Perfect cassettes for climbing
This SRAM Force and Apex Cassette Review will discuss why these cassettes are perfect for climbing and ideally suited for Etape du Tour, Haute Route, Marmotte and more.
I’ve had a few emails about improving climbing (which I’ve covered in this post on How to Improve Your Climbing for Etape and the Mountains) as well as proper gearing (also covered in the aforementioned post).
So today we look at the SRAM Force 11-28 rear cassette.
Bang for buck, gram for gram, I think SRAM Force is hands down the perfect nexus of weight, price, quality and durability (though Contador seemed happy with the Apex 11-32 in the 2011 Giro, which we will talk about later).
What I like about this groupset is you can run a standard rear derailleur (I use SRAM Red, but have used this cassette with Shimano Ultegra), and front chainrings 53/39, 52/36 and standard compacts 50/34 and get a good range of gears.
The shifting is reliable, the cassettes have excellent durability (e.g. Bang for Buck) and are really only a little bit heavier than SRAM Red.
You can’t go wrong with SRAM Force (for those interested, my entire groupset except rear D/R and crankset – which are SRAM Red – is all SRAM Force).
Now we’ll look at specific gearing combinations.
Gear Combinations and Recommendations with SRAM Force Rear Cassettes
Personally, I think running compacts on the front leaves you a little short at high speeds; even a 50×11 will leave you looking for more gears smashing down some of the Cols in France.
However, for those not accustomed to serious climbing, then this will probably serve you well.
Personally, I’d rather be comfortable spinning up the mountain, than be cursing the lack of gears uphill but having adequate gears downhill.
53/39 Standard Chainrings
Running the SRAM 11-28 with standard full size chain rings is a good option, but will leave some people ill-prepared (or poorly geared) for the type of climbs we’ll see in Etape (think: Galibier) with adequate training and strong legs, in some trouble.
For those intent on running 53/39 and not used to a lot of climbing, I strongly recommend SRAM Apex’s 11-32, 12-32 or 12-36 gears. You can run a more standard 39×25 or 39×27 gearing ratio, but be prepared for some hard slog up the Galibier. It is truly a long climb.
52/36 SRAM Red Chainrings
Hands down I love these chain rings paired with 11-28 or 12-27. I think they offer the best compromise between gear range at both ends of the range. 52×11 will be enough for 95% of descending, and the 36×28 will be enough for the uphills, for most people.
As with the 53/39 chain rings, if you’re not reasonably experienced in climbing hills, I think the 52/36 chain rings will still leave you looking for more gears uphill, unless paired with an 11-32 cassette.
Moreover SRAM only produces 52/36 in SRAM Red, which is a little pricey for most.
SRAM Apex Options
If SRAM’s Apex is good enough for Alberto Contador in the Giro it is good enough for you.
Honestly, a SRAM Force 11-28 cassette when paired with compact (50/34) chain rings will be adequate for most people Tackling Etape.
For those in any doubt, or who haven’t been training, or don’t have strong legs or experience climbing the truly monstrous climbs of the Alpes, I strongly recommend you grab a SRAM Apex cassette. An 11-32 will be oodles of gears, but 12-36 is available too.
Ming comments below that for an 11/12-36, the “SRAM Apex mid-length cage derailleur is NOT long enough – you have to use an MTB derailleur like the X7, X9 or XX series. They will work fine.” (Thanks Ming!).
Just purchased a SRAM Force groupset with a 50-34 compact crank and 11-28 cassette. I ride in a hilly/mountainous area and would like to use an 11-32. Question: Can I use the short cage Force rear derailleur that comes with the gruppo or do I need use the Apex WiFli mid-cage derailleur? Also, does chain model matter? Thank you in advance
Rudolph you need an Apex mid cage (other readers feel free to correct me). Also, just get a KMC or Durace 10 speed chain from Wiggle.
Where to Buy SRAM Force and SRAM Apex cassettes
You can get the SRAM Force and Apex cassettes mentioned in this post, using the links below.
SRAM Force PG-1070:
- Get the SRAM Force from Wiggle
- Get the SRAM Force from Chain Reaction Cycles
- Evans Cycles
- Value for money