Editor’s note: This article was originally published on BikeRumor.
At first glance, the “new” SRAM Force AXS groupset looks shiny and completely new. Fresh graphics with subtle-yet-shiny paint catch the eye, and the one-piece chainrings and slimmer brake hoods give it a sharper, higher-end look. Both are huge improvements to the group.
Hiding under the hood is a big collection of incremental running changes that have been added to both Red and Force groups over the years and finally get codified here.
As a quick background, SRAM does a great job of making continuous minor updates and improvements to its products, but, perhaps surprisingly, a really bad job of talking about them. So many of the “new” things “introduced” here formally have actually been on the group for some time.
A few more noteworthy things: SRAM is (finally) dropping “eTap” from the name. It’s now just Force AXS, not Force eTap AXS. And, along with 2x Force AXS road group, the 1x XPLR gravel group becomes a proper “Force” group with the same updates, graphics, and details. Together, they’re a more cohesive collection of high-end-yet-approachable drivetrains for drop bar bikes.
2023 SRAM Force AXS Details
If you recall, Red eTap launched as SRAM’s sole 12-speed electronic group. Then, when the AXS version came out, Force AXS debuted alongside it, as the line’s second-tier electronic group.
Now, it gets its own launch, thankfully drops the eTap nomenclature, and reimagines what a second-tier group can offer … while trying really hard to eschew any stigma the term “second-tier” might convey.
To kick that off, it gets a new premium finish. A bit of gloss and sparkle in the Unicorn Gray brings it to life in the sun. That’s accented with shiny logos that have a bit of rainbow flash in daylight too. Fortunately, beauty is more than skin deep. Here’s what’s new about each component.
The hoods get a refined shape … which is actually the same as the latest Rival group, with a smaller diameter that tapers down toward the front to create more finger clearance, finger wrap, and easier grip, particularly for smaller hands.
The brake reservoir hump at the front is smaller too, and the levers and pivot point are a few millimeters closer to the bar, making it easier to brake with one or two fingers while riding in the hoods.
Two main things let SRAM make the hoods smaller and bring the levers closer: eliminating the pad contact adjust (because the company found many riders never used it or even knew it was there) and removing the auxiliary Blip port.
Now that it has wireless Blips, the port became unnecessary, and you can connect up to six Blips if you want multiple shift locations. Also, it now makes the system 100% wireless. With so many Blips compatible, SRAM jokes it’s “even more wireless” than the competition.
But, compared to Rival, Force has upgraded brake levers (carbon instead of alloy) and a new shift paddle profile. The shift paddle is a bit longer but also tapered to improve clearance at the bar when you’re pulling it really far into its travel.
Running changes to the existing SRAM Force over the past few years have brought about several improvements. This group gets all of them. That means a two-piece caliper body that works better because it can better machine all the plumbing inside when it’s done in two pieces.
Improved pad retraction means less pad rub even if the rotors get a bit out of true. And the caliper is stiffer for a more solid braking feel.
It comes with its Paceline rotors, which carry over unchanged.
Crank Arms & Chainrings
The crank arms are easy. They’re the same as before, just with a new finish.
The chainrings are new, though, and SRAM designed them around two goals: improve shifting performance and drop weight.
SRAM achieved this by switching from a typical spider plus chainrings to a one-piece, machined 2x chainring unit (same as Red), available with or without a Quarq power meter. This design makes it stiffer and lighter. With the power meter option, it saves about 85 g versus the prior version.
That power meter is now integrated, like with Red, which means if you need to replace your chainrings, you’re also replacing the power meter. But, as with Red, SRAM says you’ll get a lot of miles out of the assembly before it needs replacing. Plus, the Force chainring is a lot less expensive than the Red equivalent.
For those with “chainring wear anxiety,” SRAM says people have largely gotten over it because the rings last longer than folks thought they would. That’s due somewhat to the brand’s unique chainring combos, which means people are shifting the front chainring less often.
But if you’re hung up on it, SRAM still offers the standard four-bolt power meter spider for eased ring swapping.
It’s a bit heavier, but if you frequently swap chainrings for different applications, or ride in foul conditions that grind down teeth more quickly, maybe that’s the better option for you. And if it is, SRAM has eliminated the cosmetic cover that came on the original Force eTap AXS, which had a reputation for creating running noise.
The Force chainring-plus-power-meter unit now comes with a 10% discount on replacements. It’s not quite the 50% discount it offers on Red, but Force’s chainring is significantly less expensive. Which is surprising because it’s the same piece of metal — only the finish differentiates Red from Force chainrings now.
As for sizes, it added the biggest 50/37 chainring combo, which was previously only available for Red. Others are 48/35 and 46/33.
For gravel riders who love a 2x group, there’s a single 43/30 option for the Wide crankset (which has a wider chainline and requires a specific Wide front derailleur). It will have the same new chainring design, but it’s for bikes built around wider tires and wider-range cassettes.
Available crank lengths are 165, 167.5, 170, 172.5, 175, and 177.5 mm.
