Delivering the wholesale redesign of SRAM RED eTap AXS required thousands of people, in multiple time zones and countries, to be on the same page. It required programing, electrical, machining, molding and a host of other disciplines to work together. A simple change to a chainring could ripple thorough every department, eventually requiring the AXS app team to rewrite software. To learn more about these challenges, we spoke to four people integral to SRAM RED eTap AXS development and the AXS family as a whole. These people represent just a tiny fraction of those responsible for the new components, but they offer a glimpse into the realities of getting such a complex task done.
JIM MEYER [ Category manager, digital integration ]
What was your core responsibility? You know, SRAM as an organization had 300 mechanical engineers, before Quarq and eTap, then we started hiring new electrical engineers and new software engineers. We also have a bunch of design locations and teams and they are organized effectively to do what they need to do, but once you get to the AXS world everything needs to work together. It means the teams involved had to work together to make the products work together. One of my big roles here was to be the voice of how the whole system would work together and call out when we’re not connecting dots correctly. Of course it wasn’t just me, there were a lot of people, but that was formally my role.
What was the biggest challenge? There wasn’t a single big challenge, just a series of small challenges. I won’t call it a tug of war, but it’s always a balance between what will work for riders and what’s technically possible. And then there is always the curve ball: What is Apple doing, what is Garmin doing and what are we limited on?
What are you most proud of? Not just me, but I imagine the whole team; it’s all about having everything work together as a whole system. Overall, that’s the most rewarding; it all comes together as a system in the end, not just the parts, but the team. The SRAM team, we’re super capable now.
RELATED: Check out all the details behind SRAM’s new eTap AXS groups.
BRAD MENNA [ Road product manager ]
What was your core responsibility? My role as a product manager is to determine the position of the product, price of the product and in some ways the placement. As product managers we set targets and requirements for the teams. It’s our job to voice the customer, we’re the experts, we’re talking to riders, we’re out riding, we’re talking to media. We put together a brief, “We need a derailleur that needs to be a certain weight and price and what it has to do.” There’s a business plan behind it, not just, “I have this cool idea! Let’s go!”
What was the biggest challenge? The biggest challenge, high level, is getting to the point that the complete groupset works as a whole and is ready to be handed off to a pro rider. It’s not that there was one step along the way that was so hard, but it’s all these little things. We have a crank team, we have a front derailleur team, we have a rear derailleur team, we have a cassette team, we have a chain team and it has all got to come together flawlessly. We look at all our groups and ask,”Who is it made for? And a RED group is made for a WorldTour rider.”
What are you most proud of? The rear derailleur is pretty awesome. I’m really stoked about that. Not only is there no chain slap, the general running noise is quieter, it’s faster, its just smoother. My chain is managed whether I’m off road or on road. I love the gearing of course, but if I had to point to one thing I’m the most stoked about, it’s that rear derailleur and what it allows you to do with all the other components. The goal was to have the groupset match the capabilities of the bikes people are riding today.
ANTHONY MEDAGLIA [ Chief systems engineer: road ]
What was your core responsibility? I used to be responsible for overseeing the engineers who designed the cranks, chainrings and the front derailleur. Now we have systems engineers in the company, and I’m one of two. I took part in a lot of those specification conversations. The product managers come in and say, “Hey, this is what we want,” Then we say, “Well, this is what we can do!” Then it’s just a fun game of making it work, and that’s actually a challenge I really like.
What was the biggest challenge? Convincing the other side! It’s helping mediate trade-off decisions when you discover, “Hey, the front derailleur and the chainring, someone’s got to give to make something work.” Neither wants to budge. You have to break it down into technical reasoning. Most of the engineers can reason technically. There’s a bit of psychology involved with it too! Somebody’s gonna be bummed out to sacrifice something from their baby. But in the big picture, it makes the whole system better, that’s the message you have to drive home. We have a lot of engineers that are perfectionists, they want to make the best possible thing they can, but we’re trying to make the best system. Keeping people aligned on that is a big part of my job.
What are you most proud of? From a cog-tech standpoint, the cog tech – all the parts that touch the chain – was a clean-slate design. It’s a new chain so you get all these ideas you have on the shelf that you’ve been wanting to implement in the chain. Because, boy, you cannot just arbitrarily change a chain! It’s a big deal. When you start over from scratch and you get everything calibrated to the new design, it’s phenomenal. The front derailleur was designed the same time the rings were. Awesome, consistent performance in the front shifting regardless of the ring set you choose.
JP MCCARTHY [ Road product manager ]
What was your core responsibility? I had a lot to do with changing the gearing to what it is, hugely supported and validated by my product-develop peers’ judgment and especially from the engineering side. A lot of that came from experience, some arithmetic and then validation by people that were a lot more intelligent than I. They didn’t do exactly what I wanted and I was super depressed! I disappeared for like three weeks! I was so bummed out. Then I realized, “This is still gonna be great!” They were all thinking the same thing.
What was the biggest challenge? I don’t want to be so self centered, but it was getting past myself! What I proposed had some challenges and unknowns that make it a less-safe path and it would be faced with really serious market challenges. So it was the right decision to do this [current X-range gearing]. That was the biggest challenge: We don’t get everything we want! Actually, when we conceived of how we wanted to execute the drivetrain, and what our scope was, then there weren’t a lot of difficult decisions. We wanted to improve upon the gearing we put on bicycles: more usable gears, make it easier to find the right gear and never run out of gear. What are you most proud of? Honestly, it’s the chain, cassette and chainrings, it’s the arithmetic behind it. It’s the gearing. I’m super-proud of it. It’s a change in the right direction. There is a ton of stuff here that addresses 85 percent of the right bikes to go after, and I want all the weird bikes too! It’s the right gearing platform to provide gearing that people need, people want and will enjoy.