First Impressions: SRAM Rival 22 Components

When it comes to designing and developing bicycle components, balancing affordability and functionality can be a real challenge. The good stuff is often reserved for the top-tier group, and only a smattering of the high-end features trickle down to the less costly components. That’s definitely not the case, however, with SRAM’s Rival 22 component group.

Like the company’s higher-priced Red 22 and Force 22 components, the Rival 22 group boasts 11-speed compatibility, upgraded DoubleTap™ shifters with Zero-Loss™ and Yaw™ technology, and the choice of regular or WiFLi™ gearing. And to ensure future-proof compatibility, SRAM offers Rival 22 with no less than three brake options: hydraulic discs, mechanical calipers, and hydraulic calipers.

Having spent the better part of last year riding SRAM’s Force 22 components, we were anxious to see how the Rival 22 group stacked up. To guarantee a fair comparison, our Black Mountain Cycles test bike was set up with the same gearing (50/34, 11-32), wheels, and cockpit that were used for the Force 22 review.

Component Weight (g) Price (USD)
Shifters 332 $251
Rear Derailleur 191 $72
Front Derailleur 79 $38
Crankset 857 $192
Bottom Bracket 115 $35
Cassette (PG-1130) 310 $69
Chain (PC-1130) 259 $29
Brakes 300 $86
Total 2443 $772

Shifters
Choosing affordable shifters is sometimes a gamble–you may get the same number of gears as the pricier models, but ergonomics or performance can differ wildly. Often times, lower-priced shifters have action so soft that it’s difficult to tell whether you’ve actually shifted or not. Thrifty cyclists looking for high-end performance won’t be disappointed with the SRAM Rival 22 DoubleTap® shifters ($251 MSRP).

Rival 22 levers

Thanks to SRAM’s ZeroLoss™ technology, Rival 22 levers deliver shifting that is quick and crisp, with action that features both tactile and audible feedback. Even wearing bulky winter gloves, we didn’t experience any missed or unwanted shifts. And comfort? Wrap your hands around the hoods and you’re treated to the same great ergonomics of the company’s top-of-the-line Red 22 levers. Riders with small hands will definitely appreciate the ability to independently adjust the brake levers’ and shift paddles’ reach.

The DoubleTap levers are one of the brightest stars in the Rival 22 group. Weight-wise, the Rival 22 levers are only marginally heavier (25 g) than the Force 22 units (due to the latter group’s use of carbon fiber), yet the Rival levers fatten your wallet by more than $200. More importantly, though, Rival 22 levers bring 11-speed compatibility to the masses without sacrificing any of the functionality found on the company’s higher-end products.

Rear Derailleur
When we pulled the rear derailleur from our Rival 22 shipment, we initially thought that it may have been a pre-production unit. The derailleur’s matte grey and black finish, while nicely done, was a stark contrast to the glossy black color scheme found on the group’s other components. An email to SRAM confirmed that the derailleur was indeed a production version, and that the anodized finish helped keep the price down ($72 MSRP for the mid-cage WiFLi model). The Rival derailleur may lack Force’s stainless steel hardware and carbon cage, but it does retain the latter’s AeroGlide Pulleys™ (which feature sealed bearings for reduced maintenance).

Rival 22 rear mech

Curious to see compare the Rival 22 derailleur to its costlier Force 22 sibling, we installed the Rival rear mech on our otherwise Force 22-equipped test bike. In the stand, we couldn’t detect any measurable difference between the two derailleurs’ performance. On the road and trail, the newer Rival derailleur worked as well, if not slightly better than the older Force unit (which we attributed to fresh cables and housings).

With only an 18 gram weight penalty compared to the costlier Force 22 model ($118 MSRP), the Rival 22 rear derailleur is an obvious choice for cyclo-cross or mixed-terrain use where there is a high risk of damage from rocks, mud, or branches.

Front Derailleur
If you were to compare the Rival 22 and Force 22 front derailleurs, you’d be hard pressed to spot any differences. Functionally, the two components are identical; they both feature SRAM’s Yaw™ technology, but the Rival 22 version uses a less expensive finish in order to meet a lower price point ($38 MSRP). Aside from the different finish, the Rival 22 front derailleur works every bit as well as the Chicago-based company’s more expensive models.

