The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

From Cycle EXIF’s technical editor, Richard Gearing. As a bit of a road bike traditionalist — particularly with regard to the aesthetics of rim brakes — the recent influx of disc brakes on road bikes has been hard to get comfortable with. Regardless, when we reviewed the rim brake version of SRAM’s electronic eTap groupset back in August 2016 I said the groupset was good enough that the hydraulic disc brake version could finally be enough to convince me to switch to a disc brake setup.

With a disc brake review bike en route in late 2017, Monza Imports — local SRAM distributor — were keen to support the review and supplied an eTap HRD groupset to build the bike with. So, was it good enough to overcome my indifference with road bike disc brakes?

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

Functionally, eTap HRD works in exactly the same way as it did in our previous review, so I won’t repeat anything from that. This review will focus purely on the hydraulic disc aspects and the changes they bring over the rim brake version of the group.

Installing the disc brakes took me back to my mountain biking days. Despite being a little rusty having not needed to work on disc brakes for a good eight or nine years, the install was still fairly straightforward.

A hose length trim and careful feeding through the internal routing were the biggest challenges – although it’s not a job for a home mechanic unless experienced and in possession of the correct tools.

I was lucky in that trimming the hose length didn’t result in a need to bleed the brakes as SRAM recommend, but even that is a perfectly manageable task with the SRAM bleed kit and carefully following their instructions.

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

Once fitted and functional, the most immediate difference over the rim brake version of the group is the feel of the eTap HRD lever in the hand. Being quite bulky and rounded it is notably larger overall compared to the rim brake version – and also feels bigger in the hand than the Campagnolo H11 disc levers.

This could be a problem for smaller hands, although the lever reach is adjustable which should help in that regard (SRAM also claim it to be a better fit for smaller hands, so this could purely be my own perception). Either way, it makes for a sublimely comfortable lever for bigger hands; and the taller shape of the lever allows for more variation in hand positions.

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

Aesthetically, the flat mount calipers are very tidy and cleanly designed. They’re unobtrusive and light weight; and in that regard are perfect for the application. I’m not keen on the requirement for adaptors to run 160mm discs (SRAM only recommend 140mm discs for cyclocross) or to mount the front caliper to the fork, but they’re not alone in this as Shimano require the same (it is perhaps worth noting here that Campagnolo’s H11 disc setup offers two different calipers for 140mm and 160mm to avoid this; and even avoids using an adaptor for the front caliper).

One benefit for those running older disc frames before the flat mount standard became the norm for road disc is that post mount calipers are available for eTap HRD.

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

Functionally the calipers work perfectly. I was never left wanting for more power and the pad bite was good on the supplied 160mm discs – especially once the pad and rim had bedded in. The SRAM setup also offers a pad contact adjustment which allows you to dial in the lever movement that occurs before the pads begin to bite.

When I tried this dialled right out (i.e. delaying the pad bite) I found myself going through a split second panic when the pads didn’t engage straight away, which then resulted in me grabbing at the levers to offset that.

It’s a nice option to have but I recommend testing it to ensure you’re comfortable before setting off for a ride – although it is easily adjustable mid-ride if need be.

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

The ‘CenterLine X’ discs supplied are good looking and work well. As is fairly standard with higher end disc specs, these utilise an aluminium ‘floating’ centre section to assist in heat dissipation from the steel braking surface. Aside from a spot of truing – easily done with the right tool – these were hassle free for the whole review period.

One minor frustration is that SRAM appear to have stuck with 6-bolt disc rotors for the HRD group. Given that there seems to be an industry-wide shift towards centerlock wheels for road disc, this means needing to run adaptors unless you specifically seek out a 6-bolt wheelset. Not a deal-breaker, but certainly worth knowing about up front.

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

On the subject of frustrations, the only other one I have with the SRAM setup is that the hydraulic hose connection is managed at lever end of the hose. Aside from occasionally being frustrating in terms of re-wrapping bar tape after carrying out adjustments, the connectors are on the fiddly side and can be tricky to access being so close to the lever body. That said, the proximity of connectors at the caliper end on other setups isn’t always notably easier.

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

Overall the eTap HRD kit is hard to fault. Combine that with the rest of the eTap functionality and simplicity and you have quite a compelling – if slightly pricey – hydraulic road disc solution here; and it makes for a very attractive, clean-looking bike to boot.

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review

As for that previous indifference of mine regarding road disc? Well, I am now in the process of building a disc road bike for myself. I guess this eTap HRD was good enough to convert me…

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Our most sincere thanks to Monza Imports for their support in sending the groupset to review; and to Curve Cycling for the frame on which it was hung – a review of which is already live here.

The Contender: SRAM eTap HRD Review