The front derailleur’s architecture carries over from the previous SRAM Force groupset with the new Unicorn Gray finish. But it gets some new setup features to make installation easier.
A new guide tool lets you set it on the big chainring as you tighten it onto the braze-on/clamp, essentially putting it right where it needs to be.
Guide marks are made a bit more visible in case you need to make fine adjustments or readjust later on. But you can also just put the guide tool back in there if you’re reinstalling or changing chainring sizes.
Rear Derailleur & Cassette
Running changes from the past couple of years are implemented into all 1270 SRAM Force cassettes. These include a damper ring between the two largest cogs to reduce noise and the switch away from that awesome-looking all-black finish to the current nickel chrome finish.
SRAM says this finish is quieter, smoother, and more durable than prior finishes.
The group has four cassette options: 10/28, 10/30, 10/33, and 10/36. There’s no more 10/26 cassette offered, mainly because no one wanted it.
The rear derailleur has the same architecture as before, but now there’s a single model to handle all four of those cassettes. It’s compatible with anything up to a 36-tooth cog if you’re running a different brand cassette for some reason, but keep in mind that SRAM’s Flat Top chains are optimized specifically for its cassettes.
There’s no new tech or even shapes here, just cosmetic changes. It still has carbon outer/aluminum inner pulley cage plates, with steel bearings inside the pulleys, and the Orbit damper for chain management on bumpy roads.
2023 SRAM Force Pricing
Perhaps the best news? All of these updates and the much lighter new chainrings come with no price increase. The new SRAM Force AXS components are the same price as the prior versions.
- Shifter/Brake Caliper, Front – $350
- Shifter/Brake Caliper, Rear – $350
- Rear Derailleur AXS – $377
- Rear Derailleur XPLR – $369
- Front Derailleur – $243
- 1x Crankset w/ spindle PM – $585
- 1x Crankset – $275
- 2x Wide Crankset w/ spindle PM – $585
- 2x Road Crankset w/ PM – $800
- 2x Crankset – $275
- 2x Power Meter Chainring – $410
- 2x Chainring – $245
- Cassette – $195
- XPLR Cassette – $222
- Chain – $50
The good news is you can upgrade these one-piece chainrings onto any crankset that accepts SRAM’s eight-bolt mounting standard. It’s not compatible with its three-bolt DM standard, typically found on its MTB cranksets.
Force eTap vs. Force AXS Weight Comparison
Compared to the prior Force eTap group (D1), the new 2x Force AXS (D2) road group with power meter saves about 94 g. The new 1x Force XPLR AXS group saves 101 g with a power meter. Exact savings will depend on chosen chainring size/combo.
Weight savings come mainly from the new one-piece, direct-mount chainrings, and new shifter lever bodies are significantly lighter.
2023 SRAM Force XPLR Gravel Group
Taking most of the road group’s features onto gravel roads, the SRAM Force XPLR group shows a few key differences.
It gets its own new carbon crank arm, which has a left-side, spindle-based power meter option. It’s the same power meter as Rival, but with a lighter carbon crank arm.
This saves 45 g over a spider-based power meter and seeks to let riders swap through the new direct-mount chainrings easily. And that’s good because most gravel riders are more likely to change a chainring size between rides.
And, it gets new one-piece direct-mount chainrings, which save a lot of weight. Standard and Wide cranksets and chainrings are available.
Standard chainring sizes are 38/40/42/44/46 tooth. There are also 48T and 50T aero chainrings for those using a standard 1x crankset.
Brake levers and shifter paddles are the same as the road group’s. I highly appreciated the textured shift paddles and easier reach on rougher terrain.
The derailleur differs from the road variant but carries the same shapes and materials as the prior XPLR group I reviewed, but with new finishes.
It’s compatible with the XPLR 10/44 cassette and also the largest 10/36 road cassette but is specifically designed for 1x use only; you can’t pair it with a 2x chainring.
Here are a few photos to show the key differences, illustrating why you can’t run the road and gravel derailleurs interchangeably:
The road derailleur is on the left, and XPLR is on the right. Note the taller B-knuckle on the XPLR, whose mounting bolt is also positioned further back.
The cages are different, with the XPLR getting an offset upper pulley that allows for the increased rotation and movement required to move across a wider range of gears.
The road derailleurs have “MAX 36T” etched on the back of the B-knuckle, and the XPLR is branded as such, to make them easy to identify.
Don’t sweat this release if you have a current SRAM Force or XPLR group. It looks great, but the most significant update is the one-piece chainrings, and you can retrofit those to your current Force group. Heck, you can even save a few hundred dollars on your Red group when it’s time to replace those rings by getting these new Force ones.
Same for XPLR. The new one-pieces are backward compatible, and you can upgrade just the arms if you want to add the single-sided, spindle-based power meter.
The brake levers do constitute a more meaningful upgrade. I found them noticeably more comfortable than the previous generation, with better ergonomics for both shifting and braking. But mechanically, there’s no change from the old levers, so if you’re happy with what you’ve got, great. If you need to replace your whole group, also great; you’ll probably like these a bit better.