Rival 22 front mech

After riding several thousand miles on Yaw-equipped bikes, we’ve become very spoiled by SRAM’s trim-free shifting. There’s no noise or rubbing if you suddenly find yourself cross-chained, and by eliminating the need for multiple clicks, shifting is faster and more positive. Setting up a Yaw system is different compared to a conventional setup, but once everything is dialed in, it’s virtually maintenance free.

Crankset
The majority of the weight difference (approximately 204 grams) between the Rival and Force groups comes from the cranks–a whopping 142g. While the two groups’ chainrings are nearly identical, the Rival 22 crankarms are constructed from aluminum alloy instead of carbon fiber. The good news is that the Rival 22 crankarms are available in a wide range of lengths–165 mm to 177.5 mm, in 2.5 mm increments. Chainring sizes are limited to 52/36, 50/34, and 46/36.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder SRAM Rival 22 HED Ardennes Plus LT Black Mountain Cycles Speedplay Lezyne

The Rival 22 cranks, while not particularly light, proved to be very reliable. Shifting performance was indistinguishable from the pricier Force 22 crankset. The alloy arms remained tight and creak-free for the duration of our test period, and the glossy black finish withstood plenty of shoe rub and sloppy winter riding conditions. SRAM offers only one level of aftermarket GXP bottom bracket (with steel bearings), and it’s compatible with any of the company’s GXP cranks (road or mountain). Our previous experience with SRAM’s GXP bottom brackets has been very positive, and we expect similar performance from the Rival 22’s bottom bracket.

Cassette & Chain
SRAM’s PG-1130 cassette and PC-1130 chain are the company’s least-expensive 11-speed consumables. The differences between the 1130 and the costlier 1170 units are minimal, though. The 1130 cassette uses a steel locking (the 1170 cassette comes with an alloy lockring), and the 1130 chain features solid pins instead of the hollow pins found on the 1170 chain.

Rival 22 drivetrain ds

In our experience, SRAM’s chains and cassettes tend to perform equally well, and the Rival’s 1130 units are no exception. When it comes to durability, proper maintenance and using the appropriate chain lube generally have more of an effect on longevity than price or pedigree.

Rival 22 proves that affordable doesn’t mean you have to settle for less. SRAM successfully delivers lower-priced components with the same features found on their high-end groups. Our Rival 22 group easily held up to dirt, gravel, and even commuting–dispelling the notion that 11-speed drivetrains are finicky and need constant attention. The 204 gram weight penalty is pretty easy to swallow when you consider the $580 savings compared to the equivalent Force 22 components.

Disclosure: SRAM provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: WTB Nano 40C Tires

Wilderness Trail Bikes‘ (WTB) Nano 40 tires have an impressive lineage. The 700×40 Nano‘s tread pattern is based on the company’s long-running Nanoraptor 29er tire. And according to WTB, the full-sized Nano is the number-one tire choice for Tour Divide ultra-marathon event.

The Nano 40C is available in three versions: TCS Light ($54.95 MSRP), Race ($49.95 MSRP), and Comp ($31.95 MSRP). We tested the Race model, which features a folding aramid bead, WTB’s DNA rubber compound, and a lightweight 60 tpi casing. Our sample tires weighed 460-462 grams (less than the 470 gram advertised weight), and measured 40.1 mm when mounted in 22.6 mm-wide rims (18.5 mm inner width).

While the 40 mm Nanos may look a bit anemic when compared to full-sized 29er tires, they have far more volume than your typical ‘cross knobby. The Nano’s casings have a decidedly u-shaped cross-section, which puts of lot of air between you and the ground. That plump profile, combined with a recommended pressure range of 35-65 psi, translates to a smooth, comfortable ride on rocky trails and broken pavement. Unlike some competitors’ tires that utilize excessively large side knobs (which tend to be largely cosmetic), the Nano’s tread is actually narrower than the casing (by approximately 5 mm). That unique combination means more clearance at the frame and fork.

The Nano’s tread pattern features an elevated centerline that rolls efficiently and quietly on hard surfaces, but don’t mistake these for run-of-the-mill hybrid tires. On soft, loose soil, the WTB tires really shined–yet they remained squirm-free when railing turns on hardpack and loose-over-hard. Even though the majority of our testing took placing during dry weather, we were pleasantly surprised at how well the WTB tires performed in light snow. We tested the WTB tires at various pressures, and found that they worked best between 40-55 psi (depending on riders’ weight, terrain, and riding style).

