fall off and ruin your rear derailleur, and SRAM will want £642 compared to the £699.99 Shimano will have off of you.

Generally equivalent to keep running, one area the two diverge is for those employing either groupsets' matching power meter. Because SRAM has integrated its sensors into the chainring, it's a disposable part and replacing these becomes more expensive. By comparison, Shimano's crank-based system involves no consumable parts.

Shimano Dura-Ace vs. SRAM Red: Which is better?

These are both outstanding groupsets that deserve to be on the very best bikes. All things considered it's hard to say which is better.

Being completely wireless, SRAM's Red groupset is incredibly user-friendly. Its one-button-per-lever operation also makes a lot of sense, while it also features the most comprehensive range of gearing options.

However, we think Shimano's Dura-Ace groupset has a slight edge in terms of shifting. It's not as versatile as Red but, as a pure road racing product, it's hard to beat.

When it comes to weight Shimano wins again, but by such a small margin we wouldn't really factor it into our decision.

SRAM wins on cost (and current availability). Battery life is comparable, but Shimano can boost its significantly by forgoing its wireless functionality. A trick SRAM does without; it's nevertheless neater for managing without any electrical cables.

Ultimate, personal taste plays a significant role and you should choose the groupset whose ergonomics, shifting arrangements, gearing options and aesthetics you prefer.

Saying that, we think the latest generation of Dura-Ace has a small but meaningful edge in performance, and all else being equal it's the one we'd choose.


Don't miss our full SRAM Red eTap AXS 12-speed groupset review and Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 R9200 12-speed groupset review.

Need more help with groupsets? Read our buyer's guide to SRAM road and gravel groupsets and our buyer's guide to Shimano road and gravel groupsets.


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