As the lone mechanical groupset in SRAM’s road/gravel offering, the all-new SRAM Apex Eagle mechanical offers wide-range 12-speed options without that often-pesky front derailleur. Road race courses and fast-paced group rides often demand the fine-tuned gearing offered with 2×12, but for the rest of us, a wide-range 1×12 groupset is perfect.
SRAM Apex Eagle 1×12 Groupset Features:
- Eagle and XPLR-compatible
- Apex Eagle Rear derailleur with up to 52t capacity
- Cage Lock makes wheel changes a breeze
- Roller Bearing Clutch for a quiet, secure chain
- Alex hydraulic shift/brake lever with DoubleTap shifting
- Reach Adjust allows personalized fit
- Optional one-sided Quarq power meter
- MSRP: $618 (everything but bottom bracket)
Mechanical simplicity, not perfection
When it comes to modern road and gravel bikes, it’s an admirable goal to aim for versatility and simplicity. Versatility because the bike and drivetrain needs to function both on and off road and simplicity because the demands of gravel riding introduce enough variables that make a 1x system more appealing. With 1x drivetrains the norm for mountain biking, they have also become standard fare for gravel and are making more headway into road riding. Heck, some of the Team Jumbo Visma riders were rocking SRAM 1x setups at the highest levels of the sport.
But, Apex Eagle isn’t intended to serve the highest levels of the sport. No, it’s made for the everyday rider or those getting into road and gravel riding. Eliminating the front derailleur reduces shifting and setup complexities to make bikes more approachable. For the casual rider, Shimano GRX, Campagnolo Ekar and now SRAM Apex are all great mechanical groupsets that don’t need to be charged, so they are at the ready no matter how long you go between rides. It’s no secret that I love the smoothness of electronic drivetrains, but mechanical shifting — free of beeps, boops, batteries and chargers — is a refreshing way to get back to the simplicity of riding a bike.
I’ve had the new SRAM Apex Eagle 1×12 groupset installed on a custom Salsa Journeyer for several months now and there’s a lot to appreciate by going back to mechanical, so let’s dig in a little.
For starters, SRAM has done a great job with the ergonomics overall. Tops on that list are the extra-wide brake levers, which differ from those on the top-tier groupsets. The blade is wide and cocked off to the outside just a little. The result is awesome brake feel and power. It’s really easy to grab a finger-full of brakes with either one or two fingers. With dual 160mm rotors and reliable braking, I can slow down with precision on even the most technical singletrack descents. They are also decidedly modulated for a great feel that’s not only on/off.
The hoods themselves are a little wider than those found with Rival AXS shifters. All those mechanical bits take up some space and SRAM can’t make them exactly the same diameter, but it’s not a real issue. Comfort is maintained in the hoods or drops to either brake or shift with ease.
Rough shifting in rough terrain
Since Apex Eagle is a 1×12 mechanical system, it utilizes SRAM’s DoubleTap shifting system. With it, the shift lever does double-duty to both shift up and down the cassette. Shifting into a harder gear is a one-click breeze and happens in a jiffy. Shifting up the cassette to an easier gear requires a lot more movement into the DoubleTap zone. On flat terrain, this shifting pattern is great. It’s easy to single-shift or dump gears alike. However, when the terrain gets rough and challenging, shifting becomes more difficult.
Specifically, when the terrain gets steep and rough, single-taps can turn into multi-taps unintentionally. And, pushing the lever inwards for an easier gear can be challenging as the bike is bounding through rough terrain. On several occasions, my finger would slip off the shift lever without achieving a full shift. Again, on mellow terrain, it wasn’t a problem, but I’m on a gravel bike and rough terrain is part of the program. With that, I would strive to anticipate shifts further in advance to avoid these issues. Still, that small metal shifter is easy to lose and could use more friction on its face (rubber or textured metal ribs). As temperatures dropped and full-finger gloves have become necessary, this problem has amplified.
While it is refreshing to not have electronic everything on a gravel bike, I still really missed AXS MicroAdjust when a shift refinement was needed. As with any mechanical groupset, there is a little bit of cable stretch as you’re breaking everything in. Instead of fixing it in the saddle, like you can with AXS shifters, you have to get off the bike and use the barrel adjuster found on the back of the rear derailleur. Not only is it a learning curve to remember which direction to turn the adjuster, it’s also a hard way to refine shifting. What works in the bike stand doesn’t always work in the wild and I found myself satisfied with imprecise shifting that proved elusive to nail down. It wasn’t terrible, but frustrating to perfect.
I do love the wide-range 11-50t NX Eagle cassette mated to the 40t chainring as it provides excellent range for all things gravel. Even on the steepest climbs, I could settle in and pedal through it with range to spare. On one technical singeltrack climb, I made it up and over terrain best-served on a mountain bike. But, that 40-11t combo leaves something to be desired on occasional road descents as it spins out approaching 28 mph. I have to bury my inner speed demon and enjoy coasting my way downhill.
For those wanting more data measurement, you can upgrade the crank arm for $220 to get reliable, single-sided power with the accuracy of Quarq. It’s awesome that SRAM has such an affordable power meter option on an entry-level groupset.
All the goodness I’ve come to appreciate with SRAM’s mountain bike drivetrains is present with Apex Eagle. Specifically, the Roller Bearing Clutch and Cage Lock. With the clutch, the drivetrain remains quiet and smooth — with superb chain retention. And, Cage Lock makes wheel changes or tire repairs a breeze.
- Mechanical groupsets are always refreshing to ride
- Wide-bladed brake levers offer superb control
- Shifting is smooth on smooth terrain
- Great hood shape
- Clutched rear derailleur keeps the chain tight and eliminates chainslap
- Affordable and approachable for gravel and road use
- Fine-tuning your shifts requires you to dismount (and has proven fleeting)
- Fingers slip off the shifter on rough terrain, making shifts difficult to do
The Bottom Line: SRAM Apex Eagle 1×12 Groupset
The introduction of SRAM Apex Eagle 1×12 caps SRAM’s 12-speed transition for their drop bar groupsets. And, it now represents their only mechanical 12-speed option. With their ability to deliver electronic shifting at lower and lower price points, SRAM has successfully migrated most of us to their top-tier groupsets. But, for simplicity and approachability, the Apex Eagle mechanical kit is a great option. Shifting hasn’t been perfect, but overall function is on par with what I’d expect at this price point. You’re likely to find this kit on an off-the-shelf bike, but if you have a budget build in mind, piecing it all together remains economical.
Buy Now: Visit CompetitiveCyclist.com (limited selection)
SRAM Apex Eagle is a great, wide-range option for both gravel and road riding. Optimized for value builds coming to you from all the top manufacturers, you can also piece it together for a custom journeyman gravel or road bike build. I appreciate all the good things about SRAM's 12-speed offering (clutched derailleur, easy wheel changes and ergonomics), but shifts became difficult on the roughest terrain. Still, it is the least-expensive 12-speed gravel groupset on the market and offers an excellent value.
- Shift Quality
- Setup and Adjustability
- Overall Value