It’s obvious that the Nano 40C can’t–and isn’t designed to–replace dedicated road or mtb tires. That said, on-road performance is quiet and fast enough so that riding (pavement) to the trail isn’t something to be avoided. And once you reach the trailhead, off-road performance is as good as it gets for a tire of this size.

Disclosure: WTB provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: Selle SMP Saddles

Saddles with cut-outs are nothing new, and most saddle manufacturers offer a few models with carved-out centers. Selle SMP takes it one step further, though–the Italian company designs all of their saddles with cutouts. Each model–from the ultralight Full Carbon to the generously padded Plus–features the distinctive eagle beak profile and relieved central channel.

While Selle SMP may be unfamiliar to some, the company began producing saddles in 1947. For more than 65 years, SMP saddles have been designed and manufactured exclusively in Italy. In 2004, the company was granted four patents for their saddles’ central channel, eagle beak tip, frame, and split rear depression.

Choosing the correct SMP saddle is easy, thanks to the company’s selection table. Simply locate your waist size on the chart, and look for the recommended models. Unlike competitors who offer the same saddle in multiple widths, Selle SMP divides their seventeen professional/road saddles into seven different size families (with men’s and women’s models differing only by color and graphics). Plugging in my waist size revealed that I fell between the large and extra-large saddles. Knowing that I tend to prefer relatively wide saddles, I decided on the Avant, Plus, and Pro models.

Model Length (mm) Width (mm) Weight (grams)
Avant 269 154 345
Plus 279 159 369
Pro 278 148 320

All three saddles feature carbon-reinforced nylon shells and microfiber covers (the company also offers versions with genuine leather covers). Each of the test saddles were equipped with stainless steel 7.1mm rails, although the Avant and Pro are also available with unidirectional carbon fibre frames. Selle SMP utilizes three different levels of padding–minimum, standard, and high. The Avant and Plus are classified as high-level padding, and the Pro is spec’d with standard-level padding. Fit and finish was excellent, and each saddle included a tri-color ribbon signifying the Made In Italy construction.

As with any saddle, proper setup is key to comfort and efficiency. Selle SMP saddles are designed to divide the body weight between the glutes and the lower part of the pelvis. To achieve the proper balance, SMP recommends installing the saddles with an initial neutral position. This is achieved by centering the rails on the seatpost clamp, and adjusting the saddle’s tilt to horizontal (with the aid of a spirit or bubble level). From there, the saddle’s position can be fine tuned to accommodate the rider’s preference.

I tested each saddle on multiple bicycles, and with seatposts of varying setback/offset. Each saddle was installed using the aforementioned guidelines, and the initial positions proved to be very comfortable. Fine-tuning the saddles’ positions usually required tilting the noses up slightly, and adjusting fore/aft position to compensate for very steep or slack seat-tube angles. SMP saddles feature rails that offer plenty of room for adjustment, but take care to properly tighten your seatpost’s clamp, as the slick finish can cause them to slip over time.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Selle SMP Avant Plus Pro seat saddle Italy

Selle SMP’s Plus saddle on the author’s Salsa Vaya.

Although the three saddles all share similar dimensions, I found that I preferred the wider, flatter (side-to-side) shape of the Avant and Plus models. This wasn’t too surprising, though, as my preferred personal saddles all tend to have very flat rear sections. And while I was initially skeptical of SMP’s swoopy profile and eagle beak tip, the saddles’ unique shape worked exceptionally well at reducing pressure on my soft tissues. This improved comfort was immediately apparent when riding in the drops, or climbing steep, technical trails while perched on the saddle’s nose.

That increased comfort doesn’t come at the expense of support. Selle SMP’s one-piece loop frame helps prevent the heavily relieved shell from sagging or collapsing, which is often an issue on conventional saddles with large cut-outs. The saddles’ thick, dense padding proved to be extremely effective at filtering out both high-frequency (paved roads) and high-amplitude (unpaved trails) vibrations. It’s too early to evaluate long-term durability, but I didn’t encounter any issues or premature wear during the four-month test period.

If you’re unhappy with your current saddle, consider one of Selle SMP’s models. Riders who cannot get enough setback, or those who prefer a more angled saddle position will be well served by the Italian company’s offerings. A list of current stockists can be found here, and many dealers have demo or loaner saddles available.

Disclosure: Albabici / Selle SMP provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.